Avani G. Dilger, MEd, MA, LPC, BC-DMT, CACIII, ADS

Founder and Executive Director

Avani G. Dilger, MEd, MA, LPC, BC-DMT, CACIII, ADS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Certified Addiction Counselor, a Somatic Psychotherapist, an Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist, and a member of the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT). She has specialized in substance abuse treatment with adults, teens-at-risk, and their families. She holds a Master’s in Education from the University of Cologne in Germany (1995) and a Master’s in Somatic Counseling Psychology from Naropa University (2001). She has done extensive research and training in traditional and alternative approaches to substance abuse treatment. She is passionate about the creative potential of craving and addiction issues. She is the founder and director of the “Natural Highs – Healthy Alternatives to Drugs and Alcohol” Program that integrates traditional and alternative approaches to substance abuse and addiction issues and teaches teens and adults how to work in intelligent ways with their own brain chemistry through body/mind practices, dance, ritual, meditation, and the creative arts. Avani is a Motivational Interviewing Trainer (MINT) and is training professionals in the fields of substance abuse, mental health, social work, justice system and health care. She is serving teens and adults with the most severe experiences around substance use, addiction and trauma in her private practice in Boulder using cutting edge techniques such as Brainspotting, Somatic Psychotherapy and Systemic Constellation work.

Sasha Raskin

Musician, Music Producer & Filmmaker

Sasha Raskin is an artist, composer and a musical producer with over twenty years of experience in music
production and program development in the field of music education and music therapy. Sasha initiated Natural Highs Records at 2016. He is a therapist in the Boulder area, and provides Life Coaching services worldwide.

Laurel Miller, L.Ac, M.Ac

Natural Highs Board President

I joined the Natural Highs team in 2009, offering Acu Wellness (also known as the Nada protocol) to the Natural Highs Community. When I am not sitting in a circle sipping mate and healing herbs, I am working with people one-on-one as an acupuncturist or meditation instructor. I have a passion for teaching and have been a faculty member at the Institute of Taoist Education and Acupuncture since 2010. I love spending time with my partner and our little dog in the mountains, practicing drawing, getting to know the plants in my garden or being in the company of friends. I am so grateful to be a part of the Natural Highs community, it provides my life with meaning, joy and a path to greater health and healing.

Michael VanElzakker, PhD.

Natural Highs Board Member

I am a research fellow in the Massachusetts General Hospital/ Harvard Medical School divisions of Neurotherapeutics and Psychiatric Neuroscience, in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. I focus on brain scan and neuroendocrine studies of memory & trauma related conditions such as postraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), poorly understood neuroimmune chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and also teach a course on clinical psychology research methods to undergraduates at Tufts University. I became involved in Natural Highs in 2009, a few years before moving to Boston, when I worked in the University of Colorado's department of Psychology and Neuroscience. I love working with Natural Highs because it's a great opportunity to engage the fascination with neuroscience of bright and curious young people. Understanding the brain as a physical organ is an often-overlooked part of learning self-care, and I appreciate Natural Highs' mission to empower students with information.

Tzuria Malpica, Clinical Herbalist

Natural Highs Facilitator & Clinical Herbalist

Tzuria teaches the Natural Highs curriculum by weaving together science and holistic principles. Through brain chemistry, Herbal Medicine, hands on activities and games, she aims to support people on the path of healing. Working closely with the Natural Highs team for the past 10 years, she has gone from student, to teacher to making the Natural Highs lifestyle her career. During her time as a student of Natural Highs, she fell in love with healing herbs and after high school, attended the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism. Graduating in 2012 as a Clinically Certified Herbalist, Tzuria returned to the Natural Highs community with a new lens to teach from. She believes that everyone has a right to this knowledge and enjoys sharing tools such as the healing properties of herbs and healing through nutrition. As a Colorado Native, Tzuria finds deep joy and connection to the mountains, plants and animals and enjoys helping young adults become more empowered to care for themselves, because it's a great opportunity to engage the fascination with neuroscience of bright and curious young people. Understanding the brain as a physical organ is an often-overlooked part of learning self-care, and I appreciate Natural Highs' mission to empower students with information.

Tara Celeste


Tara started going to Natural Highs classes in 2015 and quickly realized a strong passion for sustainability. They are a non binary person who enjoys going to music festivals and concerts. They believe whole-heartedly in the power of nature to heal and inspire. They are a Hairstylist at Zinke Hair Studio, a volunteer with Rainbow Lightning Children’s Village, a Reiki practitioner, and a peer mentor with Natural Highs Boulder.

Rebecca Hartt

Natural Highs Facilitator & Mentor

Born and raised in Boulder and recently graduated from New Vista High school. I am an ignited, emerging young adult, who has developed a strong sense of self. My passion for self-expression shaped how I show up within the world and showed me how my soulful love for what I do is a deep date with destiny. Within my practice and devotion towards dance, songwriting, embodiment, leadership, community, and myself, I’ve deeply grown as a unique individual by consistently showing up for the experiences in my life. This year my achievements as a leader have held creating and facilitating a weekly self-love group for the students aged 13-18 at New Vista high school, co-teaching classes with the Natural Highs program at local schools., representing the Boulder Valley School district with five others students to attend the Colorado Association of School Board's (CASB) Student Leadership Conference where I was selected to speak on a panel in front of 800 people regarding visions for the future. Winning a city award for being one of Boulder’s outstanding youth in service in the community and having an article highlighting my successes in the Daily Camera’s student spotlight. Completing the Surfing The Creative International Youth Leadership Rites of Passage Process and the Ground of Being foundational training with Golden Bridge. I have actively redefined the story given to me by turning my wounds into gifts for the world.

Growing up under-resourced, at a young age I didn’t have the opportunity to be reflected the importance of healthy relationships, body awareness and self love. Within what felt like a lack of opportunities, I strived to find other ways to feel ignited and seen by the world. In my early teenage years, I was living the impact of this through self-hatred, addiction and very unsustainable ways of relating to the world. There was a powerful little girl within me that grew up too fast and hadn’t found a place to truly be home in. My entire world shifted when I was introduced to the Natural Highs community at age 14 in my first year of high school. I was introduced to safety, validation, regulation and leadership within a group of people for the first time in my life. The mirror this community held, showed me that which I did not have the opportunity to see before: Hope to create change. Throughout the past couple years I’ve been showing up for myself in the most radical way with the support of my communities. Through Golden Bridge’s rites of passage program,Surfing The Creative, one on one mentoring, and events held throughout the year by this community, I found my call to action, activism, strength and gifts within embodiment. I found my calling to be a deeper student to this work and to be of service to our global family. Where I am striving to go is deeply aligned with my commitment to myself, willingness to learn, passion to be of service and devotion to transform as I emerge into my life ever more fully. I am currently a student in the LEAPNOW program and will be studying in South India, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Tess Eckert

Natural Highs Coordinator & Facilitator for Australia

Hi! My name is Tess Eckert and my favourite natural highs are dancing, traveling, playing in nature,  connecting with new people, cultures and ideas. I'm originally from Boulder, Colorado USA, where I participated in the Natural Highs Program led by Avani Diliger, as a high school student from 2008-2010 and was so transformed by it, that I become a peer mentor and co-facilitator of the program. I am currently following my passion as a youth worker, dance teacher and group facilitator for diverse groups of people locally and around the globe. After completing a BA in interdisciplinary Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies, I moved to Byron Bay, Australia in 2013. I am currently employed as a program coordinator & youth worker for a youth service in a rural community in remote Australia. I am passionate about utilizing dance and other expressive arts therapeutically to unwind trauma and empower young people to find their purpose/passion. I recently piloted the Natural Highs program successfully in partnership with Casino High School and Bulgarr Ngaru Aboriginal Medical Service in Casino, NSW, Australia working with local Bundjalung elders and workers to adapt the program to be as culturally relevant, appropriate and accessible as possible. I'm an avid learner and researcher and am most fascinated by the underlying causes of addiction and naming, normalizing and addressing soul/spirit wounding, appropriately, through alternative and indigenous approaches.

Erica Payne

Natural Highs Facilitator & Mentor

I started Natural Highs during my freshman year of high school. At the time, I had been using a lot of drugs, and had been struggling with depression and self harm for a few years. I started going to the Natural Highs lunch groups at New Vista, which gave me a safe and sober place to be while I was trying to get clean. That year, I cleaned up my act and started to get more involved with the program. I'm currently in college at MSU Denver studying psychology and philosophy, well on my way to completing my undergrad and getting my masters. Additionally, I am pursuing a spot on the U.S. Olympic team in 2020 for taekwondo, a goal I could have never hoped to complete if I had not stopped using, or if I had continued giving in to self-destructive and suicidal ideation. Without Natural Highs, I would not be alive, much less on the particular career path that I am. This program taught me the neuroscience necessary to influence me to make better choices so I could save myself from a dangerous future. This program also taught me important leadership skills, and opened numerous doors for my passions and career involvements. I owe my life to this program and I think that it's massively important to continue to contribute and grow the legacy. 

Mary Young

Natural Highs Facilitator & Mentor

I fell in love, with love during the sex, love, and drugs class. This class was held once a week for about 6 weeks over the course of the winter months a few years ago. That class taught me that boundaries are healthy and necessary, and to love ourselves. My first tattoo was inspired by this class, my best friend and I got a matching cups with the quote “Fill your cup” meaning you have to be full and in love with yourself what spills over is from everyone else.Being out of high school and still deeply involved in the program I see my friends, roommates, classmates, everyone dealing with incredibly hard self esteem issues, self criticisms, anxiety, depression, addiction that hurts their personal lives, their relationships, and all over makes them miserable. I cannot imagine learning my life lessons without the guide and support of the natural highs community. My coping skills, my job, my aspirations and dreams all supported by this community. Natural highs had become a core part of my identity. And I am proud when asked  “If you could wake up tomorrow and do whatever you wanted with no limitations, what would it be?” I can answer with confidence “I love what I do. I would do this.”

Kyle Shepherd

Natural Highs Facilitator & Mentor

I am blessed to have been apart of the Natural Highs community since 2009. Natural Highs is no longer a class to me, it is a way of life. Through this program I have received the opportunity to blossom from a distressed adolescent, to a curious student, to an engaged peer mentor, to an influential intern, and to a humbled workshop teacher.  In the beginning of my journey, this community and program empowered me with tools and knowledge to help me combat social issues, anxiety, depression and lack of motivation in healthy ways. My biggest accomplishment as a peer mentor was helping to launch the portion of the class that approaches topics regarding sexuality from a culturally aware and psychologically informed standpoint. Currently, I am studying psychology with an emphasis in gender and sexuality studies and use many of the strategies I acquired from the program in my daily life. My favorite daily Natural Highs skills are body-check ins, mindfulness techniques, herbal remedy practices and intentional movement.  I am SO grateful for the support, love and empowerment I received from Avani Dilger and the Natural Highs program, and I feel fortunate for the chance to facilitate a class that offers so many powerful life skills.

Lily McGarey

Natural Highs Facilitator & Mentor

I started Natural Highs halfway through my sophomore year of high school and never looked back. I was first introduced to the program through our philosophy circles, which a year, I began leading myself. I am so grateful for all of the amazing resources and opportunities Natural Highs has provided me with such as the opportunity to teach and present to communities middle school aged through graduate students, including working with iTHRiVE, a program designed to help intervene with teen substance use/abuse. I now use the knowledge I have gained in Natural Highs to create art around medicinal plants.

Lisa Schiavone, CCHt, Reiki Master-Teacher

Coordinator of Natural Highs Reiki Program

Lisa is a Reiki Master-Teacher who has practiced and taught healing arts professionally for 22 years. She is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Archetypal Hypnotherapy Trainer, Dreamworker, Evolutionary Astrologer and BodyTalk Practitioner. She loves helping others establish a relationship with their own inner wisdom and healing abilities. 

Catherine Douglas

Online Coordinator & Researcher

Catherine has been teaching the Natural Highs program since 2007. She taught it at New Vista, September School, Shining Mountain, Boulder Prep, Justice High, and PeaceJam, and also helped found the Natural Highs Action Team. Currently, she resides in Oakland, CA, where she helps with online support, website design, and fundraising for Natural Highs.  She always looks forward to reunions with students whenever she is back in Boulder, CO.  

Rachel Fisher, MSOM, L.Ac

Acupuncturist & Chinese Medicine Practitioner

I’m an acupuncturist, bodyworker, mother, intuitive healer, artist, dancer and deep listener. I believe everyone deserves to enjoy the wonderful feeling of true health. I fell in love with healing work at a very young age.  As a teen, I suffered from an eating disorder and addiction, which left me with a severely damaged digestive system and chronic fatigue. When I was 15, I went to Kripalu and learned about holistic living, yoga, hands on healing, conscious eating, and meditation. Not only did these practices heal me: I’m convinced they saved my life. I became determined to share the healing practices I’d learned with others. To that end, I’ve completed diverse and rigorous training, including: Associate Degree in Chemical Dependency Counseling, 2000 hours of clinical internship treating addiction at Seafield Center in Westhampton, NY, Certification in Kripalu Bodywork and Energy Balancing from the Kriplau Center For Yoga and Health, Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, CO, Nationally board certified as a Diplomate of Oriental Medicine by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), and licensed in the State of Colorado, 200 hour apprenticeship with healer Naomi Boggs in 2015 – Certified in Lomi Lomi massage, flower essences, ceremonial botanical bodywork, abdominal massage & aromatherapy. I have a private practice in Boulder, CO.

Chris Cole


Chris Cole hosts the Waking Up Bipolar podcast and is the author of The Body of Chris: A Memoir of Obsession, Addiction, and Madness. He offers life coaching for any number of mental health conditions, specializing in bipolar disorder and spiritual emergence. Learn more about Chris at

Jen Kubalak


Hello! My name is Jen & I am originally from Columbus, Ohio. I have a background in Exercise Physiology & Art! Coming to Naropa to find the compliment of Transpersonal and Mindfulness has been a treat! Finding out that there is a group such as Natural Highs has been a blessing :) I am currently working part time at an interactive gym for kids! I work with babies who are 6 months old to kids who are 8 years olds to help develop locomotor, tactile balance and manipulative skills. My favorite part about working with children is seeing the growth and change that takes place over such a short period of time. I am also  currently earning my counseling degree to go on to work with adolescents and youth. I became involved with the Boulder Psychic Institute to make sense of my strong intuition. My current project and active mental health challenge is detoxing from processed, refined, simple S U G A R !  My favorite Natural Highs are creative foods, volleyball, yoga, running, hiking with my puppy & meeting new people that I connect with! I am so inspired by our youth today who are taking charge of their future and expanding their relationships with adults in the community!

Richard Cote Directo


Richard Cote Directo is a student of optimal health. His decade of professional, licensed bodywork has brought him to his graduate studies in transpersonal psychotherapy. His interests are in all types of somatic expression, movement, dreams, the history of consciousness, and spiritual traditions. He dabbles in the herbal arts and is often found wildcrafting. He has become friends with Pacific Northwest Native communities and continues to immerse himself into their canoe ways through healing arts and ceremony.

Andrea Segal


Andrea Segal is a currently in her second year of the Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling program at Naropa University and is so excited to be doing her practicum at Natural Highs. She is originally from Miami, Florida and loves snorkeling and spending time with the ocean. She is super passionate about authentic connection, courage, vulnerability, emotionality, and spirituality. She is grateful every day to experience the depths, gifts, joys, and overall richness that a sober lifestyle offers. In the future she hopes to take what she has learned from her own journey of recovery to help others navigate theirs. 

Laura Bressler


Laura has a BA from Skidmore College, an MBA from Boston University, is a Registered Psychotherapist, a Certified Professional Coach, and is currently pursuing her Master's in Addiction Studies to become a Licensed Addiction Counselor. She specializes in working with the parents of teens and young adults struggling with substance misuse.  She became passionate about supporting parents after her family’s own harrowing experiences with their substance abusing teen. Laura received training from the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, and is contracted to facilitate the evidence-based C.R.A.F.T. program (Community Resource and Family Training), which teaches families skills to impact their child’s substance use, motivate them to seek treatment, repair communication and relationships, and improve self-care. She is also a Acudetox Specialist and deeply values bringing healing and balance to individuals through this technique. In her free time, Laura loves to paint, read, hike, snuggle with her dog and kitty, and travel with her husband and two thriving adult sons. 

Alex Cohen


Alex is currently in his second year of the Counseling Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute, with a specialization in Depth Psychology. Before entering the master’s program, Alex worked as a Construction Manager in New York City and in Boulder, where he facilitated both commercial and residential projects. Prior to his career managing construction projects, he owned and operated a small fine-furniture company that specialized in producing hand-built, environmentally conscious, heritage pieces. Alex resonates deeply with the work of Joseph Campbell, Marion Woodman and James Hillman. His graduate pursuits are supplemented by a profound interest in fly-fishing and spending time in the backcountry. He holds a B.A. in Art History from Tulane University and a M.S. in Construction Management from New York University.

Nan Hebert


Nan Hebert is an embodiment facilitator, massage therapist, teacher of Jivamukti yoga, student of Eastern philosophies, and a therapist in training. 


Nan attended the Steinhardt School of Education at NYU then completing her studies at Goddard College with an emphasis in Ayurveda.  She is currently in her second year of graduate studies at Naropa University, in the Contemplative Psychology & Buddhist Psychotherapy program. Prior to graduate school, she enjoyed international teaching opportunities, leading workshops and retreats while living in France and Switzerland.  

A New Orleans native, Nan spent the past seven years living, learning and working in Big Sur; she deepened her studies and practices as a teaching faculty member at Esalen Institute. Through her experience at Esalen, Nan expanded her personal inquiry in somatic psychology, studying with and assisting master teachers in the fields of Gestalt awareness practice and Esalen massage.


She is fascinated by the body as both metaphor and gateway to the unconscious. Nan finds nourishment in her daily practices, solitude, spending time in nature and with her dog. Her favorite season is summer. Her favorite time of day is pre-dawn.

Hannah Horowitz


Hannah originally hails from Sonoma, California, and came into her own in New Orleans, Louisiana. Now in her second year of Naropa’s Transpersonal Counseling Program, Hannah is excited and challenged by the opportunity to learn about the intersection of language, societal and cultural influences, neurochemistry, world wisdom tradition, and so much more made manifest in the counseling field. She has completed trainings in yoga, expressive dance, and hands on healing, all of which are a large part of her personal life and practice. Hannah’s greatest love, however, is the written word, and she is excited by the convergence of language, narrative, and the healing journey. She has experience as a writing teacher, camp counselor, caregiver to infants, and attendant to the elderly. Her favorite feeling is spaciousness, her favorite tree is a redwood, and her favorite fruit is a fresh-picked raspberry.

Tania Maldonado


Tania Maldonado is a bodyworker and a contemplative psychotherapist in training at Naropa University. She was born and raised in Puerto Rico and now lives in Boulder, Colorado. She has been practicing multiple movement arts, since childhood and has been teaching yoga internationally for 6 years. Her intimate lifelong relationship to Nature has influenced her lifestyle, diet and path as a yoga practitioner and instructor. She has also found truly valuable medicine in travelling, up to now she has journeyed to over 40 countries all around the world, and in Native American Shamanism and Ayurveda practices. In her work she creates awareness of our mind-body’s essential relationships to breath, movement, food/nourishment (plants), Nature and community. 

Please reload

© 2020 Natural Highs    Natural Highs Community (Facebook)    Contact: 

Thank you to City of Boulder Youth Opportunities Board (YOAB) for sponsoring Natural Highs!