To all the yoga teachers planning to add some extra activities to their retreats, holidaymakers, yogis, and skiers, this article might be helpful when planning to try out the combination of these two!
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: yoga helping with warming up and cooling down, promoting balance and coordination, while the thin air altitude having a lower impact on the lung capacity as a result of pranayama sessions.
Although all that held true, there were a few points that should 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, I learn more than what I teach, and in Chamonix, it was no exception.
Here is some of what I’ve been taught, apart from skiing:
Lesson 1: Skiers will skip lunch
If you are planning a ski and yoga retreat, it’s wise to make all the participants aware that it 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 organizer, 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…
Lesson 2: Encourage the skiers to take responsibility for their timetable
If and when staying in a hotel, the kitchen closes at a certain time. In this case, if the breakfast finishes at 11 am, one cannot expect to eat at noon. 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 it’s advisable to set simple rules. Ask yourself again what is included: breakfast only or hot beverages throughout the day? Are you offering three meals, or can the participants help themselves to extra snacks, sandwiches, tea, coffee, etc.?
It’s critical to have the rules established from the start of your retreat because once a habit is formed it is difficult to break. If the participants decide to eat at a different time or eat out it's absolutely fine, as long as they understand that this way they must consider the group’s needs and pre-set program versus individual plans.
Make clear not only ‘what’ is included, but ‘at which time” it will be available.
Lesson 3: The yogi diet vs. the skier eating habits
Yoga retreats are well known for their light, healthy food. Skiers sometimes like to indulge in rich wine, chocolate, and cheese. To compromise, maybe open one exception to celebrate the local culture and get to know the cuisine. A fondue night, for example, is a nice way to bond, and as Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
Lesson 4: For beginners, book a private group lesson
If there are participants who never skied before or want to refresh their skills, there are cheap options to kick-start their practice. A 4-hour group lesson costs roughly 50€ per person and is 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 have never skied before. Nevertheless, on my second group, I was already able to be helpful on the slopes.
Lesson 5: Beware of the fundamental differences and psychics of each activity
Skiing is an amazing sport. But it is extremely demanding. It requires a lot from you! One must be focused, centered and connected with the mountain. One distraction and you might fall. Skiing is the opposite of forgiving; it asks for your all, for 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 filling 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 a magical and truly spiritual experience. But it’s also exhaustive and competitive! The exhaustion plus adrenaline combined with hunger can cause impatience. Therefore, keep the evening class as restorative as possible and the dinner a little heavier than usual.
Yoga is not a sport. Yoga is yoga. It adapts to your moods, body shape, energy levels. It becomes a good friend and confidant for anyone who decides to give it a go. And, even if you abandon it, you can go back to it any time, no formalities required.
Over time, whatever we focus on will manifest in parts of ourselves. So, when planning a 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 interests.
Put emphasis on poses that will have a positive impact skiing. For example, Utkatasana, explaining the benefits throughout your class to captivate the skier’s attention. At the summit, 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.
Lesson 6: The altitude has an influence on people’s mood
All my 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, even strolling along the beach is enough to boost our emotional health.
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, translates into not having the need for a formal studio, plus constant relaxation by the pool or the beach. It was almost as if the sea was the host of the retreats, leaving little work for the organizers.
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 under these circumstances requires from the yoga instructor to be more grounded than usual.
A coffee break is also an opportunity to flex that lower back!
In conclusion, it doesn’t mean that the beach is better than the mountains. Such assumption would be 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 the dormant sides of my personality.
For me, it was the representation of the high consciousness (water represents the subconscious) – to be alert and assertive, exploring the selves in me that have been denied or neglected, as I did not feel that I needed them, but they are now active and we are in good terms. We need all spectrums of our personalities to create balance.
It’s all a matter of balance. Even the highest of mountains are subject to the action of the rivers and the sea. But this is a natural agreement. Listen to your heart and until next season!
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