When we talk about training, we often take it for granted that everything is limited to passing on knowledge through words. This conception of learning, however, leaves out many of the elements that come into play when it comes to internalizing meaningful lessons; the context and the way we interact with the environment while learning matter as much or more than what the teachers say.

This is something that coach and trainer Mario Garcés knows well, who regularly leaves the landscapes of the Meseta (he lives in Majadahonda) to accompany his clients to the natural sites of the Benasque valley and carry out outdoor training programs there in the heart of the Pyrenees.

These personal development courses focus on the improvement of fundamental psychological skills, such as the regulation of emotions and the understanding of complex situations, and they take advantage of the unique environment of the Aragonese Pyrenees to achieve a really significant learning. To know more about this initiative, we interviewed Mario Garcés.

The proposal of Mario Garcés: training in the heart of nature

In these lines we talked with Mario Garcés to explain more about the way in which he conceives training and personal development programs in natural environments.

This trainer, who has dedicated himself to research in the field of affective neuroscience, emphasizes the need to understand the importance of emotions and their link with nature.

Why did you decide to start using natural areas for courses and personal development activities?

Throughout our history as a species, we have grown and developed in direct and permanent contact with nature. This relationship has shaped us as we are, with our capacities and skills, both physical and psychological.

But, at a certain point, we human beings separated from nature and turned it into something external and different from us, something that had to be controlled and subdued, something that could be exploited.

We are already seeing the consequences of this break with our origins in the form of climate change, pollution by plastics, but also in the form of loneliness, stress, depression and substance abuse of all kinds.

Thus, when what we want is to learn to regain the balance with ourselves, as a prerequisite for regaining it as a society, a good first step is to return to the origin, to nature.

What are the activities you design for these events based on? What’s different about them?

Nature offers us many opportunities to generate and explore vital metaphors, very useful to understand the concepts I intend to convey.

These metaphors are at the heart of all the simple activities that we do in nature during formation. They allow participants to connect with basic but very deep ideas and to ask questions about themselves and their relationship to their living environment.

Surely you are used to working with a wide variety of people, but in general… what is the profile of the person seeking to take these courses? What are their objectives?

The people who come to my courses in nature are usually people between 30 and 55 years old who are looking for more than just recipes. They want to understand, and often address autonomously, intense life situations or fundamental questions that allow them to grow and develop as more “awake” and happy people.

What they value most is the fact that I speak to them from my own personal experience, which is very broad and intense, something that makes up my personal brand. Many participants also appreciate my extensive research experience which, combined with a rich life experience, gives them a double vision that is very enriching and rare in this type of course.

And related to the previous question, in what way do natural spaces facilitate the achievement of these personal development objectives?

Let’s take the mountain as an example. When you go into the mountain all your senses are sharpened, the spaces open up, you breathe better, you see the sun, the sky, the forest, you put the body in motion, you eliminate toxins.

All the problems are behind you, down there in the city or town where you live. The effort becomes a personal challenge; you struggle against your own limitations.

There, no one but you can be responsible for moving forward or stopping. That forces you to take responsibility for your own decisions and leads you to learn how to make better decisions or how to assume those already made.

But it also helps you to find your own rhythm, different from that of others that we often try to imitate, while you feel that everything in that environment, all that nature tucks you in and accompanies you in that work of self-discovery.

You are currently taking these courses in the Benasque Valley, in the Aragonese Pyrenees. Why precisely there?

The valley of Benasque has been my home for almost 15 years. It is a glacial valley carved between the two largest massifs in the Pyrenees, and is difficult to access, making it a natural oasis, the “Valle Escondido”.

In addition, I know it very well, which allows me to personalize the activities in a dynamic way, according to the different characteristics of the different groups. This knowledge makes it easier for me to generate those metaphors that we are looking for as a fundamental part of the training.

What else makes your courses different?

The main element is that my goal as a trainer is to make people more capable and independent in dealing with their own lives. As an example, one part of the training is aimed at teaching the participants the fundamental knowledge so that they can autonomously do simple activities in nature themselves.

Thus, I teach them to measure times, to recognize a path, to interpret the clouds or to measure effort. My goal is not to have them come to a course every time they want to grow, but to make them feel capable of incorporating nature as their own personal development tool, making their own what I have initially taught them. This also applies to the more mental techniques, thus gaining autonomy at all levels.