July 23: On mountains

It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves. – Edmund Hillary

On Monday I will travel to Málaga and, at the airport, I will meet my fellow yogis. We will get on a bus and 3.5 hours later, we will arrive in the village of Mairena, nestled deep in the Alpujarra region, in the mountains of Sierra Nevada. Years ago, I used to spend my summer retreat on the southern coast of Crete. The yoga was similar but the landscape of the mountains feels different on the inside.

Mountains gather and the sea dissipates. Both are necessary at different times but in a scattered modern life, the need to gather – and to bear the difficulties this brings up – is urgent. It is hard to see what is important and to sense the bigger picture when lost in the demands of social media, work pressures, instant gratification and unhealthy coping mechanisms. This year, I need nourishment more than letting go.

The greatest yogi of all, yogeśvara, Lord śiva himself, is a mountain man. His abode is Mount Kailash, ‘a tremendous spiritual library’ which has the power to cleanse. Another episode of the Indian epics relates to the healing power of mountains. It is recounted in the Ramayana and stars the archetypal loyal friend, Hanuman.

A battle broke out between Ravana’s demon army and Rama’s animal army. Lakshman was so badly wounded in the battle it seemed that he would die before sunrise … The monkeys and bears decided that Hanuman must leap to the Himalayas and bring back the healing herb from the Medicine Mountain to save Lakshman’s life. So Hanuman leapt over the ocean, and across the whole of India to the Himalayas.

Arriving in the Himalayas, it took a long time to find the fabled Medicine Mountain. Hanuman found it at last – covered with herbs, but he didn’t know which was the magic healing herb. So he wrapped his arms around the whole mountain, pulled it out of the ground and lifted it onto the palms of his hand. He then flew with the mountain back to Lanka.

I also don’t know what the healing herb might be for me right now (silence, air, mineral water, sunshine, rest, Conchi’s food, company …) so I will take the mountain as a whole, like Hanuman.

Despite not enjoying climbing mountains, I find being in Mairena medicinal. Perhaps it is because I am a small-sized human being and the mountains offer perspective, a renewed way of seeing. Something always happens to me there: it starts with a struggle and then I find clarity on the other side. It is almost as if, because of the altitude, things feel purer: food, water, air … and this affects my mind, body and breath, making it shed accumulated gunk. Yoga helps of course, as it is an interoceptive practice, and Kia’s teachings (even when I am assisting her I am a student) are the perfect instrument. But the mountains are the container for all this.

There is also a sense of pilgrimage in mountains, a hardship in the climb. Even when we reach Mairena by bus, this is enough to discourage those who are not serious enough about what the journey entails. Only some chose to make it. Pilgrimages are good ways of finding your self (and then perhaps, to subdue it), of understanding what it is that calls your sense of devotion, what keeps you motivated in the effort, what humbles you, what makes you bow. As the naturalist John Muir said, ‘the mountains are calling and I must go’.

This month’s offering

This month, I have a different offering from my usual links: a hands-on one. I am finishing my training in Abhyanga full body ayurvedic massage and looking for 3 case studies that will receive 4 massages each. Free, of course. I learned it from Siobhan Fitzgerald who is a yoga therapist and Pranayama teacher in the Kaivalyadham lineage. It is a beautiful massage routine which, in the words of Siobhan is

… applied with love from the Indian ways of approaching wellbeing. It is a wonderful time out for the mind and invigorates the body and calms at the same time. It has many benefits, but its principle effects is to rid the body of sluggish toxins and remove blockages in our energetic pathways, restoring equilibrium to body and mind.

I was not surprised at how much I enjoyed receiving it (it is pure bliss) but the pleasure of giving it was a revelation. Reply to this email if you are interested.

NEWS: I will teach a monthly pranayama class at the lovely Studio 70, which is in Glasgow’s Southside, on 70 Victoria Road. Pranayama is a beautiful, nourishing and balancing breath practice, and, although it is advanced, I will teach each session to all levels of ability, explaining the principles and safe ways to practice. Here is a bit more on pranayama.

Sunday 3 September, 3-4.15pm
Sunday 1 October, 3-4.15pm
Sunday 12 November, 3-4.15pm

I am available for one-to-one yoga and/or pranayama sessions (introductory or following up practice). I am flexible on time and place and I can also do online.

Keep an eye out on my Instagram and Facebook pages for announcements of more new classes.