At Open Sky, meditation is taught as a means to assist our students in becoming healthier by invoking a sense of calm and reducing stress. 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 which can reduce stress, and enable individuals to think more clearly and thereby make better choices.
In this second installment of our 3-episode guided meditation series, Family Wellness Counselor and Certified Meditation Teacher, Norman Elizondo leads a 10-minute embodied mindfulness meditation. In this episode, listeners receive practical instruction and have direct, immediate practice on how to:
Norman earned his BS in Business Management from the University of Illinois at Chicago and began his professional career in investment analysis. Following the death of his mother, he considered her parting advice about doing work that really helps people and began his career in wilderness therapy as a field instructor at Aspen Achievement Academy.
As an immigrant from the Philippines, becoming educated and assimilating into American society has driven Norman to work hard, adapt, and feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for being a U.S. citizen. As such he has enjoyed tremendous opportunity; one of the largest and most meaningful was to help found Open Sky.
Norman served as the first field guide for Open Sky, receiving the first student in May of 2006. Demonstrating both a command of wilderness skills and an aptitude for therapeutic skills, he moved quickly to being a senior field instructor and then a trainer for field instructors.
The focus on family systems and parallel process with parents has been an inspiration and driving force in Norman’s time with Open Sky. He helped create the programming for the Wellness Weekends and has facilitated these weekend intensives since the very first one in 2006. He takes a special pride and pleasure in helping parents understand their child’s work at Open Sky and developing the same basic skill sets of emotional regulation, assertive communication, and effective boundary holding that are so crucial in parenting. In addition to the Wellness Weekends, he facilitates the parent support calls, graduations, meditation instruction, and field guide training.
Meditation has been a cornerstone of Norman’s life. His years of practice deeply influence his ability to work with people in crisis and to train others how to develop their confidence and emotional resilience to work with challenging populations. With prior study and practice in the Southeast Asian Theravada tradition beginning in 1995, Norman has been studying and training as meditation instructor in the Tibetan tradition since 2001. He is a certified meditation teacher.
As part of his commitment and ongoing training in meditation, Norman spends 4-6 weeks each year in retreat along with his daily practice. With most of his vacation time spent in retreat, he finds it important to make time in his daily life for exercise, playing music—DJing, singing, and drumming—and getting into the outdoors just for fun.
It’s a feeling that you can find, and when you’re balanced, when you think you’re centered, notice how it feels. You can actually mentally label that feeling of being centered.
When you have been mentally labeling you’ve also been stimulating your brain in a very specific way, firing the midline circuits of the prefrontal cortex and integrating the prefrontal cortex with the midbrain, the limbic system, the emotional part of the brain, and all the way back down to the brainstem, the reptilian part of the brain, that keeps us alive. So you have been integrating the three different regions of your brain.
The way we release challenging emotions is to be aware of them and then to develop the capacity to feel them, experience them.
On a wilderness trip in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1995, Emily discovered she could combine two of her passions: working with youth and being outdoors. Since then, she has worked for Aspen Achievement Academy, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and Connecticut Wilderness School. She was part of the founding team at Open Sky.
Emily worked as the lead therapist for adolescent girls for her first 5 years at Open Sky. Her areas of clinical expertise include depression, anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, self-harm, disordered eating, and adoption and attachment issues. Her clinical approach is informed by cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, family systems, and attachment theories. Relationship building through letter writing is a major focus of her work with students and families.
As a founder and owner of Open Sky, as well as the Clinical and Executive Director, Emily brings a breadth of knowledge with her background as a therapist, field guide, trainer, logistics coordinator, emergency responder, and field director, Emily is known for her direct, caring leadership style, her ability to inspire excellence in others, and her team oriented approach. The student treatment plan is her compass for her decision-making regarding Open Sky’s students, families, and employees.
Emily loves reading, writing, yoga, mountain biking, telemark skiing, rock climbing, spending time with friends and family, and cooking with foods from the local farmers’ market.