At a time where our pace of life is getting more and more hectic and time to ourselves is increasingly rare, we need to take a break more than ever. We all feel the need to recharge our batteries, live in the moment and forget the hassles of everyday life for a little while. For a few years now, we've been in an era of well-being and responsible living, paying attention to what we eat, what we consume… seeking balance. That won't come as news to any of you, but that's exactly what yoga is: a union of body and mind leading to lasting balance. In Sanskrit (an Indian dialect which is the universal language of yoga), yoga means union.
Sabine B., a yoga teacher who has lived in Val Thorens for several years and has long practised yoga at an altitude of 2,300 metres teaches us a little more about the topic today.
First of all, we should know that high altitude yoga should be approached from both a physical and a spiritual perspective.
From a physical point of view, practising yoga in the mountains has specific benefits for our three major areas (body, heart, mind) as the series of asanas and pranayamas performed at altitude where the air is pure, allow the body and brain to be much more oxygenated, stimulating the cardiovascular system and increasing the energy flooding into our bodies. There are so many benefits! But what are asanas and pranayamas? They're the two practices inherent to yoga: in Sanskrit once again, asana means posture and pranayama means breathing.
Practicing asanas changes the body little by little: the spine and joints become more flexible, muscles are strengthened and toned, the figure becomes more sculpted. As your practice progresses, your body will become more precise and more efficient. And that's not all! The combination of different postures stimulates hormone-releasing endocrine glands. These glands are related to our energy centres, known as Chakras, 7 invisible wheels that run along the spine and provide links between the physical body, the mind and emotions: the root chakra, the sacred chakra, the solar plexus chakra, the heart chakra, the throat chakra, the 3rd eye chakra and the crown chakra. If that's piqued your curiosity, go ahead and do some research on the subject... As Plato said, "we must not seek to heal the body without seeking to heal the soul". Then mountain posture, warriors one, two and three, child posture and sun salutations; you're probably already familiar with these names. What's stopping you from trying these asanas out?
When it comes to practicing pranayamas, it's unthinkable to do yoga without them. These full-breathing, alternate breathing and Ujjayi breathing exercises, among others, allow us to better control our breathing and therefore oxygenate our cells. The nervous system is purified by the release of energy transported by the breath. The breathing is obviously slow and regular... Don't forget to breathe while you practice the postures, and above all, be aware of your breathing! With all the concentration this combination requires, you won't have time to focus on the little things bothering you in life.
Yoga also has a spiritual dimension because it's a discipline intrinsically linked to the mind. Letting go, being truly present in your feelings and the here and now, self-care, concentration, anchoring, discovering who you really are... these are all important parts of yoga. This side of things really comes into its own when yoga is practiced against a huge, pure, simple backdrop like the mountains, where you can get right up close to the summits. No more urban pollution, goodbye concrete, begone niggling thoughts: your mind is completely filled by this idyllic landscape, so close to the sky and yet deeply anchored to the ground. The strength and power of the mountains make them beautiful places of introspection where the ego is hushed by the immensity of nature, the mountains eclipse us. So here we are, in the here and now, in contemplation, silently practicing postures… with our true selves. Being connected to this immutable force symbolised by the summits is truly magical.
A Tibetan proverb says: "When you reach the top of a mountain, keep climbing" and I'm sure devotees of the power of nature wouldn't say any different. Practicing yoga, especially at altitude, requires you to get out of your comfort zone and open yourself up to something new… We ask ourselves questions but above all, we discover our true selves.
If you want to try out your asanas and pranayamas in the heart of nature this winter, set yourself up on a spot on the Montagnette path on the way to Les Menuires, which has some flat areas sheltered from the wind. If your practice is more of a summer thing, slopeside restaurant terraces would make an excellent spot! Finally, if you'd prefer some company as you sample the benefits of yoga during your holiday at altitudes of 2,300 metres or more, here's where you can find people to contact (http://www.valthorens.com/fr/evenements-et-activites/activites-hiver/cours-de-yoga.724.html).
Look after yourself, Namaste.