Ep#9 How to Grow your Zone of Stress Resilience with Sommerville Johnston

If you want want courage, confidence and resilience, you don’t want to miss this conversation with Sommerville Johnston, a licensed professional counselor and somatic experiencing practitioner.

This episode is all about growing your zone of stress resilience and stepping into your authentic self.

Learn how your nervous system works, and strategies you can learn and apply to getting comfortable with discomfort, overcome perfectionism and self-judgement, and courageously share you gifts with others.

The conversation also delves into the balance between comfort and growth, and stress and rest, for living to your fullest potential. 

In this conversation you’ll learn:

  • Strategies for dealing with discomfort, including orienting to safety, connecting with others, and acknowledging the discomfort.
  • How mentors and teachers play a vital role in supporting individuals as they navigate the discomfort zone.
  • Why vulnerability and sharing experiences with others can have a powerful impact on personal development.
  • How finding a balance between comfort and growth is crucial for sustained growth and avoiding burnout.
  • Why embracing curiosity and maintaining a sense of balance are key to lifelong personal growth, and how you can incorporate those into your life.
About Sommerville:

Sommerville Johnston is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, wilderness guide, yoga instructor, and founder of Aspen Roots Collective. She is passionate about facilitating opportunities for individuals and groups to connect with the natural world, to explore their inner-landscapes, and to discover within themselves a strength and beauty more powerful than they previously knew. She has worked in the mental health field since 2010 and in the outdoors since 2000, incorporating curiosity, humor, deep compassion, and respect into her various roles. Sommerville enjoys exploring the trail, rock, and water of her home in the Southeast, as well as continuing to learn from new places and people around the world.

How to connect with Sommerville:

Instagram: buoyant_life

Facebook: Sommerville Berry Jonhnston

Website: https://www.aspenrootscollective.com/

 

Anna
Somerville is a licensed professional counselor, somatic experiencing practitioner, wilderness guide, yoga instructor, and founder of Aspen Roots Collective. She is passionate about facilitating opportunities for individuals and groups to connect with the natural world, to explore their inner landscapes, and to discover within themselves a strength and beauty more powerful than they previously knew.

She has worked in the mental health field since 2010 and in the outdoors since 2000, incorporating curiosity, humor, deep compassion, and respect into her various roles. Somerville enjoys exploring the trail, rock, and water of her home in the Southeast, as well as continuing to learn from new places and people around the world. I’m really excited to have her on the show today. Thank you so much, Somerville, for being here.

Sommerville
Oh my gosh, thanks for having me. It’s exciting that you’re, I’m excited to learn more about where you’re going in this whole world of podcasting. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah, we’ve collaborated in the past on wellness retreats, wellness and slash outdoor activity retreats, surrounding, I think, nervous system regulation, which to me is a part of mental agility, which I love to coach. And I’ve seen what you bring to folks as super empowering, and I’m really excited for folks to hear about it all today.

So, yeah. So my first question is, what does your discomfort zone look and feel like?

Sommerville
Thank you, Anna.

Sommerville
Ooh, what does my discomfort zone look and feel like? I mean, it feels, I’m gonna start with the body because that’s what I work with, right? It feels like a more rapid heart rate, like a rising temperature in the body. It can feel like flesh skin sometimes. It can feel like an uneasiness. physically. And…

It’s stepping into a place where I don’t know the outcome. Obviously, I mean, I think if COVID taught us nothing, it’s that we don’t know the outcome regardless. But I think specifically in discomfort zones, I’m stepping into places that I’ve never been before. I’m gonna give a lot of examples probably in our conversation today because that story helps me explain. So I just recently started teaching a weekly yoga class.

I, it’s uncomfortable, right? I don’t know how it’s gonna go. I don’t know who’s gonna show up. I don’t have a lot of experience teaching in a weekly capacity or teaching in a way where I’m not getting active feedback from my participants in a yoga class. Like I’m teaching at people and it’s uneasy. Yeah, and so from the body experience, then to the mind and my thoughts in the discomfort zone are, am I good enough? Am I doing it right? Like the feelings in my body that are uncomfortable lead to thoughts that are nervous system activating towards threat, looking for the tiger. And so my thoughts look like that. Like, what am I screwing up? What am I doing wrong?

That’s, I’m describing the discomfort of the discomfort zone, right?

Anna
Yeah, that was beautiful. And I love how, well, I mentioned in your bio you’re a somatic experiencing counselor and practitioner. And I think maybe I’d also like for you to describe what somatic experiencing is, because I think what you just described as part of what you do is that connection between the body and the mind and what we feel in the body triggers thoughts in the mind. Am I on track there?

Sommerville
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. So somatic experiencing is a specific modality developed by Peter Levine to work with healing trauma. So we’re, it’s awesome. We’re becoming more and more familiar these days with the, with the word somatic or with the concept of nervous system regulation. This type of work works with the body, works with tracking the nervous system. So that’s everything in our bodies that’s happening automatically.

Tracking it so that we can understand, are we in a state of activation, fight or flight? Are we in a state of calm, rest and digest? So starting with tracking, learning skills to orient to safety, we are wired to orient to threat for our own survival. And so even though we’re not being, most of us, and certainly us in the US, we’re not being hunted by tigers anymore, but our body doesn’t know the difference between a tiger and any number of stressors we encounter during the day. And so we have to work with our body to choose to orient to safety to help the body like calm that exhale that widening of the peripheral vision again. So somatic experiencing helps people to track their bodies learn to orient to safety and then even more significantly identify where.

trauma or threat might be stuck in the body and didn’t get a chance to complete. And this could take longer to go into, so I’m going to just summarize it by saying that as a practitioner in somatic experiencing, I help folks to complete the trauma response and work those edges of activation and settling to ultimately grow their capacity to tolerate stress.

to experience joy, to kind of grow the capacity for feeling all the range of feelings in life. And it’s a method of changing the brain that’s bottom up instead of top down. So working with the limbic system, working with our very animal oriented systems to find change instead of trying to change the thoughts first.

I’ll pause there because I can talk about it as you know for a full weekend.

Anna
And I can listen to you for a full weekend. So, okay. So, your heart rate, you notice your heart rate is elevated. You notice you are stepping into your discomfort zone. What do you do? What’s your strategy?

Sommerville
Mm, yeah, good question. Strategies. You know, first I kind of want to jump in there and differentiate between discomfort zone and panic zone. So I brought a handy little tool with me. Can you see this rubber band? Right, so especially those of us who’ve ever worked in experiential or outdoor education, might be familiar with the concept that this rubber band, when not under stress is…can represent our comfort zone. We start to, yeah.

Anna
And for those of you listening, not on video, she’s holding a rubber band that just looks like a regular rubber band, hair tie. Yeah.

Sommerville
Yes. And then when I start to pull on it and stretch it out, this would represent our learning zone, growth zone, discomfort zone. Right, so I’m pulling, I’m stretching it out, and I’m not gonna do this right now, but if I were to pull enough, what would happen? Right, the band would break, and that would represent our panic zone. And so in the process of regulating our nervous systems, we want to be careful not to stretch, I’m pulling this rubber band again, not to stretch so much that we go into truly a survival response and get sort of stuck there. So I think that’s important to name it first. What do I do when I’m in a discomfort zone? Well, first I want to make sure I don’t go too far. And that looks like noticing what’s happening in my body and trusting it, not viewing it as something to be fixed. So if I feel myself tensing, tightening, flushing, or having a hard time forming thoughts, then instead of thinking, oh, there’s something wrong with me, I want to say, I want to recontextualize that, reframe that as my body is giving me a message and I can trust the message. The message is I’m stressed. So what do I do when I feel stressed but it’s you know tolerable? Well in the nervous system language I want to orient to safety. For me that’s often connecting with other people, with safe others and that might be an individual in the moment like if I’m nervous about this interview.

I’m looking at you, I’m like feeling this connection with you and our shared history and I know you’re a safe person so I can kind of like, ooh, shake that out. I can orient to breath and my, for me in particular, I’m going to go really specific so that I don’t just give you generic answers. I tune into my back body so I’m going to like walk it through right now. Let’s say I’m nervous. I’m going to feel where my spine touches the chair that I’m sitting in. I’m gonna feel like all the way down into my hips. I’m gonna feel the back of my neck, back of my head. And imagine that this is my safe container that I get to rest back into. So it helps me like calm a little bit. And for those listening, you can even track your body while I say those things and tune into your own back body and notice like for me, it helps my stomach kind of soften again. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah, it felt good to me. I was, you totally took me there and it immediately makes a difference for me. Yeah.

Sommerville
Yeah, yeah. I also think just acknowledging the discomfort can be huge. You know, when I’ve been in settings with groups or acknowledging like I’m uncomfortable right now, oh, I need to shake it out and I move my body, shake my hands or laughter is a great discharge of discomfort. So finding connections through humor. Yeah, I would say those are some tools I tend to use.

Anna
Yeah, I love that you said naming it is really helpful because I find that that’s true on the river. And I tell my coaching clients this and my private instructing clients, there’s times that if I’m on the river and I’m nervous, I will let someone in my group know, hey, I’m really nervous today. I don’t know what’s, and just right there I went to quantify it or like qualify it or make an excuse like oh, I don’t know what’s going on. Well, I do know what’s going on I’m nervous so, you know and Right and what you said also about having People you feel safe with safe supportive people who I can say that to and they’re not gonna try and fix anything for me That’s really important for me and

Sommerville
Yeah, yeah, what a great permission.

Sommerville
Yes!

Anna
You know, I do have that community of folks who I paddle with and they know that I’m telling them simply to name it, to let them know. And then I move on with my own strategies, you know, of breathing. I have, just like you named some of your strategies or you, you know, walked us through one of your strategies actually. You know, then I go to my strategies, but having named it helps me not, not suppress it inside like there’s something wrong with me and I think that’s really powerful.

Sommerville
Yeah, I’d love to add onto that naming it, it claims our humanity. Like I think that to me, the danger of staying in the discomfort zone, like where does it start to go to panic zone might be often in the shame that we layer on top of the discomfort. So. I’m going to just use the river. It’s the perfect analogy, right? Um, or kayaking specifically. I’m scouting a rapid. I’m nervous about it. I’m not sure of my abilities. Um, gosh, I’m on a mountain bike trail. I’ve stopped to like look at a section of rock. I feel nervous. If I can tell a friend, if I can say, wow, I’m really nervous right now. Um, I’m not trying to pretend to be something I’m not which might help me catch the thoughts that come in that are, I’m not good enough, I should be able to do this, I did this last month, why can’t you know what’s going on now, everyone else in the group is going to do it, comparison mindset, like it helps me catch all that BS and really call it what it is, that it’s this unnecessary shame and when we bring I think of shame as like a wet heavy blanket that covers up our capacity to change.

And when we can grow, when we can pull back that wet, heavy blanket and be like, yeah, I’m human. I’m human and so I have fear, I have doubt, I’m not sure. And normalize that and not judge it. Then I get room for more choice. I can choose, well, maybe today isn’t the day or yes, I’m nervous and I’m gonna bring that with me because I’m actually know my skills. I’m gonna orient to my skill set or orient to the safety voters that are with me or any of these resources.

Anna
Love it.

Anna
So do you encourage folks to step into their discomfort zone as a growth strategy?

Sommerville
Heck yes. I don’t know how we grow without it. Right? Absolutely. And I think of the word eustress, which means healthy stress. Eustress, e-u-s-t-r-e-s-s, eustress is a word that means healthy stress.

Sommerville
And like think about when we’re excited or when we’ve accomplished something really good, we’ve still stressed ourselves. Or if I wanna tend my physical body, I go and I stress myself at the gym, right? And I get stronger. I get stronger. I have a big caveat with that. I get stronger if I also allow myself time to recover, to rest to digest the experience, right? To, and that’s literal sleep. And that’s also, you know, we can get in this culture of go, hustle culture, like influencer culture, trying to compete with what we see on social media. And we can feel like we’re never supposed to stop. And that will undermine, I think, the benefits of getting into the discomfort zone. Yeah, what do you think about that? I wanna ask.

Anna
I agree 100%. And actually I think people sometimes are surprised when, you know, I have a course that I teach in my one-on-one coaching about mental agility. So my courses are my one-on-one coaching. I talk a lot about rest and digest. And I think at first people are like, what, what does that have to do with courage and confidence. And as you pointed out, it has a lot to do because one, and this is also bringing in from an Ayurvedic perspective, and my Ayurvedic and yogic training as well, is that we, as you said, the digestion piece, and there’s a couple of things. One is we tend to think that we only digest food.

And that is one, we do have a digestive, a physical digestive tract that digest food. We as humans actually have to digest everything that we take in, in our five senses. So that includes sound, touch, taste, which would be the digestive tract. What am I missing? Experiences, anything that essentially comes in through the five senses. And if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to process to rest, which is sleep, right? And I also, of course, advocate, second thing is that when we do nourish ourselves, and in my programs on the river, we, at lunch, I actually have a rule that we do 10 minutes of rest, of left-side lying, which is an Ayurvedic digestive technique to get the rest and digest the parasympathetic nervous system activated so that our bodies actually can take in the nourishment that we’ve just given it, because you can eat the best, most organic local food in the world, but if you’re stressed during your meal or after your meal, then you’re actually inhibiting your body’s ability to digest that food.

So I love rest and digest on many levels. I don’t think you can have mental agility, courage and confidence without the rest piece.

Sommerville
Yes.

Sommerville
Right, yeah, it’s so fun that you bring up the left side line. I learned that from you, of course, in our retreats together, but I was talking about it with a client just the other day, who’s a solopreneur, running his own business, and looking at how to bring in pauses during the day, and just even for a lunch break. Take a real lunch break. And then also this morning in my weekly yoga class, the theme was digestion. So it’s just fun timing that this is coming up. And to think about how we digest everything. It’s not just the food. So we have something I feel like I observe in our culture is there’s both the like go, hustle, do it all. But then there’s also this overemphasis on

Let’s take a break, treat yourself, rest fully. And I wanna see more out there about doing both, right? About the healthy stress followed by rest. I had a teacher once say, everything in life pulses. And for those that are not watching the video and just listening, my hands are coming in and out, in and out, like forming a tight ball, and then opening and expanding. Our lungs do this, our hearts do this, the seasons do this, the whole universe does this. And so, yes, we need to like stress ourselves if we wanna grow and then follow that with that integration, that Shavasana, that left side lying, that exhale during the day to ultimately see our capacity expand.

Anna
beautifully said.

Yeah, and I agree with you. I think that, and maybe I, I agree with you. I think that there isn’t enough conversation about being able to live with both. It’s either, and especially in the outdoor industry, at least my experience, it’s like run the gnar, ski the gnar, ride the gnar, whatever it is, go, go. And then there’s the…

Then you see actually what I see in my clients too. Well, not necessarily my clients, some of them who actually who have come back to kayaking because they got so scared as you said, they got into their panic zone, they didn’t feel like they had a community of supporting folks. And so what happens is instead of processing and taking some time to rest, they just felt like they needed to stop because there wasn’t room for them to take a step back.

Sommerville
Yeah.

Anna
And maybe that looks like, like for me, I spent a couple of years at one point during my career, stepping quote unquote back. And I’d love to find a different phrase for it. It would be like stepping into the comfort zone versus living in my discomfort zone of paddling some easier rivers, really focusing on teaching and the joy of it. And then at one point, because I was listening to myself at one point, I did this feeling inside of me rose up of, oh, okay, I’m ready. I’m ready for a little more stress. I’m ready to step back into some harder whitewater. And then I was able to, had I not allowed myself, given myself permission to do that, I may well have just decided like whitewater kayaking isn’t for me and I’m gonna stop. Yeah.

Sommerville
Can I ask you a question about that return? I love this. I love the you intuitively feeling and listening to the call back to more difficult whitewater. What was different, if anything, about that return to the harder technical whitewater versus earlier in your career? How did you approach it differently that time?

Anna
That’s a great question. Earlier in my career, I was, felt like I needed to prove myself a lot. And so I was running harder whitewater, not because I actually powerfully chose to, but because I was, that’s who I was with. I was with the best paddlers in the world on tour paddling. I mean, I think I paddled a little bit. I don’t think I, I.threw myself into paddling hard white water when I didn’t have necessarily as much of a progression nor did I have as much experience as the folks who I was paddling with and at the time in the 90s it was a much harsher culture and so I was doing it because I wanted to be good and I wanted to be acknowledged and I wanted to make a career of it and that’s what I felt like I needed to do. Then I took, when I took a break from harder whitewater and to be clear, I’ve never actually gone back to paddling the hardest whitewater that I did paddle in my 20s. But when I stepped back into class four, four plus, it was because I was choosing powerfully. not from a place of ego, although I will say that throughout my life, I appreciate my ego because there are times when my ego gives me the push that I need to get into my discomfort zone. And it is because I want to look good. It is because I want to, you know, do something cool, quote unquote, cool. And there’s nothing wrong with that. So I think that was the big difference. It was more a conscious, I felt empowered in my choice and greater self-awareness and also going for the joy of it because at that time I remember being on a river, a class three river and being like, you know, and I…

Sommerville
Wow, that’s a great addition. Yeah.

Sommerville
Yeah.

Anna
I feel weird using this language, but this is just the truth of it. You know, I’m kind of bored right now. Like there’s something missing. And that’s when I knew that I wanted more excitement.

Sommerville
Mm-hmm.

Sommerville
I love that. I have so many thoughts about everything you just shared. There’s such a beautiful natural progression of human development in your story of when we’re younger, we are more ego driven. And it’s not bad to have an ego, but it can be out of balance. And so when we get out of balance, then you pulled back in. And then when you felt…

Like you wanted more. I mean, you, you said powerful choice. You said joy, like there’s just a different quality that you’re describing of kind of take two of jumping into the NAR. And I, so I run this mountain bike and mindfulness workshop weekend with, um, my good friend, Sarah Hunter, who’s a fabulous mountain biker, amazing therapist, um, incredible instructor. And in, in a recent weekend.

Anna
Yeah.

Sommerville
One of our participants, one of her takeaways was, by slowing down, a lot of what we’re bringing to this process of mountain biking and mindfulness is slowing down to track, to feel, like what’s happening in our bodies. A lot of times folks who are trying to keep up with their writing friends will end up going over features.

kind of in a state of dissociation. Like I don’t even know what happened coming down that rock pile, right? And so this participant said, by slowing down and feeling, I’m actually feeling more discomfort, but I can feel how that’s going to allow more growth. So, you know, I imagine, yes, we’re gonna make progress with our skills at times when we’re just kind of pulling a Nike, just do it, right? But to grow holistically in our nervous system capacity and our ability to be present in the moment and not burn out and not injure ourselves, right? Both literally and figuratively, then being willing to slow down enough to be with the discomfort may allow us.

the chance to like not overdo it, but touch it and then come back down into comfort and then go touch it again and work these edges that lead ultimately to like this mountain biking participant getting down a technical section with choice, with presence, with mindfulness and really experiencing it instead of sort of blacking out through it, so to speak.

Anna
Yeah, I love that example. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, I’m loving this conversation. I’m just going to my list of questions just to see, we’ve touched on so much.

Sommerville
Yeah.

Mm-hmm.

Anna
I’m curious, what is your first memory if you have a first memory of stepping into your discomfort zone?

Sommerville
I definitely have a memory there and it’s, I love that question because it is river based. I grew up going to a camp in the area and learned to whitewater canoe and my first river trip I wonder how old I was, I don’t know maybe 12. Probably like not that young but for me we’ve got on the lower green. I think of the lower green now and I’m like oh it’s a tube float right but if you’ve never paddled whitewater.

I was in the bow of the canoe and an older, very cool girl was in the stern and I was terrified. I had, I feel like I had no idea what I was doing. I was nervous that this cool girl was gonna, you know, she was calling out strokes to me. I thought, oh no, I’m doing it wrong. And yet to do it felt incredible, right? To discover this new activity that I just didn’t even know existed to feel the water under the boat, the current moving. Yeah, you know, the feeling of finishing the run is one of the highlights of like, I did it, a new thing.

Yeah, that’s what comes to mind. I also, I, you know, I’d also share an older example because I think it’s a comical one. When I was 24, I led my first Outward Bound course. Now I had worked a little bit in outdoor education, but I felt, I mean, talk about imposter syndrome. I just felt like I didn’t belong, but here I was about to.. show up and be the facilitator, the instructor, right, for 22 days. I had never done anything for 22 days, but I was going to lead a group of teenagers in the Colorado wilderness. In the course of that progression, towards the end of it, our students do what’s called a final, where they travel without direct supervision from instructors. And we had a course director who was in like a Gandalf of the mountains. He was an older man with a long gray beard and

He decided we were just gonna go rogue and do this independent travel thing differently. So instead of following our students, the instructors were gonna set up checkpoints in the wilderness over the course of five days for these students to come in and check in with us. Well, I had never camped alone outside before. And I remember using one of the quads, like the topographical maps to get to my designated checkpoint, which was I had to go off trail to get there. I just felt like I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I had to do it. And I did. And in the process, just the sense of discovering what I was capable of. Was such a high, right? And I think in kind of prepping for our conversation today, I think about the discomfort zone and the spiritual aspect of it.

like the awe and beauty and wonder of moving out of our day-to-day rhythms that we’re so used to and getting a glimpse at sometimes like something that’s bigger than us or whether or something that’s inside of us we didn’t know about and that has an element to me of the spiritual.

Anna
Agree definitely that self-awareness that connection with self and bigger than self with nature to me it’s always that bigger than self nature has always been special to me as well. And so that’s why I love experiences in nature, whether it’s kayaking or hiking or biking or skiing, whatever it is. Yeah.

Sommerville
Yeah.

Anna
Yeah.

Sommerville
Yeah, I’d add, so that immediately makes me want to think, okay, well, but what about non-nature experiences? I’m kind of questioning my own response there, right? Of, is there anything spiritual about stepping into our discomfort zone when we’re not out there doing things in the natural world? And I think if I’m stepping into my discomfort zone somewhere else, usually that has to do with other people.

Anna
Mm-hmm.

Sommerville
It’s, you know, even if, let’s say I’m, I like to write and I, let’s say I’ve written something, well, what’s the discomfort zone? It’s about sharing it. Right. Or in my professional world, I’m just thinking back to like the first time, maybe I gave a presentation. What’s, you know, what’s uncomfortable about my world of counseling or it’s about what will others think? And again, being willing to like put.being willing to name it or being willing to put ourselves out there. Yeah, it’s claiming our humanity. It’s claiming that we are we are enough or we are imperfect just like everyone else’s or my mother was an artist and she used to say when she was a fiber artist when she would hang a show she felt like she was hanging herself naked on the walls right and that is so visceral like how vulnerable i think being an artist is an incredibly vulnerable thing to do it is all about discomfort because it’s about sharing ourselves with others and that also feels spiritual

Anna
Absolutely.

Yes, it is so scary to share yourself, whether it’s a project or doing this podcast for me, you know, I’m coming up against that or sharing, yeah, sharing content ideas. It is very vulnerable.

Sommerville
Yeah.

Sommerville (35:03.114)
Yeah, it’s like, gosh, why is that, right? Why, when we’re all so human, why is it so universally scary to share our humanity? And I think for women, I think for men too, but from my experience of being a woman and being in groups of women, I think the value of stepping into discomfort in connection with others is so powerfully healing.

Anna
Right.

Sommerville
And so, because, you know, why do it? Right? Why step into discomfort?

Anna
Right, why do it? Tell us, Somerville. What’s your…

Sommerville
Yeah, well, it’s like, it’s like, Oh, because I want to grow, you know, like, why? Why do I want to grow? Yeah, I think it’s

Anna
because you might get bored. Just like when I was paddling that class three for a while and then all of a sudden, it’s almost like we thrive as humans and I don’t have scientific evidence for this. In my experience anecdotally, it seems like we thrive on challenge that when it’s missing from our lives, we do get bored and…

Sommerville
Yeah.

Anna
I think it can actually have a negative impact on our mental health and physical health.

Sommerville
Yeah, yeah, gosh, that sparks a thought for me and in terms of the nervous system of, well, we’re wired for survival. And if we’re never encountering a threat, then are we living? Like, you know, just to get go to the extreme here, if I’m a gazelle on the plains of Africa and I never encounter a lion, like how do I know I’m alive, so to speak?

Anna
Thank you.

Sommerville
And I wonder if we, yes, we need safety. Yes, we need comfort. But when we overdo the comfort, are we missing out on the sense of aliveness? Oh no, my dog’s barking. She senses a threat, she’s alive.

Anna
Yes.

And I think what comes to mind for me, if we’re talking about challenging ourselves outside of nature, you know, meditate, and from a spiritual perspective.

Yeah, one thing about stepping into our discomfort zone, I’ll call it in our regular lives. You know, it comes to mind as really valuable practices, meditation. You know, I think of meditation as a hard move in easy water, so to speak, as a paddling metaphor. You know, you sit in the comfort of your meditation room, being with yourself and your thoughts is really vulnerable as well. And that takes, it is uncomfortable. And not to mention then sometimes discomfort in the body. And the shift that happens for me in my overall wellbeing from before meditating to after meditating makes a huge difference. And so I think that even though I love the nature piece, there’s also practices.

Like you said, sharing with others, meditating. I mean, the practice of yoga is really about putting your body into challenging shapes and breathing deeply and easily, trying to find that steadiness. And so that is also a practice in the discomfort zone. And it’s a practice, again, it’s like a hard move in easy water in the sense of you can practice it in your safe space and then remember how that feels and take it into other aspects of your life.

Sommerville
Mm-hmm.

Sommerville
Oh, that’s well said. Yeah.

Yes, and I think yoga is such a great example of how using our strategies to go into places of discomfort to eventually claim those things and bring them into the comfort zone. The more we practice discomfort, the better we get at being uncomfortable and observing the discomfort rather than being the discomfort. And so practicing yoga, like we’re doing something hard and the discomfort might not come from the physical posture, right? It might come from the mindset. How many people have I heard say, oh, I don’t do yoga because I’m not very flexible or I’m not good at it? Or like, yeah, the point isn’t to go in and be good at it. The point is to go in and experience whatever shows up. And so when your mind is elsewhere or you’re comparing yourself to someone, next to you or to what you used to be able to do, like that might be the discomfort. And so bringing, like observing that, being even tolerant of, oh yeah, there goes my like inner critic again. Okay, how do I bring some compassion in this moment? Helps us as you said, take that same practice off the mat out into our daily lives.

Anna
Yeah.

When you mentioned, let me start that over. You mentioned summer camp as a place where you, is one of your earliest memories of stepping into your discomfort zone. Did you have a mentor or teacher or someone who helped you navigate or taught you how to step into your discomfort zone or maybe even gave you a push into your discomfort zone?

Sommerville
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m laughing because I’m remembering Sweetie Stewart, who is the canoe instructor. And she, we would, the group of girls, we would kind of imitate her, the way she would yell at us sometimes. She had a great Southern accent. She was wonderful. And then also another whitewater instructor at the time was Dr. Jones. And so Sweetie and DJ, as we call them they would push and they, and it’s occurring to me now, I’ve really never thought about this before, that their pushing was in the context of such a safe container. So if they had been pushing and we had been like comparing ourselves to each other, it had been like this competitive environment where we weren’t sure that we were really cared for or welcomed or it would have been totally different.

But this group that I grew up learning to paddle with during the summers was just the most caring, loving group of gals. And our teachers fostered those connections in that safe container and therefore could push inside of it, right? Could like encourage us to do harder things. And when I think about my history of trying hard things,

I can tell such a difference internally when I’ve been in secure relationship with the people around me versus insecure relationship with the people around me. And I know that like we all, I’m sure have some experience like that to some degree. It’s probably a different intensity for different people. For me, I know it makes a huge difference.

Anna
Yeah, yep. Agree.

Sommerville
Yeah, which is, I mean, I think that’s probably why both of us have really enjoyed fostering supportive group experiences that are mostly amongst women, amongst like, um, folks who have not been the majority in these outdoor pursuits. And so creating just a space of, um, of emotional safety of, yeah, it’s so powerful. It’s been healing for me right, to facilitate these experiences for others.

Anna
Yeah, what you’re saying is so important. For any facilitators out there, instructors, leaders, that is key. If you want to unlock people’s potential, it’s about creating trusting relationships and safe spaces. Some people don’t like the word safe. I think, I haven’t found, I think someone recently, I think my friend Lily called it principled spaces maybe, but you know, I think that whatever term you use definitely Create that container In which you can challenge folks and they will take it on Because they feel like even though they feel pushed they still feel like they have a choice in the map

Sommerville
Yeah, yeah, to speak to the word safety, I think, I hear you because I think some people don’t love it, because it’s this idea that you can ensure safety, which you can’t. I think I choose the word to refer to the nervous system response, right? Does my nervous system within a zone of resilience, is it outside of that zone and operating in a survival response? Or is it inside of that zone and therefore more ready for learning? And I, I think it would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that as a facilitator or leader or instructor, you don’t always, you don’t always know what’s happening for folks and that you know, if someone’s not in an affinity space, if their identity, the body they live in, results in them feeling a legitimate, understandable sense of threat because they’re with a majority demographic that has typically not felt safe for them, then no matter what… you think you’re providing, like you can’t necessarily guarantee that you’re providing a safe experience no matter how kind and like well-intentioned you might be. So that moves, it’s really appropriate thinking about discomfort zones that moves us into the realm of being aware and intentional about what the differences are that my comfort zone or discomfort zone will look very different from someone else’s.

Anna
Yes, such an important self-awareness practice to cultivate within ourselves, especially as leaders or facilitators, I think in general, but especially if we take on that responsibility of facilitating these types of experiences.

Sommerville
Mm-hmm.

Yeah.

Anna
Yes. Okay. I have some question. Okay. I have just maybe two more questions. Maybe one more and then rapid fire.

What is the biggest misconception that folks have about outdoor sports? Whether that’s mountain biking, kayaking…

Sommerville
Hmm. What’s coming to mind right now is that it all has to be hardcore. Like that. So I mountain bike now. I used to think I would never get into mountain biking because it just looked gnarly.

I love mountain biking. I do not ride a lot of the trails that some of my friends ride. I, gosh, this is almost embarrassing to admit, but there was a time when I first started that I would count the number of times I stepped off on a trail. So critical, right? It was so, this was a different chapter in my life and there was something there about assessing myself. And it’s, I’m really grateful.

for the support that I’ve had and the work that I’ve done to shift that. I’m so far from that now. And I love riding a bike in the woods, right? Or, I mean, being a whitewater paddler, there was a time when season after season, I would say, this is the breakthrough year. And I would, fear would debilitate me and I would end up just getting stuck with what I was willing to push myself to do. And now I paddle some and I’m so content to enjoy a section of river that used to be, like, I think I used to have a mindset that wasn’t hard enough. And yeah, why is that? We celebrate, I mean, we celebrate the celebrities, right, of our different areas. And so you watch films, like badass key films, and you see YouTube footage that’s so gnarly, and it makes it seem like outdoor sports are just so hard to access. And it’s all worth it though. Like at any level, it can be you growing your comfort zone by stepping into the unfamiliar and unknown.

Anna
Yeah. It sounds to me like, and I can relate, that there’s a streak of perfectionism, maybe. When you talk about counting the times you’ve stepped off your bike, and I bet there’s a lot of folks listening who also can relate. And you say you’ve worked through that. Do you have any advice for folks who might find themselves being really hard on themselves right now. And so they step into their discomfort zone and then they’re focusing on all the quote unquote things that they’re doing wrong. Any advice for them?

Sommerville
Mm-hmm. Oh my gosh, yes. Go to therapy. No. I do think like a process of self-awareness and honing our ability to observe what’s happening in us so that we can see it and not be it. I can see that I’m going down that path of judging my writing, let’s say, versus I am a bad writer. I can see when it happens. So a process of self-discovery, I think journaling can be a beautiful individual process, a consistent journaling practice. I think being developing friendships and groups that you feel comfortable showing up with and again, naming the discomfort can be really normalizing. There are, especially these days, I think there are more and more group offerings, different affinity spaces, right? Absolutely doing work with a therapist or some sort or coach some sort of professional who can hold up the mirror and also normalize what you’re experiencing. Like you are not alone in this but it doesn’t make it accurate. Like it doesn’t make the thoughts you’re having true. And then I think

This is less advice and more just perspective the messages of our culture, which are ruggedly independent. The US has such a focus on independence. And while we can have a thrill from pushing ourselves and growing and jumping into our discomfort zone, if the whole process is happening, I’m pointing to my head, in here, in my own mind, and I’m not seeing myself as part of a larger community or collective, there’s room for shame, there’s room for shame to come in. And the risk of going on and on, I’ll add one more thing to that, because I brought up shame at the beginning. This concept that we, this isn’t necessarily a rule, but that when we’re young, when things happen outside of our control, in the family environment, in the home, that don’t feel good, that aren’t safe feeling, or that are like, they’re too much for us. But it’s common that instead of seeing our caregivers as having flaws, it’s more…

Like we can absorb it more if we take the blame on ourselves. If we sort of say, oh, I need to do better or it’s not a cognitive thought even, it just develops over time that we are the ones to feel overly responsible for what’s happening around us. And so then that can over couple this idea that when things are uncomfortable, I’ve done something wrong. And to work at…uncoupling that. So there can be discomfort. And it doesn’t mean I’ve done any like that it’s my fault that I need to fix it that I maybe it’s perfectionism, maybe it’s a comparison, maybe it’s just trying to like, control the environment to make it feel comfortable again. And, you know, working whether it’s with a therapist or kind of digging into pass can be helpful. We’re looking at our shadows of how we’re trying to get at control and peace. Yeah, I’m kind of going off topic there, but those are a little bit of the things that would offer.

Anna
Yeah, what I hear you say is not collapsing our self worth with our quote unquote mistakes.

Sommerville
Yes, beautiful. Yeah.

Anna
The other thing that comes to mind when we were talking about the vulnerability of sharing with other people is that also when we stay in our own minds and we don’t have anyone to help provide for us context, we also limit our ability to have a positive impact on others when we have the vulnerability, the courage to share, to be in conversation, to be in community with folks, we have the opportunity to share and to have a positive impact.

Sommerville
Absolutely.

Sommerville
Oh my gosh, the number of times in facilitating groups that I’ve seen someone just have the biggest aha moment when another member of the group. admits that they’re scared, nervous, that they’re criticizing themselves. That’s the big one. When another member of the group admits, gosh, I’m really being hard on myself right now because of this, this. And I see another person say, oh my gosh, me too. Or I know what that’s like. And they’re holding up a mirror for each other in a way that I think even I as a therapist can’t do in the same way in a one-on-one session. Right? Group, they’re both having the same experience and connecting over it. It’s so powerful. That’s why I love doing that work. Yeah.

Anna
Yeah.

Agreed. I love it too.

Okay, it’s time for rapid fire questions.

Sommerville
Oh my gosh, I’m uncomfortable. I’m ready.

Anna
Are you ready? Okay. A morning ritual that sets you up for success.

Sommerville
Journaling. I end pulling a daily animal card as an inspiration for my journaling.

Anna
Right. A non-negotiable self-care practice.

Sommerville
I would say the same, but I need a different one. Non-negotiable is absolutely exercise. Like I prioritize physical exercise throughout the week.

Anna
Favorite motivational book or talk?

Sommerville
Okay, just pops into my head, bird by bird. I haven’t read it in so long, but I’ve quoted it many times, and I just pulled it out to reread one step at a time. It’s like the very condensed version.

Anna (
Okay, Bird by Bird, who’s the author? Oh, is it Bird by Bird? Is that the author?

Sommerville
No, no, it’s not the author and why am I? Hold on.

I’m blanking because I’m in rapid fire mode.

Anna
It’s okay.

Sommerville
and Lamott.

Anna
Can you just say that one, just say it one.

Sommerville
Yeah, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Anna
Awesome. I haven’t read that book, so I’ll have to check it out.

Throughout the course of your life, have you been considered the underdog or the favored to win?

Sommerville
Oh my goodness.

Sommerville
I’m immediately saying, well, by whom? If it’s by my mom, favorite to win. Always.

Anna
Nice.

Anna
Okay, hard moves in easy water or flooding.

Sommerville
Oh, uh, flooding, but I wish hard moves in easy water. I’m practicing, I’m practicing hard moves in easy water. Yeah.

Anna
Got it, got it. One word that describes what your comfort zone looks like.

Sommerville
Hmm, I’m really stuck on this one. One word that describes, I’m having images. Exhale.

Anna
Love it. Freedom through discipline or do what I want.

Sommerville
Do what I want. You know, you know that one, I think. That’s why we balance each other in our co-facilitating.

Anna (
Love it. You’ve got to have that balance for sure. In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Sommerville
Beauty

Anna
Beautiful.

Anna
Is there anything else you’d like to tell, anything else you’d like to say?

Sommerville
Oh, I mean, I think that this concept of navigating our comfort zone and discomfort zone, I think in the past, I wrote a little blog post on comfort or growth. And I think it is a lifelong pursuit. And I wonder for people, I would invite, here’s an invitation for the listener to ask yourself, do I tend towards comfort or do I tend towards growth? Where am I most likely to get out of balance? You know, if I tend towards too much comfort, then yes, there can be boredom, but there also, there might not be boredom, but there might be a closing in, right? Of life isn’t feeling like what I thought it could be because we’re not getting used to the practice of discomfort. If we tend towards too much discomfort, I think we can lead towards burnout. And the difficulty with sustaining our growth. And so if we come back to the idea that everything pulses, getting curious about do I tend towards one or the other? And how might I have one more yes and one more no? That helps me shift a little bit towards the balance of the two. But I think it’s a lifelong process. And so if we can, instead of bringing judgment or shame in, bring curiosity, what a life-giving energy that can be, because it accepts ourselves as we are, as well as helps us follow the path into the future.

Anna
Thank you so much. Beautiful, powerful. Where can…

Where can folks find you? Somerville, where can they connect with you?

Sommerville
Yes, well, I’ll first say in person, I am very excited about this step into the discomfort zone of my weekly yoga class. I teach at West Asheville yoga on Wednesdays at 8 15 a.m. So I’d love to see people there. I am online at Aspenrootscollective.com and you can sign up for a newsletter that I because I’m not about freedom through discipline and I’m about do what I want, that newsletter comes at random times. But the newsletter contains everything from updates on retreats that I’m offering and workshops both locally and internationally. It contains trip reports from recent experiences and sometimes just like a letter from home, sort of a words to you with content that’s similar to what we talked about today. So you can sign up for newsletter.

And then I, yeah, I’ve got, it’s interesting. I’m letting go of a little bit this coming year in terms of the bigger retreats. I’m having that step back moment to exhale, regroup, recenter and reorient to the direction I really wanna be growing in. So I do have trips coming up to Argentina, to Patagonia, which is something I’m offering usually each January.

But other than that, the calendar year has not yet been planned, so the newsletter is the way to keep up with offerings.

Anna
Awesome, and hopefully we’re gonna get together to facilitate something. So I’m glad your calendar is open. Because we’ve been talking about facilitating another program together, which would be amazing.

Sommerville
Oh, it would be so fun. I look forward to it.

Anna
Me too. And this conversation can give folks a little bit of a taste of what we might be talking about and exercises we might be facilitating or practices, I should say.

Sommerville
Mm-hmm.

Yeah.

Anna
Somerville, thank you so much for taking the time to be with me and to be with our listeners. I really appreciate you. And I look forward to having many more conversations and facilitations together.

Sommerville
Oh, me too, Anna. Thank you so much. This was a lot of fun to do. And I’m excited to hear where you go in this exciting step of discomfort of a new addition to your offerings. I think it’s gonna be a huge benefit to all of us. So thanks.