Every Yoga practitioner in every little studio across the world wishes to one day practise Yoga high up in the Himalayan mountains – the birthplace and eternal spiritual home of YOGA! And this is not just conjuncture, it’s what I’ve heard yoga students tell me over my dozen-year career as a yoga teacher in India and abroad. Last week, we took 50 Yogis to the Himalayan town of Mcleodganj, also the home of the Dalai Lama. From there we trekked up to 3,000 mts and atop Triund Hill, we practised Yoga amidst the majestic Himalayas! It was for me and for many of those attending, a dream come true and a moment to cherish for a lifetime!
So, what did we learn about doing Yoga in the Himalayas?
For thousands of years, the Himalayan caves have been home of some of the most adept individuals to have ever lived on our planet. Yoga originated as a complete system of mind-body mastery and a search for liberation in these same mountains. So, since time immemorial Yoga practices have been designed and created keeping this weather in mind. Would Surya Namaskaar (Sun Salutation) have been such an integral part of Yogic practice if the Yogis lived in a desert?! Maybe not. Also, the rarefied air in the mountains makes Pranayam (breathing techniques) a survival technique and not only a tool for meditation. You’d better learn the Art of Breathing if you want to spend quality time in the mountains.
The other intriguing thing is that as a Fitness regime, Yoga practices are Anaerobic. Yes, almost all other fitness activities like running, swimming, Zumba raise the heart rate. Yoga is the exception. It actually slows down your heart rate. Yes, in modern yoga, we do loads of Surya Namaskaars to provide a cardio workout – but in the strictest sense, Yoga never required a Cardio routine since the Yogis were trekking in the mountains! If we trekked (climbed a hill or two) to our neighbourhood Yoga studio, then Surya Namsakaar would be only a chakra-activation exercise and not a cardio drill! And in fact, for the purpose of Meditation, a slower heart rate is most beneficial.
The Weather can change really fast on Himalayan mountaintops. We had just finished our 4 hour trek up to Triund and were sitting around when suddenly the skies began to open and hail stones came falling on us. It was perhaps the highlight of our Yoga retreat and felt as if blessings were falling from the sky on all of us! Luckily, it lasted just long enough that it was enjoyable and we didn’t need to run for cover. Else, we’d have been confronted with an old truth – in the Himalayas, every Yogi needs a Cave! (or at least a tent for starters)
A friend saw this picture of ours where we are sitting in Meditation in the Himalayas and asked whether it was really necessary to be on a hill for meditation? The answer is No of course, but…here’s the thing. MAJESTIC VIEWS = INSPIRATION = EFFORTLESS MEDITATION. You get the point right? Being surrounded by such beauty, one is immediately elevated in mood and transported to a space of calm contemplation. To say Meditation is the natural outcome of being in a place like the Himalayas would be over-stating the obvious.
Finally, and perhaps the most important lesson of spending time in the Himalayas is an experience of humility.Being surrounded by majestic, awe-inspiring mountains makes you realise the sheer scale of creation….and your place in it. While it takes away from you your misconceived notions of grandeur – it doesn’t dwarf you or make you feel insignificant. Quite the contrary actually. The Himalayas sweep you in a feeling that you are part of this magnificent creation; part of the cosmos itself. You don’t feel lonely, but a part of something tremendously beautiful and alive! That, for me is the main reason you should look to journey to the Himalayas, roll out your mats, sweat through a few asanas, breathe deeply, meditate and feel at one with creation itself!
MANISH POLE (yoga teacher, writer+speaker, director at Total Yoga)