Yoga in the Alps
Yoga is an activity that is increasingly popular all over the globe, with many different styles on offer, particularly complementing other sports such as running, cycling and hiking. You name it, yoga has a good stretch for it. And yoga doesn’t just help stretch you out and increase your flexibility, it also helps to improve your balance, strength and focus. In addition to the physical benefits, more and more people are coming back to yoga classes for other reasons, to feel more relaxed and less disconnected. So what is this all about? And how can we relate this ancient Indian practice back to our day to day lives?
What is Yoga?
First things first, what is yoga? The actual meaning of the word yoga is ‘to yoke’; to unify or to connect. Take that however you will; to connect the body and mind, to connect to your spirituality, to connect with yourself. Yoga is not just a set of picture perfect poses, but is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice which uses different poses along with breathing exercises and meditation. In ancient yoga scriptures, the purpose of yoga is ‘to control the fluctuations of the mind’. In other words, to calm the mind, to find peace and clarity. Yoga is not a religion, nor just a work out, but more of a lifestyle.
What does a mind-body connection mean?
It is common knowledge that there is a link between the mind and body; exercise releases endorphins which are mood-boosting hormones, into the body, which in turn makes you feel happier. Not only does yoga help to improve strength, flexibility and balance; it engages and exercises both the body and the mind, all by using the breath. It is not just simply moving the body in space, but increasing an awareness of the body and the effect that it has on our total wellbeing.
Not just a workout
For many people who have never tried it, yoga can seem a bit scary and intimidating, everyone around them seemingly knowing what they are doing. By just focusing on your breathing, you can leave any expectations and worries at the door and turn your focus inwards. It doesn’t matter if the person next to you can get their leg behind their head, it doesn’t matter if you could do this pose ‘better’ last week, it’s about how it feels for you, here in this moment. In that respect, yoga differs to other forms of movement or exercise in that there is no competition, with yourself or others. It’s not so much a work out, but a work in.
Why practice yoga?
In our busy lives it is easy to feel disconnected, despite being more globally connected than ever before. And the answer is simple yet something we find surprisingly difficult: coming back to the present moment, living in the here and now. In yoga, the focus is always on the breath before anything, no matter the pose. Consciously focusing on the inhale and exhale to connect to the present moment, to reconnect with ourselves. Breathing is something we do automatically all day, every day, but how often do you actually think about your breath? How many breaths pass you by without even noticing? Come to think of it, how much are we actually paying attention to the goings on in our lives, to stop and smell the flowers?
Yoga and the great outdoors
Being outside in nature and in the mountains is another form of mindfulness or meditation. We often find that everything becomes much clearer after going for a brisk walk. The healing and restorative power of the great outdoors deepens our connection to the natural world, reminding us that we really are just a tiny speck in this universe. It gives us perspective and clarity, makes us appreciate what we have, and helps us find gratitude for the small things, for being here, being fully alive. Powerful stuff hey.
Hiking up a mountain is a perfect example of how a physical activity can bring a sense of calm to the mind. It isn’t about racing to the top and it doesn’t matter if it is a gruelling steep climb or a stroll through a flat meadow. In fact, finding your own steady and comfortable pace is more important and way more enjoyable and you are less likely to burn out (the story of the hare and the tortoise springs to mind). Once you have found your rhythm then the only sounds are the repetitive beat of your footsteps and the sounds of nature. Next time you are on a hike why don’t you try tuning into what is going on around you rather than walking on auto-pilot and letting your mind wander. Step by step, taking in the colours, shapes, and textures, the sounds of the birds, the smells of the trees and the earth, the sensation of the fresh breeze on your skin. And tuning into your footsteps, the steady rhythm, pace and stride, like your own personal metronome. Just taking a few moments to stop and take in your surroundings is a truly powerful phenomenon yet incredibly simple.
And then the views and sense of achievement at the top make it even more worth it! It takes your breath away, and neither words or pictures can do it justice. It brings a sense of clarity, and the things that were playing on your mind this morning or last week suddenly don’t seem as significant as before. What really matters is what is going on in that precise moment. That feeling at the top of the mountain is the same feeling at the end of a yoga class, after working through a series of postures ending with a relaxing savasana; a sense of peace, and fulfilment.
How can this benefit me?
By taking the time out of your day and taking part in these activities; finding that connection and sense of peace, we can bring this into other parts of our lives; with how we interact with other people and the world in general, and even with ourselves, with more clarity, kindness, and acceptance.
Whether it’s yoga, hiking up a mountain, or even doing yoga up a mountain, it’s about finding whatever brings you back to that feeling of connectedness, of being fully alive to this moment. Right here. Right now. And you don’t have to be a master yogi to try. All you need is your breath.
‘Yoga is not about touching your toes. It’s about what you learn on the way down.’ – Jigar Gor