Total Health: Maria Angelova of Rebellious Intl On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing
Be in nature. Nature is calming. Step outside and observe the clear or cloudy sky, feel the heat or chill on your skin. Taste the air. Embrace the grandeur of the trees. Tune in to the songs of the birds. You are part of nature. Nature nourishes you. It helps you quiet within. Appreciate the colors, the sounds, the miracle of life thriving around you. How often are you intentional about bring in nature? When you are in nature, are you busy on your phone or do you savor the experience?
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Angelova.
Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher, founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. Maria’s mission is to empower clients to live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment through the power of a strong body and a calm mind.
Maria’s multi-cultural upbringing, experiences in Corporate Finance and Entrepreneurship and her tremendous personal transformation position Maria uniquely as an effective mind-body coach as well a dynamic motivator and educator. Maria firmly believes happiness and leadership start from within.
Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and the Insurance industries.
Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and University of Georgia (BBA, Finance).
Maria’s favorite job is being a mom to her 12-year-old daughter. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Bulgaria, Eastern Europe. I grew up during communism. I had a very happy childhood filled with playing, running and mischief. My parents are both Ph.D. scientists. I am the older sibling. I grew up with much discipline and high expectations.
As a child, I enjoyed movement. When I started elementary school, I joined the swimming team. I was a great swimmer. My Russian teacher would enthusiastically say: Mashenka, we will prepare you for the Olympics!
My swimming career was short lived as it conflicted with my academic studies. Back in the day, in Eastern Europe and for my family, academia was big. My parents expected me to do well in school. I did.
We moved to the United States in 1992 when my dad was invited to work at the University of Georgia as an exchange scientist. We came for 6 months … 30 years ago.
I went to high school in Athens, GA. I graduated as a salutatorian. I proceeded to obtain BBA and MBA degrees in Finance and entered the corporate world to pursue a career in Finance aiming for the CFO seat.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I spent close to 20 years in Operations and Finance building a career. I enjoyed my work and inspired to be a corporate C-level executive.
Since young age, I had a side gig and passion which burned bright — fitness! I started teaching fitness classes when I was 16. Even during my corporate time, teaching classes at the gym was favorite time. Many of my closest friends have heard me say that one day I will own my fitness studio.
In 2012, I discovered Pilates. It was slow and awkward.
4 years later, Pilates changed my life in an unimaginable way. Pilates helped me quiet my mind and inner connect to my intuition. I gathered the courage to make a big leap. I quit my corporate job. I started my company — Rebellious Intl. ‘Rebellious’ as being true to yourself and following your heart.
I now help people through creating physical and mental awareness. I teach Pilates and functional movement for building a strong body. I coach mindset for conscious living. The goal is to help you feel and be your best. I absolutely love my work and the incredible results people experience.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My parents! They taught me discipline and confidence, both of which are serving me immensely. I think I am more like my dad. He was a dreamer. He was the one who during communist times said that one day, he will take his family to the United States. He was the one who marched with me to a local gym in Athens, GA and asked for me to audition to teach classes even though I had zero experience. Dad did not care what people think. He was passionate and rebellious. Sadly, we lost dad to cancer in 1996.
My mom is more practical. When I quit corporate, I could tell she is fearful and nervous for me. Yet, she put a brave face and kept telling me: “You can do it”. She showed up in every way possible to support and cheer me. Her presence has been priceless on my journey.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read a lot and non-fiction. A few books come to mind. The one that stands out the most in my mind right now is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It is a book about self-discovery and liberation of the tamed artist within. The book is written for artists yet is applicable to us all. The book comes with an accompanying journal. Doing the reading and journaling daily was a profound experience for me. The prompts are clear. They make you think and dig into your subconscious. The daily writing allows to clear space for creativity. Liberation and growth are the results. I highly recommend.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”
Powerful! I am a sucker for great quotes. This quote speaks to me because only 6 years ago, I would not have gotten the true meaning and depth of this statement. I was conditioned to act and live in a certain way. I never thought there is another option; an option which is in alignment with who I am at my core. We are conditioned to live on auto pilot. Intent lacks. We do not know what we do not know … until we do. It is mind-blowing.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
One of my super exciting projects is expanding the Rebellious Mind-Body Group Online Program. The program combines the power of Pilates, functional movement and fascia release with Mindset coaching. It is unique and highly effective. It is different than anything else out on the market. The work helps you spike your physical and mental awareness. We work on rewiring your brain on how you move and think. You become aware of what is in alignment with you — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
The program launched in August 2021, and results have been powerful. Seeing people get stronger, more mobile and going after the life they want is an incredibly rewarding experience.
The next Rebellious Mind-Body Retreat will take place likely in in the second quarter of 2023. Stay tuned!
Last and certainly not least, I am on a mission. On a mission to change the face of the wellness industry for consumers and providers alike.
Our societal priorities are a mess. To list only a few items of a long laundry list ….
- For many, self-care is found somewhere towards the bottom, if it is on the priority list, at all.
- Fitness is emphasized as a way to lose weight. Movement and exercise have much greater health implications.
- The young generation is struggling with overexposure to technology and sedentary lifestyle. Technology is unfavorably impacting their brains and bodies. The new generation will be in pain at much younger age than my generation, for example.
- Providers are overworked.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Make nurturing time a priority.
Self-care. Alone time. Meditation, journaling, exercise, painting, dancing, singing, reading — do whatever you need to do to disconnect and quiet down your mind. Whatever you do — focus 100% on the activity. If you are going for a run, do not listen to the news. If you are making your coffee, focus on each step of the process. Quiet the monkey mind, the mind which spins constantly.
- Learn to set boundaries.
Saying ‘no’ may feel uncomfortable at first. That is ok. Practice makes better. You are in charge of your time and energy, and you have a choice in how you spend them. It is not someone else’s fault you agreed to go to dinner. You said ‘yes’. Drop the blame game and take charge. You will be amazed of the lightness which comes to your life.
- Get off social media, turn off the TV, put away your phone.
Disconnect consistently and intentionally. How much time do you spend scrolling social media or watching TV? Is this time uplifting and inspiring you? Are these activities helping you calm your mind or take productive action? Could you use the same time to go for a walk, write in a journal or read?
For most people, getting off technology is also necessary after spending long hours sitting in front of the computer. Your eyes and brain need a break. Your body will benefit from moving instead. Be extra mindful spending time on technology at bedtime as this can disrupt your circadian cycle and your sleep.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
My meditation practice is my movement. Whether it is a Pilates session or a run, I completely zone out while moving. I am 100% connected to my body. I track — am I in alignment, where is my body in space, is my pelvis wobbly, is my spine protected, is my core properly engaged, am I maintaining stability of the pelvis and spine, are compensations kicking in, am I breathing, is my movement choppy or flowy? It is quite the experience. It is what I call intentional movement.
Just last week I realized I meditate when I am coaching and teaching. My attention is 100% on the client — I observe every single little movement and offer corrections. For an hour, I am 100% into the session — watching, speaking, asking for feedback, guiding.
Try it out — in anything you do — focus 100% on what you are doing right in the moment.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Work on your core strength. Your core protects your spine. A strong core provides stability for the spine and pelvis and ensures good posture. As you age, your muscles weaken. It is especially important to keep the deep stabilizer muscles strong. A strong core keeps aches and pains away. Do you know anyone who cannot enjoy being active because of aches and pains? A strong core will also keep your joints healthy as it takes pressure off them. I work with many people dealing with pain. Clients are shocked on how it is possible to eliminate pain when you are aware, move in alignment and with properly engaged core.
- Be aware of your alignment, posture and spinal health. Poor posture is turning to be the new health epidemic. It has immense implications on health. When your posture is off, so is your alignment. The misalignments wear and tear your body prematurely, including spinal vertebras. You may experience nerve impingements such as sciatica. When nerves are impaired, there is reduced nourishment to muscles and organs. Balance and stability become an issue. Slouching shrinks the chest cavity; as lungs are compressed, breathing is impaired. Restricted oxygen flow to the brain impacts concentration. The list can keep going … Here is a favorite quote from Hippocrates, the Father of Modern Medicine: “Look well to the spine for the cause of disease.”
- Stay mobile and strong, flexible and in control of your body. Maintaining flexibility as you age is key. A stiff muscle is at a higher risk for injury. A joint which is stiff has limited mobility. To age actively, you have to stay mobile. I tell my elderly clients who are in pain and are not keen on moving: “It’s either movement or a wheelchair.” It is a choice. A choice with significant implications on the quality of your life Frequently, when people are in pain, the first reaction is to stop moving. Unless it is a fracture or an acute injury, gentle movement and stretching usually help. Pain is your body’s call for attention. Do not ignore it.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
I think what prevents us from integrating what we know are poor habits, constant state of busy and people around us who likely share our poor habits. I am currently working on bettering my nutrition. I have a sweet tooth or what feels like sweet teeth some days. I am learning to be intentional about taking a step in the right direction daily to improve my overall diet (as regular eating).
As with fitness or any other health habit, do your best. One day will be better than another. Forgive yourself and move forward. Do not get stuck getting tangled into guilt because this will sabotage your journey.
Find out what works for your body. There is not one diet which works for all. Test various options. When do you feel best? How frequently do you eat? Do any foods cause you bloating? For example, I have a family member who follows intermittent fasting and feels great with it. Intermittent eating does not work for me.
Once you become aware of your body and how it moves, you will become aware of how various foods impact movement. Tune in — what is your body telling you?
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Spend time with your tribe. Choose to spend your time wisely. Connect with people who elevate and encourage your authenticity. Stay away from drama, gossip and anyone who loves to complain, blame and sees nothing good in life. The people around you will help make you or break you. Do not get hung up who you should spend time with. Choose who to make time for. Build a tribe of like-minded, elevated souls who provoke you think and help you grow as a person. I am very intentional about who I select as coaches, mentors, friends and who I choose to spend time with. I surround myself with people who are authentic, consciously awake, positive, and driven. These people inspire me to want to be better. I do tell my clients: beware who you let in your bubble because it takes one wrong person to pop your bubble.
- Learn to respond versus react to life Life is beautiful. Life is a cycle of ups and down. As a human being, you are impacted by the peaks and valleys. This is normal. Where you get in trouble is when everything happening around you pushes you on a roller coaster ride — that’s being reactive to life. How may you experience life more balanced and evenly? Here are a couple of guiding questions which may assist and ground you, so you do not lose your cool every time life does not (appear to) go your way.
- Do you have control over what is happening?
- What is the meaning you are assigning to the occurrence?
Have you ever experienced going through the exact same thing with someone else, and his/ her perception being completely different? Yup, we all view the world differently based on our upbringing, culture, etc.
-Are you aware of your emotional triggers?
-What techniques can you use to calm and ground? For example, take a deep breath, go for a walk around the block, journal and so forth.
- Remember the 4 Agreements. The four agreements come from the small, wise and famous book named the same by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book outlines four guidelines for living a life free of limiting beliefs and expectations. I have personally embraced these agreements as guiding principles on my journey, and they have been a game changer for my mental and emotional wellbeing. Try them out.
-Do not take things personally
-Do not make assumptions
-Always do your best
-Be impeccable with your word
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Yes, smile and smile from the heart. I remember a couple of years ago, I went to the dermatologist for a regular checkup and expressed concerns about wrinkles. He suggested I smile less. I thought to myself: Do people not smile to not have wrinkles?
I guess I am going to have wrinkles. I am all about savoring life with passion and excitement. I love experiences which make my heart skip. Your smile and attitude will make a difference for you and those around you. Smile more!
A warning sign: Do not smile when your hearts aches. It serves no one, especially you, to fake happiness.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Practice gratitude daily.
Gratitude is a way to stay connected to your source, whatever your source — God, Universe — is. Gratitude is a wonderful way to redirect your attention toward the positive. According to Positive Psychology, gratitude is linked to greater happiness.
The first thing I do upon waking up is practice gratitude. I simply state what I am grateful for today. You can also keep a gratitude journal or write a thank you letter or card.
2. Be in nature. Nature is calming. Step outside and observe the clear or cloudy sky, feel the heat or chill on your skin. Taste the air. Embrace the grandeur of the trees. Tune in to the songs of the birds. You are part of nature. Nature nourishes you. It helps you quiet within. Appreciate the colors, the sounds, the miracle of life thriving around you. How often are you intentional about bring in nature? When you are in nature, are you busy on your phone or do you savor the experience?
3. Give. Get out of your head and stop making everything about you. Do something for someone else. Do it genuinely and with a full heart. Give!
At the beginning of my journey, I made a comment to one of my mentors.
I told him: It does not matter what is going on and how crappy I feel. I teach a class, and all the fog is lifted. Each and every time, I feel so much better after teaching.
His response: Makes sense. This is the power of giving.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Being in nature is a powerful way to disconnect from the daily hustle and connect to yourself. When COVID started, and the quarantine was imposed, I spent a lot of time outdoors.
Enjoy the sunshine warmth on your skin, take a few intentional breaths of fresh air, smell the aromas around you, walk barefoot on the grass. I am sure you have heard about hugging a tree too. Connect to your senses. This is a way to meditate and ground yourself to the present moment, to quiet your mind. When your mind is quiet, you heart is louder. It is a beautiful way to connect to your inner core and desires. Add gratitude to the mix. Open your arms up towards the sky and with an open heart should out: I AM GRATEFUL!
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It is a Rebellious Movement! A movement where you are a top priority on your list. You start by taking care of your whole self — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Then you overflow into all areas of life from a cup full. A rebel — when you operate from a standpoint of inner alignment with yourself, your desires and purpose. A movement which is about living fully rather than existing on the hamster wheel.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
I would love to connect with Angelina Jolie. She appears to be a rebellious soul who follows the beat of her own drum.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Linkedin: Maria Angelova
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.