Eliminate the idea of permanence: The experience of being human isn’t static. We are ever-changing and need space to grow. I used to say, “I’m not a morning person” and “I’m lazy” and “I’m a runner.” None of those things are permanent, even if we expect them to be. After having my son my body changed, making running difficult. I felt like I lost a piece of myself because I had defined myself by an activity. Once I learned to see these traits as choices, I was free to just be. I now love waking up early most mornings. Sometimes I sleep in. I love laying low and binge-watching TV, sometimes I spend the entire week backpacking through incredible scenery. And when I stopped running, I wasn’t less of myself, I just simply don’t run
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingBreanne Kiefner.
Breanne Kiefner is the founder and owner of Root Adventures, an adventure travel company integrating wellness, sustainability, and inclusivity. Travel ignites a strong passion for authentic experiences and the understanding of new cultures. Root Adventures embraces the transformative nature of travel to also cultivate these self-care and inclusive practices. A firm believer that a happy and healthy life is available to everyone, Breanne recognizes that those who are lucky to experience the benefits of self-care have an obligation to pass their good fortune forward.
Since her original six-month backpacking journey to Latin America more than a decade ago, she’s been fortunate to return many times and has lived in Buenos Aires and Bariloche, Argentina, as well as in Spain. With two continents left to visit and endless people to meet and adventures to be had, she’s not stopping anytime soon.
Breanne built Root Adventures from the depths of postpartum depression and found healing in connection to the community, which quickly became a cornerstone of her brand.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My childhood is marked by change and uncertainty. I was born in California but spent the majority of my childhood in New Mexico and Colorado. When I was 4 years old, my parents bitterly divorce and all communication between the two of them was expressed through me and my 2 sisters. I was thrust into a world of incessant change. By the time I graduated high school I had lived in 10 homes and attended 8 schools — and no, my parents weren’t in the military. I navigated the upheaval, though I gained many unhealthy habits along the way: people-pleasing, suppressing my feelings, self-sabotage, etc. By age 12 I was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer, developed undiagnosed dyslexia, and began a long struggle with depression, anxiety, and disordered eating.
Despite the many disadvantages, I fought for decent grades and earned my way into my high school’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program, only to drop out of the University of Colorado after my sophomore year. The burden of my childhood began unfolding in me. I spent many years in a deep depression and used binge drinking, disordered eating, and projecting on others to distract me from the pain.
It was a long road to find mental health and stability, but through many missteps and so many wonderful people, I found peace, joy, love, and contentment.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I began my career on a lark. After working a variety of jobs in high school, I was hired as a housekeeper at a lodge located at the Rocky Mountain National Park — a job that would forever shape my career. I was quickly promoted to supervisor and continued working my way up the hospitality ladder for the next 7 years.
After attaining a great job as a hotel’s Sales Manager, my wanderlust for travel was aroused. My then boyfriend, Dave, reached out to a couple selling an old Land Rover in town. Dave and I were instantly intrigued by the owners of the car. They had committed their life to traveling the world, including international adventures with this same car. After finalizing the sale, we took them to dinner, peppering them with questions as our minds formulated plans to make our own adventure happen. Dave and I spent the next 9 months saving every penny, sold all our belongings, and planned a 6-month journey through Latin America with a budget of 6,000 dollars total. I had never left North America at the time, but ironically the chaos of my childhood prepared me well for the unknown.
Upon returning to the United States, I leveraged my hospitality experience to earn a position as an Adventure Travel Sales Manager. My dream job existed, and I found it! I spent the following 10 years working in the industry, living abroad in Argentina and Spain, and embracing all things travel. As a child I often wondered where I would find my next meal, now I was traveling the world and getting paid to do so all thanks to a job in housekeeping and a For Sale sign on an old Land Rover!
In addition to my love of travel, I am fascinated by the human body and mind. I earned my personal training certification in 2012 and began educating myself in all things health and wellness. This expertise provided supplemental income as we moved around the world, but more importantly, it provided insight into people — specifically their motivations and struggles to make positive changes stick. In all my work, the common thread has been to bring joy and better living to people.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
People! The one and only way to success! My path is winding and there are many people who took a chance on me. First and foremost, my husband. In 2004, we found each other and fell hard. He was raised in an oft-portrayed “perfect family home.” I was wild, living with untreated mental illness, and coming from a traumatic childhood. We had (have?) a lot of barriers to overcome, but he saw something in me. Even today, as we celebrate 10 years of marriage, he thinks back to that time and how he just knew he wanted to know more. We struggled to communicate honestly and graciously in our first 12 years, but 3 constants always held true: we love one another deeply, we respect one another, and above all else, we want the best for one another.
After 16 years of love, I can unequivocally say that we hit our stride. Not only are we as passionate and in love as our first year, but we also mastered loving communication and work to improve every day.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Building a business in the peak of postpartum saved my life. Though it wasn’t a mistake, per say, I wouldn’t say I ever imagined PPD giving me everything I have today.
It was a Wednesday. My boss was leading a team meeting and out of nowhere, I completely melted. I can’t even remember what set me off, but there I was, crying in front of my colleagues. My boss asked me to “hang back.” He was aware that my performance was lacking but hadn’t had the nerve to confront me until he had no other choice. He was sympathetic to my state of mind but also had a business to run. In the kindest words possible, he said I needed to “get my shit together or I was out.”
I had plans to meet my longtime friend and former coworker for lunch that day. Walking to lunch, tears poured down my face. I tried my best to compose myself, but she instantly knew something wasn’t right. As a fellow mom, she knew the struggle of finding yourself in this new role and recognized the deep pain she had felt during her own postpartum depression. She sat with me for two hours as I laid all my pain on the table. Finally, after I had nothing left to share, she told me, “you need to start your own business.”
That was it. That was all I needed to hear. In those seven words, she handed control back to me. I was not going to be a victim of my circumstances; I was going to own and change them. On the walk home, I designed my entire business in my head. I also made a commitment to first make things right with my current employer. I had a one-year-old son, a full-time job and debilitating depression, but somehow, I was going to do this!
Within a month, I had the business name, mission, website, and daily meetings scheduled during lunch breaks with someone whom I could learn from (hint, hint…there is something to learn from literally everyone!). I reached out to every strong woman leader I knew and asked for their thoughts, opinions and any connection or education they could offer. I was still reeling from the dark cloud of depression, but I was starting to regain control and it felt amazing. I dedicated myself to improving my sales numbers at my current job during the day, loving my family for those couple hours I had my son in the evening and spent every other waking hour developing the business.
Entrepreneurship (much like motherhood) is a thankless, grueling, lonesome mission. I needed encouragement and inspiration to help me maintain consistency. My commitment to connecting with people helped bring a little motivation every day. Every time I met with one person, I asked to be introduced to another. My confidence rose, my network expanded, and my ambition and energy level grew alongside my increasingly packed schedule. I worked out in the early morning, meditated almost daily, and started eating better, all in addition to my full-time job and developing business. I was now able to wake up and get my kid ready for the day, I showed my husband more love and appreciation and most importantly, I showed myself more love and appreciation.
In allowing myself to be vulnerable and accept help and advice from others, I gifted myself with confidence and inspiration. Not only was I returning to my pre-motherhood self, I was surpassing her. I was becoming who I’ve always wanted to be. My network even led me to a psychiatrist and mindfulness coach (yes, that’s a thing! And a resource every person should seek out!) who both helped me rewire negative thoughts. I became a kinder, more empathic person focused on helping people connect. My business SAVED MY LIFE.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
AH! BOOKS! My best friend loves to poke fun at my complete lack of discernment in books. I find every story enriches my life and provides a new perspective. At the beginning of last year, I set a personal (then lofty) goal of reading 25 books. Thanks to COVID and the wish to better understand the pain of so many in our country on full display with the Black Live Matter movement, I more than doubled that goal!
As I grow and learn, my business, Root Adventures, grows right along with me. Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have been pillars of the business from day one, and curiosity is imperative. As a white woman of privilege, my best source of information is listening to others with experiences different from mine. What better way to deepen my understanding than reading works by people of varying backgrounds?!
Reading fictional and factual stories at a higher rate than normal has filled my life with so much joy, curiosity, and compassion. For many years, reading for fun seemed impossible to me. Just 2 years ago, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and my complicated relationship with reading became clear. I now approach every book as an opportunity to learn. Though reading may be tougher for me, I know the fortune that comes with my ability to do so. Knowledge is power and many of the books I read this year exemplify that perfectly, most notably:
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Caste, Disability Visibility, and the book that guides all my relationships: The Four Agreements. I read the Four Agreement twice a year — it helps me remain curious about my own biases and realign my goals.
Currently, I am reading Braiding Sweetgrass — though I am only 100 pages in, I feel I’ve found another annual read. Robin Wall Kimmerer beautifully weaves Indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge to exemplify how everything is connected. It is such a beautiful reminder that we must remain curious and embrace new ways of thinking to continue growing.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“If your mind carries a heavy burden of past, you will experience more of the same. The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future.”
– Eckhart Tolle
As a child born into abuse, I find there is a moment in every person’s life when they are no longer the victim and must choose either to perpetuate their past or to be the change. We are not our past; we are the choices we make every day.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Wellness has long been associated with wealth and privilege. At Root Adventures, we are reclaiming the term and are on a mission to bring wellness to the masses. Our 8-week virtual wellness program is hosted by 5 of my favorite wellness leaders, each bringing their own skills and insights. Wellness is holistic, so our program includes guidance on community, art, fitness, yoga, mindfulness, pleasure, expression, and nature. More info on the program here: https://www.rootadventures.com/root-wellness
I am also collaborating with my brilliant friend to create a children’s book focused on discrimination and diversity in the outdoors. We are both mothers; my son is white, hers is black. Our story is based on their lived experiences in the outdoors. The ultimate goal is to communicate to children and their parents that even in nature, BIPOC people experience racism and a myriad of different barriers. We plan to self-publish, then assist other women, non-binary folks, and people with disabilities tell their stories.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Checklist: Forming new habits requires a plan. My favorite step in achieving mental health is a daily practice filled with easy items that instill joy. All items must be easy and with flexible parameters. Stop and think, “what do I do on days when I feel my best?” My personal list includes:
– Eat fruits and vegetables
– Make my bed
– Move my body with intention
– Get outside with intention
– Read something (not online)
– Drink Water
– Take my medication
I recommend using a habit tracking app to gauge progress and note your feelings that day. It’s easier to maintain a habit if you can note positive outcomes.
Eliminate the idea of permanence: The experience of being human isn’t static. We are ever-changing and need space to grow. I used to say, “I’m not a morning person” and “I’m lazy” and “I’m a runner.” None of those things are permanent, even if we expect them to be. After having my son my body changed, making running difficult. I felt like I lost a piece of myself because I had defined myself by an activity. Once I learned to see these traits as choices, I was free to just be. I now love waking up early most mornings. Sometimes I sleep in. I love laying low and binge-watching TV, sometimes I spend the entire week backpacking through incredible scenery. And when I stopped running, I wasn’t less of myself, I just simply don’t run.
Connection, to nature, community, and self: If COVID has taught us anything, it is our deep-seated need to connect. Certainly, some people enjoy the isolation and find connection in other ways. There is no one right way to connect, but however you connect, it must bring life to your life. As I age, I notice I enjoy my own company much more than I did in the past, but I still need to feel connected to people.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Though I believe a steady meditation practice brings many benefits, I find practicing mindfulness throughout my day is essential. The first words I embraced about meditation is that it boils down to one breath. A formal practice is just that: a practice to help you live a more mindful life. The real tests appear in everyday life. When someone cuts you off in traffic, do you have a knee-jerk reaction or can you separate your reaction from the other person’s action? Driving used to be my biggest source of anxiety. I would need 20 minutes to calm my nerves following my drive to a destination. I still experience plenty of anxiety driving, but I leave each experience in the moment it occurred. I arrive at my destination without baggage. It’s all in a breath.
Again, I am a big fan of a daily meditation practice to help lock in my habits. The Insight Timer app is my go-to as it offers everything you need for free, plus the option to financially support the providers for their work.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Make movement fun. Move every day. The biggest factor in people quitting a fitness program is they go too hard, too fast. Americans are known for wanting to do their best at all times, without regard for the long-term. When starting a new fitness routine, less effort more often is best.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Fall in love with food. Care more about eating what brings you joy than focusing on eliminating or avoiding foods.
My relationship with food is complicated at best. I was bulimic and anorexic, grew up eating fast food for most of my meals, and had little variety in my diet. I carried these bad habits into my late 20s. I became fascinated with nutrition after being a case study for a nutritionist student. In 6 weeks of adjusting my diet, my chronic stomach aches were gone! Who knew eating fruits and veggies were a necessary component of a diet?!
I have since enrolled in many nutrition programs and learned as much as I can about the power of food. I’ve learned the best way to eat healthily isn’t to set limitations on what foods you can eat, but rather fill your body with the foods you should eat. Eat at least 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and 2 to 3 cups of vegetables per day. If you eat your daily need of fruits and veggies daily, I think you’ll find you have less and less room and interest in the foods that make you feel poor.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Surround yourself with good people who see your success as their success. The old adage that you are the average of your 5 closest relationships is true. You can only rise as high as the waters in which you swim.
Be consistent. Motivation is fleeting, discipline is choosing what you really want over what you want right now. It isn’t always easy, but it does get easier with practice.
Expect stumbles. We’re all fallible. This work on building a healthy mind and body is tough and unending. The goal should never be perfection, but rather showing up for yourself fully.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
I have a hard time with this one. I think it is important to give space to feel all the feels. We seem to have a need to be happy all day every day in this country, but that isn’t sustainable. It’s important to get comfortable with all our emotions and do our best to embrace them. If you need a boost, try a smile, but I find resisting my down moods only makes me feel like a failure. Acknowledging the downtimes authentically, allows me to accept them and then leave them behind me. I’m learning to ride the waves, knowing it’s all temporary — the good and the bad.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
I have long been resistant to spirituality, as I am wary of organized religion. Religion was always present in my early years, but my mother had difficulty committing to any one religion. When I was born, she was attempting to embrace Mormonism. After my dad left, my mom decided to throw me into the Catholic Church, where I received my 1st Holy Communion and attended CCD. Ultimately, my mom kicked me out of her house when she fell in love with a Jehovah’s Witness. After testing out some churches on my own while living with my dad, I decided religion wasn’t for me. However, in the past years, I learned spirituality has little to do with religion. I hold no concrete beliefs, but am curious to learn from others. I say all this to remind you, it’s okay to be skeptical. As I navigate my new outlook, I follow these steps to better connect to the unknown:
Be curious. My friends hold varied beliefs. Some find Jesus and the Buddha to be amazing teachers, yet abandon any religious practices. Others are steadfast in the deeply held religious beliefs. And some are as certain that there is no God as others are certain there is. I only know that I know nothing, so an open mind is essential. I have deep philosophical discussions with my Evangelical friends and Agnostic friends. I learn so much from everyone. I have nothing to lose by listening to others…and myself.
Meditate. I began meditating regularly 3 years ago. When I began meditating, I worked diligently and did a formal sit at least once a day. I firmly believe the daily formal sit is a requirement in the beginning. Mindfulness is a practice and if you don’t teach your brain the basics, it won’t stick. I would love to say that I sit down formally every single day, but it’s probably closer to 4–5 times per week. However, I do take some time every day to be present. My years of work have allowed me the freedom to bring mindfulness into every action. When I notice my brain is veering off course, I realign by bringing the discipline of the formal sit back into my life.
Be in nature often. As we move throughout our days, life seems to lose its magic. Without magic, how can we embrace spirituality? Nature is full of magic. Just a walk in the park is reminder enough that we know nothing of this big, beautiful universe. My go-to reset is always a long hike. I know that isn’t accessible to everyone, so find your own escape. Someplace you can go when you are really feeling lost.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
The scientific power of nature and our overall mental health is just beginning to be understood. Every year scientists find further evidence of the physical and mental benefits of being in nature. In Japan, patients are often prescribed time in nature (Forest Bathing). Neuroscientists are also discovering the long-term psychological benefits children gain by being raised getting their hands dirty. And I know I feel more grounded after spending time amongst trees and wildlife.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Adoption of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements: Be Impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions, and Always do your best.
If we could all understand that we each individually have the power to see the good, be the good, and embrace the good, this world will be good.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Oh, wow! Toughest question yet. I have to say, Glennon Doyle. Vulnerability is my most cherished quality in humanity and Glennon embraces vulnerability as the superpower it is.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.