The Value of Discomfort
It's a Wednesday afternoon and I'm already late to our weekly yoga class. Much like other people, I have tried to fit too many things into a short amount of time. After hosting a staff breakfast at my house I had decided to schedule a pest control appointment during a 10 minute window, I only sort of had, before I needed to head to yoga. You can imagine my added stress and frustration when the employee arrived late to my house. I hustled him as quickly as I could and rushed over to participate in yoga. We provide this class for our employees every Wednesday as an opportunity for them to engage in their own practice of health and wellness and bring that back into the field. After struggling to find where I needed to be, I wandered into class late and was warmly welcomed by our Health and Wellness Coordinator, Elise Mitchell, who has a phenomenal ability to incorporate inconveniences and distractions into her yoga and mindfulness classes.
During the course of the class, my cell phone was chiming in the background with text messages and emails. I felt embarrassed that I had forgotten to turn the sound off and I was also struggling to keep my mind off the possible content of such messages. And all of this while I was trying to be present and focus only on my breath and body. Suffice it to say, practicing yoga is not a strength of mine. However, this experience reminded me of the importance of this type of practice and why it's a perfect partner to the work we do in the wilderness. And as Elise worked her magic to keep me focused on my breath and my body, I was also reminded of the talent she has for incorporating mind, body, spirit work into wilderness therapy.
I remember the first time I worked with Elise while we were both Field Instructors. She struck me as a sort of yoga connoisseur. She has a certain air about her and if you've met her, you know what I mean. This was before mind, body, spirit practices were overtly included in our program. Beginning with that week, and every week I would work with her thereafter, she took it upon herself to incorporate yoga and mindfulness with clients during our shifts. At the time I was in awe of Elise’s ability to bring this practice so effortlessly into our daily routine and I remember hoping she would be a part of my team each week, so this practice could continue. As I sit at my desk seven years later I think about Evoke’s growth in this area and how it really began with Elise.
Katelyn participates in a meditation led by Elise when they were both Field Instructors in 2010
When Elise took her position as Health and Wellness Coordinator, she had a goal to weave mind, body, and spirit curriculum into our programming and ensure it was happening every week. These practices were happening in the field before they officially became a part of our curriculum, as it’s difficult to spend any amount of time in the wilderness without exercising your mind, body and spirit. But Elise brought something special to the table that no one else had and that was an undying passion and commitment to this programming. In her time as the Health and Wellness Coordinator, Elise has accomplished a lot. She completely re-wrote our adult journey packet, which outlines assignments used to guide clients through their time in wilderness. She has also created a very thick binder of resources to support staff in teaching mind, body, spirit, in the field, created a weekly yoga class for our employees and has presented on varying mind, body, spirit topics at many conferences. She currently visits the field twice a week to teach groups and staff varying yoga and mindfulness practices. At the completion of these visits, she provides resources for parents to view and consider incorporating in their own lives, as their children are doing in the wilderness. She is an invaluable part of the Evoke team and we are lucky to have her.
So, as I was practicing my not so graceful downward dog and reflecting on why I struggle with yoga so much, I had a revelation that I have often also had in the backcountry. The thought went something like this, “This is uncomfortable. Why am I doing this? I want out.” And as the class came to a close and I was laying in Savasana I had a conflicting thought, “That was hard. I feel better. I need more of this”. If I had to guess, our clients often experience a similar transformation of thought after completing a hike or even just a day at camp in the wilderness. Over time, our clients get comfortable in the backcountry and the continued mind, body, spirit practice becomes even more important as it provides a platform for discomfort and ultimately growth. The wilderness takes us to a similar place as meditation, yoga and mindful eating takes us. These two platforms for growth enhance one another. While yoga will never be a strength of mine, I continue to feel grateful that Elise pushes me, our clients, and staff to see the value in the discomfort and connecting our mind, body and spirit.