By Dani Scoville May 1, 2018
"At CIIS there is a really strong culture of examination and reflection, a lot of it starting with the self. It was a different kind of education because of that."
|Nikki Pearl, who received her MA in Integrative Health Studies at CIIS, works as a health advocate, well-being, and culture advisor, and a yoga instructor. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children.|
CIIS: What initially drew you to wellness and health work?
Nikki Pearl: I grew up in Eugene, Oregon. My family had a garden, my mom was kind of a health nut, and my parents were both into jogging, which was unusual at the time. Living that life as a child helped me see the world through a lens of health.
After I graduated from college, I went to work for an advertising agency and got really interested in running, yoga, and nutrition. I decided my next job would be in the health industry and started researching Oregon companies. I came up with Gardenburger, a vegetarian burger company based in Portland, and went to work in their marketing department. Marketing Gardenburgers allowed me to interact with a lot of people in the natural foods industry and introduced me to a variety of healthy products and people living a healthy lifestyle.
My next job was at Tazo Tea, where I was introduced to the idea of "food as medicine": I was really fascinated by using tea and herbs for their health-promoting and healing benefits. After that, I went to work for Odwalla, the juice company. Odwalla was also committed to creating products that were health enhancing. Marketing all of these healthy products made me realize that I wanted more education about health and well-being.
Even though I enjoyed my work, I kept wondering, "what is the thing that fires me up?" That's when I discovered CIIS. I had a serious yoga practice and was preparing to do my teachers' training, so I decided to apply to their graduate health program. So it all came together: I quit my job, became a yoga teacher, and went back to school. A big lifestyle change for sure, but I've never regretted it.
While I was in the Integrative Health Studies program I also taught yoga. I initially taught at yoga studios in San Francisco and then at a tech startup company where my friend worked, as well as a PR firm, a law firm, an advertising agency. And eventually at the San Francisco Giants, where my husband worked. I have now been teaching there for 17 years.
About five years ago, the Giants HR team reached out to me about helping them develop an employee wellness program for their staff. Now I consult with their HR team to develop and deliver their wellness programs. I recently launched my consulting business and am talking with other companies as well.
What's your favorite part of this work?
I love how individualized and creative this work is. I find out as much as I can about the companies I work with, think about how they work and what their company culture is like, and then help them develop programs tailored uniquely to them. An important part of what I do is to help the company identify their own team of health leaders who will champion the programs and promote them from within.
At the Giants, for example, there's a team of health leaders within the company called "Wellness Ambassadors." They are kind of the eyes and ears of our programs and are a key component of the programs' success. One of my longtime yoga students there came up to me a few weeks ago and said, "I think all of this change that has happened in my life recently is because of you, and I'm so grateful." I feel so grateful to do work that makes a difference in the lives of others.
My principal challenge working with the Giants is helping them discover more work-life balance. It's a great company, family-oriented and forward-thinking; a lot of people have worked there for many years. The management is supportive, but the baseball season is long and the employees work hard, long hours-there is a real need to offer on-site programs and education around health and work-life balance.
Talk about how your training in the Integrative Health Studies program helped equip you for this work?
There are a few classes that specifically stand out for me: the program planning class, the systems theory class, and a class I took at Cal on the economics of medicine and managed care. But it was the spiritual piece woven into all my CIIS classes that really made my education unique. At CIIS, there is a really strong culture of examination and reflection, a lot of it starting with the self. It was a different kind of education because of that.
What is it about this work gets you out of bed each morning?
Knowing that I'm creating positive change in the world. Seeing people change their lives-whether it be improved mobility after an injury, making time for exercise, or the Giants' healthy lunch club where people take turns making and sharing healthy meals-I see people growing and feeling better. My personal mission is to support people in mindfully building a lifestyle of health. I feel like I'm on the right track and that is fulfilling.