Tag Archives: nature

108 Sun Salutations

Every three months, the seasons change. The weather begins to shift, and a new kind of energy moves into the world. Society, at large, has lost a lot of touch with these transitions simply because of how we tend to interact with nature. That is, we don’t tend to interact very much. Many pagan religions mark the coming of a new season with rituals, and indigenous tribes do the same. However, for the ‘modern’ world, many of the changes go unnoticed, as central air and electricity mean that we can get the ideal heat whenever we want, and the setting sun becomes secondary when it comes to illuminating our pastimes.
This strikes me as unfortunate, and possibly unhealthy. One of the ways that we, as humans, keep in touch with the reality that everything is a cycle, and everything changes, is by observing that very dynamic in the way nature moves. Without this, I think there is a tendency to lose sight of the death—and rebirth—inherent in every single moment. Life is death is life.
For the Spring Equinox, I decided to partake in a ritual practiced by thousands of yoga practitioners all over the world: 108 sun salutations.
The number is significant on multiple levels, across several cultures.
In Hindu mythology, it is said that Lord Shiva—the creator of Yoga—lived 108 lives before being reincarnated as a god. The number 1 represents the Divinity that is in all of us, 0 represents nothingness and also the eternal cycle of life, while 8 represents eternity. There are 108 beads on a male, 108 Upanishads (ancient sacred Hindu texts), 108 sacred sites in India, and 108 sacred points on the human body. Buddhist texts enumerate 108 temptations one must overcome in order to reach enlightenment. The number 108 is reached by multiplying the six senses (taste, touch, smell, feeling, sight, and consciousness) by the three types (painful, pleasant, or neutral) by their origin (internal or external) by time (past, present, or future). Thus, 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108. There are references in literature, in Japanese mythology, even in sports and card games. (Uno has 108 cards.)

chakra stones

If you’re familiar with yoga asana practice, you know that 108 sun salutations are no laughing matter. What better way, then, to ring in the new season than with a physical, mental, and spiritual challenge. Because a sun salutation is not just an exercise, it is a prayer.
To keep track of my salutations, I turned to my daily practice of reciting the 12 names of Surya Bhagavan, the Sun God. I repeated the cycle 9 times, keeping track with my chakra stones, as well as a lovely wire flower a street jeweller made me in Cusco and a stone heart given to me by someone near and dear to my own heart.

12 Names Of Surya Bhagavan (Om…namah essentially means ‘I bow to you’)
Om Mitraya namah (The friend of all)
Om Ravaye namah (Praised by all)
Om Suryaya namah (The guide of all)
Om Bhanave namah (The bestower of beauty)
Om Khagaya namah (Stimulator of the senses)
Om Pushne namah (The nourisher of all)
Om Hiranyagarbhaya namah (The creator)
Om Marichaye namah (Destroyer of disease)
Om Adityaya namah (The inspirer)
Om Savitre namah (The purifier)
Om Arkaya namah (The radiant)
Om Bhaskaraya namah (The illuminator)

I set up my mat, Nestled My Lord Shiva murti next to my Lord Ganesha murti, said a prayer asking for guidance and illumination in the coming season, and got to work. The whole process took about two hours, including a couple short breaks and a nice, yummy savasana. In the beginning, I told myself that if I needed to stop, or needed to modify at any point I would. This wasn’t a means of torturing myself, but a way to push me beyond what my preconceived notions of my own limitations.

before and after

 

It worked. I surprised myself. I didn’t give up. I didn’t modify. I grew tired, but at the same time, I felt myself move into a space of body prayer, where every movement was a humbling of myself to something far greater than I could ever imagine. My bedroom became a temple, my music became songs of worship, and my body became a voice lifted to God.
It’s so clear to me when I look at the pictures I took of myself before and after, that a true change occurred. There’s a softness and a light there, that don’t appear in the before picture. To me, it seems like a little bit more of that Divinity that lives in me—that lives in all of us—is able to shine through.
When I woke up two days later, I couldn’t touch my toes. As close as I get to God, I am still living this human experience. Which means my hamstrings still get sore! Still, a small price to pay. I’ll be going back to this practice for the Summer solstice. I hope you feel inspired to try it out, too, or to mark the change with some ritual of your own.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor. If you’re interested in reading about Sarah’s time in India you can check out her time in Arambol here, or read her comparisons of Christmas in India alone, and Peru with a boyfriend here!

 

How to do a sun salutation
How to do a sun salutation
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Off the beaten track: Walking in Jordan

We made our way up a track going straight through someone’s olive grove, passing by picnicking families and some very angry dogs. We were slightly confused. Map with instructions in one hand, compass in the other, my travelling companion Mike and I were definitely on the right path of the Jordan Trail. So, through someone’s property it was. After a tense 5 minutes fearing someone might shoot us, we got back to the road just before sunset. We found the forest, and there suitable-looking ground for camping. All was well—until we started hearing the approaching barks of some very angry dogs, then the cries of wolves, human shouting, and gunshots.

This was our first attempt at walking and camping in Jordan: the next few weeks would not be nearly as frightening! Mike and I walked from Ajloun castle, a 12th century fortress built by Salah al-Din’s nephew on the remains of a monastery on a forested hill in northern Jordan, to Orjun, a traditional village situated in a lush valley full of fresh figs and pomegranates. On our way, we casually passed by the 6th century church and pilgrimage site of Mar Elias, as well as an unusual rectangular roofless mudbrick mosque.

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‘Hello! what’s your name?’ excited children ran after us; adults asked us the more sensible question: ‘What are you doing here?’. The Jordan Trail, though far from complete and in need of correcting the logistical issues of going through people’s olive groves, allows travellers to see both the nature and culture of Jordan, beyond Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan’s top destinations.
After making our way south, Mike and I reached Wadi Dana, a valley renowned for its numerous birds and ibex. Another opportunity for enjoying nature and culture: our budget hotel (to be far from the wolves this time!) was on the roof of one of the 19th century houses of Dana village. Another sleepless night; although this time because I couldn’t take my eyes off the Milky Way. Though traditional villages of Jordan have mostly been abandoned in the past 50 years, with their inhabitants moving to cement apartments, the locals of Dana keep a strong relationship with their past by allowing travellers to sleep in the village. These hotels are all locally run, and are even at competition with the big ecotourist companies. The villagers let us into the Nature Reserve for free, and were critical of the government-backed organization that charged entry fees to the land in which they grew up.

 

Our footsteps sank into purple and red sand from Dana to Feynan, the landscape was a striking combination of the awesome rock formations of south and the green hills of the north. Gradually, the green disappeared and we were in a fully fledged desert –one that had been used for copper mining in the Byzantine period. A Bedouin on the way thought we looked funny, and told Mike to try riding his donkey. Shortly after politely refusing tea from the Bedouin over and over again, we arrived in Feynan and finally wondered: how are we getting anywhere now? Luckily, a lorry driver was passing by, so we hopped in and told the lie that we were engaged when he asked Mike ‘What are you doing with her?’ — a young man and woman who are travelling together and not in a relationship are still not quite understood in Jordan. The lorry went down to Aqaba at the incredible pace of 45km/hour— with nothing to look at on either side except for endless desert, and the winding music of Mohammed Abdu. I was in a stupor.

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Then we were in Aqaba, and soon after in Wadi Rum. The third sleepless night: not due to wolves, stars, but the punctuated echoes within the still silence. One dog barked; one thousand barks came back in a wave. The endlessness was almost nauseating. And when I heard the echoes of the braying of a donkey –that, my friend, is the demonic sound of hellfire. Once morning came, off we went walking into the true silence of the desert. I was overcome by desire to lie down and live in that silence. But too soon, it was time to return to the city—if for anything, due to lack of water.

Written by Maïra Al-Manzali, edited by Bethany Naylor

To read another article about a hitchhiking experience, read Beth’s post about hitching in France and Spain

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Faraway in FaroWay

Sitting in my dark room in the first months of university , a heavy depression hung in the air. The curtain was tightly closed, in order to keep out the prying stares from the benches outside, and the candles remained unlit. Due to fire regulations and yet a old romantic soul, they stayed purely for decoration. I was thinking about the two years preceding that moment, years filled with exciting and new adventures, incredible sights and discoveries, and a new set of friends every day. In truth I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing there.

Inside the gallery of old art, sculptures and instruments by the harbour in Faro
Inside the gallery of old art, sculptures and instruments by the harbour in Faro

In was purely by accident then, that I happened to be absent mindedly browsing skyscanner that evening and came across incredibly cheap return flights to Faro, Portugal, that Christmas. At £50, it seemed like a less economic decision not to do it considering how much is usually spent on a student night out, so I booked it without a second thought. After deciding that I would use this time for pure relaxation, I stayed away from couchsurfing.com and instead spent the next the few days researching on various hostel websites for a good deal. Due to an administrational error, a few days later I stumbled upon something amazing. Thanks to the mistake of someone who has probably long since been fired, I managed to book six nights in FaroWay hostel at an absolute steal of one euro a night. Talking to the hostel manager once I had arrived, it turns out that only one other lucky guy had managed to book before that error was taken offline ten minutes later.

Gertrude the hostel Stork
Gertrude the hostel Stork

In mid December, armed only with a carry-on filled with four textbooks for three essay titles which would remain neglected for the duration, and a poor grasp of Portuguese that three months of a degree had lent me, I arrived in Bristol Airport with no idea of what to expect. I have travelled alone of course, but this definitely seemed more like a holiday, and I wasn’t sure how to approach that.

Faro harbour

Fortunately for me, one of the best things about FaroWay hostel was the diversity of the crowd it attracts. I was by far the youngest person there, and by then I had learnt that although wisdom doesn’t necessarily grow with years, the multitude of stories does at least. The first night I spent in a dimly lit typical Portuguese bar, discussing literature and politics with a 44 year old Scotsman. Scot, it happened, was also midway through writing his first novel, and we exchanged stories and ideas throughout the night. He had been travelling since the age of 18 and had witnessed things I can only imagine. Five years was spent with an ex girlfriend, living in a cave in southern Spain and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, dumpster diving for anything which they couldn’t grow.
When he first started travelling mobile phones were not yet a thing, and the only way he had to keep in touch with his family was to call the landline in the local pub in the middle of the Scottish highlands, and book an appointment for his mother to come in and talk to him every few months.

The second night was spent with Scot, a Floridian girl, an incredible man from Paris, a boy with Greece, and a Belgisch woman living in London, watching a typical Portuguese style of music called Fado on a bar by the beach. Jorge, our host, was incredible in his ability to make sure that everyone in the hostel had met each other and was getting along, and was always happy to provide a recommendation for coffee, lunch, dinner, or evening entertainment. I miss that man. I have stayed in many, many, hostels, and never have I found a man so enthusiastic and kind to his guests.

Some of my favourite graffiti I found in Faro
Some of my favourite graffiti I found in Faro

The next days were spent discovering the town and surrounding area with the guy from Greece, who I still hope to see again one day. Faro is an amazingly beautiful and historic town, the best backdrop to a romantic setting that I can imagine. Arriving back in Faro on the Friday night, I met another man who would go on to change my life. Fresh off the bus from Lagos where I had spent two unforgettable days, I came back to the hostel in a sad and weary state. Fortunately for me, my roommate Aoki, from Bali, had a very similar expression on his face.

After I invited him out on the terrace to share a beer and forget the woes of life for at least a moment, we ended up spending 7 hours in the many bars in Faro, discussing everything from love and relationships, to cultural differences and religion, to diet and fitness. We stayed in contact from then, and in February of this year he invited me out to Reykjavik Iceland to distract me from the many stresses that University life so willingly provides. He was an incredibly good friend to me in a time of great need, and I can only hope that I returned at least a small fraction of the impact he had on me.

Orange trees and sunshine in December
Orange trees and sunshine in December

In April I spent ten incredibly, awe inspiring, and beautiful days with him, his wife, and her uncle in Reykjavik. Strangely, I have not yet written about those times. In all honesty, the only excuse that I can give, is that the kindness and beauty I discovered in Iceland deserve a far better writer than I. The time I spent there changed me both mentally and spiritually, and I have found that not a day goes by where I do not remember seeing the aurora borealis light up both the sky and my dreams.

A sunset over Reykjavik
A sunset over Reykjavik

The day I spent hiking up Mount Esja with Antonio Monteiro was a turning point in my life, I learnt more from that man and that mountain than I have learnt in so w many years of schooling. On my penultimate day in Iceland my grandfather, another man I worshipped and loved like a god, who has had a bigger influence on my life than he ever knew, on so many lives more than he ever could have wished for, went into hospital for his last time. Were it not for the advice and love I received from Antonio, were it not for our talks about death, and reincarnation, were it not for the strength and wisdom he showed me, and the faith he nourished in my heart, I don’t think I ever could have survived. A man like Antonio Monteiro is a very lucky man to find in life, I cannot be more grateful for the time I got to spend with him, Aoki and Julianna in Reykjavik.

The oldest church in Iceland, possibly
The oldest church in Iceland, possibly

For someone so different, so much wiser, intelligent, and loving than I can ever aspire to be, he changed my life, my views, and my heart at a time when it could not have been needed more. I have a habit when I travel, even long before my grandfather’s death, of finding grandfather figure in those who I meet. In Barcelona, it was the head chef of the pizzeria next door to my bar on the Barceloneta. He called me Carmen because he could not pronounce my name, and I loved him for that. In Rome, it was the manager of the cafe I frequented four times a week, the man who brought me chocolates and biscuits and insisted that I must eat. When I went back to Rome, he wasn’t there. Because of his age and health, I was heartbroken and distraught, until one day I bumped into him on the street and he explained that a triple heart bypass had meant that he could not return to work, at least for the foreseeable future. Antonio, you are one of the best men I have ever met, and I will never forget all that you did for me.

None of this, none of the growth, none of the friendship, none of the love, none of it would have happened if I had not taken that chance and been spontaneous. In booking flights to a place I had barely heard of and never seen, I let the wind carry me where it must, and it saved my life.

The cat I met in Iceland loved posing for photos
The cat I met in Iceland loved posing for photos

Written and edited by Bethany Naylor

Although I managed to spend ten days in Iceland on a shoestring budget thanks to the generosity of a few amazing strangers, the reality is that it can be a very expensive country to visit! If you’ve been holding off Iceland due to financial concerns, why don’t you check out Ferdinand Götzen’s blog post on surviving Iceland on a budget!

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The Sun rises in the East

Evenings spent by a lake by Port Leucate, South East France

You wake up at first light, back aching from weeks of sleeping a centimetre off the hard and rocky ground. Your feet are bruised and bloody from hundreds of kilometres crossed in shoes you’ve had no time to break in. There have been times when you felt like giving up. But when you take your first step out into the cool, sharp dawn, none of it matters. The sun is in the long, slow process of breaking over the horizon, and the only sounds are the gentle rise and fall of the waves lapping at the shoreline ten feet away from where you stand in your boyfriend’s old shirt and the bikini you haven’t taken off for a week. There are no time limits, there are no goals. There is just one simple plan – live. You are free.

 

Define freedom in one photo or less
Define freedom in one photo or less

 

The two months I spent hitch-hiking over 1000km between Barcelona and La Rochelle, was the most rewarding, exciting, and challenging experience of my life, one which changed my entire perspective and even my personality more than anything else I have ever experienced. Waking up to sunrise on the beaches of the east coast, and watching the sunset from the beaches of the west give you a profound respect for nature. Walking through the lower peaks of the Pyrenees, almost hallucinating from lack of food, water, and sleep, give you great fear. At this point, I had to ignore everything I’d ever been told, climbing into the back seat of the first truck to go past. I was driven away to safety, and that I will never forget.

I was given food by strangers, driven for hours by families who had no reason to trust me, and given worldly advice by people generations ahead of me. I was even given forty euros, breakfast and a tour of Toulouse by a 70-year-old German man, who the previous day had driven me to a canal to camp. Before this dramatic yet stabilising period of my life, I was questioning my faith in human kindness. Some of my experiences on the road had left me drained, exhausted of all feelings of empathy. The generosity and understanding that I experienced in those weeks on the road proved to me that I have much left to discover about human nature.

 

A canal near Villefranche, half-way between Carcassone and Toulouse
A canal near Villefranche, half-way between Carcassone and Toulouse

 

At this point in my life, there is nothing I long for more than the freedom and hope that comes from exploring this planet, not as an enemy  but as a friend of beauty. In this day and age, so many see nature as simple statistics – a percentage of rainforest destroyed or a disappearing coastline – and they cannot fathom this loss. To sit by a silent lake, kept warm by the fire you made yourself from the kindling you found in a nearby forest, listening to crickets and the birds singing their evening chorus, is an experience without which humans would never have developed to what we are today. Settled atop an old wall of an abandoned monastery, at the peak of what had seemed like an insurmountable climb only that morning, staring across at the patchwork of forests and farmland, the town you left only days before  invisible in the evening haze. Only there, when you have abandoned all that made you who you were, when you have ignored and dismissed all of society’s rules and regulations, can you appreciate the truth. We are a part of nature, we are simple animals, living in a world that we share with many others, a world full of beauty and experiences, if only you go out and seek them.

Written and edited by Beth Naylor

Originally posted on the Wayfaring Student

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