What’s Her Secret: Andrea Lee of Natural Alignments Wellness Centre and Yoga Space

When Andrea Lee was struggling with anxiety, she decided to give yoga a try. She didn’t know what to expect, but when she walked back out the door after that first class, she felt like a different person. “Just by focusing on my breath and movement, I was able to calm my mind, breath deeper and alleviate the physical tension that came along with my anxiety – something I’d never experienced before,” Andrea said. This experience was the jumping off point for a new path as a yoga instructor.

This fall, she opened the doors to Natural Alignments Wellness + Yoga Clinic in Mississauga, which defies the industries cookie-cutter approach to yoga and wellness and offers a unique approach, offering treatments in areas such as chiropractic, nutrition, and massage, as well as guiding clients through personalized yoga sequences that help them improve their mobility and strength.

Here, we chat about her career path, what she sees as the pillars of health, and how we can bring yoga into our everyday morning routines.

Briefly walk us through your career path. How did you get to where you are today?
Since my early teens, I have always been professionally active. At 16 years old, I was both a swimming and snowboard instructor. My first business was actually running a backyard swimming program that ended up paying for my first university degree. Naturally, my entrepreneurial ways led me to completing my Bachelor of Commerce at McMaster University. Although I landed a career in marketing/sales for a pharmaceutical company out of university, it was actually in my last year at McMaster that I took my 360-hour Yoga Teacher Training course and is what helped launch my public speaking career. This led to 10+ years of leading workshops at engagements like the International Yoga Conference.

In 2011, I went back to school for a four-year program at the Canadian Academy of Osteopathy and graduated with a Masters in Osteopathic Manual Science.This is the science dedicated to understanding whythe body is experiencing dysfunction. When we experience a symptom such as pain, there is often an underlying reason such as misalignment of structure. This was the perfect balance between western medicine and yoga. As someone who believes in the strength found in all modalities of medicine, and also recognizing the source of a problem can best be resolved from potentially combining modalities, at Natural Alignments, I wanted to create a truly collaborative network of professionals who work to find long-term solutions as well as educate the patient on preventative techniques.

This fall you’ll be opening your brand-new wellness centre, Natural Alignments. How exciting! It’s now September that we’re talking—what do you still need to do to prepare for launch day?
Building the dream-team has been the top priority in this journey.We have a team of therapists who are on the exact same page when it comes to patient quality care.So far, we have half of our team in place and we are still on the lookout for like-minded practitioners to join us.

As a business owner opening a business in the midst of a pandemic, let me tell you it has not been easy! Everything from getting insurance to permits to materials for the build have been challenging to say the least.

I have been juggling my time between logistics, marketing and public relations.Overseeing the build and ensuring materials necessary are available, marketing and trying to build a safe and effective marking plan to let people know who and where we are as well as, as well as gearing up for a soft launch date of Sept 7th, and an official launch date of Sept. 19th have required a lot of organization and precise planning.

As we are fine-tuning our launch plans to ensure everyone’s COVID safety we are having a red ribbon cutting with the mayor of Mississauga, media, clients, and businesses in the area! Our intention is to feature our talented therapists by offering 15-minute sample treatments in their private rooms as well as private 1:1 yoga in the studio. As well, local food companies will be contributing pre-packaged refreshments to highlight their businesses as well.

Tell us about the three pillars of overall wellness that you focus on.
To heal from an injury, or maintain health, three pillars of overall wellness are essential: physical health,
psychological health, internal health.

What is happening inside our body often sets the stage for how quickly we heal. If we are out of balance when it comes to nutrients and minerals required, excessive bacterial growth or flora balance we will have a hard time with hormone regulation which in turn will impact physical healing, or even perpetuate physical symptoms.

Physical health will have an impacton hormone balance, pain perception, circulation, waste removal, and sleep function. Our psychological health will dictate our body’s ability to heal.

What sort of treatments or programs will you offer at your clinic?
What’s great about what we’re offering at Natural Alignments is a collaborative team that looks at your whole health: physical, psychological, and internal. Some of the offerings we’ll have for our patients include: Yoga, Osteopathy, Chiropractic, Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Athletic Therapy, Registered Massage Therapy, Psychology, Naturopathic Medicine, and Nutrition counselling.

And there are more services that I honestly just don’t have the space to list! We’re a one-stop shop for your whole health.

What challenges or hurdles have you faced preparing to launch your wellness centre? What are your hopes for your first year open?
Oh wow, there were two big hurdles I came across:

One, location. After searching for over a year for a location that best suits our business model,we finally landed in north Mississauga, specifically Courtney Park!

And two, COVID. In February, just before COVID, I signed the lease to our 3000sq/ft space with the intention to install nine treatment rooms and a yoga space.

I was strongly advised by my team of business professionals and lawyer to consider backing out of the deal but instead I decided to pursue my dream full-steam ahead. Truth be told, it has been my experience over the past 30 years… if I haven’t had to fight hard to attain success then it likely isn’t my intended path.

COVID threw a wrench in our timelines and game plan, as everything from accessing permits to lease logistics, building-out, finding insurance, purchasing therapy equipment and production of equipment as well as materials have been delayed. My contractor’s suggestion to “remain fluid and adapt” has become my motto! Combining this motto with the yogic mentality to remain calm and balanced has allowed me to pivot and reroute our plans with ease.

Can you speak to the importance of physiological health?
Psychological well-being plays an important role in determining our body’s overall vitality. The strength our body requires to heal and remain healthy is directly related to how we prioritize our psychological health.

Our psychological health will dictate our body’s ability to heal physically. When we are not feeling in balance psychologically, we are often experiencing a release of chemicals and hormones which perpetuate physical and internal dysfunction. Also, our posture is often affected by our psychological state which can be the source of some of our physical dysfunctions.

What health benefits does bringing yoga into everyday life have?
If we were to look at the practice of yoga similarly to an interaction with our internal car mechanic, we can start to explore the source of some of our perceived problems and perhaps provide corrections that can improve our overall health/performance.

Similar to running a diagnostic on our car, as we move through a yoga practice, we start to feel imbalances and draw connections between our physical alignments and depth and quality of breath, as well as our mindset. As the term “yoga” literally translates to connection of mind, body and spirit, yoga can be used as a tool not only for us to better understand our physical and emotional imbalance, but also as a tool to correct these imbalances.

Morning routines are so important to setting the tone for the rest of our day. What yoga sequence would you recommend starting our mornings off with?

I absolutely agree, morning routines are essential not only for our physical health, but they allow us the opportunity to calm our mind and set our intention for the day. What the sequence should look like will be completely dependent on your needs for the day, and that may change daily.

At the core of our physical and emotional wellbeing is our breath. We should always begin our practice by exploring the depth of our breath, feeling restrictions and using the breath to calm the mind to set clear intentions for the day. Understanding what we need emotionally as well as physically may require a few minutes of analysis. As we work through our deep breaths, we may want to ask ourselves: How am I feeling physical and emotionally? What external goals do I need to accomplish today? What can I do during my morning yoga session to prepare myself for the day? For example, if we have a big presentation perhaps we would want to focus on calming our mind, centering our thoughts, manifesting what strength and empowerment feel like, as well as assessing any physical restrictions that may get in the way of focusing all of our energy on our important goal for the day.

The physical portion, the actual asanas, will be dependent on your needs. One morning you may require a resorptive calming sequence, another morning may require a faster paced full body flow. Once we learn to understand our physical and emotional needs, we can better create a routine to attain those goals.

So many of us work at our desk all day. What yoga poses can we do at our desks to stay alert and healthy throughout the day?
The majority of my Osteopathic MT and yoga clients have been “desk athletes,” people who are working very long hours sitting or standing at a desk. This requires a tremendous amount of physical as well as mental endurance. If we continue to look at yoga as a tool for creating balance, then we have to first understand the imbalance. Physically, sitting or standing in one position for hours on end requires a lot of effort on the part of a few specific muscle groups.The muscles that run down our spine and hold us upright are constantly on demand, as well as our hip flexors, anterior shoulder muscles as well as the muscles in our neck. Alleviate tension in these areas requiring excessive stability and sequence designed to get our joints moving.

How do you personally make sure you stay healthy? Do you have any top wellness tips?
As someone who loves playing sports and living an active lifestyle, healthy eating, solid sleep, and following healthy routines have always been a part of my wellness plan. While away at school during my undergrad I started to develop anxiety attacks as a response to stress. This was around the time I was introduced to yoga as a form of therapy and have found the practice essential in mediating my psychological and physical health.

What do you love about your work?
I am a huge anatomy and physiology geek! My patients and friends and family would agree that I love talking about functional anatomy. So, when I take the time to explain the source of the problem to patients and build a solid treatment plan, they become advocates for their own health. The result is almost always amazing results. During this process, when a patient walks into my office feeling empowered, happy, and pain-free, it is the most satisfying feeling. Being able to experience this level of job satisfaction is such a blessing. I am so grateful I found this path.

Where do you hope to see Natural Alignments and yourself in five years?
As an advocate for creating balance in global communities I have been drawn to organizations such as ‘Doctors Without Borders’ as well as ‘Me to We’ programs. I would love to set up satellite clinics in countries where natural based medicine and wellness education is needed. One of my passions is travel, and two of the countries I have my eye on are both Nicaragua as well as Tanzania. Fingers crossed I find the right partners to make this dream happen over the next few years!

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