For Stillwater Area High School alumna Amy Stoks, the most important life lessons came to her in the pool. A competitive swimmer since adolescence, she learned self-discipline from her swimming coach, Brian Luke—a trait that’s empowered her to take control of her career and do what she loves. And through her participation on Stillwater’s synchronized swimming team in the early 2000s, she learned women can be more powerful when they join forces.
“I started in eighth grade, and didn’t know a single thing about synchronized swimming,” Stoks says of what eventually became a varsity sport for her. “But I’m petite—5-foot-1, 100 pounds soaking wet—so by default, they could throw me. I ended up on all the really great teams.”
Stoks continued swimming through her first year of college at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She traded her swim cap for a ski cap and transferred to the University of Colorado–Boulder in her sophomore year, where she studied kinesiology and psychology in pursuit of a dream to help people.
From the time she was little, and through college, “I had the intention of pursuing medicine,” she says. “Halfway through college, I shifted my focus and decided I was going to do some more work with psychology and counseling.”
She graduated with a degree in psychology in 2005, and ventured to San Diego to continue her education. After earning a master of arts in counseling from the University of San Diego and an education license, Stoks was hired as a counselor in a public school at Orange Glen High School, where she worked primarily with low-income youth. (During a visit to Minnesota for a birthday party, she met her husband, which is what brought her back to the Midwest).
During this time, she discovered the restorative benefits of yoga.
“I loved what I was doing with the kids, but I was doing a lot of mental health counseling and felt incredibly drained at the end of the day,” she recalls. “I started doing yoga and immediately fell in love with it. What it did for my body and my brain, it was a way to become centered.”
Curious to explore more about mind-body wellness, Stoks became a certified yoga instructor and completed nutrition training.
Throughout her first pregnancy in 2011, she continued practicing yoga, eating healthfully, getting plenty of rest, and relying on friends and family. But when her son Finn was born, she had a life-changing realization that led her to pursue her passion of helping others in a whole new way.
“I felt like I was very well supported throughout my pregnancy, and when I had my son, I was like, ‘Holy cow, now what? Now it’s real,’” she says of the transition from pregnancy to post-partum. “For me it was this huge awakening in lots of aspects of my life. I was eight years into school counseling at that point and feeling a little restless. And having a new baby, I wanted to make sure that if I was spending time away from him, that I was doing something I loved. So I went on a soul-searching journey for a couple of years to figure out what needed to change, and that’s where the whole wellness thing started.”
In talking with other moms, Stoks realized her peers also were frustrated by the lack of support available for women post-childbirth. In October 2013, she founded Sprout Health and Wellness to ease the transition for new moms, and help them thrive in their demanding, often new, caretaking roles.
“A lot of what I do now revolves around helping moms figure out what they’re most passionate about: How moms can say ‘yes’ to the things they really love, and sift out the things that aren’t important so they can be the best version of themselves—for themselves, but also for their kids and their families,” Stoks says.
The burgeoning entrepreneur practices the same self-discipline she learned in the pool to grow her business, while keeping her day-to-day life afloat. In addition to caring for two children younger than 5 (Stoks and husband Barrett have 2-year-old Charlotte in addition to 4-year-old Finn), working full time at North Junior High in Hopkins, blogging, and serving as a doula, Stoks holds weekly group sessions designed to help women pause and reflect on their own self-care.
“I think, more than anything, it’s an opportunity for them to recharge. My hope is that for just an hour, they focus on what it would mean for them to live more authentically, in a way that’s most healthful for them,” she says.
She also works with women one-on-one. At the core of her approach ensuring her clients are prioritizing nutrition, striving to move more and get more sleep, and remembering to lean on their support networks.
“I love moms, and I want to make sure they’re caring for themselves so they can be really great moms,” she says.
All the tools and training Sprout Health and Wellness provides are backed by evidence-based research. Moving into the future, Stoks plans to pursue additional clinical training to better serve women grappling with maternal mental health issues, such as postpartum depression and anxiety.
“There’s a huge need for trained mental health practitioners who specialize in perinatal health and perinatal mood disorders, so my next adventure is to shift a little bit to a more clinical approach,” she says.
And while she continues to run and to practice yoga, Stoks’s days of synchronized swimming are behind her. “I try to practice my old synchro skills every once in a while,” she says, “but I probably look like I’m drowning now."
The lessons she learned back then, however, remain very much alive.
Amy Reichow Stoks is a certified doula, as well as a health coach and yoga instructor. She offers regular yoga classes, from vinyasa-style to parent/child, at Enlightened Mama in St. Paul. 970 Raymond Ave. $12 per class. 619.228.6726