SOUTHERN INDIANA — Laura DeMent knows that achieving and maintaining health isn't just about what a person eats or about pushing physical workouts to the max. To her and her clients, a balanced approach is what can lead to life-changing, lasting results.

DeMent is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and certified yoga instructor operating out of the Kula Center, a recently opened holistic health an wellness hub in downtown New Albany.

The work she does with her clients is meant to lead to wholeness and happiness — and includes exercises that range from journaling to nutrition education, spirituality, meditation, self-love bolstering and exploring the careers and relationships that can lead to happiness.

"There is no one way with everyone," she said. "It's their conversation and what they need. Everything is customized for that person."

FIRST STEPS

A person first coming to DeMent for coaching will undergo an initial consultation, which runs $30. Here, they will fill out questionnaires and forms much like at a doctor's office, but the questions center around their concerns and their health goals. DeMent helps them nail down their goals, and guides them to get there.

"It is so interesting to see how the conversation evolves just from the answers on that form," she said. "I think sometimes the conversation goes in ways they don't expect."

While this can vary, the most typical is the six-month plan, during which time clients meet with the coach roughly every two weeks. At the end of this time, they could be ready to stop, or could need more support with their goals.

"That really gives them time to learn a lot about themselves and healthier living," she said. "They start getting these new habits formed in their lives and ... they're ready to take off and do beautifully, and happiness and health has improved. I have some clients who just love my support to always hold them accountable and I've worked with some people for multiple sessions for a couple years even."

THE 'NON-NEGOTIABLES'

At the core of her practice is what DeMent calls the four "non-negotiables," those tenants which apply to everyone seeking better health, although she said there are variations based on each person's goals or physiology.

The first is simply to make sleep a priority. DeMent said people can learn how regular or not their patterns are, and work toward better sleep if needed.

"We're all given the same amount of hours each day," she said, adding that when people try to pack in jobs and family time and trying to exercise and all of the others things, "a lot of time we aren't sleeping enough."

Less than six hours a night can lead to lack of focus and a slower thinking.

"If you're driving, it can be equivalent to someone who's been drinking," she said.

Next on the list comes drinking plenty of water — just plain water — which can help stave off headaches and digestive issues. Eating healthy, which is number three on the list, often means adding more raw fruits and vegetables to a diet. But that's not all it entails. DeMent also coaches people on grocery shopping and incorporating new recipes into their lives.

She said the fourth non-negotiable — exercise — is about moving in ways that a person is able to, not pushing their bodies past their physical limits.

"It's really important to listen to our bodies," she said. "Your body gives you signals when you have gone too far."

REUNITING MIND AND BODY

DeMent said a lot of both physical and mental issues can come up because so many people have disconnected from their bodies — often a sort of self-preservation after they've experienced trauma.

Trauma, as she defines it, is "anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope and respond, and leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless and out of control," she said. This could be harmful words heard as a child, it could be physical or mental assault, it could be being told to hold in emotions and push harder physically.

"It could be something like they have been told all their lives that 'push, push, push' was what they needed to do so they zoned out and decided not to listen to their bodies so they could keep pushing," she said.

"It could be so many different things — as soon as you're not able to cope with that, you disassociate so you can continue your life naturally."

However DeMent said if she discovers serious traumas during a coaching session, she will recommend the client talk with a therapist.

Her practice includes not just coaching on food and movement, but also worked with people on finding relationships that nourish them.

"Sometimes, if there's somebody in your life that's really draining, you might have to set up boundaries or cut them out of your life completely," she said, adding that "more often than not, using some new communications techniques have really helped my clients, just like saying 'yes, I want to work with you but this is my boundary, let's explore new ways to work together.'"

With careers, she said it could be about things like seeking out projects that fulfill them, and asking to do more of that sort of thing at work.

Kayla Berger, a New Albany resident who works in customer service, is three months into her work with Laura. She went in with several goals, and together they've worked on a plan to help Berger be where she wants to be in five years — what kind of lifestyle she wants to lead.

"It's not all at once," Berger said. "It's baby steps toward all these goals that makes them stick."

For her, it was important to be a better, healthier person for herself and her family — she is married with a young son.

"I realized that I was living life on automatic, not actually living life," she said. "I want to love myself; I want to better myself and be that better person for my husband and kid, family and friends."

She's already seeing a difference. So are those around her.

"My husband sees me every day. He's noticed a big attitude change for the better," she said. "He can tell I feel better."

Jennifer Stilger, a dental hygienist and yoga instructor who lives and Corydon and works in New Albany, is about halfway through her six-month plan with DeMent. At the start, she went with goals of finding ways to feel better and reduce inflammation through healthier eating habits. Not quite sure what to expect when she started, Stilger said the experience has been much more than she hoped for.

"I kind of expected her [to say] 'hey, eat this and not that, and kale is the answer to all your problems," she said. "And it's not, just so you know."

She said what she loves about DeMent's coaching style is that is focuses on the whole body approach, not just one thing.

"Yes, you're being more mindful and [making] healthy choices, but not shaming yourself," she said. "If I want to eat chocolate, it's fine. Or if I feel like eating a pizza, OK."

And the coaching has shown itself throughout other aspects of her life. Recently, Stigler said she had a breakthrough when she saw a picture on Facebook from five years ago. From the get-go, she had positive thoughts, thing like that her skin and hair looked pretty, and that she liked the shirt she'd been wearing. She remembered it being a really nice day with her mom.

"And immediately the tape started playing in my head again — 'wow, my face was so thin then,'" Stigler said, among other negative thoughts. "But a big shift happened. I acknowledged that thinking [and] showed myself a lot more love, support and compassion. That's kind of what Laura's been teaching me is loving myself.

"I do want to lose the extra weight, but we're working from the inside out. It's almost like counseling. It's been the best thing I've done for myself."

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.