CWB Senior Scholar Suzie Carmack Empowers People to Put Well-Being into Action through Mindful Movement

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Manager

CWB Senior Scholar Suzie Carmack Empowers People to Put Well-Being into Action through Mindful Movement

CWB Senior Scholar Suzie Carmack (Ph.D., MFA, MEd, ERYT 200, NBC-HWC), an expert on mindful movement, is empowering people at Mason and beyond to put well-being into action. Carmack, an Assistant Professor in Mason’s Department of Global and Community Health, teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in public health leadership, advocacy, stakeholder engagement and well-being. She focuses her research and practice on topics such as stress, burnout, compassion, perfectionism, and suicide prevention. Carmack uses evidence-based teleyoga and telewellness interventions that promote mindfulness, movement and meaning (self-compassion). She is a respected leadership coach, speaker, and author.

“Becoming a senior scholar with CWB has so much meaning to me personally and professionally,” Carmack said. “I am truly grateful to be in the company of such a diverse and dedicated community of scholars. … There is a great synergy and systems-level impact when you have people with a diverse set of lived experience and unique training all coming together with a common goal. And one thing we all share is that drive and passion for not only advancing well-being in traditional scholarship – but bringing it out into the world in ways that real people can apply it in their real lives to solve real problems.”

Often, people know what well-being practices can benefit them, yet they lack the motivation to move forward with those practices. Carmack offers these evidence-based motivational strategies, based on her best-selling book Well-Being Ultimatum:

  • First, you assess where your well-being is today. To do this you can simply journal about what is going well and what you’d like to change. Or, you can use a free “well-being pulse check” that I created for this here, which will ask you questions about your well-being and then send you an automated response of your overall well-being score. You can then use this information to give yourself a ‘baseline’ well-being status that we can use to inspire your design of a personalized program, and to measure your improvements against in the future. It will also suggest to you that you reach out for healthcare support if your well-being score is low for further support; it is a pre-screen.
  • Second, you create your well-being ultimatum action plan and include one, two, or all three of the following “3 S’s”: S1: Self-Care – this word has a lot of different meaning around it, and even some stigma. But the good news is that it is up to you what self-care means. Sometimes self-care is taking an hour to not be on zoom. Sometimes self-care is taking 10 deep breaths to shift your energy between meetings. And yes, sometimes self-care is committing to that new marathon training program or yoga challenge. If it is something that you can do for you, to help yourself, it’s self-care. So, have fun deciding what that is. Think of it like watering a plant – we all need a little self-care every day. Give yourself 1 goal per day for one week, and see how that goes! S2: Social Support – In my dissertation research I found that the feeling of being supported by those who can accept us as we are, in all of our messiness, is not only correlated with well-being – it predicts it. So, when you are coming up with your well-being strategy plan, think about who you will ask to be your buddy. This could be a friend or family member that you can share a pinky promise with to follow through on your goals, or it could be a board-certified health and wellness coach like me or one of my coach trainees who is trained to hold you in positive regard on your journey. The science of social engagement tells us that it is great to have someone with us when we have good days, to jump up and down with us when we meet our goals. And, it is great to have someone who can hold space for us when the goal didn’t happen and we’re being way too hard on ourselves. Give yourself the gift of having a buddy to share the journey with, but remember: a buddy is someone you can both receive and give support to. A coach is someone who is supporting you – it is not two-directional. Make the social support choice that works for you. S3: Services – Here we reach out for the services (professional support) we need to not have to do it all ourselves. This could be wellness providers, healthcare teams, or a combination of the two. We can also access free resources, such as Mindful Mason Moments mindfulness sessions or CWB’s Thriving Together Well-Being Weekly articles. In this way, we benefit from not trying to figure it all out on our own—we get to ask for help (sub-contract) those who are trained to help us.
  • Third, give yourself SMART goals for getting started on your plan. This means that you’ll make sure you not only plan for what to do, but actually follow through it. As part of this process, I recommend putting calendar reminders down so that you check back in with yourself at various time intervals (or with your coach or professional team) to check in on the plan and adjust it if and as needed based on whatever may be happening. (I check mine monthly).

Mindful movement like yoga can help people strengthen their mental health, said Carmack. “There are so many biopsychosocial benefits of both practicing solo and practicing in groups … We are a mind-body-heart-spirit living in the human world. If one of these dimensions of our self is challenged or compromised, they all feel it; and if one improves they all feel it too. So that stretch you get from your yoga or mindful movement practice isn’t just about the body benefit of fighting sitting disease or releasing endorphins for your body; it is a chance for your brain to reboot from whatever it is you were doing; a chance for your mind to shift, which centers are active to support higher cognitive and/or creative function; and a chance for you to connect within yourself to reboot your heart and soul so you can honor and embrace your own messiness enough to show up more fully in the world in a way that encourages others to do the same. When we do that – let go of judgment of ourselves and each other – we are practicing compassion, and we are doing so many great things for our bodies and each other. Find a yoga that works for you – that meets you where you are. That way you won’t be stressed about how you are practicing…and instead you can transform stress into well-being.”

Through her Genius Break Project (a partnership between CWB, YogaMedco, and the Josh Gibson Foundation), Carmack trains peer mentors to bring mindful movement into schools. Carmack developed a distinctive yoga method that helps people strengthen their resilience and compassion while strengthening their bodies. “I started putting meaningful themes (cues) into the workout so that each session was as much about expressing yourself through movement (like a dance) to become mentally stronger, as it was about getting stronger physically,” she said. Carmack describes that method in her best-selling book Genius Breaks.

Carmack’s research and practice as a wellness coach reveals the importance of coaching to help people achieve their personal and professional goals. “Every time I get to show up to support someone on their journey, I consider it both a sacred gift and a scientific opportunity,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if they are a 4-star general, a celebrity, a physician-scientist, a CEO, a government agency team, a fellow mom down the street or a student right here at Mason – and I have been honored to coach them all. Whoever they are in the outside world, they are a vulnerable human in their inside world, making a very brave decision to admit they need help and ask for it – whether they need to get their well-being from surviving to managing or from managing to thriving. So, what I love about the process is that I then get to meet them in that vulnerability with the opportunity that this moment is also the moment they get to discover the power they have within themselves, that is currently covered up by whatever dilemmas they are facing in their lives. I get to be their thought partner, giving them a chance to talk their thoughts out loud so they can see them, sort them, and then decide which thoughts stay, which thoughts go, and what that means for their next steps in their lives. I get to encourage them to be kind to themselves in the ways they communicate with themselves – to practice self-compassion – so they can build resiliency and improve the ways they communicate in the world. And the best part is that throughout this process they get to own it all – the decisions, the choices, the changes. That means 100 percent of the joy of knowing THEY did it, whatever it is, is theirs! I just get to be there to ask them questions that get them back to the remembering of who they are, and sometimes (as part of this process) to lead them in some mindfulness or movement to help them to get out of their head and into their heart so they can get back to the world feeling more integrated and whole. It is different every time, and it is beautiful every time. And yet the joy I get to experience in the witnessing never disappoints.”

Coaching has also changed the way Carmack teaches. “I no longer think of myself as some kind of human textbook that has arms and legs and is there to disseminate information,” she said. “I am a facilitator of learning. So, when a student comes to me with a curiosity, I love asking (not telling) them what they could think about next. The world has too many 'shoulds'. I like the 'coulds' a whole lot better.”