What do you think of when you hear the word Yoga? It is a symptom of our modern day obsession with physical form that Western Yoga has become synonymous with back bends on the beach in front of the sunset. Every day on our media, we are bombarded with images of beautiful athletes bending themselves into impossible Yoga poses. While it is encouraging to see that Yoga has made its way into mainstream culture, the real meaning of Yoga seems to have been lost in modern times. By clearly defining Yoga, perhaps we can shed light on the original intent of this ancient spiritual practice.
Yoga is a system of self-realization that dates back thousands of years into Vedic scripture. The Yoga Sutras were originally written by Patanjali sometime between 200-500 AD. In these Sutras, Patanjali explains exactly what Yoga is all about. Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with being super flexible or looking good in spandex pants. At the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gets straight to the point and defines Yoga as: Yogash citta vrtti nirodha- Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. This can also be translated as: Yoga is the practice of stilling the mind.
What are these fluctuations that Patanjali is referring to? Simply put, he is talking about the constant chatter that is always taking place in our heads. Have you ever noticed that, when you think, you can hear your own voice speaking quietly inside your mind? Left unchecked, this inner voice will just ramble on and on forever. We are always thinking about something, which reminds us of something else, which leads to more thoughts, and so on. Every time this happens, we are taken out of the present moment. Most of us aren't even aware that we are doing it. Becoming aware of that incessant inner voice- and realizing that this mind chatter is not actually who we are on the inside -is the first step in Yoga.
While the goal of Yoga seems simple on the surface, it is not always easy. That is because the mind is conditioned to stay active- always observing and judging, remembering the past and planning for the future. This constant background chatter doesn't mean that there is anything necessarily wrong with us, that is just the way the mind operates. The mistake we make is when we identify ourselves with our thoughts instead of the empty space in which these thoughts are taking place. Moving beyond identification with the mind and the ego and into the infinite space of Divine consciousness is the Yogic path to self-realization.
What we think of as Yoga- stretching and holding poses- is actually called Asana. Asana is an important aspect of Yoga because it means treating your body as a temple that houses your infinite spirit. However, regular Asana practice is just one aspect of the discipline. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lists a total of eight branches of Yoga. He taught that by committing to these eight aspects, you will ultimately realize a state of 'Yoga' or 'Union' with the higher Self. Very briefly, the eight branches include Yama- ethical behavior, Niyama- self-discipline, Asana- practicing postures, Pranayama- breath control, Pratyahara- sensory withdrawal, Dharana- concentration, Dhyana- meditation, and Samadhi- a state of pure bliss in which you realize your connection to the Divine as well as the inter-connectedness of all living things.
Unfortunately, many people who practice Asana are not actually practicing Yoga. If you perform your Yoga postures without the intention of stilling your mind and seeking self-realization, then you are not really practicing Yoga- you are just doing calisthenics. The next time you practice Yoga, pay close attention to the wanderings of your mind. Focus on your breath and watch your thoughts as they come and go. Work on catching yourself anytime you get swept up into a thought stream- always returning back to the present: this moment, this breath, this inhale... this exhale. In this way you can learn to disassociate yourself from the constant chatter that takes place in the foreground of your mind and begin to identify with the infinite space of consciousness that is present in the background of all experience.
Finally, as with anything in life, Yoga is a process. As such, try not be disappointed if you don't reach Samadhi right away. It's about the journey, not the destination. Yoga is a discipline in which the ultimate goal and the practice required to attain that goal are one and the same. The whole idea is to surrender into the flow. Remember that it's not about flexibility or looking good on your Instagram posts. Yoga is about stilling the mind to the point that you can realize the true nature of Self, everything else is just gymnastics.
Nowadays, it seems like everyone is in a hurry. Everywhere you look, people are rushing around trying to get things done. I don't think anybody can honestly say that they enjoy being in a hurry or that they prefer feeling stressed over feeling calm. However, for some reason, we often find ourselves in a rush. Why do we willingly put ourselves through this desperate panic on a daily basis? By taking a closer look at hurrying, perhaps we can break free of this unconscious cycle and prevent it from negatively affecting our lives in the future.
First of all, hurrying is not always a bad thing. We have to recognize that there are some very legitimate reasons to hurry. For example, if you are enjoying a day at the beach and you learn that there is a tsunami heading your way, then you really need to get inland in a hurry. Another example would be if you are pregnant at home and you notice that the contractions have begun. In this case, you need to hurry up and get to the hospital, right now! However, with the exception of life or death predicaments, hurrying is a completely unnecessary inconvenience. In fact, 99% of all hurry can be avoided simply by leaving the house earlier.
As a responsible adult, you will be called upon to show up at certain places at specific times. Whether its going to a dentist appointment or showing up to work, it's always best if you get there on time. Whether or not you leave the house with just enough time to get there, or with plenty of time to spare, is completely up to you- you create your own reality. It depends on whether you want to be nervous and frustrated on the way, or if you want to feel calm and content on your journey. We need to become aware that we are the ones making the choice to hurry. By not leaving the house on time, we are actively sabotaging our happiness and health.
So, why do we do it? My theory is that we must unconsciously enjoy the adrenaline rush that accompanies our hurried state. In other words, we do it for the rush. Think about the last time you were in a hurry. Your heart rate increases. Your blood pressure goes up. Adrenaline and cortisol are flowing through your veins, causing you to feel focused and alert. If you need to drive to get to where you are going, which is often the case, you will have to drive your car as fast as you can, mentally pushing the cars in front of you along, as if the force of your angst will somehow make the traffic move quicker. If the car in front is going too slow for you, your emotions quickly turn to anger as you begin shouting at the driver through the windshield, unleashing a barrage of insults on this "idiot."
The point is that it doesn't have to be this way. By bringing awareness to our tendency to cause stressful situations and then react to them, we can begin to move beyond emotional reactivity and towards conscious mastery. Hurrying is a choice we make and so is being stressed out. Even if you are in a hurry, you are capable of moving quickly without letting it affect you emotionally. Driving fast doesn't mean that you also have to be gripping the steering wheel, freaking out on the inside. In fact, it's easier to go fast without all the urgency and anxiety getting in the way. So, the next time you find yourself in a hurry, ask yourself if all the stress and nervous energy is actually helping you move faster. Then take a deep breath, drop the panic, and continue on in a calm and collected manner. Maybe you will be late, maybe you won't. But, at least you won't be showing up at your destination all frazzled and out of balance.
Why do we worry? To this day, excessive worrying has yet to solve a single problem. Still, many of us spend our valuable time worrying incessantly about what the future has in store. We even get worried that all of our worrying is having a negative impact on our health. Worrying about how much we worry sets up a vicious cycle with no relief in sight. However, if we can better understand what worry actually is, then we can significantly reduce the amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety that we experience on a day-to-day basis.
The first thing to understand is that worrying is not always a bad thing. On the deepest level, worrying means that you actually care about something. For example, if you are worried that your car might get stolen, it means that you value your car and you care whether or not somebody takes it from you. Likewise, if you are worried that you are going to lose a loved one to a serious illness, it means that you care deeply about that person. After all, if you didn't care about them, then you wouldn't be worried. That said, the secret to living a worry-free life is not to stop caring, rather it's to recognize when worrying is serving you and when it is not.
Sometimes worrying can be of benefit. For example, if you are worried about doing well at your job interview the following day, then you are more likely to spend your evening preparing for it. In this case, your worry caused you to take appropriate actions to mitigate failure. However, if you then stay up all night tossing and turning, worrying about the job interview - imagining in great detail all the things that could go wrong- then your worrying is not helping you out at all.
The key to neutralizing worry is to recognize that all worrying takes place inside your imagination. As conscious beings, we have developed the unique ability to picture possible futures inside our mind's eye. When we worry, we imagine the worst possible scenario happening and then we react emotionally to it, as if the situation is really taking place. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing- our ability to predict potential hazards before they occur in real time has been key to our survival as a species.
It becomes a problem when we get obsessed with our imaginary future, unable to separate ourselves from the worst case scenario that exists inside our heads. When this happens, we end up suffering twice. We suffer once with dread and then again when facing the actual consequence. The key is to be in control of what we imagine. Instead of suffering from the terrible future that you have dreamed up, try imagining a future in which everything works out perfectly.
As the saying goes, "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want to happen." Therefore, the antidote to worry is to focus your mind on what you do want to happen. The next time you are worried, try picturing the best case scenario instead, allowing yourself to feel the positive emotions associated with that particular outcome. In other words, focus on what could go right instead of what could go wrong. Doing this may or may not affect what actually happens next but, even if things go horribly wrong, at least you only had to suffer once. By being aware of our tendency to project negative futures, we can shift away from unnecessary stress and anxiety and begin actively manifesting positive circumstances instead.
Human beings have a tenuous relationship with time, mainly because the concept of time is very difficult for us to define. Time, as we experience it, is both subjective and objective. It's both an illusion and very real. Subjectively, time 'flies' when we are having fun and 'drags' when we are not. Objectively, we can view the phases of the moon, the growing of our fingernails and the graying of our hair and determine with certainty that days, months and years are passing by.
We treat time as if it were a commodity. We tend to believe the assertion that "time is money," and so we try to spend time wisely. We are always finding ways to save time. We really don't like to waste time and, honestly, we wish we had more time. Unfortunately, many of us feel like there just isn't enough time and, as a result, we often get anxious because we feel like time is running out.
As an example, now that September has arrived, notice that people around you will start to say, "I can't believe how quickly this year has gone by. Where did all the time go?" That is the thing about time. Despite our best efforts to stop it or slow it down, it keeps relentlessly marching on into infinity. I think people get particularly nervous when September arrives because, eight months in, we now find ourselves in the final four months of the year. We are no longer at the beginning of the year, or even half way through it. September signals the beginning of the end. We are running out of time - winter is coming!
However, it doesn't need to feel this way. If we are able to better understand what time is, it may help soothe the desperate feeling that we don't have enough of it. The first thing we need to do is let go of the illusion that time moves in a straight line. In school we were taught to create 'timelines' in which events appear to occur in a sequential direction, starting on the left and ending on the right. From this we get the false belief that time moves along in a predetermined direction, with one event leading into the next. However, time does not 'move' because it has no physical properties- it cannot move. Time is right now, unfolding here in the present moment. Time never actually goes anywhere.
What we commonly think of as time is really just changes in the spatial relationship between physical objects. Imagine, if you can, the Universe before the Big Bang occurred. No stars, no planets, no moons- nothing at all. It's interesting that, devoid of all physical objects, there is no time, just eternal presence. There is no time because it is impossible to track one object's progress through space in relationship to another object.
The Earth's position in space relative to the sun is the basis of our objective concept of time. The Earth spinning on it's axis, wobbling like a top, and orbiting around the sun is what gives us our days, seasons and years. Much like the ticking of a clock, we recognize that a unit of time has passed whenever a full circle is completed. Time is not moving forward in this scenario. Time stays in one place, eternally present. Meanwhile our planet spins, wobbles and circles it's way through empty space.
Instead of a using a timeline, perhaps a more accurate metaphor for the passage of time is to imagine a perfectly still body of water. Then imagine a large rock dropped into the water from above. After the initial splash- which takes place in the present moment- a series of ripples begin radiating out from the center and continue radiating outward forever and ever. Another way to look at time is to imagine a boat crossing a body of water. The people on the boat are in the 'now,' experiencing the present moment as it occurs. Looking back, they see a wake moving away in a long v-shape. The wake was created in the present moment, but now it is in the past- a distant echo of what once occurred here in the now.
Next time you feel like there isn't enough time, take a step back and realize that, actually, all you have is time. Time is not running out- time is all that there is. In reality, the present moment is the only thing you will ever experience. You cannot go back and live in the past any more than you can travel forward to the future. All you can ever do is be here right now. By remaining rooted in the moment you will never run out of time again.
Have you jumped in the lake today? If not, I highly recommend it. There is a reason that locals refer to Lake Tahoe as the ‘Blue Pill.’ Legend has it, a dip in the lake will cure whatever ails you- like a magic panacea for the mind, body and soul. It really does feel amazing, though- so cleansing and refreshing and invigorating! It is nearly impossible to go swimming in the lake and not come out with a big smile on your face.
I think we all instinctively know that being around (or in) water is good for us. But, what is it about water that makes us feel so good? I did some research on this topic and here are some things I learned:
1. Views of blue water boost well being. Researchers have studied the impact of living near various bodies of water. They coined the term ‘blue space’ to describe the time people spend gazing at bodies of water. Studies determined that increased views of blue space are “significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress.” Other benefits of experiencing more blue space include improved mood, increased vitality and healthier sleep patterns. Blue spaces were even found to be more effective than green spaces (forests, rolling hills etc.) when it comes to overall stress reduction. Simply taking in views of Lake Tahoe, with its blue skies and even bluer water, is going to have a positive impact on your health.
2. Water is a powerful source of negative ions. Negative ions are oxygen molecules with an extra electron attached to them. They are most prevalent in fresh air and around natural water sources. High levels of negative ions in the atmosphere have been shown to increase our ability to absorb oxygen and boost our serotonin levels, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and increase energy. Lake Tahoe holds about 41 trillion gallons of water. Maybe the reason it feels so good to jump in the lake is all the negative ions you are breathing in. It's comforting to know that just being in close proximity to the lake is going to make you feel better. You don’t even have to jump in. (Although you’d feel a lot better if you did.)
3. Water puts you in a mindful state. Wallace J. Nichols, author of “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do,” believes that everyone has a “blue mind” which he defines as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” that naturally arises whenever we are in, on, or near water. Gazing at water, observing all the subtle ways that it flows and ripples, allows your mind to take a break from the constant barrage of information that defines our modern world. In this state of “soft fascination,” as Nichols puts it, the mind finally has space to daydream and create. Studies have described the many health benefits of increased mindfulness, including lower stress levels, relief from mild anxiety, pain and depression, improved mental clarity and focus, and better sleep quality.
After reading this blog, I hereby challenge you to take the Blue Pill. Put down your device, switch off your screen and immediately go jump in the lake. It is scientifically proven to the best thing you can do for your well being. If you can’t quite fathom the effort it takes to go for a swim, then at least go there and breathe in some negative ions. Remember to gaze deeply into the blue space for an extended moment, taking time to observe the waves as they lap gently against the shore.
Then go jump in... seriously, what are you waiting for?
Here in Tahoe, the arrival of summer can feel like a mixed blessing. On the one hand, after enduring the most epic winter ever, we welcome the sunshine and warmth with open arms. On the other hand, the summer season brings with it a sudden increase in potentially stressful situations that can rob us of our inner harmony.
Let's face it, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place. Seriously though, it looks like some kind of magical paradise out there right now. It's no wonder this area is so popular- everybody wants to go to paradise, right? And, as long as Tahoe stays beautiful, there will always be lots of people who visit every year. Rather than railing against the inevitable, let's learn to manage our personal stress levels more effectively. The following is a list of things you can do to keep from losing your cool during the busy summer months.
1. Be breath aware.
The next time you are stuck in heavy traffic or find yourself at the back of a ridiculously long line at Safeway, notice what the situation is doing to your breath. That anxious, desperate feeling you get like you are trapped inside some kind of hellish torture chamber is most likely because you are holding your breath. The core abdominal muscles tend to clamp down, the throat tightens up, and you are left taking short, shallow breaths into the upper chest. It's very difficult to conduct yourself rationally when this occurs. If you aren't getting enough oxygen, then it's not long before panic sets in and you begin to question whether or not you will be able to live through this horrific ordeal. Being aware of the times when your breath locks up and then learning to breathe easily is the key to releasing the unconscious grip of anxiety that threatens to ruin your present moment. Breathing consciously and fully, without any internal resistance, will always bring your being back into balance.
2. Be body aware.
Tuning into and releasing tension inside the body- before it has a chance to negatively affect your mood- is one of the best ways to regulate your stress levels. If you think about it, so-called ‘difficult’ situations are not stressful, in and of themselves. It is your emotional reaction to a given situation that determines if it is stressful for you or not. The next time things get stressful, pay attention to what is happening to your body. Besides a tight abdomen and chest, other signs that you are getting stressed include sweating, grinding your teeth, furrowing your brow and/or making fists.
Another way to control your stress levels is to regulate your internal body temperature. Anger is a 'hot' emotion- someone who is 'hot tempered,' for example, is thought to anger quickly. The same is true when describing a 'heated exchange' between two people. The next time you get angry on a hot day, check to see if you are actually, physically hot. Maybe your emotional state is a reflection of your body temperature. In which case, maybe you really do need to 'chill out' a bit before you react with anger.
3. Practice forgiveness.
A lot of people in town means there are a lot of cars on the road. I hate to break it to you, but people are going to cut you off. That's just the way it is- it's one of those things in life that you have no control over. The good news is, how you respond to such an affront on your dignity is totally up to you. The immediate temptation is to lash out with a series of furious curse words and elaborate hand gestures. However, unless you are in an emergency situation where every second counts, having to gently tap your brake pedal once in awhile is actually not that big of a deal.
The real problem is that we have such a high opinion of ourselves. It's like, how dare someone cause a minor inconvenience to someone as important as me? Don't they know who I am? Viewing the situation from a different angle, driving around during the summer in Tahoe is actually the perfect time to practice forgiveness. The next time someone cuts you off, forgo your bruised ego and move straight into forgiveness. Just try it and see what happens. Instead of shouting "f*ck you!" try saying "I forgive you! This isn't easy at first but, don't worry, you will have plenty more opportunities to practice forgiveness out on the road, I promise.
4. Stay Hydrated.
The link between dehydration and stress is well documented. While Tahoe can get pretty hot during the peak summer months, it is also exceptionally dry here. Human beings are about 70% water and therefore we need to keep drinking water during the day or we start getting stressed out. It’s a vicious cycle because dehydration causes stress and then stress causes more dehydration. Chronic dehydration is more prevalent than you think. A recent study estimated that 75% of Americans are functioning in a chronically dehydrated state. I say ‘functioning,’ but the truth is probably closer to ‘dysfunctioning.’ Not having enough water is similar to not having enough oxygen in that it is not long before you start feeling desperate and begin acting irrationally.
By practicing these four suggestions, you should be able to stay relaxed this summer, regardless of what situations you encounter. Remember, it’s not the circumstances you are witnessing as much as it is your reaction to them that is causing you stress. It’s up to you to keep calm and composed. And, of course, if all else fails, then you can always go jump in the lake and let the cool water wash your frustrations away.
For many of us, being on a spiritual quest is what defines us as individuals. We build up our identity around the idea that we are seekers of truth. We often get so involved in the idea of our search for connection to a higher power that we often miss out on the next crucial step on the path. This next step involves transitioning from the level in which you imagine yourself as a 'seeker' to the level in which you behave like a 'finder.'
I prefer to think of life as a beautiful mystery rather than a puzzle that needs to be solved. Yet, I have also spent countless hours thinking thoughts like: Who am I? What am I? Why am I here? Questions that don't really have answers but nevertheless appear to be so important to solve. As a culture, we are dissatisfied with the myths that have been past down to us through the generations, causing us to search out other cultures and religions in a never-ending quest for connection. We demand real answers! We want the Truth with a capital 'T.'
I think, on some level, we are all trying to find ourselves. That's what the spiritual journey is all about, right? But 'finding yourself' is kind of a deceptive phrase because it suggests that there are two of you. There is the 'you' that is doing the searching and then there is the 'real you' that is hidden away somewhere, waiting to be discovered. However, in reality, there is only one 'you.' The one that's doing the searching- that's you! The seeker and the sought are, paradoxically, one and the same. What you have been searching for this whole time is, in fact, the essence of what you truly are.
Identifying yourself as a 'finder' as opposed to a 'seeker' does not mean that your spiritual journey is over. On the contrary, things are only just getting started. Being a 'finder' doesn't mean that you can give up spiritual practices like yoga and meditation. The difference is that while you used to do these things because you were seeking the truth, you are now doing them because you are living the truth. The truth is that you are a human being that is alive here on Earth. You are a being, just like me- just like everyone else. Why you are here is a complete mystery, but living inside the mystery is part of the fun. All I know is that it feels great to be alive in this body and that we truly are blessed to be here on this beautiful planet with all these other amazing people.
Finally, being a 'finder' doesn't mean life stops being difficult. Life is always going to throw new challenges in your path, that's how you learn and grow as a person. You don't have a lot of control over what happens to you during your lifetime, but you can take responsibility for your own physical, mental and emotional well being while you are here. Being a 'finder' means that you no longer see yourself as a victim of circumstances- as if you were on a tiny sailboat at sea in a thunderstorm, getting tossed around by giant waves. Instead, you begin to identify as the ocean itself. You realize that, by deepening your breath and focusing your mind, you are able to bring the surface of the 'ocean' into perfect stillness- to the point that it becomes like a mirror, reflecting the sky.
Have you ever had a dream in which you became fully aware that you are dreaming? This can be an empowering experience because you suddenly find yourself in a world of your own creation, where the only limit is your own imagination. You feel like you can do anything you want- you are the master of your reality. This powerful feeling of limitless potential is what the process of awakening feels like.
As I discussed in my previous blog, we all have our own ideas about the pursuit of enlightenment. We tend to believe that, if we can just clear our minds of all this excess chatter, we will one day reach the ultimate level of realization in which all illusions of separation from the Divine creator will melt away. All mental concepts of self, time and space will dissolve into beautiful white light as we become One with All That Is-undifferentiated from the universal consciousness of creation.
This sounds terrific. But, even if this profound experience of oneness does eventually occur for us while in deep meditation, it can only last for so long. At a certain point we will need to get up and get on with everyday life. Regardless of the level of understanding we reach about the true nature of the soul and our place within the universal whole, the world is going to keep going on the same as it was before. The only difference is that we will experience our reality with more clarity.
In our quest for spiritual growth, we often get so focused on the big prize of 'enlightenment' that we forget to appreciate all the little moments and details that happen along the way. Awakening is the realization that enlightenment lies inside each and every moment that makes up our experience. It's about appreciating the journey for what it is and not fixating so much on the reaching the destination. It's about waking up to life here and now.
Come to think of it, we already have a lot of experience with awakening. For example, what is the first thing you did this morning? You woke up. You were asleep and now you are awake. You moved seamlessly from one state of consciousness into another. You awakened from a dreamworld that was conjured up inside your head and into the real world that exists outside of yourself.
Awakening is the realization that your self, along with this world and everything in it, is also taking place in your head. Everyone has pondered the philosophical question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" My question is, would this world exist at all without someone there observing it? For example, we all know that thorns are sharp but that is only because our skin is so soft. Boulders are only heavy because our muscles are not strong enough to lift them. Mountain streams are calming, sunsets are beautiful, roses smell sweet, sunshine is warm - all because of the fact that we are here witnessing these things. We make the world what it is. Our presence brings physical existence into being.
Awakening is understanding that the inner world and the outer world are one and the same, like two sides of a coin. 'Self' cannot exist without the presence of 'physical reality' and vice versa. It's like waking up inside of a dream except that you are waking up from the day-dream of your Ego and from the illusion of separation between yourself and the world you inhabit. The next step is to become a willing collaborator and active creator in this thing we call reality. This life is your experience in the physical plane of existence. You are the creator of your reality. What are you going to create while you are here?
After enduring one of the biggest winters in recorded history, Lake Tahoe is more than ready for the rejuvenating energies of Spring. Walking around in the forest, I am amazed to see flowers blooming and trees blossoming after enduring many months of harsh conditions. Surely it would have been easier just to give up all hope but, in an incredible display of resilience, trees and plants that were buried under ten feet of snow somehow have found the strength to continue on.
When it comes to resilience, we could learn a lot from nature. Because, is it just me, or have the last six months been a particularly challenging period of time? I'm not just talking about the weather either. What we have endured socially, politically, psychologically, emotionally, environmentally- it's enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel. Yet, just like the forest buried in snow, we also need to find the strength to keep going. Beyond mere survival, we also need to figure out a way to thrive.
Why does a tree tend to blossom in the Spring? It's not because the tree is trying to blossom. It can't exactly close its eyes, hold its breath and strain really hard until flowers start popping out of its branches. My theory is that a tree blossoms because it is the nature of a tree to blossom. Given the right timing and circumstances- enough water, plenty of sunshine, etc.- a tree will naturally blossom. Blossoming is part of its DNA. Although we as humans tend to think that we are somehow separate from (and superior to) nature, we are very much a part of the natural cycle of life. Therefore, it is in human nature to blossom as well, given the right circumstances.
What does it mean for a person to blossom? We can't exactly sprout flowers from our limbs, but what we can do is harness the transformational energy of Spring in order to obtain radiant health and well being. It begins by letting go of the past and releasing all the negative energies that had us bogged down. The winter is finally over, what happened then is over now, let's move forward. The time is right for us to blossom, all we need to do is set up all the right circumstances for it to happen.
So, what can we do in order to thrive? We simply need to set up our daily habits in a more conscious way. Let's begin by following the example of nature and making sure we get enough water and sunlight. On top of this, we all need proper rest and nutrition. We need an exercise routine to keep ourselves vibrant and strong. We need to learn how breathe and relax and let go on of stress and negativity. We also need to meditate regularly to keep our minds calm and focused in the present moment. Finally, it's important to enjoy ourselves. Enjoying our lives means doing the things we love to do on a regular basis. While we can't force a transformation to happen, by setting up the right routines, our blossoming becomes inevitable.
As spiritual seekers, many of us are on a quest to attain enlightenment. But what, exactly, do we mean by this? There is a prevalent view in Western society that, if we can meditate for long enough, one day we will suddenly reach the ultimate "Aha!" moment which will lead us to transcend our human form. All physical barriers and illusions will seemingly melt away and we will be left in a state of Divine union with the Creator. We imagine a life in which we walk around on clouds, unaffected by the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. However, in our unending quest to transcend the physical world, we are completely missing the point- which is to experience and appreciate our physical existence without any internal resistance to it.
When the Buddha reached enlightenment, the ultimate realization that he came to was actually quite ordinary. He understood that, as human beings on Earth, everyone is faced with the same basic set of circumstances. There really is no escaping the human condition that we all find ourselves in, so we are better off accepting our circumstances rather than trying to escape from them. He recognized that the cause of human suffering was our desire for things to be different than how they actually are. For example, we wish that life was not a terminal situation, that we can go on living forever without the threat of disease or death. We wish that we were perfect beings and that nothing bad would ever happen to us. As a result of our attachment to this desire for perfection, we find ourselves in a constant struggle between the way things are and the way that we wish things would be.
Enlightenment is not a single moment, faraway in the distant future in which we finally attain spiritual oneness. Rather, it is an everyday process in which we recognize whenever we are in a state of internal struggle against the present moment and then consciously move into a state of acceptance and cooperation with whatever is happening. The illusion of enlightenment is that there is an Ultimate Realization out there and that, once we are finally able to attain it, life ceases to be difficult. The truth is, you can come to the profound realization that everyone and everything in the universe is One, but you are still going to have to do the dishes once you are finished with dinner. You can understand deeply that time is an illusion and that everything is fundamentally taking place here in the present moment, but you are still going to have to take out the garbage once a week.
That is why, in the Zen philosophy, they treat the ordinary, every day world with such reverence. Because, ultimately, this ordinary world is "it." This life, this world, this present moment is what is happening. This earthly life is our training ground for spiritual growth. Our goal should not be to escape from our physical existence, rather we should embrace the gift of life that has been bestowed on us. That doesn't mean that we are passive in the face of tyranny or that we stop fighting for what is right, it means that we do so without the presence of internal conflict. We strive to move through life without resistance just as water flows effortlessly down a mountain stream. In this way, every moment becomes an opportunity for spiritual advancement. In any given situation, simply tuning into the breath will let you know whether you are in a state of acceptance or resistance with what is happening. The tendency is to hold your breath whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation. Then you let out a sigh of relief when everything turns out okay. The challenge is to keep a steady flow of breath regardless of whether or not your mind is labeling the situation as "bad." You know you are on the right path when you don't even need to take a sigh of relief because you were conscious enough to not hold onto your breath in the first place.
What is love? The most common definition of love is a ‘mutual romantic attraction between two individuals.’ However, I am interested in a discussing a higher concept of love, a concept that recognizes love as a positive vibrational frequency. Not the energy that exists between two hearts, but the energy that comes from one heart.
Have you ever met someone who radiates love? There is no denying that some people have an inner glow about them. If you stand a little closer to these people, you’ll find that this is not just a sparkle in their eyes but also a warm, peaceful energy that you can feel emanating from their being. In their presence, you feel both peaceful and uplifted- perhaps even inspired.
What is their secret? How can we reach a point where we begin to freely emanate this beautiful energy with as much effortless ease as the sun when it emanates light? The answer is not that simple. Attaining this state of being is the ultimate goal of any spiritual practice. It is not something spontaneous that happens to you by accident, rather it is the result of a daily process whereby you work diligently towards embodying this loving state of being.
Cultivating a loving presence involves the ability to still the mind and breathe into the heart center. It is important to recognize if your continual stream of mental activity is bringing you down or lifting you up. Being aware that there is a stream of thoughts running through your head at all times is the first step. Being able to separate yourself from this thought stream is the next step. While you can’t stop a river from flowing, you can step out of the river and sit on the bank, watching the water go by. This is the essence of meditation.
One thing you might notice is that many of your thoughts are fear based. We mostly worry about the future, or regret the past. We worry whether or not we will have enough time or enough money or enough energy to survive. In order to cultivate a radiant state of being, we have to release these fears. Know with all your heart that everything is ok and, more importantly, that everything is going to be ok. In order to cultivate a radiant state of being, we have to have to simply be present. Only in the present moment are we able to breathe deeply into our hearts while manifesting abundance and well being.
Speaking of your heart, there is a reason that Valentine’s Day features so many hearts. It makes sense because the heart is where the ‘love vibration’ radiates from. According to studies undertaken by the Heart Math Institute, “the heart generates a powerful electro-magnetic field.” They go on to explain that “The heart’s magnetic field, which is the strongest rhythmic field produced by the human body, not only envelops every cell of the body, but also extends out in all directions into the space around us. The heart’s magnetic field can be measured several feet away from the body.” Read more about the Heart Math Institute here.
Finally, there is one more thing you can do to cultivate love, which is to find the thing you are most passionate about, and then doing that thing- as much as you can. Whether it’s skiing, jogging, painting, dancing, singing, or reading- the point is to do what you love every day in order to get your internal positive vibrational frequency going. The truth is, we all have this love vibration inside of us right now. It’s not something outside of us that we need to channel in from a separate source. We are the source. By doing what we love, we encourage this energy to flow throughout our beings. Only by finding this love inside of ourselves and cultivating it on a daily basis can we expect to be able to share our love with others.
Well Being is here to promote the blossoming of higher consciousness on Earth. What exactly do we mean by that? Simply put, we opened Well Being from a heart-centered place, with the intention of bringing love and healing light into the world.
We recognize that this is a time of great fear, confusion and instability. The forces of greed and corruption, along with a blatant disregard for the environment, have brought the Earth to a tipping point. Political forces have deeply divided us, causing anger and hatred to flare up on both sides of the spectrum. Our imagined future, long assumed to be bright and prosperous, is beginning to appear dark and dangerous in our mind's eye. As a result, people are more stressed out and anxious than ever before.
The high levels of stress we are experiencing typically causes a fight-or-flight reaction. Our first instinct is to run away from our problems. Perhaps we should all move to Canada and stick our heads in the sand? While this option does have its allure, running away is not going to solve any problems in the long run. The other instinct we feel is the instinct to fight. As a result, our fists clench, our jaws tighten, and our breathing becomes shallow and constricted. It's as if we are preparing ourselves for battle. Channeling this aggression and anger in positive ways offers us a certain amount of catharsis, but afterwards the same baseline feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction and disconnection remain at the core of our beings.
It is becoming clear that, for consciousness to blossom on Earth, we are going to have to up our game. It's time to activate! We need to recognize that the dysfunction we see in the 'outer world' is a reflection of the collective imbalance we are experiencing in our 'inner world.' With all the problems we are facing, the best thing we can do right now is raise our vibration to the point where we can shine our light even brighter than ever.
Now is not the time to live in fear of the darkness. Now, more than ever, is the time to activate our inner light. It's as simple as tuning into your breath, releasing any grip inside your abdomen, and then allowing the breath to flow freely in and out of the heart center. By practicing heart-centered awareness, we shift our baseline frequency away from the energy of fear and we consciously tranform that energy into love. This shift, while subtle, can have amazing positive consequences both for your personal life and for society as a whole.
At Well Being, we offer a third reaction to chronic, modern day stress that is beyond the fight-or-flight reaction. The third way is nothing short of a conscious evolution for the mind, body and soul. It involves taking the necessary steps to raise your vibratory frequency. This is the intention behind all of the products and services we have chosen to offer to our community. Whether you get a massage, take a yoga class, attend a workshop, or purchase an inspired gift from us, the intention is always the same- to raise your baseline energetic frequency so that you may lead a happier, healthier, more balanced existence.
As Ghandi once told us, we must be the change that we want to see in the world. Therefore, we really can change the world by dedicating ourselves, first and foremost, to radiant health and wellness. By cultivating a sound mind, a healthy body and a loving soul we are actively particpating in a conscious revolution here on Earth. By raising our personal vibration, we are helping to raise the collective vibration of all mankind. Be the change! Let the revolution begin!
Well Being is proud to present our brand new Healing Space. Our studio is perfect for yoga classes and wellness workshops. Over the past year, we have hosted yoga retreats, massage trainings, bachelorette parties, and community gatherings. Our studio is currently available to rent out for private use- for more information click here. We also have daily yoga classes on offer. To see our currently yoga schedule click here. We are always looking for new and interesting Events and Workshops to host. Please contact us if you are interested in holding your event, retreat, or workshop in our space.
This article comes to us from Jenna Granger, Intuitive Health Coach.
See more of Jenna Granger's articles here.
Are you using the excuse that you are too busy to be healthy? I don’t buy it.
We have this idea that healthy living takes a lot of time and energy. It can, but if we are feeling drained by making healthy changes then we are probably going about it in an unsustainable way. Fortunately there is another way.
Starting with small, simple steps can help us reach our bigger goals by giving us more energy, clarity, focus, and enthusiasm, and it builds our capability. Not only do we experience the benefit from our new healthy habits, we also feel the power of actually implementing something positive for ourselves. Which gives us energy and encourages us to do even more!
5 Quick Ways to Improve Your Health
Everyone knows that yoga is good for you. Yoga creates strength, balance, and flexibility. Yoga is also known to bring about profound states of inner peace. Many people know that they should be going to yoga classes every week but, for some reason, they can never get around to actually doing it. If you fall into this category, then perhaps we need review some of the lesser known benefits of regular yoga practice:
1. Boost Immunity
A recent Norwegian study found that yoga practice results in changes in gene expression that boost immunity at a cellular level. The researchers found that changes occurred while participants were still on the mat, and they were significantly greater than a control group who went on a nature hike while listening to soothing music. Yoga also helps to boost immunity by simply increasing overall health, says Mitchel Bleier, a yoga teacher of 18 years and owner of Yogapata in Connecticut. "As you breathe better, move better and circulate better, all the other organs function better."
2. Ease Migraines
Research shows that migraine sufferers have fewer and less painful migraines after three months of yoga practice. The cause of migraines isn't fully understood, but Bleier says it could be a combination of mental stressors and physical misalignment that create migraines and other issues. Hunching over a computer or cell phone with your shoulders up and head forward causes overlifting of your trapezius and tightening of the neck. This pulls the head forward and creates muscle imbalances that can contribute to headaches and migraines.
3. Boost Sexual Performance
Studies have found that 12 weeks of yoga can improve sexual desire, arousal, performance, confidence, orgasm and satisfaction for both men and women. How? Physically, yoga increases blood flow into the genital area, which is important for arousal and erections, says Bleier, and strengthens the "moola bandha," or pelvic floor muscles. Mentally, the breathing and mind control involved with the practice can also improve performance.
4. Sleep Better
Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia. And another study found that twice-weekly yoga sessions helped cancer survivors sleep better and feel less fatigued. This can be attributed to yoga's ability to help people deal with stress, says Bleier. "Sleep issues are like anxiety. Your head can't stop spinning, you don't know how to relax," he says. "Breathing and mental exercises allow the mind to slow down, so you're going to start to see yourself sleep better."
5. Fight Food Cravings
Researchers from the University of Washington found that regular yoga practice is associated with mindful eating, an awareness of physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. By causing breath awareness, regular yoga practice strengthens the mind-body connection, Bleier says. The awareness can help you tune in to emotions involved with certain cravings, and yoga breathing exercises can help you slow down and make better choices when cravings strike.
Well Being is now offering a special introductory rate to first time students: 30 days for $30. How many more reasons do you need? Begin your regular yoga practice today and enjoy all of these health benefits and more. See our yoga page for more details.
This article was edited from the article, "5 Surprising Health Benefits of Yoga" by Kristen Domonell. The full article can be found here.
Are you looking for a good reason to get a massage? How about nine good reasons?
1 – Reduce Muscle Tension
Muscle tension can cause aches and pains throughout the body. Chronic or recurring pain is often the result of excess muscle tension. Regular massage can help relieve muscle tension and thus helps to reduce chronic and/or recurring pain.
2 – Boost the Immune System
One benefit that massage has on the immune system is the stimulation of the lymphatic system. We also see improvements in the circulation of blood which nourishes the whole body. Studies have found an increase in serotonin in massage patients, along with an increase in the production of T-cells which are the first line of defense for the immune system.
3 – Beat Anxiety and Depression
Getting a therapeutic massage can help us to feel better mentally, emotionally and physically. Massage is well known for its stress reducing benefits and therefore it can help combat depression. People who get massages tend to feel more relaxed and less overwhelmed by life's challenges. As a result, the chances of feeling anxious and/or upset after a massage are greatly reduced.
4 – Make Exercise Easier
Starting an exercise routine is often difficult due to the aches and pains that we feel afterwards. Massage can reduce inflammation which helps to soothe aches and pains. Also, getting a massage after an exercise session will reduce your recovery time. When working out is less painful, people will tend to work out more often, leading to greater overall health.
5 – Pain Relief
Even if you are experiencing pain that has nothing to do with muscles and/or muscular tension, massage can help. This is because pain is often made worse by feeling tense or stressed. Massage is a great way to relieve stress. One benefit of stress relief is that pain felt throughout the body, even if it seems unrelated, can be reduced.
6 – Help With Arthritis
Many people suffer from arthritis. It has been found that massage can help to reduce arthritic pain. It has been shown to help with grip and motion in the hands, wrists and upper joints which are often affected by arthritis.
7 – Improved Balance
As you age, you might find that your balance, neurological, and cardiovascular measures decrease. Many studies have shown that massage can improve this condition. It is suggested that people undertake at least 6 weeks of therapy to see a benefit.
8 – Reduced Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can cause a whole host of long term health problems. Although your doctor can offer lifestyle change advice and/or medication to help with this – massage has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure.
9 – Helps With Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is associated with widespread chronic pain, fatigue, memory problems and mood changes. Massage therapy can improve circulation in the muscles, which increases the flow of nutrients and eliminates waste products. This is particularly beneficial for those with fibromyalgia as it can reduce heart rate, relax muscles, improve range of motion in joints and increase production of the body's natural painkillers.
*This list was edited from an article by Onsite Plus.
The Advanced Bodyworkers Community (ABC) is a guild of highly qualified massage instructors who are affiliated with the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB). We are proud to announce that the ABC will be offering advanced massage training at Well Being throughout the year. Students who attend these classes can earn Continuing Education Units (CEU's) which will count towards state licensing and national certification in massage therapy. Classes will soon be offered by ABC instructors in Deep Tissue, Sports Massage, Cranial Sacral, Shiatsu, Accupressure, Hot Stone and more!
The ABC held its first massage course at Well Being last week. A group of nine students spent two intensive days learning Sports Massage techniques from Dr. James Mally. An internationally renowned teacher and founder of the Healing Arts Institute, Dr. James Mally is a pioneer in the field of sports massage and has over forty years of experience as a professional massage teacher. It was an honor to be in the presence of such an experienced bodywork instructor. Together we learned a variety of innovative and effective massage techniques to treat athletic soreness and sports related injuries.
We are grateful to host dynamic and informative massage classes and we look forward to hosting our next teacher here at Well Being. The good news is that Dr. Mally wants to return to North Lake Tahoe later this year to teach his Deep Tissue and Anatomy for Bodyworkers courses. Special thanks to Bobbi Bushnell for bringing advanced bodywork classes to Well Being and for giving North Lake Tahoe massage therapists the opportunity to expand our knowledge and become better healers.
View Dr. Mally's extensive training videos on his website: massagelibrary.com
To learn about our upcoming massage classes, join Well Being's mailing list and like us on Facebook.
Thanks to all those who attended my introduction to massage class at Well Being last Sunday. I enjoyed the teaching process and I am grateful to receive so much positive feedback from my students. Everyone did really well and we were able to learn so much in just one afternoon. I look forward to offering this class again in the future and I will be designing an intermediate and advanced class to complete the series. Until next time, stay in touch!
EUCALYPTUS Eucalyptus globulus, Eucalyptus is my go-to essential oil for staying well during cold and flu season. If I start to feel congested or have trouble breathing due to constriction or excess mucus in my nose, throat or chest, I immediately diffuse or direct inhale eucalyptus oil and it usually calms and opens up my airways so that I can breathe again. If there is sickness in the home, I use eucalyptus to help prevent the spread of infection. Why eucalyptus? The main chemical component of eucalyptus oil is 1,8 cineole. The research on 1,8 cineole suggests that it can kill airborne germs, reduce viruses, reduce congestion and coughing, reduce swelling in nasal tissue and also reduce aches and pains. Eucalyptus oil naturally smells clean and fresh and it encourages deep inhalations. Energetically, eucalyptus is considered a tonic of the lung Qi, promoting the uptake of oxygen by the red blood cells thus enhancing breathing function. Eucalyptus can also be used to cleanse any area where there has been conflict or negative energy.
If you’d like to learn more about essential oils and how to use them to protect against colds and flu, please join me on Monday, February 9th from 3 PM to 5 PM at Well Being for the opportunity to learn, create your own aromatherapy products, and stay well during the cold and flu season.
April Murrell Aromatherapist, Esthetician, Massage Therapist
An article posted in the Healthy Living Section of the Huffington Post nicely sums up nine different benefits of massage therapy. All of the listed benefits are backed up by current scientific studies. Benefits listed in the article include:
1. Management of anxiety and depression.
2. Ease of pain.
3. Promotion of healthy sleep.
4. Boost in natural immunity.
5. Ease of PMS symptoms.
6. Heightened levels of alertness.
7. Relief from headaches.
8. Naturally revitalize complexion.
9. Ease symptoms of cancer treatment.
Check out the article here: Massage Benefits: 9 Healthy Reasons to Make an Appointment Today
Make an appointment at Well Being today to experience the many benefits of massage therapy.
View from the top of Kala Patthar
After the trek ended, we flew back to Kathmandu where the dreaded 'Khumbu cough' finally won the battle against my immune system. Gerard had nursed a sore throat and a chest infection on the trek for which he'd taken antibiotics- and we'd been sleeping in close quarters every night. My sore throat and fever came on strongly in Kathmandu and I resisted taking any antibiotics- instead I settled into three days of beautiful, fever-induced sleep in the hotel room as my body turned up the internal heat to fight against the infection. Waking up just to eat and then go back to bed. This was fine with me because I was also physically exhausted and my body needed the time to recover. It felt like I'd just run 12 marathons in a row. You know how you would feel tired and sore the next day if you randomly decided to spend hours upon hours hiking up and down mountains all day? That's how I felt… times a factor of 12. Plus a raging fever.
Painting hanging in the hotel lobby.
Having traveled back from Kathmandu to Lake Tahoe over a week ago, I am almost back to normal again. I have battled the jet lag and overcome the sheer physical exhaustion of the trek. Its nice waking up in my own bed again. Also its nice being with my wife again. Without Sarah and all the sacrifices she made on my behalf while I was away, none of this would have been possible. Thank you, Sarah. I am also grateful towards my brother for coming up with this crazy idea and then convincing me I should come along on the adventure. And I am thankful for my Dad for helping to make the trip happen- for pushing through both pain and sickness- and for making it all the way to Everest base camp at the ripe old age of 66- you really did me proud. And thanks to uncle Geoff and Dave who were always in a balanced, positive state of mind regardless of how exhausted we all were. I have also gained new appreciation for my life back in Lake Tahoe, co-creating Well Being with Sarah, and being with my dog, Ralphie- living the good life here in the mountains by the lake.
Good boy, Ralphie.
What had it all been for? That' s a question I keep asking myself. I like to think that we went to base camp for the same reason that other climbers go to the summit of Everest. Because it's there... and because it's a challenge... and because it's beautiful. The fact that we were immersed in such a stunning environment meant that often I forgot all about the grueling physical task and my mind would just wonder off into a peaceful place. I spent hours just putting my right pole down as my left foot hit the ground, then I would I plant my left pole just as my right foot hit the ground- and so on, ad infinitum. Every once in a while I would lift my focus away from the uneven ground and take a moment to appreciate just how amazing my surroundings were. 360 degree beauty for days on end. That said, I hope you enjoyed my blog. I tried my best to be both entertaining and informative. I also hope you are inspired to do this trek yourself one day. I promise it will be the most challenging/most rewarding experience of your life.
Thanks for reading,
Today was to be our final day of hiking. The plan was to walk from Namche Bazaar all the way back to the airport in Lukla. We had taken two days to walk this same route on our way up and this time we were going to knock it all out in one day. After a big breakfast we began our nine hour journey by walking down the steep switchbacks which led from Namche down to the river valley below. As we descended, I was surprised by both the length and the height of the path. Had we really walked all the way up this crazy hill?
The path was pretty crowded today, with teams of tourists going in both directions. I found myself smugly judging those that were laboring uphill, deciding in my mind which hikers were going to make it all the way to base camp and which ones were clearly not cut out for the challenge. It takes a certain level of athleticism to be able to function up there where the oxygen levels are only 50% of what they are at sea level. It also takes mental strength to be able to continue pushing yourself onward when you feel like you have nothing left to give. And then there is the cold. You could be in peak physical condition but if you can't handle sub-zero temperatures night after night, then maybe this is not the trek for you. While there are certain friends that I would recommend this challenge to, it certainly is not for everybody.
Yes, the trek was difficult, but I never once complained about how much my pack weighed.
The rest of the walk was like a trip down memory lane. We crossed countless suspension bridges and walked up and down countless hills. I had my trekking poles down to an art form, busting them out on the uphills and balancing them in my hands horizontally during the flats and the downhills. We made it back to the Beer Garden for lunch and then wound our way through the Ghats, spinning prayer wheels and passing Stupas on the left. It started raining lightly and the hike went on and on, up and down and across the river and back until we came to the final climb into Lukla.
The feeling that I had when we arrived in Lukla was very different from the feeling I had reaching base camp. Arriving at base camp and at the summit of Kala Patthar there was a swelling of pride and a feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment. Arriving in Lukla, the dominating emotion was one of total, utter relief. It was over, we had made it. It was pouring with rain. We were battered and worn. Several of us were coughing and wheezing and bleeding in our boots but we had completed the journey. We had conquered the trek. And, for the first time, we could actually let ourselves relax- knowing that there was not another eight hour hike waiting for us the next day. We thanked and tipped our porters and our guide Gopal. We could not have done it without them. Gopal had one day of rest and then his next group was due to arrive in Lukla and he would hike with them all the way back to base camp. I don't know how he does it. You could not pay me to turn around and do that trek again. The Everest base camp trek was amazing- an incredible, once in a lifetime experience. I was quite happy to keep it that way for now.
Yack, yack, yack...
View from Periche.
Although it had taken us eight days to get up to Everest base camp, we were walking all the way back to Lukla in just two and a half days. This meant that today was going to be an extra long day of hiking. We left Periche at around 8am and walked all the way back to Namche Bazaar- the high village where we first stayed back on day three of the journey. We hiked out of the high plateau, along the river and past the Everest memorial site. It was surprising to see just how steep and long the inclines were that we had original hiked up. Teams of red faced, out of shape tourists struggled uphill as we effortlessly slipped by them on the way down. As we descended lower, I could feel the air getting thicker as my breathing became less labored. It wasn't all downhill, though. Soon enough we were hiking up again, towards the monastery in Tengboche. The last time we reached this monastery it was in a snowstorm and none of us wanted to stick around for very long. This time we came to the monastery on a beautiful sunny day and we were able to take our time and explore the grounds. Gopal pulled some strings with the monks and was able to get us inside the walls of the famed monastery- one of the oldest monasteries in Nepal. You could feel a palpable sense of peace inside the main meditation hall where the monks would sit for hours a day, just as they had done for hundreds of years, contemplating the nature of emptiness and cultivating compassion. As we were leaving the grounds and heading down to the river valley below, I had a notion that nothing could ruin my easy, peaceful state of mind.
Then, news of the tragedy hit. Just as we began hiking again, Gopal overheard the shocking news of an avalanche that had erupted above base camp earlier that day. At first the number he heard was that 60 people had died. I was absolutely devastated by the news and by the tragic loss of human life. After placing some phone calls, Gopal downgraded the number to 12 confirmed dead and four still missing. Although this initially came as a relief- at least it was not 60 dead- it still cast a dark shadow on the day. It was the deadliest single day in the history of Everest. All those who were killed were local Nepali Sherpas- the rope fixers who selflessly risk their lives laying the ropes all the way up to the top so that westerners can later use the same ropes to achieve their dreams of summiting Everest. The fact that all the victims were Nepali did not make the news any easier to swallow. I was well aware that this was a tight knit community and that, no doubt, many of the deceased were friends and/or relatives of the local people in the area. I asked Gopal, who dreams of summiting Everest himself one day, if this news made him reconsider his goal of getting to the top. He told me that you cannot have any fear of death when attempting the summit- as if just a shadow of a doubt could be enough to get you killed. He said that all Sherpas think this way- living in total acceptance that they could die at any moment. Such brave, strong, kind people. You could sense the shock and sadness in everyone's eyes as we walked back through the local villages lining the trail.
We continued all the way back to Namche that day, hiking for almost nine hours. My legs were tired and my feet were sore but I was in better shape than most. I chose to forgo wearing hiking boots on this trip in favor of my low top trail runners. It became apparent that this was one of the best decisions I'd made, especially if you could see the blisters and red, swollen toes on some of our group members. Sure I was tired, but my feet were fine. We celebrated our accomplishment that evening with our first beers since day 2 of the trek and ordered delicious pepper steaks on top of that. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the day was taking my first hot shower in over a week. I went to bed happy, my heart going out to the families of the victims of this morning's deadly avalanche.
Our trail buddy on the walk back.
I awoke 4am. It was still dark outside and it was well below freezing. There was no electricity in the lodge, save for a couple of hours of solar-generated power in the evening, so we had to get ready for our hike in the dark with the help of headlamps. I put on my all my layers again, ate a small cliff bar, and took all of my various supplements. We left the lodge by 4:30, bound for the summit of Kala Patthar- elevation 18,365ft. The waning full moon illuminated the barren landscape as we walked across the flat meadow towards the mountain. A long, slowly moving, diagonal line of headlamps was visible on the pathway to the summit. I felt great, despite the cold. The highly unlikely circumstances along with the surreal moonlight and the dreamlike landscape caused a surge of excitement deep within me. Actually, I felt better than great- I felt amazing. We began our ascent, slowly making our way up the steep switchbacks. I came to realize that my fingertips were freezing, even though I had on my heavy snowboarding gloves. If I continued at this slow pace, there would be no way of warming up my hands. There was only one thing to do, which was to pick up the pace. I squeezed my trekking poles as hard as I could in an attempt to bring a semblance of warmth to my fingers as I began to bang my poles down on the ground with every step.
As my pace increased, my breathing rate increased as well. Soon I was in a rhythm, inhaling as my left foot stepped up, exhaling with the right foot. I felt just like the Energizer bunny, only my poles were my drumsticks and the frozen ground was my drum. Bang, bang, bang, bang- I marched up the hill to my own beat. And I just kept going and going and going.
The path up Kala Patthar.
Soon I was passing the line of hikers I had spotted earlier, as they began lagging in the high altitude. Half way up, people were dropping out- the cold and the altitude proving to be too much to handle. I was on a roll, driven towards the summit by some unseen force. As soon as I passed one group of hikers, I set my eyes on the next one until I'd passed everyone. My hands had warmed up to the point that I could pause for a few seconds, take off one glove, and snap a picture of the pink clouds in the early dawn. I was a bit disappointed because it seemed to me that Everest was going to be shrouded in the clouds that hung between a large black mountain on the left and another snow covered peak on the right. Dave had followed close behind me all the way up, preferring a faster pace, and as we took a short rest we could see the others far below. We reached a rock upon which someone had written "Half way" which was hard to believe because the summit was now in sight. There was already quite a large group at the top- obviously they had set off earlier than we had. As we continued to power on towards the top, the slope became much steeper and the path once again became a series of switchbacks. The altitude was starting to take it's toll and we needed to take more frequent breaks to regain control of our breathing. Soon a couple came down from the top. Both were both elated by their summit experience and encouraged us to keep going. I mentioned it was too bad that Everest was hidden in clouds and they were like "What? Everest is that large black mountain right there." Oh... right... yes, that's what I thought. I pulled out my iPhone to take a picture of Everest (on purpose this time) and right then it powered down- not because it was out of batteries but because it was too cold to continue operating. I had put it in my front pocket against my leg to heat it up.
Everest. It's the tall peak on the right.
We pushed on towards the top and were glad to see everyone from the early group begin making their way down. It looked like we were going to have the summit to ourselves. Most people can only spend a couple minutes at the top due to high winds and freezing temperatures but, when Dave and I arrived breathless and enthused, the wind died down to a light breeze and we were able to spend about 20 minutes on the peak taking in the amazing views of the Himalayas. I stood up on the very top of the top with a sheer cliff on three sides, basking in the adrenaline and the feeling of accomplishment. I'd never been to 18,365 feet before and, chances are, I never will again. After hiking back down and eating breakfast, we then had to hike another four hours back down the hill to a village called Periche. On arrival I was completely shattered and I spent the rest of the day drinking fluids, reading, and talking with our guide, Gopal. It had been a day to remember. One of the most difficult and most rewarding days of my life.
Peak experience at the top of Kala Patthar. Elevation 18,365'
Back in the fall of 2013, when my older brother, Gerard, announced his plan to hike up to Everest base camp in honor of his 40th birthday, I thought about it for a second and then said "count me out." The long distances, the extreme elevation, the freezing temperatures- that did not sound like very much fun to me. "I am perfectly happy with who I am," I explained, "and I don't need to accomplish feats of strength to feel good about myself." As fate would have it, Gerard's friend Zach, who was originally going on this trek with Gerard, tore his Achilles' tendon while training way too hard for the hike. His dream of Everest base camp was over before it had even begun and now there was an open spot on the trek that needed to be filled. Nobody was stepping up and I wanted to support my brother so I cautiously mentioned that I might possibly be able to take his place. I was currently in no kind of shape at the time and, having agreed to come along on this adventure, I finally had a reason to get in shape and build up my cardiovascular capabilities.
Today, all those months of training finally paid off. We reached our goal of Everest base camp in the early afternoon and, let me tell you, it felt amazing. The official elevation of base camp is 5365 meters which roughly translates to 17,704 feet. A big part of my initial resistance to doing this trek was that I simply did not think I was physically capable of going that high. Today I proved to myself that, in fact, I can do anything if I put my mind to it.
The hike started at 7:30am in Lobuche. We walked for three hours steadily uphill along the boulder strewn tundra. It was another picture perfect day full of amazing scenery. Towards the end of our hike, the gradual uphill slope turned into a serious uphill slog. After overcoming that hill, we began boulder hopping until we arrived at the lodge in Gorek Shep. Normally when we arrive at our next lodge it is time to unpack and take it easy. This time we had just enough time for a quick refuel before hitting the trail again, this time bound for Everest base camp.
We were told by our guide that there would be an ice-cold wind blowing and that we should bundle up with everything we've got. I wore my merino wool base layer with a fleece on top of that with my puffy jacket on top of that and my waterproof jacket on top of that. About an hour into the hike over extreme rocky terrain, with the Khumbu Glacier to our right, I came to realize that, far from being too cold, my problem was that I was way too hot. Although the wind was indeed blowing and it was snowing intermittently, the only relief from my warmth was to remove my beanie and gloves. My core stayed sweaty but at least I was no longer over-heating. For over two hours, we scrambled over boulders, gradually climbing up above the glacier until base camp finally came into view. Located at the foot of the Khumbu icefall, this is the place where Everest climbers spend up to three months acclimatizing, awaiting the break in the weather which allows their summit bid.
Everest Base Camp. Elevation 17,704 '
By the time we reached the famous cluster of rocks covered in prayer flags we were all absolutely exhausted. With the final goal in sight, I got a little over-zealous on the last uphill and powered up it much too quickly. My chest was heaving by the time I reached the top. It is important not to move too quickly at this high an altitude or you end up exhausting yourself. Back at home, you can easily jog up a small hill. But, at 17,500 feet, that same hill must be taken slowly and methodically or else your breath simply cannot keep up with your actions. Still, I didn't care, we had made it to base camp!
Tears of joy mixed with tears of exhaustion as we shook hands and hugged and then took obligatory photos in front of the base camp rock pile which is covered in prayer flags. We realized too late that we didn't bring a sharpie to immortalize our accomplishment as hundreds of others had done before us. There was talk of turning back, but I lobbied the group to venture further into base camp to be amongst the actual climbers and tents. I am really glad we did this, even though we were all running on empty by that point. I feel like we actually visited Everest base camp, not just some decorated rock pile, 200 yards from base camp.
Of course, whenever you reach your final destination there is always the sinking realization that you are only half way- you still have to hike all the way back. We all gathered up our strength and made the long journey back to the lodge in Gorek Shep.
Now, get this: I thought that getting to Everest base camp was our ultimate goal, but it turns out that I was wrong. Tomorrow morning we get up at 4am to hike up to the summit Kala Patthar- elevation 18,365 feet. The real ultimate goal.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being. Influenced by the ideas of Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra, Nick presents his unique take on human existence with the goal of helping others live a happier life.