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Before she was a stylist, Amber Noll was a competitive cheerleader, so challenging her body to perform—often in uncomfortable positions—is nothing new. Neither is the emotional stress that tends to come from a high-achieving, busy life. Now the manager at Blackbird Salon in Richmond, Virginia, Noll takes seriously every lesson she’s learned for “keeping body and soul together.” She says she has little choice.

“I feel like I’m 27 going on 72!” Noll laughs. “My back hurts, and I have arthritis in my knees. I wear insoles to alleviate the pressure from standing—I’ve learned the hard way that cute footwear is not all-day work footwear. I should be more aware of posture, but I do make sure my arms are at the proper height to keep the strain off my shoulder blades so they don’t tighten up. My cosmetology school included instruction in how to hold tools correctly, but poor arm position is a hard habit to break.”

Some of those habits were formed in childhood. “My parents divorced when I was about six,” Noll explains. “When I was at my dad’s place, I wanted cool hair but my dad just towel-dried it. I taught myself how to make a ponytail, curl hair and use accessories.”

Today Noll makes nutrition a priority, eating organic foods as often as possible. “I live near grocery stores that offer locally produced, non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms) foods,” she explains. “The digestive tract can become sensitive to modified seeds, and when my stomach hurts I can’t give as much as I should to my clients. I avoid red meat and keep a pescetarian diet of chicken and fish.”

Noll works exercise into her day with a stationary bike that faces her TV. “With my bike, I don’t feel bad about binge-watching,” she confesses. “I lost 12 pounds while watching the Gilmore Girls revival last year! I do the bike as many days as I can until my back hurts, and then I’ll take a few days off before going back to it. I go fast enough to break a sweat but not so fast to hate what I’m doing.”

Recently Noll left her salon’s flagship location to work instead at a newly launched second location not far from her home. Now her physical health gets a boost because she walks to work, and she says her mental health benefits as well.

“I was excited to take a sideways step,” she says. “It’s easy to get depleted as a stylist, let alone a manager. We’re busy at our new location, but it’s still calm. I’m behind the chair five days a week and in the salon all the hours that we’re open. At the busier flagship location, I felt that I wasn’t giving my clients the attention they needed.”

For emotional support, Noll relies on companionship—both the human and the pet variety. “My boyfriend is a magnificent listener and has a background in psychology,” she says. “I’m thankful I have him, because I’m a sensitive person. And my rescue dogs are amazing. I have two dachshunds that are incredible stress-relievers. If I know I will be having a stressful day, I even take them to the salon.”

A big fan of Prince, Noll finds comfort in listening to his music. “If I’m overwhelmed or upset,” she says, “I can put on a Prince song for an instant fix.”

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