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Natural Highs founder Avani Dilger has created a new online Natural Highs Academy to support teens and adults during coronavirus closures.

Natural Highs offering online academy to support teens, adults amid coronavirus

Natural Highs founder Avani Dilger has created a new online Natural Highs Academy to support teens and adults during coronavirus closures.

By AMY BOUNDS | | Boulder Daily Camera

PUBLISHED: March 31, 2020 at 6:05 p.m. | UPDATED: March 31, 2020 at 6:07 p.m.

Daily Camera

Through drop-in afterschool classes, lunch groups at New Vista High School, school presentations and free sober events, Natural Highs supported teens as an alternative to traditional substance abuse prevention programs.

With schools closed and gatherings banned amid the coronavirus outbreak, founder Avani Dilger said, it’s even more important to keep teens connected while helping them avoid negative patterns or unhealthy habits.

She said the natural response to the current crisis is to go back to old habits to cope and survive, making people who are in recovery or who have healed from past issues feel all their hard work is coming undone.

“That’s the danger right now,” she said. “We are all vulnerable to go back to our old habits. If the old habits were life-threatening or really destructive, they need more support at a time when it’s harder to get support. They can’t go to their groups or meetings. We all need to watch out for each other.”

To continue to provide support, Natural Highs recently debuted Natural Highs Academy, a free program providing daily materials to keep students on track with worksheets, guided exercises and live, online Google hangout meetings. Groups, classes and resources also are available for parents looking for help for their children, as well as for adults who need support themselves.


More than 1,000 people so far have signed up to receive the program’s daily email messages.

“We’re trying to break down all the obstacles and barriers,” said Dilger, a licensed professional counselor who also teaches at Naropa University. “They just have it in their inbox, and everything is on one hub on our website and free.”

She said there’s also a focus on providing support in different formats, from guided meditations to a texting group for teens.

Natural Highs peer mentors are helping lead groups for the online program.

“The whole community is stepping up,” Dilger said. “It can bring out the worst in people or the best in people. We want to create a structure where people feel called to contribute, where they can be leaders.”

Beau Chilson, a sophomore at Boulder’s New Vista High School who lives in Lyons, said his favorite part of being a peer mentor is sharing information with eighth-graders about substances. Natural Highs focuses on the science behind addiction, stress and anxiety and creating healthy social rituals to replace unhealthy ones.

He also leads a weekly meeting at New Vista that he’s trying to set up on Zoom.

“It’s a place of support,” he said. “I hope it draws people who have free time. I hope we keep it going even after we all go back to school someday.”

Holly Melohn, an adult peer mentor and certified yoga trainer, is leading online yoga classes twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays — Mondays to help motivate people to get out of bed and start the week and Thursdays to help them unwind and reflect.

“It’s important for people to be moving during these times,” she said. “It’s like going to the gym and getting a therapy session all in one. We’re all still connected and together. You’re doing something physically and emotionally for yourself.”

She said practicing yoga in between sessions also will give participants another coping mechanism.

“You can have that as a thing to go back to as you’re alone,” she said.

For more information about the program, go to

Parent Engagement Network tackles stress and anxiety

By Amy Bounds


Staff Writer

POSTED:   01/27/2019 08:55:29 PM MST


Avani Dilger is asking people to fall in love with their anxiety, to tap into the energy and see it as a superpower that can help.

"We say to kids and parents, at this point in the world, if you have anxiety, you are more intelligent, more sensitive and more caring," said Dilger, who started Boulder's Natural Highs program for teens and is a licensed professional counselor. "How do we tap into this energy?"

Her workshop was part of the Parent Engagement Network's third annual symposium on stress and anxiety held over the weekend at Louisville's Monarch High School.

About 140 people attended the two-day event designed to "address the impact that stress and anxiety is having on people's day-to-day experience of life."

"We had a lot of people talking to us, saying their children were stressed and parents were stressed," said Shelly Mahon, Parent Engagement Network's executive director. "This is an effort to bring our whole community together to address an important issue."

She said the symposium has expanded from a half day of teaching quick techniques to help manage stress in the first year to this year's two day event that combines techniques with information.

"Participants wanted more than just techniques," she said. "They want to understand."

Parent Jasmine Rodriguez said she learned tools to help with resilience, tolerance and stress management that she can use now with her young children and into their teen years.


"It's hard not to want to go to every session," she said.

The symposium offered a selection of about 45 classes and workshops, some in Spanish, on topics that included "Creating Authentic Connections with Your Teen," "Fight or Flight Therapy" and "The Gut-Brain Connection."

Shawna Warner, founder of Cultivating Resilient Teens, led a session on how parents can stay "in neutral" when responding to teens and pre-teens.

"I really, truly believe we are stronger as parents together," she said.

One tip she offered is to ask if the teen just wants someone to listen or instead wants support or advice.

One mom said she will say the advice she really wants to give only in her head. Another mom said she'll ask if her teen wants a monologue or a dialogue.

To stay calm when faced with a teen making a bad choice, Warner offered suggestions on how to avoid going into "fight, flight or freeze" mode and encouraged focusing on how to make the conversation feel safe for the teen.

"Nothing good happens when you're freaking out," she said. "In those calm conversations is where you get the gems and nuggets of what's really going on."

In the "Turn Anxiety into Your Superpower" session, Dilger talked about the brain being designed in the stone age with reactions to keep you alive — and how the brain remained the same even as the world changed.

"There's very often a disconnect between how our brain works and the modern world," she said. "If your survival mechanism in 2019 is playing dead, that's not working for you."

She then led participants through an exercise to release the survival energy, or anxiety and stress, that's built up by pushing against each other or a wall and vocalizing what they're feeling.

Participant Vasi Smith, a student teacher at Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies, said she appreciated a novel way of thinking about stress.

"We think of stress as a negative, but it's energy," she said. "I can use it to help me."


Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, or


Natural Highs classes in Boulder gives teens sober options, community

By Amy Bounds

Daily Camera

POSTED:   09/25/2018 05:43:39 PM MDT

About a dozen teens sat in a circle, passing around cups of yerba mate brewed with passion flower and taking turns sharing what drew them to this Natural Highs drop-in session.

Natural Highs classes in Boulder gives teens sober options, community

By Amy Bounds

Daily Camera

POSTED:   09/25/2018 05:43:39 PM MDT

About a dozen teens sat in a circle, passing around cups of yerba mate brewed with passion flower and taking turns sharing what drew them to this Natural Highs drop-in session.

Boulder's Natural Highs hosts first record release party

Boulder's Natural Highs hosts first record release party

By Amy Bounds

Daily Camera

POSTED:   04/27/2017 07:07:28 PM MDT

Natural Highs, a substance abuse prevention program run by Boulder teens, is hosting its first record release party, open mic and art show from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

The program started the Natural Highs record label in April 2016, and this is the first compilation of original songs by young musicians, artists, designers and entrepreneurs.


Student Spotlight: Cali Machen, senior at Boulder's New Vista High School

POSTED:   11/29/2014 10:48:39 PM MST

UPDATED:   11/29/2014 10:49:37 PM MST

Cali is active in Natural Highs, a program for teens that teaches about the brain chemistry involved in substance use and healthy alternatives that include herbology, movement and community. The program also covers anxiety and depression, stress, emotions and more. Through New Vista's Natural Highs program, Cali runs two lunch clubs, a philosophy circle and a dream group.


Boulder teens offer marijuana-free 4/20 alternative

Natural Highs event slated for Tuesday afternoon

By Amy Bounds, Camera Staff Writer

POSTED:   04/18/2010 07:32:47 PM MDT

UPDATED:   04/18/2010 07:34:15 PM MDT

Tess Eckert will celebrate 4/20 on Tuesday -- but without lighting up.

The 17-year-old senior at New Vista High School is helping put together an alternative event for local teens looking to experience the annual April 20 pot celebration, but without drugs. The free, alternative event includes massage, music, food, a philosophy circle, yerba mate bar, acupuncture and dance.


Natural Highs sober 4/20 Boulder event for teens set for Monday

By Daily Camera staff

POSTED:   04/19/2015 06:54:52 PM MDT

UPDATED:   04/19/2015 06:56:09 PM MDT

"Natural Highs,” a substance abuse prevention program run by Boulder teens, is hosting a sober 4/20 event Monday that includes a showing of the “Other Side of Cannabis” documentary.

The event, which includes music, an open mic, herb bar and games, is from 3:30 to 7 p.m. at Hope Church Boulder, 4705 W. Baseline Road, Boulder. The documentary, with updated information on the risks of marijuana, starts at 5 p.m. 


BVSD, county health department collaborate to reduce teen vaping

By Amy Bounds

Staff Writer

POSTED:   12/25/2018 08:00:29 AM MST


Alex Risinger, a senior at Boulder's New Vista High School, is joining local health and school district officials in sounding the alarm about vaping. Risinger, who's part of New Vista's student-run restorative justice program, said many students referred to the program this year were caught vaping at school. Students, he added, don't realize the dangers.


             Drop the acid -- seriously, drop it -- this rave features yoga

By: Aimee Heckel, Camera Staff Writer                                                      


Posted:   05/03/2012 04:06:40 PM MDT

 Updated:   05/03/2012 04:09:26 PM MDT


Yoga teacher David Sye runs a yoga class at First Congregational Church as part of the Natural Highs Sober Yoga Rave in Boulder. 


For this yoga class, you're going to need a mat and a glow stick.


Lucky for you, if you stopped going to raves in the '90s, they're passing out glow sticks at the door. Leave your lollipop at home, though. Here, there's an herb bar and a table of healthy, vegetarian munchies. Sugar's not a huge hit here. Neither are drugs, so ditch the Scooby Snacks. Tonight is about creating your own trip.


Forget what you think you know about raves, and forget what you know about yoga. This is a hybrid of the two -- a yoga rave -- that defies the stereotypes of both.


The head-to-toe tattooed so-called "bad boy of yoga," David Sye, headed up the party in Boulder on Saturday, in a dim room filled with 100 candles and live electronic music. About 40 people (mostly teens) came, sporting glow sticks on their necks and wrists while twisting into pretzels and downward dogs, following Sye's out-of-the-box style of yoga: constantly moving, almost wiggling. He calls is an "unapologetically sexy celebration of life" that has been both criticized and praised.


They call it a movement.


And the concept of yoga raves -- yoga-centric parties with live music, some in nightclubs, always sober -- is spreading as a nightlife alternative for people who lead healthy lifestyles and want to "get lifted," according to Yoga Rave USA (, which was not affiliated with the recent Boulder event.


You know that buzz your body feels after you take a really good yoga class?


You know how a great song can trigger your emotions? (Like how every Journey song makes everyone on earth happy, or how the Scorpions used to make me cry and angrily lip-sync in the mirror when I was in seventh grade?)


Put those together (except maybe no bad hair-band music) in a big group with special light effects, and just for good measure, throw free Reiki energy work sessions in the corner. Sip from the mate bar while relaxing on a stack of cushions after you reach your yogic bliss.


Maybe now you can see it? Even though the initial combo of "yoga" and "rave" seems almost contradictory?

It's not, says Avani Dilger, with Natural Highs, the teen-led Boulder group that organized the local rave.

"The original rave movement had nothing to do with drugs and alcohol, and was very pure," she says. "It was all about actually going back to tribal community celebrations where people would enter into an altered state together, just through movement, dance and music. It's so sad that it's been taken over by a drug culture."


She says it's almost like reclaiming the rave movement, going back to its roots. And reclaiming our bodies, too. "People who do yoga know that they feel ecstatic at the end, but a lot of people who do drugs don't know that yoga does that. We're bringing those techniques to people who don't know about them," she says. "We're teaching people that you don't need drugs and alcohol to feel extraordinary states. We're fed up with being in this consumer mindset that tells us that you need to take drugs to get somewhere."


Still, she has no more upcoming yoga raves planned. Hopefully next year if Sye comes back to visit again.

Until then, I guess it's back to singing the Scorpions while in Happy Baby pose alone in my room

Story Title

Counselor: 'Get high' without drugs

Teen program helps battle against substance abuse


By Aimee Heckel, Camera Staff Writer
December 30, 2005

Avani Dilger teaches teenagers how to get high.

In a room at Boulder's nonprofit Compass House, Dilger and eight teens sit in a circle. They pass around a cup — a South American ritual.

They drink yerba mate, an herb with amino acids, the building blocks of neuro- transmitters, Dilger said.

Neurotransmitters produce chemicals that make you feel good. A natural high.

Dilger, a substance abuse counselor at Compass House and teacher at Naropa University, said the desire to have an altered state of mind is human nature — as old as mankind. But she wants people to know you do not need drugs to experience it.

Dilger calls her six-week workshop a cutting-edge approach to substance-abuse treatment. It blends traditional counseling with lessons on brain chemistry and somatic psychology, or the mind-body connection.

Her students are high-schoolers who have been in trouble with drugs and alcohol. They are also often children who "have a desire to have deep, meaningful experiences, deal with philosophical questions and learn about their unconscious," she said.

Telling teenagers to not do something can make it more appealing, she said; effective treatment is more than "Just say no."

"Drugs have been around forever," she said. "That's why I think just telling kids to not do drugs just doesn't work, because then this human desire doesn't have an outlet."

In her class, Dilger shows teens how drugs are copies of naturally occurring chemicals and how drugs shut them down.

"They actually destroy the feelings we love the most," she said.

So she teaches how to work with the principles of brain chemistry to achieve desired feelings.

For example, the brain releases serotonin when people feel connection, friendship or love. The drug that copies this is ecstasy, Dilger said.

In the class, students work on building "authentic connections" through rituals — such as the yerba mate drinking ceremony — and by discussing questions about the meaning of life, fears and love.

Other forms of "natural highs" include meditation techniques, dance and guided visualization, Dilger said.

"Sobriety can be something exciting, a fun and exciting lifestyle," she said.

Jan Hittelman, director of Compass House, said 86 percent of the students gave the 1-year-old class high ratings.

One student, who spoke anonymously, said the class taught "that recovery and sobriety are more than just abstaining. There are things I can do to lead a healthy life that build up all the places in my brain that are broken down."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Aimee Heckel at (303) 473-1359 or

                Natural Highs event gives Boulder teens a 4/20 alternative



By: Jenn Fields

Posted:   04/18/2012 03:53:32 PM MDT

As a kid growing up in Boulder, Kyle Shepherd said she was in a haze about what was happening at the 4/20 smoke-out at the University of Colorado.

“I can remember driving down Broadway on 4/20 and seeing people in all green clothes and waving rasta flags and not knowing what it meant,” Shepherd said. 

Now, Shepherd is a senior at Boulder's New Vista High School, and she knows what happens at 4:20 p.m. on 4/20 -- and she knows all about the alternative Natural Highs 4/20 event that she's been a part of for four years now. 

On Friday, from 3 to 6 p.m., Shepherd and other Boulder teens will put on a free event at September High School that includes an herb bar, an open mic, acupuncture and “yerba maté pong.” 

“It's really helping kids who are on probation or diversion who are looking for a safe place and have the ability to have fun,” she said. “It's helped a lot of people I know.”

This is the fifth year that Natural Highs has put on an alternative 4/20 event. The first year, the event attracted about 20 students; last year, there were 200 teenagers there, said Avani Dilger, an addiction counselor who started Natural Highs as an ongoing program for students at New Vista.

“I worked in traditional substance abuse treatment for years,” Dilger said, “and just saw what elements of substance abuse treatment worked well and what didn't work well.” 

The first thing she found was that teens need to be involved in both creating the programs and and facilitating them. So she gave teens the space to do that.

“We have a strong peer mentor program where kids teach elements of the class, and I think that's an important piece, where kids become leaders themselves,” Dilger said.

Shepherd is one of those peer mentors. So is Josanne Skulski, a junior at New Vista who will be behind the herb bar at the Friday event at September School. Skulski got involved after her first Natural Highs class at New Vista. 

“I was just really, really enchanted by the thought of alternatives to drugs, because I was in a place in life where drugs were just all around me, and I thought they were the only source of fun, or the only source of fitting in,” Skulski said. “When I got into this alternative mindset and started learning about all these other things you could do instead, I just fell in love with it.

Skulski said when she first started high school, she liked the community aspect of 4/20, she said, and the idea of people coming together for one thing. “But a bunch of people getting together and smoking weed? It's not appealing to me any more, it's just not something I choose to do with my life,” she said. 

“I'd rather see people getting together and connecting in a way that doesn't use drugs,” she added.

Dilger said that five years ago, when she started the Natural Highs 4/20 event, “kids approached me and said, you know, it's impossible for us to stay clean on this day. It was kids who are on probation, who had to work very, very hard. The peer pressure on this day was so intense, they felt like they couldn't do it.”

So she started the event for them, and also, she said, “for those who don't want to be left out.”

Skulski said she always encourages other high school students to come to Natural Highs events. 

“We'll get to know you and we'll accept you for who you are and where you are in your life,” she said. “It's a very comforting and connected space.”

WESTWORD, 4/20/2010


4/20 event that's weed-free? Catch some Natural Highs


By Michael Roberts, Tuesday, Apr. 20 2010 @ 12:10PM

No, they're not stoned. They're high on life.

​The 4/20 event taking place at the University of Colorado at Boulder at 4:20 p.m. has been aptly described as "an orgasm of cannabis consumption."

But even as the smoke from that bash is inspiring a lot more flights than have taken off in Europe over the past week, a smaller gathering not far away will recognize 4/20 in an unusual way -- without marijuana. From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., Natural Highs, a sober-teens group, is holding a free get-together at September High School in Boulder; visit the Natural Highs website for details.

"The intention of our event is to support teens who want to remain clean and sober on this day," says Avani Dilger, a substance-abuse counselor who founded Natural Highs. "So they can have community, they can have fun in different ways, and they don't feel peer pressure to be part of the other 4/20 event."

Natural Highs is in its fourth year. The project "got developed based on the feedback of students," Dilger notes. "We wanted to have an interesting approach to substance-abuse prevention, based on their voices, for what works and what's helpful for kids to remain clean and sober. So we integrated traditional and alternative approaches."

For instance, Dilger continues, "the students in the program learn about cutting-edge brain chemistry and how drugs and alcohol affect them. But they also learn about meditation, body/mind techniques and healthy rituals. And we don't tell them not to do drugs. We leave that decision up to them."

At September High, Natural Highs is presented as an after-school program open to any high school student in Boulder. In addition, it's a once-a-week part of the curriculum at New Vista High SchoolBoulder Prep and Shining Mountain Waldorf School -- a facility that appeared in the news recently when 52-year-old Catharine Pierce decided to garden topless nearby.

​Most anti-drug programs in school are about as popular as extra calculus homework. But Natural Highs has gotten more than its share of thumbs-ups.

"We do questionnaires at the end of workshops, and over 90 percent of the students rate the class as very good or excellent, and over 80 percent say they either decreased their substance use or decided not to use substances after the class," Dilger points out.

The teens of Natural Highs regularly stage events -- among them an art show in February that drew around 250 people and "Final Friday" happenings that have included a "sober rave" and a "holistic healing night" during which, according to the website, "we drank nourishing tea, learned about the benefits of a sugar-free lifestyle, smelled the sweet scents of aromatherapy oils, received acupuncture and Reiki healing sessions, learned about holistic healing practices, and watched a documentary about new paradigms in healing and medicine."

Still, arguably the most attention-getting of the Natural Highs events take place on 4/20. The first one, held three years ago, only attracted about twenty teens, but by last year, around a hundred showed up -- and Dilger thinks it's possible that the number will be twice that large this afternoon.

What's on tap? "We will do a philosophy circle, a format we use in the program, where we have a dialogue on existential questions," she says. Other stuff sounds more intriguing, including "free massage, free acupuncture, free Reiki treatments, a Yerba Mate bar, with drinks made out of an herb from Argentina that's really healthy, a drum circle" and a lot more.

"All of these activities have been designed by kids that are part of the Natural Highs action group," Dilger says, "and last year was very fun, very inspired. At the end of the day, we did a round in the philosophy circle, and everyone talked about how happy they were, because they felt so healthy and not hung over."

No smoker's coughs, either.

Meet Natural Highs: Our Newest Organizational Member

by Lisa Dicksteen | Apr 20, 2017 | 

What’s an organizational member, you ask. That’s easy, it’s a non-profit that joins TimeBank Boulder as a member. That means the organization itself is a member—it’s members can join as individual members too, of course.

Being a member as an organization allows our members to earn $TD by helping out a local non-profit doing good things in our larger community. And Natural Highs is doing good things!!

Natural Highs is a grass-roots substance abuse prevention/intervention program for teens and adults in Boulder. In order to give young people an opportunity to step up as leaders in their own community and to create a positive peer culture for others, the teens in the program actually RUN the program.

Knowing that substance abuse is rampant and deeply engrained in Boulder’s culture, TBB member Avani Dilger started Natural Highs 15 years ago as a way to develop a more engaging, creative, empowering, and non-judgmental approach. The intention is for teens to learn about the effects of substance use, discover healthy alternatives, support each other in making healthy choices, and take on leadership roles to positively impact people of all ages.

With that in mind, Natural Highs provides healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol through workshops, after-school classes, community presentations, sober events, parent education, and entrepreneurial and leadership opportunities for teens.
Today they serve over 2,000 teens in Boulder County each year and over 80% of participants report that Natural Highs has helped themdecide to reduce or stop using drugs and/or alcohol.

They provide a FREE Natural Highs after-school program for teens in Boulder every Tuesday from 4-6pm at Hope Church, 4705 Baseline Road, Boulder and teenager is welcome to attend to receive positive support around healthy alternatives to substance abuse. And they offer a FREE Parent/Community Nights to offer education around substance abuse prevention for teens and adults.

As a small non-profit they are in need of help from their TBB community in the areas of bookkeeping, data entry, website development and upkeep, non-profit development, event organization, program evaluation and research, editing, curriculum development, design and branding, and marketing in order to help the program continue to serve the people it currently helps and handle the additional requests that come in every day. More and more people are finding out about them and asking for help, sothey are turning to their community (that’s us!) for help. Please think about their needs and your abilities and contact Avani ( or 303-859-5778) to offer your support. It’s a great way to accomplish multiple wonderful things at once: use your skills, support a terrific organization, earn time dollars, support TBB, and make the world a better place for some young people who need our help.

You can learn more on their Facebook page “Natural Highs Community” and/or on their website

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