double clickOur Brains in STOP, YIELD and GO - Building a Sense of Adventure

Our Brains in STOP, YIELD and GO - Building a Sense of Adventure

My friend, and former Western River guide, Kyndel Marcroft has made a career of studying the brain in relation to stressful or traumatic situations - such as might occur in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. She, and her fellow clinicians have created a simple resource to help us understand where our minds might be at any given moment in dealing with the obvious stresses we confront from day-to-day as well as the more mysteriously sourced anxieties that build up and manifest in misunderstood ways. At the bottom of this post you will see Elise Jones, also a former Western River guide who has joined with Kyndel to share a video with breathing techniques she teaches her Yoga classes. The invitation is to pay more attention to our current mindset, and perhaps have more compassion for the struggles others may be experiencing.

What does this have to do with river rafting? Well, a lot - at least in my mind!

Seems to me, after listening to Kyndel, that it’s all about “flow”. Getting stuck in an eddy that we can’t find the strength to get out of, or stuck against a mid-stream rock that won’t let us travel downstream, are not unlike being trapped in the STOP or YIELD zones. The "stuck thinking" or lack of new learning of PTSD patients for example, is like a dammed river. The thoughts keep flowing like a river that backs up against that blockage and begins to flow into places it never was meant to flow. This manifests in erratic behavior, triggered by the blocked thinking. Kyndel's work focuses on unblocking the "stuck video loop" by having patients rehearse their traumatic experience while stimulating the left and right sides of the brain with Rapid Eye Movement (R.E.M.). I think it's fascinating. I imagine a guide with only one oar stroking in circles trying to navigate downstream! Until you have both left and right sides working together, you won't make much forward progress!


We run rivers because it is fun. Sure, there is challenge (some might call it trouble) ahead as we rig our rafts for the downstream journey, but we outweigh the joy of learning from those challenges more than the fear that would keep us on the shoreline, never choosing to chance the rapids. When we take on adventure, we are in the GO mindset - ready for “new learning.”

Even when there are flashes of RED or YELLOW in various situations while running the rapids of life, healthy thinking generally can regulate up or down and return to the GO mindset with a healthy sense of adventure for what may come.


When we have come through a long and challenging rapid, we are grateful for the chance to “eddy out” in the calmer waters below the rapid. An eddy is current that swirls seemingly back upstream at the edge of fast flowing downstream current. Catching these eddy pools, or "eddying out" can be a welcome calm in the storm of running whitewater rapids, giving a pause for a moment to glance downstream, get your bearings, and head back out. But if we are not careful, these eddies can become traps that only circle us around from one bad habit of escapism to the next. Yielding to life too long can make us action shy. Yielding, or taking a pause is sometimes exactly what is needed to reset our thinking. That’s what vacations are for! We are built for exploring and learning, but there is also a time for resting. If we never yielded for camp or exploration up some intriguing side-canyon, we’d never know the secret beauty of places like Elves Chasm, the Patio at Deer Creek, or Havasu Canyon. We need places like that to give us relief from long days in the hot sun. Another way of getting stuck in a river is to be stuck on a rock in mid-stream. It's rare, but can happen if one hesitates too long before deciding to go left or right around that rock!

STOP (RED) MINDSET = SITTING ON THE SHORELINE (but feeling like you’re in the rapids)

Stopping for too long a time, in river trip terms, can mean missing out on time to visit other places to visit downstream. Garth Brooks sang a song about the river and warned, “Don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied - Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide”. The hyper-aroused senses of the red zone are built-in for helping us navigate difficult waters. This aspect of fear helps to heighten our senses and perform. It's the jitters you get before a play performance, or running a rapid. It's not about getting rid of the butterflies, it's about making them fly in formation. But when a person feels that heightened sense of awareness and stimulus when just sitting on the shoreline and thinking about what will be needed, that person will faint at the prospect of going out there and doing the thing.

We all get into our comfort zones and weigh ourselves down with self-imposed limitations. We all sense at least some degree of anxiety from time to time from a variety of circumstances, and we all have at least some sense of adventure. Where are you on that spectrum most of the time? What makes you yield, or stop, or go? These are interesting times to observe where our river of thought is flowing.

Hopefully these tools help you navigate ahead with a sense of adventure in the things that we CAN do. As I learned from the swift water rescue trainer in my guide training trips, “It’s not about the flip, it’s about the recovery.” The very real advice of that phrase is that it invokes action with a specific focus on getting things moving forward.

All forward!

Kam Wixom
Kam began guiding in the Grand Canyon in 1991, met & guided with his wife in 2000, and is the proud daddy of 5 kids. He now works as the Marketing Director for Western River Expeditions.
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