“People ask me often how I had the courage to start this by myself, and honestly, I didn’t overthink it. I just did it. I think that mindset allowed me to reach where I am right now,” says Kelsey Stoll, yoga teacher and founder of Compass Retreats. Founded in 2016, Stoll’s global retreats are based on three pillars: mindfulness, nature and plant-based nutrition.
Stoll is a certified 500-hour yoga teacher with over 10 years of teaching experience and a certified wilderness first responder. She currently teaches full time in Denver at CorePower Central Park and LifeTime Fitness Cherry Creek. Stoll is particularly passionate about connecting with individuals who are overcoming challenges and have experienced trauma, domestic violence, incarceration and eating disorders. She was awarded Lululemon’s Here to Be grant for I-Grow Chicago, which accelerates the work of community-led organizations around the globe that are creating inclusive access to innovative well-being practices. Stoll is particularly passionate about connecting with individuals who are overcoming challenges and have experienced trauma, domestic violence, incarceration and eating disorders.
“I realized through working with these individuals that even if, in the moment, we aren’t able to reach for the external things to help us, we can find this internal sanctuary to come back to that can help move us forward,” she says.
Stoll was first introduced to yoga in middle school and started teaching in high school. “Since I was a kid, I wanted to explore deeper questions and yoga really filled that bucket,” she says. Although, over time, she felt like a piece was missing.
There was a period when she wasn’t able to practice yoga due to health reasons, but she felt so drawn that she still went to the studio to watch the students. “What I noticed was that, at the beginning of class, people muscled their way through, and then, there was a beautiful
softening that happened, almost like a spiritual acceptance of themselves,” she shares. “The class became a beautiful symphony of everyone moving differently, but still being very connected.”
She realized that rather than just a physical practice, yoga was something so much more profound. “When you’re able to just breathe and surrender, people’s authentic power begins to shine through, and they remember they are part of something so much bigger than themselves,” she says. The perspective she gained from sitting in the back of class reinforced a lesson she had learned from her dad, who instilled in her gratitude and slowing down to notice what we’re already a part of.
Stoll’s dad, who instilled a deep love for the outdoors onto her, tragically passed away last year from a falling accident in the Grand Canyon. She shares how, whenever they were outside together, he would frequently pause and say, “How lucky are we to experience this? How grateful are you that you’re here right now and connected to nature?”
Now, she tries to carry on that same mentality. “That can be challenging, especially when society celebrates a default to keep moving forward and muscling through,” she says. “But, it’s in that space of slowing down that I see beautiful symbols and signs that we’re all connected and feel my dad’s still with me.”
Compass Retreats carries on this concept, recognizing through mindful existence we can realize we’re connected to all beings and the earth in a profound way. Stoll values being present in every aspect of the retreats, from educating guests on gut-brain connection and preparing a fun, interesting, fine-dining experience alongside chef and mind-body eating coach, Lindsey Shifley, to the deep conversations while hiking up the mountain.
Stoll incorporates a lot of storytelling in her teachings. “As with breath and movement practice, stories have a way of connecting everyone together,” she says. In a yoga class, she shared a message about practicing nonviolence, ahimsa, by being there for someone else without expecting anything in return.
“I was at the airport when I found out my father had passed away,” she recalls. “I didn’t even realize someone was holding my hand. This girl said, ‘You don’t have to say what happened. I just can tell from your voice it’s family.’ I talked about how meaningful it was to have someone sit with me in that moment of despair and hold space. I will always show up when I see anyone in that place because of what that person did.”
Stoll recently went back to school for a masters in social work to learn more about effectively holding space for others. She is currently working as a program therapist in an eating disorder clinic and has taught yoga at Lake Cook County Jail, A Safe Place domestic violence shelter, Lake County Haven and I-Grow Chicago. “All of these experiences showed me there is a bridge between mental health, trauma and yoga as supportive in the healing journey,” she says.
“I try to help guide people towards knowing they have these incredible tools inside of themselves and that, through awareness and intention, they can stay grounded amidst a lot of chaos and find a way through,” she says. It all comes back to that internal sanctuary, adds Stoll, where we take pause to feel gratitude for this greater ecosystem that we’re a part of.
I try to help guide people towards knowing they have these incredible tools inside of themselves and that, through awareness and intention, they can stay grounded amidst a lot of chaos and find a way through.
This year, Compass Retreats is going to Guatemala, Peru, Big Sky and Azores, and all of the trips are sold out. Stoll will be announcing upcoming retreats and online classes soon.
To learn more about her retreats, visit compasshikingandyoga.com, and follow @the_outdoorsy_yogi.
Originally published in Summer + Fall 2023 issue of Colorado YOGA + life.
Writer + Adventure Photographer