Sending love and light to Nepal + my experience of yoga and trekking in Nepal
I am so sad for Nepal, which has been a beautiful home for me many times over the years. I am horrified by the intensity of the earthquake, which has seen ancient temples and buildings in Kathmandu reduced to rubble and whole villages destroyed, let alone the loss of life and the despair up in Everest as an avalanche has effectively cleared the mountain at just the worst time.
You see we are in the middle of one of the two peak seasons in Nepal, and this Spring one offers the potential for summit to Everest, so the country is awash with trekkers and tourists. Not that there is a good time for an earthquake, but this is really a very bad time for an earthquake especially as this will impact on those who rely on the money they make this season to see them through the Monsoon to the next tourist season in the autumn.
The Nepali people are the kindest and most generous and giving people I have met. They have helped me on many occasions so that I have always felt safe and have made many friends over the years. Being such a poor country the people suffer many hardships, there is infrequent electricity and running water and there is no free healthcare or social security payments to help those in need. They must rely on International charities and family members, which still finds so many living in abject poverty and on the streets. Yet they still smile and say “Namaste” as you pass by. We do not realise how lucky we are in the West sometimes.
I am still waiting to hear from our dear friend, Narayan, who has helped Ewan and I and many of our friends over the years. I am confident he is safe but will feel relieved to hear from him nonetheless. My dear friend Devika who many in Guernsey will know from her visits to the Island to teach yoga is safe and well, fortunately Pokhara, where I used to spend my time, has escaped unscathed.
My heart and soul and prayers go to all those suffering in Nepal and to the country itself, which has suffered enough over the years. It makes no sense sometimes that those with so little are affected so much.
With love and light
Here below is one of the published articles I have written on my trekking experience in Nepal.
LIVING YOGA: TREKKING TO MOUNT EVEREST BASE CAMP
While it may have been a long held dream to visit the Himalayas, I am not sure it was ever a conscious decision to trek to Everest Base Camp; I simply signed up for some voluntary work in Nepal through Moving Mountains, a charity with which my Dad was involved, and later discovered that the trek formed part of the package. Quite by chance, I discovered that another Guernsey girl, Jo Chapman, would be joining me, the daughter of friends of my parents who I also knew personally.
So Jo and I travelled out to Nepal together and discovered that we would be trekking with 6 boys ranging in age between 18 and 23 years old, one of whom was – quite coincidentally – also from Guernsey, Tom Ayres, whose family live about 100 metres from my own family, as the crow flies, at Vazon...it is a small world!.
After a few days getting to know each other and adjusting to the chaos and yet vibrancy of Kathmandu we flew to Lukla (2,800 metres), the starting point of the trek. We would spend the next 9 days trekking up to Kala Pattar, which, at 5,545m, is a little higher than Everest Base Camp and provides panoramic views of Everest and the surrounding Himalayan mountain range. I am certainly no mathematician but even I knew that we had some hill to climb (and not just in the literal sense either).
Interestingly after a few days spent in Kathmandu, feeling like a fish out of water, and very much in the mind set of old, I assumed that my yoga practise and growth would have to wait until after the trek. However, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The trek was the most challenging thing I have ever done in my life. But each challenge actually provided me with the opportunity to address my earlier questions and concerns and find my own answers and sense of truth.
Physically, we spent hours and hours trekking along simple dusty trails, up and down valleys, across suspension bridges, up steep, steep rugged and dusty steps, around Mani stones and Chortens, circumnavigating yaks and porters, who carried incredibly heavy loads. The higher we climbed, the thinner the air became so that breathing, at times, was as challenging as simply putting one foot in front of the other.
We stayed in simple, simple Lodges, the plywood walls and floorboards so thin you could hear every sound in the room both beside and below you, the single windowpanes offering little protection from the cold. We slept on thin mattresses on simple plywood beds, our sleeping bags providing our sole source of warmth and comfort. The rooms were often so small we were just about able to stash our rucksacks between our beds, sleeping two to a room.
Everything has to be carried up to the Lodges by porters so food supplies are understandably limited. Everyone was forced to eat vegetarian due to lack of fresh meat (after days of having to listen to comment after comment about being a vegetarian, I couldn’t help thinking this was karma: the boys sulked) and menus are generally all the same; mixed fried rice, mixed fried noodles, mixed fried potatoes, chips, chapatti based pizzas with yak’s cheese, eggs, powdered soups, fried Tibetan bread and Dahl Baht, the latter becoming my staple, a dish of rice, lentils and vegetable curry (a complete protein as it happens) eaten by Nepalis twice a day, every day of the year.
While the curry contained potato and one or two other vegetables (limited I must admit), the closest we ever got to fresh fruit was the odd apple chopped into our morning porridge. Initially the lack of fresh food was a challenge for me but, like everything else, I had to let this go and it was a liberating experience. I became particularly sensitive to the needs of my body and did not berate myself (as I would have done previously) for drinking sweet, milk powdered Nepali tea when I needed a sugar and caffeine hit and adding salt to my dinner when my salt levels felt low.
Most of us were conscious of eating “safe” foods and we were fastidious about the cleanliness of our hands and faces. I put grapefruit seed extract in my water each day and these efforts seemed to pay off - there were many bouts of diarrhea and suspected food poisoning in the group, but I avoided both. As for showering, well initially I was able to shower each day – you pay for a pot of hot water, which is poured through a basic shower head, housed in a simple wooden shack outside of the Lodge itself – but in the higher climbs I was forced to go 3 days without a shower; this didn’t seem to bother the boys as much as me – our challenges were very different on this trek.
We all suffered with altitude sickness in different ways too: we “lost” 3 of the boys to this a few days before reaching the highest point of our trek and they had to descend, one of them showing early signs of cerebral oedema (he was carried down the mountain by porters). I was ill on the very last day as we attempted to ascend Kala Pattar, my head had been thumping for days and was now accompanied by nausea. This was a defining moment for me, my ego wanted to continue to the top of the ‘hill’ (after all we had come all this way) but my body was telling me to stop.
Incredibly I stopped. This was actually a blessing as I turned around and unexpectedly watched the sun rising over Mount Everest, while the others struggled on ahead completely unaware. I vomited in the open air as we descended the mountain that day, another blessing - the boys who were ill during the night had to use the rancid toilets generally awash with smelly urine and faeces, nauseating in themselves.
Yoga helped me to maintain a sense of calmness and balance as I adapted to life up in these mountains. It was simply yoga in action. Every day, as I trekked, I focused on my breathing, placing one foot in front of the other on the uneven ground, head down, listening out for the sound of bells indicating the arrival of yaks, concentrating on my inhalations and exhalations. On occasion the thumping in my head would wake me in the middle of the night, reducing me to tears and I would focus on my breath, (in the thin air, it was easy to get scared) to help calm me down and encourage sleep.
Initially, while trekking, there was far too much time to think and I suffered with a particularly restless mind. But after a while, I began to draw my energy within, detaching myself from my senses, from everything going on around me, learning to let go and accept things as they were. Sometimes I would go beyond thought, withdrawing my awareness from everything around me so that time and space lost all meaning; meditation in action perhaps.
I also went through periods of feeling intensely angry; angry at the exhausting nature of the endless hills, angry at everything around me, at myself, at my often restless and persecuting mind, angry, angry, angry, angry at nothing in particular, angry without a present cause. I had to learn to let it go, not to identify with these fluctuating emotions, to let go and to move on before they were really able to take hold.
I became more and more conscious of the frequent opportunities to let go as every experience was far removed from my “comfort zone”. I took to my mat as often as I was able, squeezed between the two beds in our room, wearing thermals, burning Tibetan incense, and I would practise, stretching my aching limbs, inverting my thumping head and allowing my heart and lungs to rest. I enjoyed the familiarity, the quiet time away from the rest of the group and the peace and joy of going within - I would come away from my practise feeling calm and renewed.
Without trying, I became particularly aware of the yamas and niyamas, the moral and ethical limbs of yoga – non-violence (trying to let go of inner conflict), truthfulness (particularly important when you spend so much time with others), freedom from desire and greed (I couldn’t feed it out there, simple as that), cleanliness (I was so very aware), contentment (again an acceptance with my life in that moment), austerity (you only have to observe the austere lives of the local people to learn so much about austerity), and a faith in something so much greater than me (the omnipresent energy of the Divine up in the Himalayas certainly brought this home).
Furthermore, as time passed and my awareness focused less on the self, I began to notice the beauty in everything around me – the majestic snow capped mountains, with their frozen rivers of ice, the grey tinged, jade coloured waters flowing through gaps in the ice (forming ice caves) and between the large boulders of the surreal moraine terrain, to say nothing of the quiet nature of a landscape so removed from civilisation that you can’t help feeling a sense of the Divine permeating through the thin air.
Towards the end of the trek, and without effort, I couldn’t help but embrace Tibetan Buddhism, a philosophy I have been drawn to these last few years: not only does it permeate this Himalayan landscape, awash with Stupas (where the watchful eyes of Buddha’s gaze look out across valleys), Mani stones, prayer flags and prayer wheels each carrying the sacred mantra “Om mani padme hum” (which simply means hail to the jewel in the lotus…implying from darkness comes light), but it pervades the spirit of the Sherpas people too and I learned much from their seemingly present moment acceptance of life.
However, while life became less of a challenge as we descended the mountain, I was still very relieved to arrive back in Lukla, to make contact with my family (this is the longest I had gone without) and to enjoy a comparatively decadent night in a hotel – I was immediately aware of all the comforts I took for granted previously. And as time passed, I realised how much the trek had provided me with the opportunity to live yoga thereby encouraging progressive and ubiquitous transformation, simply through life. The penny dropped.
In short, I realised (and how liberating this realisation) that transformation on all levels, physical, mental, emotional and, particularly, spiritual, is not simply limited to the guidance of others in yoga studios, on retreats or in books – but can happen in any moment of life if we challenge our limitations, listen to our inner guide and embrace every heart-felt opportunity for transformation.
To me yoga is everything and it is nothing, it is everywhere and it is nowhere, it goes beyond definition and limitation, it is simply to be lived as a direct experience of the vast interrelatedness of all life and all things. Of course this is only my experience and my sense of truth (that I try not to limit by definition), which I share with you to simply encourage you to experience your own transformation in your own way.