Sheila Nelson was burned out.

In a span of just a few years, Nelson went from learning to bake from YouTube videos to opening her popular Twin Cities bakery called Vegan East, now with three locations. That meant long hours at the business each day. She didn't have much time for friends and family and virtually no time for herself.

In the past year, though, she has had to realign her business because of the pandemic and cope with the passing of one of her younger brothers, which has showed her how to better balance her business and her own self-care and spirituality.

"I feel bad saying this, but I feel like the pandemic saved my life in a way," said Nelson, 34. "Now after the pandemic and experiencing that, now I know what a balanced life does look like."

Nelson didn't start baking until 2016, when she was newly married and wanted to find a hobby to enjoy at home.Around the same time, Nelson and her husband, Reid, changed their own diet to eat vegan, which means not eating meat or any animal products, such as eggs and dairy.

After several sold-out showings at the Twin Cities Veg Fest and selling goods out of their house, her husband suggested they open a standalone store.

They opened the first Vegan East bakery in White Bear Lake in February 2018 and a second location in south Minneapolis later that year. Among the offerings: cupcakes and cinnamon rolls.

While business was booming, it took a personal toll on Nelson.

"It was very busy and hectic," she said. "I had cut friends and family off because I had to be at the bakery all the time."

Last year when the pandemic hit, Vegan East whittled down its menu and shortened its hours, offering some breathing room for Nelson and time to prioritize her personal life.

"When COVID happened, it really put everything to a halt," she said. "We reanalyzed the business and what we were doing and also just cherishing friends and family."

Nelson, who had been interested in spirituality for years, decided last year to formally learn about healing hypnosis techniques and guided meditation. After taking a break, she recommitted herself to her spiritual learning after one of her younger brothers died suddenly last November following a seizure.

"I do feel that when he passed it was an awakening for me. ... It really catapulted me to live more with purpose and not just kind of being here and going with the flow," Nelson said. "He showed us that life is short, so when you are with family, be with family."

Last December, Nelson formally launched her healing business, My Light Within, and began to offer sessions in which she uses hypnotic trance to help clients get in touch with their higher selves.

Business has been good for Vegan East, which has seen sales rebound from the beginning of the pandemic. In August 2020, Nelson and her husband opened their third location, in northeast Minneapolis, which serves as strictly a retail space with a dessert shop and lunch menu of soups and sandwiches.

Though she is still very busy, Nelson says she is happier.

"We have to learn to take care of ourselves so we can be there for other people around us," she said.