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Mind

Going through tough times prompted these three sisters to launch wellness retreats for women

''One of our taglines is heart, hilarity, honesty,'' says Jennie Jackson.

By Nicola Russell
Yoga teacher Jennie Jackson, naturopath Coryn Smith and marketer Toni Paltridge know how difficult it is to take time out of a busy life – but a disability, a separation and a cancer diagnosis have led the sisters to reassess time out as a priority, for all women.
Their business, Sista Trio, runs wellness retreats with yoga, meditation, nutrition and lifestyle advice, delivered in an accessible way for a greater range of women.
"This wellness industry can get quite serious," says middle sister Jennie.
"One of our taglines is heart, hilarity, honesty."
The 49-year-old is the first to admit she is an unlikely yoga teacher.
Born with bilateral talipes equinovarus (severe club feet), she had her right ankle manipulated and broken just hours after she was born. It was the first of many surgeries to correct the disability, which in recent years saw her considering amputation.
"It was so debilitating and painful, and it gets you down – mind, body and soul," she says.
"My husband Greg used to have to drop me everywhere, because I only had a certain amount of steps a day before I was toast."
But in 2015, through a club foot support group on Facebook, Jennie heard from an American woman who was walking pain-free, with a device developed in the US.
"I pondered it for ages and spoke to people all around the world, because it was going to cost 12 grand plus the cost to get over there. Finally I just took the plunge."
Jennie, husband Greg and son Rocco headed to Washington where, at the Hanger Clinic, Jennie had a mould taken of her leg and a customised device made.
Her orthopaedic surgeon had warned her against it, recommending yet another surgery.
"He said, 'I think you are being seduced by American marketing' – but he was wrong, it worked," she says, with the steely resolve that has come from years of battling daily pain.
"That first walk up their 'catwalk' was just amazing…" She pauses as the tears well up.
"The guy who had made it was right there and he said, 'you've come a very long way to get here.' It was like walking on clouds."
The "offloading" device was developed by a US prosthetist for the military. Jennie went from struggling to walk around the supermarket to hiking in Alaska on an active six-month family holiday.
"It is like a prosthetic leg that walks for you, without having to amputate."
Meditation is just one aspect of Sista Trio's retreats.
When she got home Jennie used her new-found confidence to train as a yoga teacher.
She now teaches as the "Adaptive Yogi" making yoga accessible for "every body".
"I have a disability and I have also lived in a bigger body and so I know the issues that go around that, in your head.
"My slogan is 'it's all about how you feel not how you look' and I adapt the poses to fit the body, not the body to fit the poses. Most yoga shapes are made for a young Indian male, they weren't made with this body in mind."
"We are so proud of her," says eldest sister Toni.
"She brings such a lovely softness to her classes and people feel comfortable immediately. But while she is soft, there is also a strength. Jennie has always been the boss."
Toni, a mother of three, was a latecomer to the Sista Trio story, but an essential part of its development.
While the 51-year-old had heard Jennie and Coryn talking about yoga and spirituality since their OE to India 30 years ago, and heard their recent plans to run retreats, her focus was elsewhere.
"I'm not a yoga teacher or a naturopath so I never felt like it was my place to be part of it, and I most certainly hadn't started a spiritual journey in India," she says, as the sisters dissolve into laughter.
"I have been uptight, busy and important – all I've ever known in my career was working in the travel industry, and being a mum."
That changed after Toni discovered a golf-ball sized lump in her neck last May.
"I was quite active at the gym when I found it and I thought I had just popped something weightlifting. I went to my doctor who gave me an urgent referral to haematology at Auckland Hospital and I just rocked up by myself and went 'ohhh right, there are people with cancer here.' It was a huge come-to-Jesus moment. I had tests and scans, and in June I was told I had indolent follicular lymphoma.
"I got diagnosed, went into shock, stopped doing everything, started eating doughnuts and stayed in bed for days. I'd stopped working and I had days with nothing ahead of me, so Jen said to me: 'You've got some time on your hands now, why don't you have a look at what we are doing?'"
Toni's initial reaction?
"Blurgh, don't want to," but Jennie pushed her gently, but firmly, towards it.
"Coryn and I are all words and noise whereas Jen just gives you a look, and you just know what needs to be done, there's no fuss, no mucking around."
Toni has just completed a six-month stint of chemotherapy, administered after the lumps started to grow.
"They were in my jaw, my neck, my armpits and my uterus, and because I am supposedly young for this, they were like, 'let's get in there and start chemotherapy.'"
The tumours, while still there, have reduced dramatically and Toni has become a third, equal partner in Sista Trio.
"It was going to be us doing our thing and Toni doing some marketing, but ironically enough she put the rocket under it," says Jen.
Toni provided a much needed bridge between the two sisters.
"Jen and I work very well together, we are both very organised and structured, but I also get Coryn's free spirit. I see it, I get it and I feel it. I gave it a balance."
She also represents the target market for the business – someone new to yoga and holistic health and with a renewed focus on her own wellbeing, and she's not afraid to raise the red flag when her sisters' ideas get too "out there" for newcomers.
"I'll start going on and on and Toni will say 'that just makes my sphincter shrink,'" says Coryn giggling.
Coryn Smith, the naturopath, is the youngest and by far the cheekiest of the group.
Her sisters have nicknamed her Freddie [Mercury] due to her tendency to turn up on the day and shine.
"I'm marketing and promotions. Jen's backing vocals and band manager and Coryn's lead singer," says Toni.
The sisters meet for their interview with The Australian Women's Weekly at Coryn's naturopathic clinic in West Auckland. They've come fresh from a working bee at Coryn's house.
As a recently separated, now single mum of three kids, the 46-year-old is candid about how hard it is to find time out to care for herself – on her Instagram there are shots of her trying to practise yoga while her children and dog battle for space on her mat.
"One word that comes through from clients is that we are real," says Toni.
"They can relate. I sit in the back of the retreats giggling to myself because Coryn's my baby sister and she is still cracking me up. There is none of that 'oh I've heard this before,' never. She delivers to the people sitting in that room."
It was important to Coryn to keep things light in the retreats. She says the wellbeing industry can get too serious.
"You come across too many 'spiritual soldiers'. They can be so judgemental…you have to have a giggle."
She's focused on helping people to work out what's best for their bodies, rather than telling them what to do.
"We give people insights, information, and education, but we are really big on providing a place for women to come up with their own answers."
"You help them understand what is right for their individual bodies as opposed to telling them to go on the latest cabbage diet," Toni adds.
The sisters Jennie, Toni and Coryn with their mum Kay.
Coryn's workshops cover everything from finding energy and vitality to food and stress, sleep and hormone problems – depending on what's needed by the group at the time.
Like Jennie, the retreats have given Coryn a place to thrive.
"It has pushed me out of my comfort zone and given me a vehicle to do what I can do really well, which is help inspire and educate people. I am really good at it," she says, laughing at her own tenacity.
"I've been thinking about doing something like this with Nourish Me [her naturopathy business] forever, but I hadn't got it off the ground.
I have got a new respect for Jen and Toni's ability to make things happen."
Coryn admits her charm and ability to communicate so well verbally are coping mechanisms for the challenges of dyslexia.
"When we first started, Jen was quite perplexed with me because I'm not a planner. I can stand up in front of lots of people and do my magic, but when you talk to me about writing points down I get nervous."
The sisters initially saw her lack of written planning as laziness, until she stood up at the retreats and they realised how well-prepared she was.
"She has such a phenomenal skill set for pulling all this stuff out of her brain in front of people," says Toni. "It's been really important for us to understand how to work with her.
"I have known Coryn was dyslexic all my life but it wasn't until I worked with her and saw how she operates that I really understood. We've had to remove the frustration behind telling her 'it's in the Google drive under the file!' for the 30th time, because the dyslexic mind just simply can't find that file."
Coryn nods: "Every job I've had where I've had to learn systems, I see them looking at me thinking 'why can't she follow these simple operating instructions' and that makes me totally flustered," she says.
Working together means they need to resolve conflicts quickly, says Jennie.
"You should see our Messenger groups. There's tears, there's fights, it could be a reality TV show. Coryn and I had one yesterday and then Toni came in this morning and asked if the fight was still going and we were like 'no we're done'.
"It is so refreshing working together because in a corporate environment you can't really say what you think," adds Jennie.
"We do, and we think that paves the way for growth."
Growth from messy, gritty, real life struggles, worlds away from an Instagram picture of a "perfect" body in a "perfect" yoga pose. It's summed up by a snippet on their website: 'No matter where you are at physically, mentally or emotionally, how much experience you have – you are welcome. If you own a pair of fancy yoga pants rock them out, but if you don't, then come in your daggy track pants!'
And it's that's inclusivity they hope makes their retreats stand out.
"I was born with a disability, I struggle with my weight and my confidence, I'm an introvert and I'm up teaching a yoga class," says Jennie.
"I can see them going, 'well if she can do it, I can do it' and that's exactly what we want."

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