Yoga Retreat At Mittersill, Austria

Boy did I need a vacation!

You don’t realise how much until you go on one. You think you know, but once you actually unwind, then you realise just how twisted up you actually were.

sonnberghof mittersill

I went on a wee yoga vacation with the Sivananda people, at the Sonnberghof Hotel in Mittersill, Austria. It was brilliant. I mean, for a start, just look at the view!

alpine views

And that’s just one direction. There were gorgeous views all over the place.

Normally my Austrian yoga vacations happen in Reith, but a couple of times a year the bio-hotel there closes down for holidays of their own, so some of the yogis decamp to Mittersill to run their retreats from there.

They have a nice yoga room,

yoga room at mittersill

and a nice wee meditation hall,

meditation room

for sadhana and satsang respectively. And in between the bouts of spiritual enlightenment the hotel has an outdoor pool,

outdoor pool

as well as a selection of sauna/steam rooms you can enjoy, with a nice lounge area for you to relax in.

spa lounge
 
swing chairs

The routine was the usual Sivananda one of satsang at 6:30am, yoga at 8:30am. Then lunch, followed by free time. Then yoga at 4pm, lunch at 6pm, and evening satsang at 7:30pm.

The luxury of being able to do yoga twice a day is always welcome. You really do feel the benefits of your practise that much quicker when you can dedicate your time wholly to it. Of course it helps if someone else is cooking the food and cleaning up after you.

The food was very good. The kitchen staff at the hotel seem to have really got their heads around cooking sattvic food. I had to limit myself. The tempation to eat way too much was quite high.

The teaching was awesome too. They do offer tailored yoga programs at Mittersill, but I was just there for a vacation. I learnt a lot as we did our sadhana, including some new exercises to incorporate into my yoga, and some new ways to correct people when I’m teaching too. All in all a very profitable vacation.

I even made a new friend while I was there…

making friends 2

If you’re looking for a yoga holiday I can recommend Mittersill. The combination of yoga and spa is an excellent one. I felt incredibly relaxed by the end of my stay, and of course I wish I could have stayed more.

Instead I flew back, drove to the Lake District, and did an epic hike to the top of Helvellyn, lol.

Helvellyn Headstand, Helvellyn, Cumbria, UK

Kind of undid some of my good work, but got another shot for my headstand series so, siwng and roundabouts, eh?

Back in London now, trying to keep on with my daily practise, see if I can’t keep the flexibility I earned in Austria. I also need to prepare myself for the Sadhana Intensive in August. It’s pretty full on by all accounts, and I need to be at the top of my game if I’m going to get the best out of it.

Meditative Walking

Here’s how you meditate: You sit on a cushion, close your eyes, and just breathe. Right? Well, not always.

Sitting is one way to meditate, when the body is still but the mind is busy. But there’s also another way, when the mind is still but the body is busy.

Any repetitive task can be meditative if done with mindfulness, and what’s more repetitive than walking? Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot… You get the picture.

I’ve been doing a lot of walking recently. Really getting into it all of a sudden. When you’re puffing your way uphill and concentrating on not slipping and landing on your behind there’s not much time to think about anything else. Talk about one-pointedness!

I keep joking that my little bouts of walking over the past few months are like a meal. The starter was of course the Sivananda Summer Retreat in Wales.

over from the lodge

back down the valley

a valley peak

yogis at the water's edge

We saw some inspiring and energising sights, but the walks were necessarily short due to time restraints. After that course I was keen to do more. So, a few weeks later, when I went to visit my friend in Austria, I got to enjoy the main course.

My friend is really into her walking and let me tell you, it’s amazing how much you can get done (and how far you can go) when you get up and get out the house in the morning!

hilly

reflective

into austria

our overnight

moon rise

effects

I really caught the hiking bug when I was in Austria, and I think you can see why, so when I got back to England I kitted myself out in loads of new gear (I discovered jeans and Caterpillar boots are not ideal hiking equipment) and set out for a little bit of ‘dessert’.

Luckily, at the moment, the Lake District is right on my doorstep.

back towards keswick

valley 2

rolling greens

near the end, at the beginning

view from calf crag toward grasmere

Beautiful, no? You don’t forget sights like that in a hurry. I certainly felt like I’d eaten my fill. But, as it turns out, that was not to be the end of my ‘meal’.

The coffee/mint/brandy and cigars (?) to the whole thing was an epic walk to the top of the highest peak in Wales (and second highest in the UK) – Snowden.

This was where I found a good challenge. It’s all well and good doing a walk when it’s lovely and sunny, but when the weather turns on you then where are you? Hopefully, calm, concentrated, and above all well prepared.

When I set off you could see the weather was going to be a little ‘interesting’. NB: That’s Snowden in the background… somewhere.

rhyd ddu, snowdon obscured

the path begins

It started off getting cloudy…

into the clouds

Then it got wet…

a little damp

It got hard to see where you were going…

finding your way

Until eventually things started getting a little silly.

the way I came

Just before the top I had to huddle behind a rock to check my map, battered by the wind and hail. I wasn’t worried. I had maintained mindfulness of my situation all the way up, I knew where I was, knew the dangers, knew what I could handle, and if I couldn’t go on I was prepared to get back down safely if need be. Just one more benefit of maintaining a meditative practice.

As it turns out though I was just a few minutes from the top! I just couldn’t see it because this is all I could see (seriously).

view from snowdon

Conditions were a bit nuts at the summit. Really wet and windy.

to the top

So it was with a real sense of achievement that I made it there.

made it

at the peak

I even, for old times sake and because I haven’t done one in ages, did a headstand picture.

76. snowdon summit headstand

Couldn’t do it right on the top. The wind was too strong.

After the experience of getting up there, going in the summit cafe to warm up was both very welcome and highly bizarre.

summit cafe 2

summit cafe 1

You can get a train up to the top….

summit railway station

Which I heard in the clouds as I reached the peak, and which I thought was the wind. Really freaked me out. But not as much as walking into a room full of tourists. Quite a surreal experience.

I celebrated my achievement with some tea and cake (and a pie)…

my reward

And then it was time to contemplate the descent.

I came down quicker than I went up, because I knew once I got below 800 metres I’d be out of the wind and rain. Of course it started off wet…

the way back down

But soon things started to clear…

emerging from the clouds

the path home

And I could look back with a sense of achievement…

looking back

As well as enjoying what the future had in store.

snowdon ranger yha, below

Not least of which was a set of warm, dry clothes, lol.

drying off

Walking and leaving the world behind is a great way to centre yourself, and bring you into the here and now. Walking in a mountain top gale doubly so. But like all things in life, if you go forth well prepared, both mentally and physically, and you keep your head no matter what happens, then success is yours for the taking.

Celebrating Fifty Headstands!

Well, I had no idea how far I would take it when I began, but I’ve now taken over fifty Landmark Inversions (headstand shots).

To celebrate the first fifty, especially number fifty which is a bit special, I’ve made the following slideshow for you to enjoy. 🙂

*** Unfortunately, it seems WordPress does not support Slide.ly embeds for some reason, so you’ll have to click this link, go watch the slideshow, then come back ***

(NB: if you watch it large there’s a chance the timing will go wacky and the music run out – it does on my netbook anyway – so best try it small to begin with I reckon)

How good was that! ..lol..

I hope you had fun watching my first fifty headstands, and keep an eye out for the next fifty, which will be popping up periodically here on the Yoga Bum. 😉

A Landmark Year!

Well, I think it’s safe to say that 2012 was a landmark year in the life of the Yoga Bum.

For one thing, the Yoga Bum was invented. I started off the year working at a satellite broadcasting company, doing 12 hour night shifts in a sealed, windowless, air-conditioned room full of TVs, and I ended it in 40 degree heat in the west of Australia (at a rodeo, which I’ll go into detail about later). I’m now a qualified yoga teacher, I spent 2 months working at an ashram in the Austrian Alps, I’ve been to San Francisco, Sacramento, the Santa Cruz Mountains and Los Angeles, doing all kinds of interesting stuff, some of which I was fortunate enough to be able share with someone special, and most of which I didn’t know I’d be doing when the year started. With that in mind, I wonder what delights 2013 will bring. I mean, like last new year, I have an idea, but as we all know, anything and everything can happen (and usually does! ..lol..).

As a greeting for the new year, and to maybe inspire you to take some risks of your own and go do something ‘silly’, here’s a re-cap of my ‘Landmark Inversions’ series that I’ll be working on throughout 2013. I hope to add many more as the year goes on, and I can’t wait to see how many I get up to by the start of 2014; or indeed where they’ll be! I tell you what, it’s going to be fun finding out. 🙂

1. hahnenkamm headstand
2. twin peaks headstand
3. alcatraz headstand
4. golden gate headstand
5. hollywood headstand
6. santa monica headstand

Good luck for the next 365 days everyone. I hope you have much fun, some excitement, plenty of smiles, warm hearts to share it all with, and just an all round omming good time! 😉

Om Namah Shivaya. 🙂

Bad Yogi, Bad Vegan, Bad Karma?

a story from the Teacher Training Course;

There’s this little cafe in Reith, the wee villagey type place down the hill from the ashram. When you’ve had enough of ashram life, and the TTC, it’s a God-send. You can pop down there for a quick cuppa and just pretend you’re ‘normal’ (whatever that is) for a little while. But!

They do have the most tempting cakes. Beautiful, moist, chocolatey cakes that could tempt the most staunch of vegans (have no doubt, eggs and butter are abound!).

Now I resisted for almost the entire TTC. I was a good boy. But in the last week a bunch of us went down there for a break, everyone else was having a cake and, I’ll be honest, I cracked! I had some cake. Want some proof? Here it is.

bad vegan!

I wish I could say I felt guilty, but the fact is it was lovely, and just what I needed at that point in time. I ate it, and didn’t give it a second thought.

Flash forward to the evening meal. It’s the usual fare or veggies, grain, and a healthy dollop of salad. I’m just sitting down, tucking in with gusto, when I catch some movement out the corner of my eye, buried deep within the bowels of my salad. I take a closer look and find, much to my surprise (and his too for that matter), a little green caterpillar, thoroughly drenched in salad dressing and no doubt wondering what the heck was going on?

Needless to say I took the little fella out to the garden and set him free, but it occurred to me that maybe he was a message from the Universe. Basically,

“Ok, you want to eat animal products? Well here you go, eat this!”

That got to me a bit, and did kind of get me thinking about practicing austerities like veganism, with the odd ‘accidental’ lapse here and there. Plus it kind of felt like the Universe was mocking me a bit, getting a bit of a dig in.

But then I thought about it. You see, I know that the Universe is on your side. It wants to help, and it wants to help you do the right thing. It doesn’t do things like mock and punish. It is all loving and will do anything for you. So what was the caterpillar all about?

I realised that of everyone who ate that day, I was the one that got the caterpillar, and nobody else. Someone could have seen it, freaked out, and squashed it. Or they could not have seen it and eaten the poor little fella. But it was I that was given the opportunity to set him free, and in doing that make amends for my earlier indiscretion. And when I realised that I felt a whole lot better about my lapse, and about being offered the opportunity to make things right again.

That being said, I wish I could tell you I have had a will of iron since then. I mean I’ve been pretty good, but when it comes to cake I still lapse every now and then. Want proof? Here’s some pics of my latest indiscretions.

kirschstreusel -cherry crumble cake
 
indiscretion 2
 
indiscretion 1
 
What can I say? I do my best, but at the end of the day I’m only human, and the Austrians do make exceedingly nice cake! 😉

Life As A Karma Yogi

I’m half way through my time at the Sivananda Ashram, so I thought it’d be a good time to do a wee review of what it’s like to live the life of a Karma Yogi.

Just so we’re all on the same page, a Karma Yogi is a voluntary member of staff who lives and works at the ashram, doing whatever needs doing around the place. In return for this ‘selfless service’ you get fed and watered, the chance to do your yoga asanas every day, plus chanting and meditation sessions, and hopefully you get to advance in your practice little by little. For this reason it’s also known as a work/study program.

So, where to begin? Well first off I can tell you that I’ve certainly gone up in the world in terms of accommodation. I mean here’s where I started out on the TTC,

old digs

then I got moved to here,

new digs

and now look at me!

newer digs

Doing alright for myself, don’t you think? ..lol..

So, you might think it’s a bit weird being obsessed with your bed. But let me tell you, when you have to get up at 5:30am every morning – actually, I get up at 5:15am as I have some duties to perform before the 6:00am Satsang every morning – where you sleep and how you sleep suddenly becomes very important indeed!

And you don’t get a lot of other chances to rest apart from when you go to bed and your one hour break each day. Just check out the schedule on a typical day (if there can ever be such a thing) I had last week;

05:10 – Wake up before your alarm goes off. Weigh up getting up early versus five more minutes sleep. Choose sleep.
05:15 – Alarm goes off. Drag yourself out of bed and into the shower.
05:50 – Get to Satsang (daily chanting and meditation) ten minutes early to had out translation devices. Probably find out you forgot to charge them the night before. Panic a little.
06:00 – Satsang. Wait to see if you get asked to lead some kritan singing. Pray you don’t.
07:35 – Staff meeting. Find out what the plan is for the day. Get given a list of stuff to do.
08:00 – Join the guest yoga asana class.
08:20 – Get pulled out of class as the food order has arrived and it’s your job to check it off and put it all away.
10:00 – First meal of the day. Usually dahl, grain, veggie and some salad.
10:30 – Wash dishes and clean kitchen top to bottom along with other karma yogis.
12:15 – Continue figuring out where to put all the food that’s turned up. Pack and repack the fridge trying to get it all in.
13:30 – Take your break. Go online and spend the next hour replying to e-mails, uploading photos, and trying to blog (eg. this post you’re reading now has taken 4 days to do).
14:30 – Do your Sadhana (spiritual practice, consisting of asanas and meditation) since you couldn’t do it in the morning.
15:30 – Go down to check the translation system is charged up for tonight.
15:50 – Cook a meal for fourteen people even though two weeks ago you’d never done anything like that before.
17:45 – Panic that you won’t finish cooking in time. Worry that you haven’t made enough.
18:00 – Second meal of the day.
18:30 – Clean kitchen top to bottom again.
19:15 – Second Satsang of the day. Get there early for karma yoga again.
20:35 – Get disapproving looks when the translation mike runs out of power for the second time in two days.
21:00 – After Satsang, go rummage around in the store-room for a different mike as the one you have is clearly faulty.
21:30 – Go online. Answer the e-mails you didn’t have time to answer before. Do more blogging.
22:00 – Go to bed. Set alarm for seven hours time. Pray it won’t be freezing cold when you get up in the morning. Count the days ’til your day off.

And that wasn’t even one of the ‘eventful’ days, like when we have dozens of guests or there’s an early morning puja (religious ceremony) or something.

blessed book
My travel notebook, blessed during one of the pujas.

Seems quite hectic eh? But weigh that against the perks of the job. Good food, nice digs, the chance to do yoga and meditation each day, and the opportunity to go on the odd outing here and there. I mean, take this moment for example;

You don’t get times like that working in an office, now do you?

Plus, the work isn’t so hard. I mean they give you as much as you can handle – what I call The 3-C’s of Karma Yoga; Cooking, Cleaning and Carrying Stuff – but not so much that you’re overloaded and want to run away. They know that we choose to be here, and if we don’t like it we can choose not to be here, so they strike a fine balance between challenging you and pushing you too far.

That being said, you’ve got to do whatever you need to do to keep sane. With some it’s sleeping as much as possible, for most it’s going online, but with me it’s snacking! Whatever happens, I gots to get me some snacks each day or I’d go mental.

This was my first snack hidey-hole,

the naughty snack corner

then I graduated to a drawer!

more naughty treats!

Next it’ll be a snack desk! ..lol.. I mean, I’m not doing my belly any favours, after all the weight I lost during the TTC, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right?

So it’s hectic, yet manageable; but still, you do enjoy your one day off a week! A lie-in, a chance to rest, and some time to catch up with the ‘real world’.

Unfortunately there’s not much to do round here. Reith is a one horse town, seasonally busy, so closed most of the time. Kitzbuhel, nearby, is bigger but similar. But at least it has a few coffee shops and that which you can go to during lunch time (proper shops close from 12:00-15:00, I kid you not!). Like I say it’s kinda boring, but you go anyway just to have some time away. You need that mental break now and then.

And that’s it really. That’s what it’s like to be a karma yogi (well, if you’re me, anyway). I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I’m looking forward to going traveling. Not just to visit California, Australia, New Zealand, etc., but also just to have more than one lie-in a week! No matter what I do I can’t get used to being up before 6am. It’s just not for me.

I can handle the next 4 weeks, but after that it’s long sleeps and lazy starts for me for a while. I just need the rest. Then I can start getting my head around opening a centre of my own (if I haven’t had enough by then that is, lol).

Not that I can complain really. I mean, this was the view when I got up yesterday morning.

morning blanket

snow in the valley

How gorgeous is that! And tonight the full moon was so bright it lit up the entire valley. So bright in fact that when you looked at it it left an after image on your eye. I’ve never seen it like that before. When I think of that, and then think of how I could be in London working a night shift, I know how lucky I actually am.

Arty In Austria

Here’s a few pics for your delectation.

I’ve given full bent to my artistic side, so you’ll forgive the abstract nature of the first half. Take heart that part 2, at the end, contains more straight forward landscape shots.

Enjoy. 🙂

autumn colours
 
look out below!
 
wood pile
 
your mother is a snow blower!
 
green and grey
 
the postbox collective
 
teabag macro
 
accidental close up
 
old door, kitzbuhel
 
sign, with underpants
 
so much sky!
 
berry nice indeed
 
red bench, blue view
 
waiting to view
 
admiring the view
 
very austrian
 
a lakeside contemplation
 
the wilder kaiser (the wild emperor)
 
by the waterfall
 
after a long walk...