In October, our favorite yoga instructor, Judith, attended a yoga retreat in Iceland. Here is her story.
“So . . . are you enjoying it?”
This from a young German woman who was leading our remedial horseback riding group along the windswept Icelandic terrain, bare of trees in this locale, jagged snow-covered mountains peering down on us from above, a long ribbon of orange hazard jackets atop sturdy Icelandic horses stretching out ahead of me in a long line.
“No. Not really,” I sniffled, dabbing a sodden Kleenex to my nose, more rain sweeping into my face, icy droplets dribbling down the front of my orange rain slicker. The poor thing looked shocked. (As if who wouldn’t enjoy a trot amidst endless fields of grazing sheep? And in this weather?). This is on Day Two of my Icelandic yoga retreat. About thirty minutes back, I had concerns about straightening my legs again. I had doubts about eventually getting off the horse, only to find my legs buckling into the mud. None of that happened dismounting, although the legs did feel like Lego pieces snapped together, unwilling to straighten fully. Horse trauma subsided after stumbling into the main building where hot tea and cakes were served. And why bother to record this experience? Well ... I’ve gained a new respect for the Pony Express people, bronco busters, stunt men and women.
On that horseback ride, the full grandeur of Mother Earth was on display, sitting atop old Claus (we’re calling my horse Claus) — in Iceland, where how the earth was formed geologically is right in your face. It’s the land of fire and ice, deep fissures, bubbling mud, quiet for now volcanic craters, clouds of steam drifting off in the wind, waterfalls, seismic activity. We spent our week in the smaller city of Akureyri, northeast of Reykjavik. Yoga in the mornings in the Zen-like atmosphere of the retreat center and took in the sights in the afternoons (which included some fabulous therapeutic soaks in two different lagoons). The Icelandic bathing culture gets many gold stars for being so very ”civilized”!
The group had two silent meditative walks, which bookended the trip. The first walk was along a fjord with expansive views of the ocean behind. No distractions. Just wind, land, sky, water, wild blueberries.
Our second silent walk was the last day of the trip in a patch of forest that could most certainly be labeled magical — towering evergreens with fluffy ground cover plants at their feet, rivers cutting through canyons with leaves in red, yellow, orange, rusty brown, drifting down confetti-like. There is a great tradition in Iceland of elves and trolls (harking back to the Vikings perhaps?) — probably early man’s attempt to describe the nature spirits (or life force which permeates all things). On this silent walk, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see an elf or two peeking out from behind the trees. Along this path was a handmade wooden arrow pointing the walker in the correct direction. A sign worthy of the yellow brick road (“Surrender, Dorothy”) — only this surrender was to the earth, the playful nature spirits, trees arching their branches protectively above us, the crunch of dried leaves underfoot, seeing one’s place in life’s tapestry, cultivating equanimity, patience, gratitude for all that we have been given and for those dreams, hope and plans that are yet to come.