Strength is not just about physical fitness or muscle building. It is also about your mental and emotional capacity to become resilient and fully overcome life’s greatest challenges. Dr. Kevin Pecca sits down with online fitness and nutrition coach Mel Hagn, who talks about the importance of thinking strong, being strong, and staying strong. She opens up about her relentless battle against vertigo and how it inspired her to explore the world of upper cervical care. Mel also discusses the immense power of mental resilience and the essential role of creative solutions to build a healthier and stronger you.
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Think Strong, Be Strong, Stay Strong With Mel Hagn
If you are enjoying the show, please share, like, subscribe, and leave us a review. It helps spread our message. We have such an amazing guest. We have Mel Hagn. She is an online fitness and nutrition coach. She helps a lot of women get their health back. I met Mel through Instagram. She was telling me how well she's been doing under upper cervical care. It helps save her from vicious vertigo attacks. She's doing so well under care. She's getting her life back. She's able to work out again. She's even going to be featured in a fitness magazine at the end of the month, which is one of her lifelong dreams. It was an honor to talk to her. I enjoyed this episode. I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did. Please welcome Mel Hagn.
We have such a special guest, Mel Hagn, out of Canada. Mel is an online fitness and nutrition coach. She's also done phenomenal under upper cervical care. I'm so excited to have her on the show. Mel, how are you?
Good. How are you? Thanks for having me.
I am doing so well. It was great to connect with you on Instagram. I love hearing stories about people thriving under upper cervical care. I'm excited to jump into that. First, Mel, where are you from originally?
I'm originally from Hamburg, Germany up north. In my 20s, I moved to Stamford City, Connecticut, to do a 6-month work program because I did have at some point a real office corporate career. Eight years later, I moved to Canada to get married and have babies.
You met your husband in the States?
In Chile, but that's another story. He is French-Canadian, so that's why I'm in Montreal right now.
You met your husband in Chile?
Yes, we were both working a lot with South America. I was in ocean transportation and we were doing a lot of copper concentrates and salt export from Chile.
I met my wife in Brazil and it's crazy how the world works in the most unexpected ways. Was fitness and nutrition something you were always into growing up or was that something you found later on in life?
My parents were not into fitness at all. I did try to play soccer like a good German, but every time you miss the goal, you have to run around the field, so I did that fast. Nutrition also, not much going on in my household. In my 20s, I got into martial arts. That's when I started to think about it a little bit, “Maybe I need to drink less alcohol and eat a little bit better.” It wasn't until I had my kids and was on maternity leave that I was looking to get rid of the baby weight and feel stronger again. I started with Mommy-Baby Fitness. That is how everything spiraled. I never went back to my corporate job but became a trainer instead. Apart from online coaching, I also offer local Mommy-Baby Fitness classes now.
Is Mommy-Baby Fitness exactly what it sounds like? This is the first time I've heard about this. Are you working out with the little baby with you?
Yeah. You bring your baby. It is pretty much a workout postpartum adequate, where you work on restoring your pelvic floor, reengaging your core, and working on your posture. A lot of moms spend a lot of time like this holding their babies, but you bring your baby because when your baby is 8 weeks old, 12 weeks old, or even up to 1 year, you can't find childcare very often. Plus, it's also nice to come with your baby and meet other moms. It's a social thing as much as a fitness thing.
Are the babies right next to you during the workout, or does everybody put the babies in a different part and the moms are going to workout?
I do have one of those things, so you can hang the baby from the ceiling and they bounce. Usually, a lot of times the babies are small, so their moms hold them during the workout. You do a squat and you hold your baby or your babies are on your hips during glute bridge or on a blanket. Sometimes the babies are mobile, move around, and get in all kinds of trouble. It's so much fun.
This is amazing. I've never heard of this.3
It is fantastic. We do have a very good maternity leave here in Canada. The moms tend to be home for a year, and that's the opportunity to do things you usually don't get to do.
Is your clientele mostly postpartum women, working in that department?
In-person, yes. I'm only coaching women, nothing against men, but I've specialized in women. Once post-partum, you're always post-partum. Your body has changed. It comes into play, but I train women in all stages of life, especially online. If your baby is 3 months old or 35, I'm there to help.
As far as nutrition goes with women, exercise is a fantastic component of that. What do you recommend for women who just had a baby and what nutrition facts for that?
Make sure you eat regular meals. Eat every few hours. Have protein with every meal. Don't be afraid of carbs. Maybe the pop-tart is not the ideal carb, but rice, potatoes, whole grain bread, noodles. It's all the stuff that your body needs to recover from exercise, from birth, from anything, and gives you energy. Don't cut carbs. Don't cut any food groups. Just eat regular meals with protein, greens, carbs, and fats.
You said you're a coach as well. How do you manage women going through postpartum depression?
I refer out a lot. There's the baby blues, and then there's postpartum depression. I find eating regularly and having an exercise routine, preferably also getting out of the house, meeting other moms, and having a connection helps. If you feel that you are in a very deep hole, and this is not working, seek help. There's no shame in getting somebody to talk to, getting a pro, and even getting some medication. You have to do what you need so that you are okay. As a mother, you have to do well so everybody else can do well.
Tell me a little bit about your journey. I know a little bit about it from the little bit we talked about on Instagram. What happened in your life when you had some health issues of your own and it affected your impact to exercise and coaching? What made you seek out upper cervical care?
Many years ago, I had a clogged ear that wouldn't stop and I saw an ENT and he said, “You have Meniere's disease.” I don't know what this is. He said, “You get vertigo at some point. You're going to lose your hearing.” I'm like, “Great. Things to look forward to.” Nothing happened, so I ignored it and I started training heavier. I'm also a kettlebell trainer, so we were doing a lot of powerful movements, heavy movements, and lots of overhead snatches. I was getting into inversions, and doing headstands.
At some point, we did a thing that I don't recommend to anybody. We drove from Montreal to Fort Lauderdale to go on a cruise with two kids. We barreled through that in two days or something. We were on the ship and all of a sudden, I was getting a vertigo attack. You think you're seasick but everything was spinning. I was vomiting for hours, but then everything was fine until we drove home. Something was not right. My ENT says, “I told you, you would be getting vertigo.” I was like, “I was sitting like this for days, so there must be something else.” I'm also not somebody who believes if they tell you, “You'll have to live with it.” If you tell me that, I'll be like, “No.”
You're going to find a way.
It's not acceptable. I was very stubborn about this and I started seeing a regular chiro and that already helped me. The vertigo attacks kept coming back. I saw a physio. I did acupuncture. I tried everything. I was always fine for a little while until the vertigo attacks came back.
How long did the Vertigo episodes last?
I had attacks at some point twice a week, 3 to 4 hours. The next day, I was sleeping on the bathroom floor. I couldn't look after my kids who were still very young at that point. It was very scary because you never knew, then you could feel something would be coming, but you didn't know. Is it now? Is it in three days? It was a constant state. It was stressful because you never knew. Can I drive? Can I go to Walmart? Will my husband have to pick me up? That's a true story because I'm vomiting in the parking lot. Everybody who goes through something like that, it's like the sword of Damocles that's hanging over your head and you don't know when it's going to hit you.
That's the scariest part of extreme vertigo like you're talking about. Even when you're feeling okay, there's something in the back of your mind that's saying, “When is this going to happen again?” It takes over your entire life.
It does. It was life-consuming, but I still ignored it. It's like, “Two days out of the week, I'm sick. The other days, I'm fine. Let me keep doing what I'm doing.”
In denial. I managed okay for probably a year or so, but then everything started hitting me again. By then, I had also joined a Facebook group about vertigo. I started following you on Instagram. I had made an online friend in the area who also saw an upper cervical spine chiro, but it was relatively far away from me. It's a 45-minute drive. I was like, “I don't know. It's weird.” Already, for years, you've made these great Reels showcasing that it's not spooky because you want to make sure when you let somebody touch the C1 and C2, you're like, “I got to feel good about this person.”
Especially for vertigo, you don't want your neck twisted, cracked, and whipped around. You already have so much going on. You need something light, gentle, something that you're barely going to feel.
I started seeing an upper cervical spine chiro. The guy was 45 minutes away.
He's in Laval, which is a suburb. We are Montreal, and Laval is like another island, but it's close. For people outside of Canada, it's the same thing. I started seeing him during one of our lockdowns. The streets were empty. It took me twenty minutes. Since then, and that's been 3 years, I've maybe had 3 vertigo attacks. I can always pinpoint why they happened. It was periods when my body was subjected to extreme inflammation or when I created an injury that I knew where this adjustment didn't hold. As soon as I was able to see him, everything was back in place. I honestly think without upper cervical care, I wouldn't be where I am right now.
What is this doctor's name?
It's Mikaël Reney.
There are about seven upper cervical techniques. Do you know which one he practices?
That's one of my favorite things about upper cervical. There are about seven different techniques. They all have the same goal in mind, so when people ask me, “Should I go try this technique?” I always say, “Absolutely.” When you started looking, there were probably not many people around you doing this anyway.
In the province of Quebec, there are four.
There are not a lot of doctors doing the upper cervical work, so I always refer people, whether it's Blair, NUCCA, or Atlas Orthogonal. It doesn't matter. They all have the same goal in mind to clear out the interference in the upper neck to help people get better. How amazing is that that you saw a video on Instagram and you can replicate the same results with somebody in your area?
It was amazing. What I also liked about this kind of chiropractic care is the X-ray because you can see, “This is what's going on. My head was forward and then tilted up. Of course, nothing works.” In the first adjustment, I sat up. I was like, “I felt like I was located differently in relation to everything else around me.” I don't know if that makes any sense, but it was this insane sensation. My head felt lighter. It was a miracle, honestly.
One of the amazing things about upper cervical is the whole goal is for it to stay in place so you're not constantly relying on somebody else to get you better. It almost puts the healing back in your hands. For somebody who was having vertigo 3 or 4 times a week, it's like you're basing your life around doctor's appointments. It was probably amazing to find upper cervical for that.
It was amazing. At first, the adjustments didn't hold very long. I started going twice a week and they were very hard on my body. I could barely make it home and then I would sleep.
You get so tired.
Now, I'm depending on what I do, because I'm leading a very active lifestyle. I travel a lot. I lift weights again. I'm probably not the most well-behaved client. Right now, I'm going every 5 to 6 weeks and it's minimal adjustments. I can always tell you when things are a little off.
I feel like after about 2 or 3 months, you can find yourself and say, “My atlas or something is out.” In the beginning, it might be tough to tell. As the healing process progresses, you can pinpoint when you're in or out. One of the most frequently asked questions I get especially from my athletes or patients who work out is, “When can I work out again?” I have an answer from a doctor's perspective, but for somebody who is in the fitness world, what was that process like for you? When were you able to start working out again and doing things you love?
I was already a trainer when I started getting adjustments and I already had the postpartum education. I used all that to start from scratch again. I pretty much treated myself as if I was in postpartum recovery, where you start very light and you do a lot of bodyweight exercises. I made sure that I slowed everything down and that my alignment was right. For example, with pushups, I was doing elevated pushups. Even the plank is elevated. Sometimes I would upgrade to very light dumbbells. I would keep it to the basics. Slowly but surely, add on.
For somebody who cannot create their own programs or doesn't have that knowledge, I would suggest seeing a trainer who specializes in recovery. There are people who are athletic therapists. There are trainers who are postpartum trainers. It’s probably a good idea because you work on bringing everything back together and somebody who doesn't push you. Don't go to Orangetheory or to the CrossFit gym next door and start lifting heavy and throwing medicine balls.
We might have something for future patients, a little tailored return to workout for patients under upper cervical care. That would be a great idea.
That would be amazing. Your neck muscles before an adjustment are all over the place. They need to learn where they need to be, but you need to strengthen them so they can help hold the adjustments. One of the exercises I did was lying on the floor and lifting my head a little bit. Teeny-tiny exercise, but I found it helped me to regain the stability that my head knows where it needs to be.
In my experience, when I first started care, I was doing those neck exercises a little bit too aggressively. I was doing hard isometric presses and chin tucks. It was actually throwing me out of alignment. If you do little exercises like the one you showed, that's beneficial in helping facilitate the healing process.
That's so hard, especially as somebody who is an athlete and has been working out hard, it is hard to take that step back, rebuild your strength, rebuild your posture, and make sure you're doing everything right. Now, it's like years later and I am in better shape than I was. I'm stronger. I'm lifting heavier. It took taking that step back and being like, “We are starting again.” The patience, the head game when you are used to doing explosive workouts. I'm still not doing many explosive workouts because I feel good now. I like where I am and I don't need to do a barbell snatch.
I was the same way where when I'm in alignment, I can live my life. I can function. When I was out in the first couple of years, some of the symptoms would come back. I would be very careful with some of the exercises. I've been under upper cervical care now for many years. I'm doing jiujitsu. I'm lifting. It took about 3 to 5 years for the muscles and ligaments to fully heal. You will get to that point where you can do those workouts.
It's the patience to say, “This is a lifelong journey.” This is not like a six-week challenge. After my first adjustment, I'm going to get back to it. We're in this for life. When we are in a situation where we have a misalignment or an illness, it's hard because we feel like it's not fair. We're stuck with this. It's not our fault, but it's our responsibility to dig ourselves out of it and to make sure that we live that healthy life that we deserve.
Are there any exercises that you find almost always put your atlas out or things that you have to be extra careful of?
I have to be careful when I'm a passenger in the car. Slouching and reading, anything where I'm hanging like a sack of potatoes or something, that is not good. I'm personally watching my shoulder exercises. Snatches, with kettlebells, I can do them because I've been doing kettlebell training for so many years, but when I was trying to do some CrossFit-style barbell snatches or pulls, that was not so good. I don't immediately completely knock my neck out, but you feel it after. I have to try and keep shoulder tension under control, which is hard because that's where most of us keep the stress. Stress management is a big one.
I usually find that heavy overhead activity is rough on the neck. Shoulder presses, pull-downs, and pull-ups, all those groups of muscles are going to pull on it.
That's why it's important that you don't go jump to a pull-up. Start with pull-downs. Get an elastic and make sure you are pulling down. You're using not the muscles up here, but the ones in your shoulders. This is where having a program that you can build up is important.
I always tell people, “I know you can lift heavier, but start with the resistance bands to get your body used to that motion again.” Where are you now? What's next for you? Now that you're healthy again, what are some of your goals and dreams?
I'm in the moment of fulfilling a dream. I'll be published in a fitness magazine.
STRONG Fitness Magazine. Everybody, watch out. It's the ten-year anniversary issue. It's something very special that we have coming up. I also have another workout spread coming in the same magazine sometime next year. That has been a lifelong dream of mine. Getting into the shape that you need to be in to be featured in a magazine was hard work and I'm happy that I did it with minimal damage to my body, actually none.
The time I knocked out my adjustment during the training time was completely my fault and not exercise-related. Household accidents. Don't walk down the stairs while you're watching cat meals on Instagram. The magazine was my personal goal and dream. Otherwise, I'm working on building more online coaching businesses to support more women on their journey to get a strong and lean body or whatever goals they have so they can feel good, confident, and strong.
It's not just pregnant women or postpartum. It's everybody. All types of women.
That's what I'm specializing in.
How can people do a consultation or sign up for your coaching program?
A good place to find me is Instagram. Super creative. I also have my website. You can read about my twelve-week programs there. I offer fitness and nutrition. If somebody is in love with their workout program or not ready to start again, they can also work with me on nutrition. There'll be a 21-day healthy habit challenge coming up because you don't have to go all in and you also don't have to make fitness and nutrition super complicated. Sometimes when we want to start something new, we’re like, “Do I need to eat my meals out of containers now and work out two hours a day?” No. You can still eat Oreos.
As far as the length of time that you brought up in a workout, what do you suggest? Like you said, you don't have to be in the gym for two hours. What rules do you go by in terms of how long does somebody have to work out to achieve results?
In the end, what we do outside of the gym is more important. Make sure you are active. Make sure you take the stairs when you can. Take a half-an-hour walk around the block. As for workouts, if you can get three times half-an-hour of strength training body weight lifting in, then you're doing amazing. Even if it's twenty minutes. In the end, what is key is that you do something on a regular basis. There's no winning done if you go to the gym on Monday for 2 hours, knock yourself out and everything hurts so bad that you can't do anything again for the next 7 days.
At the end of each show, I'd like to ask all my guests, what is one piece of advice that has resonated with you over the years that you would like to gift the audience? It could be anything.
I have actually two things that I tell everybody. My first one is my mantra. I'm open to creative solutions because if one way that you're trying to achieve something doesn't work, maybe take a step back and see what else works. Something my karate teacher had on his whiteboard, “Think strong, be strong, stay strong.” It goes together.
I like that. The power of our thoughts is everything and it all starts out there.
You have to believe that the situation you are in, whether that's an illness, your financial situation, or your job situation, you're never stuck. You need to see that there is a way out. You just haven't found it yet.
Mel, thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm so excited for the magazine to come out. I'm going to check that out. Congratulations on a lifelong dream coming true.
Thank you so much.
I would love to have you back on the show anytime.
I'm here. You know where to find me. Up north. Thank you so much for having me.
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