The author Alex Elle starts each morning by having a cup of coffee or tea, many times with her oldest daughter. Although this might not seem like a groundbreaking first act of the day, the restorative writing teacher, wife, mother of three, and “sister-friend” to her chosen family, puts her own spin on a morning ritual. “[My oldest daughter] said to me the other day, ‘When I have kids, I’m going to make sure we have a tea ritual, like I have with you’,” the writer tells W. This “ritual” in itself is a small glimpse into the Maryland-based writer’s everyday life now, but it represents something bigger in the realm of her lifelong healing journey, one that she continues to share in her newest book, How We Heal: Uncover Your Power and Set Yourself Free.
Released November 8, How We Heal marks the latest in Elle’s collection of empowerment works, which have at times come in the form of meditation journals, self-care workbooks, and even poetry. Some of them, like her previous release, After the Rain, detail flashes of the dysfunction, trauma, and hurt that she endured, especially from a familial standpoint—and how that generational trauma would eventually lay the groundwork for her current teaching and writings.
“You are the reason I heal,” reads a dedication to her daughters in How We Heal. “When we heal ourselves, we heal our lineage. Healing is an act of community care,” states a dedication to her readers. These messages underscore the central notion that healing is not only for ourselves, but for the community all around us, whether that’s as close as our own homes or beyond it.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m not a researcher, I’m not a clinician, but I am a woman with a lot of lived experience and someone who has intentionally chosen to heal themselves by making the decision to break cycles,” Elle says. “I don’t want this to be super prescriptive. I want people to feel like they’re reading and talking to a friend. I want people to take away accessibility in healing from this.” The aspect of accessibility—which Alex describes as something that “looks like, actually, feels like it’s easy to understand”—is a guiding reason she created How We Heal compilation-style. “I wanted to write a book centered on healing that people felt was in layman’s terms.”
Resulting is a work grounded in the reflective self-care passages that readers, her social media community (1.4 million on Instagram) and clients (such as Pinterest, Ritual: Wellbeing App, and CIVANA) have grown to love. But split across its four chapters—“Starting from Scratch,” “Befriending Your Fear,” “Reclaiming Your Power,” and “Healing Your Heart”—Alex also threads in journaling prompts, meditations, and excerpts of more than 10 featured subjects, including Megan Rapinoe, Dr. Thema Bryant, and Chriselle Lim.
“All the women I spoke with in the book have different facets to how they tap into their healing. Tabitha Brown is really connected to prayer. Nneka Julia is connected to healing through imagery and photography. Nedra [Tawwab] is connected to gardening. Morgan Harper Nichols is connected to art,” explains Elle. “It doesn’t have to look one way.”
Through gently guided exercises, Elle nudges readers to get out of their comfort zones as they embark on the mindful techniques in the title, some of which open up pathways for intimate connection. “I would encourage people to not do this work on their own,” she explains. “In How We Heal, we have some conversation prompts where it’s like, ‘Call someone and talk about your fears together.’ A lot of times we think we’re the only ones going through it and we aren’t. It’s just discerning who makes you feel safe and who can you use your voice with to unpack things deeper.”
Elsewhere, some prompts call for more independent activities like creating affirmations, inner-child work, deep internal reflection, and even walking—another aspect of Elle’s morning rituals. “I’ve been walking every single day for over a year,” she notes, explaining that the practice has been restorative for her, (even if she has missed one since this interview took place, as revealed in the latest episode of her This Morning Walk podcast.)
With a book release, ongoing newsletters, writing retreats, and her “Daily Gratitude” series on Ritual, missing just one walk is a true testament to the importance the author places upon the activity, and by extension, her own healing. “Alex Elle has a unique ability to deal with weighty topics like well-being and mental health in a warm, gentle, and approachable way,” Connor Toohill, Ritual app’s co-founder, tells W. “One listener told us, ‘When I’m stressed or anxious, she is like medicine.’”
If Elle is busy helping the world heal, then who—or what—is pouring all of that back into her? For starters, her husband, children, and sister-friends. Reading books, including a lot of Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist whose work When Things Fall Apart changes Elle’s life “every single time” she reads it. Dateline (she’s “obsessed”). The aforementioned “tea and coffee practice.” And even Jenni Kayne slippers, perched next to her bed and ready to slide on—the third of three things that she does to start each morning.
“When are we going to taste our joy if we don’t give ourselves permission to slow down and actually be with what we’re healing?” she asks.