Dad and I...
To all the yoga teachers planning to add some extra activities to their retreats, holiday makers, yogis and skiers this article might be helpful when planning to try out the combination of these two modalities.
"When the idea of having a yoga retreat blended with skiing and winter activities first came to me I jumped in the concept as the combination seemed so obvious: the yoga helping with warming up and cooling down, promoting balance and coordination, and the thin air altitude would have less impact on lung capacity as a result of pranayama sessions (breathing techniques) the visualisation/ meditation improving the performance outdoors regardless of the skier/ yoga practitioner level an so on.
Although all that held true there were a few points that could be considered before getting your ski boots and leggings on. I am now overlooking Mont Blanc contemplating the closing of our cycle. The second group who attended the retreat are out and about skiing together, and our chalet oscillates between stillness and vibrant energy that fill the atmosphere after (or après) skiing. My initial anxiety hosting a retreat like this, is giving space to a premature nostalgic feeling. In every retreat one learn more than teach and in Chamonix, it was no exception. Bellow is some of what I’ve been taught, apart from skiing."
Tip number 1: Skiers will skip lunch!
If you are planning a ski and yoga retreat,is wise to make all the participants aware that is unpractical to descend the mountain to have lunch. Although there are restaurants open in the slopes a baguette can range from 5€ to 10€. As the organiser you can prepare a sandwich as an alternative or give the participants free access to use the kitchen facilities, but with this in mind comes the next suggestion.
Ann having a little break in a coffee shop at the slopes.
Tip number 2: Encourage the skiers to take responsibility for their timetable!
If and when staying in a hotel for example, the kitchen closes at certain time, in this case if the breakfast finishes at 11AM one cannot expect to eat at noon for instance, included or not. One of the benefits of sharing a house at a yoga retreat is that this problem can be negotiated and the participants can benefit from its flexibility, however work out expectations. When offering free access to the kitchen its advisable to set simple rules, ask yourself again what is included: breakfast only or hot beverages throughout the day? Are you offering 3 meals, or can the participants help themselves for extra snacks, sandwiches, tea, coffee etc? It’s critical to have the rules established from the start of your retreat as once a habit is formed it is difficult to break it. If the participants decide to eat at a different time or eat out its absolutely fine, as long as they understand that this way they must consider the group’s need and pre-set program versus individual plans. Make clear not only ‘what’ is included, but ‘at which time” it will be available.
Tip number 3: The yogi diet vs. the skier eating habits!
Yoga retreats are well known for its light food. Skiers like to indulge sometimes into rich wine, chocolate and cheese. Maybe open one exception to celebrate the local culture. A fondue night for example is a nice way to bond, and as Oscar Wilde once said: Everything in moderation, including moderation.
Thank you Alice for showing me the fondue way!
Tip number 4: For beginners, book a private group lesson!
If one participant never skied before or want to refresh their skills, there are cheap options to kick-start their practice. A 4 hour group lesson cost roughly 50€ per person and its enough to create a solid foundation for the rest of the week (surely, individuality must be considered, but generally speaking the group lesson is extremely effective). I am a Brazilian born, beach lover and never skied before, however on my second group I was already able to be helpful in the slopes.
A little play before our hour 4 hour class start. I am the beginner, Audra is the StarPupil!
Tip number 5: Beware of the fundamental differences and psychics of each activity!
Ski is an amazing sport. But it is unapologetic demanding. It requires from you! One must to be focused, centred and connected with the mountain. A distraction and you will fall. Skiing is the opposite of forgiving; it asks your all, your undivided attention. In each turn it tests your courage and control, in each fall it defies your commitment.
But it also gives back…it races your heart on the way down fulfilling it with adrenaline, it teaches you the best drishti (yogic gaze technic to develop concentration) ever, as you will undoubtedly end up in the direction that you are looking at – What an amazing metaphor! - Once you are on the top of the mountains you will experience stillness, it is magic: a truly spiritual experience. But it’s also exhaustive and competitive! The exhaustion plus adrenaline combined with hunger can cause impatience, hence keep the evening class as 'restorative' and the dinner a little heavier than usual.
No spa for Jenny today, all day skiing on her own instead! Go girl!
Yoga is not a sport. Yoga is yoga…it adapts to your moods, body shape, energy levels; it becomes the best friend and confidant for anyone who decide to give it a goal, and if you abandon it takes you back at anytime, no formalities required. Overtime whatever we focus on, will manifest in parts of ourselves. So, when planning a Ski & Yoga retreat, design a program that will embrace and nurture each participant, in a way that one can learn with each other creating union and shared interest. Examples: put emphasis in poses that will have a positive impact skiing, for example, Utkatasana, explaining benefits throughout your class to captivate the skier’s attention. At the top of the mountain suggest the group to ‘move with their breath’ and to dedicate that slope to someone or something, just like at the beginning of a yoga class we put through our intention, if they fall, they stand up again making the effort a yogic metaphor.
Adele is a London Boss-Lady also yoga teacher, headstand fanatical and ski and macaroons lover!
Tip number 6: The altitude has influence on people’s mood!
All previous Blue House Yoga retreats (except for our first writing yoga retreat, in Somerset) had taken place by the sea. According to recent research from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Truro, Cornwall, even stroll along the beach is enough to boost emotional health. The water represents emotions of purity and fertility. Symbolically, it is often viewed as the source of life itself. In Taoist tradition, water is considered an aspect of wisdom. This combined with yoga and good weather translated into not having the need of a formal studio for example and constant relaxation by the pool or gathering at the beach. It was almost as if the sea was the host of the retreats, leaving little work for the organisers.
In the altitude, a different pattern could be noticed. The monumental mountains surrounding us, as the cold weather invited each of the participants for introspection. The earth is a masculine energy (Yang) that controls the water (emotions/Yin) and although the plains and valleys are a feminine expression (Yin) the hills and mountains are the Yang (masculine)
The masculine energy represents practicality, responsibility, seriousness and conservatism, and can also manifest in the body as a rigidity, or inflexibility, stagnating and openness to worry. So beware that teaching in this kind of energy requires from the organiser/ yoga teacher to be more grounded than usual.
Coffee break is also an opportunity to flex that lower back! :)
In conclusion the final considerations do not mean that the beach is better than the mountains! Such assumption would be an absurd. Never before an environment taught me so much. I am coming back now every season as I am in love with it. It awakened on me dormant sides in my personality. For me it was the representation of the high consciousness (water represents the subconscious), to be alert, assertive exploring the selves on me that have been denied or neglected as I did not feel that I needed, but they are now active and we are in good terms. We need all spectrums of our personalities to create balance.
Gabby is a journalist, yoga teacher and avid skier, she shared her experience in the slopes and also in a warming morning yoga class.
And to offer contrast, the beauty of life is worth to mention that Alma, one of the SkYogi who attended in the first week feels the different: ‘I feel free and happy in the mountains, open, expanded and connected with myself as with the surroundings’. So my conclusion is that all comes to equilibrium when closing the gaps between what is familiar and what is different, masculine and feminine, reclusive and wide open, mountain or sea, competitive or laid back. Every trip (metaphorically and literally) gives us the opportunity to explore our inherited desire to accept and nurture all our sides. When I visited a Brazilian Shaman he told me that I was Iemanja’s daughter (African-Brazilian Water Deity) and it is very good to be swimming at my moms womb absorbing her sensuality and playfulness, but now looking at the solid, large elevation emerging strongly from inside the Earth I meditate into what the mountain represents to me: A father, who will be the mirror not for my limitations but for what I am capable of. What the mountain embodies to me is the action of climbing in order to be rewarded. The successes accomplished with perseverance, keeping in mind that even the highest of the mountains, are subject to the action of the rivers and sea. But this is a natural agreement in life. Listen to your heart and until next season!
Alma, a innovation manager based in London but born in Greece feels most free and connected being high up in the mountains..
Although I’ve never skied before, Yoga gave me a strong base to find perseverance and balance. Join us for the next season for a week of Sky and Yoga in Chamonix. Reservation at www.bluehouseyoga.co.uk