“The spiritual dimension of humanity…is that aspect of our nature that strives for unity or ultimate connectedness.” ~Aristotle, 384 BC
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN IN OUR LIVES? We can think of our overall health as being influenced by a trickle-down, or domino, effect: our physical body is affected by our emotions, our thoughts direct how we feel, and our physical experience affects our mind and thoughts. Therefore, when our thoughts are more optimistic, our emotional states are more positive. When our emotional states are more positive, our physical bodies are healthier. When our emotional, mental, and physical bodies are in balance, we are healthy and connected spiritually: to ourselves, to others, to nature, and, perhaps, to a larger purpose and meaning.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN AT OPEN SKY? The Open Sky program is designed intentionally so that just by going through the daily activities students will visit all four rooms each day. The Student Pathway Workbook outlines activities and objectives to complete for moving through the stages of the program, all in the context of the four dimensions of health: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
Organic, Whole Foods
At Open Sky, we believe in the healing power of foods, and nutrition is a simple way to teach students about mind-body health. Our menu includes a balance of the highest quality whole foods and organic meats, fresh fruits, and vegetables, free of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics. Many fruits and vegetables are grown on our farm or in our greenhouse in Mancos, Colorado. Menus are created to help students develop a healthy relationship with food and teach students what balanced nutrition is comprised of, the benefits of healthy foods, and how to choose, prepare, and enjoy healthy meals.
At Open Sky, meditation is taught as a means to assist our students in becoming healthier people by invoking a sense of calm and reducing stress. Many of our students report feeling an overall sense of ease, having an easier time paying attention, and experience being less emotionally reactive. Research has proven meditation is effective at supporting individuals with a variety of mental and physical health issues, including anxiety, depression, stress management, drug abuse/addiction, and interpersonal relationship distress. The practice of meditation correlates with higher self-esteem for those who are meditating. Additionally, several positive physiological effects occur in the body during a meditation session. Alpha brain waves slow down, and beta brain waves decrease, allowing the mind and the muscles of the body to relax. This decrease in brain activity can reduce stress, enabling individuals to think more clearly and thereby make better choices.
Students meditate regularly at Open Sky. During expedition, students have a morning practice that includes 15-20 minutes of both yoga and meditation. Once a week at base camp and during our student graduation day, we bring together our entire community of students, staff, and visiting families for a group meditation practice.
At Open Sky, yoga is not about attaining a particular physical position as much as it is about strengthening and stretching muscles, breathing, and being present in one’s mind and body. The yoga practice in the field provides skills in developing self-awareness and self-regulation: essential abilities that encourage a vibrant, healthy human existence. Yoga is a great way to learn to be present in one’s physical, emotional, and sensory experience. This increased self-awareness provides a steppingstone for increased self-control. Positive self-control assists students in learning to appropriately and effectively cope with challenging life circumstances.
Yoga has many proven health benefits, from assisting in the reduction of stress, to increasing alertness and awareness, to improving memory and reducing depressive symptoms. We have found that yoga is a powerful modality for encouraging healing, reducing depression and anxiety symptoms, and settling even the most hyperactive and angst-filled students.
Sleep and Exercise
In addition to the practices listed above, Open Sky puts special emphasis on the importance of ample sleep and frequent exercise. On average, our groups sleep 8–10 hours per night. We believe quality sleep is essential for students to rest, heal, and incorporate the learning and growth taking place. Groups generally hike five days out of the week. We find a positive feedback loop between sleep and exercise; a day of backpacking in the mountains, meadows, and canyon canyon can do wonders for getting a healthy night’s sleep!