What follows is an in-depth description of life at the ecoYoga centre in southwestern Scotland, inspired by our time during Abby Tucker’s annual Into the Mystic Yoga Retreat. But first, a brief history…
EcoYoga sits on a hill near the town of Ford. Loch Awe is visible to the south. The River Liever winds and falls along the western edge of the property. For 40 years this land hosted 40 children every week for experiential outdoor education. Before that, there sat a baronial mansion owned by King Edward the Eighth.
In 2004, the land came up for sale. Nick was managing four busy yoga studios in Edinburgh and Rachel had delivered one smiling child with another soon to follow. Desiring a more rural setting to raise a family, Nick was one amid a horde of potential buyers to visit property. While others vetted structural integrity and fussed over mold, Nick sat by the river. Meditating, the question came: what does it cost to buy a river? “I saw the real wealth there,” Nick says, making explicit that he sees the abundant natural resource as infinitely more valuable than any monetary value to be extracted from it. The land spoke to Nick’s deepest longing, wordlessly suggesting a more harmonious way for humans to interact with the planet.As so often happens when practical desires align with deepest longings, Nick and Rachel took action in service of a vision. Ten years later, through intense effort, unlimited diligence and consistent good cheer, they have created a haven. EcoYoga is a retreat space true to the vision of a more human humanity. It is the living actualization of an ideal — a place of real peace, of obvious abundance. Like any family it is an ongoing process, one that actively facilitates more intimate attunement to the rhythms of our immanent mother, Earth.
The sun rises before 6am this time of year, and daylight lasts until 10pm. The ideal morning activity would be pranayama by the river outside my door, by whose hum I am swept into dream each evening. However, having been in the hottub and coldplunge long after dark last night, I remain cozied in bed until the last minute today.
Morning asana opens at 8am. Berkeley-based teacher and Celtic priestess Abby Tucker sets the scene with shamanic storytelling – awakening all five senses, invoking all five elements. It is said: the world we know is composed of ether, air, fire, water and earth. We know our world through sound, touch, sight, taste and smell. These are the elements and the gates of perception.
One purpose of asana practice is to harmonize the elements within with those without. They are one not two but from time to time require realignment nonetheless, conscious integration that is. This is why we perform the postures — draw lines with body, add color with breath and thereby imprint the environment with a very particular and purposeful energetic signature.
The first element is ether, or space, understood as that which is simultaneously the container and centerpoint of all subsequent creation. Spaciousness is the universal prerequisite; where else might life take place if not in space?
Now whoosh down to earth with us, from the most subtle straight to the densest element. Here we establish structure, ground the feet and legs toward the planetary core. Earth gives the world shape, using steady, skillful resistance as the framework wherein the remaining elements play.
Liquidity in the hips flows but doesn’t flood; the furnace of the belly burns but won’t grow wild; the wind breathes us through cycles of expansion and contraction. Denseness increases upon inhalation as air expands to fill every crevice of the structure; lightness arises as we exhale audibly into space.Approximately 540 full cycles of breath later, savasana begins. Settling in, the breakfast bell clangs twice. Its promise reverberates in the silence left behind. Sinking deeper, the distant laughter of intelligent children adorns the river Liever’s drone. Spacious awareness is the ballroom wherein the elements dance their constant waltz.Breakfast is quiche and tea, fruits and homemade granola. This simple-sounding spread is in fact masterfully prepared and presented. Every morsel amazes with taste and texture. Sarah, the chef, works wonders with mostly local ingredients, many taken from the ecoYoga garden. Her volunteer staff are quick to refill the presses since we Yankees have made it clear we need coffee.
This day I am particularly blessed to be receiving a hot stone massage immediately after breakfast. Preferring not to be overfull for this session, I consume sparingly despite the many delectable offerings.
Patina — masseuse and sweet hearted social worker — greets and listens to me explain the many ways this body has become imbalanced. We go to work: she kneading and I breathing. Afterwards, I’m told most hot stone massages involve simply placing the stones upon appropriate corporeal nodes, but that Patina has developed her own techniques. Her hands hold the almost-scalding stones, wrists flickering as if with a guitar pick, strumming melodic meridian lines. She stretches and swirls the fiery river rocks up and down calves and hamstrings, in and out of shoulders and spine, providing harmonic counterpoint to the standard chords of my composition. Made smooth by centuries of sitting below flowing water and now boiled, the stones are slightly too hot to remain in one place but safe so long as they maintain motion. In waves, muscle and skin sparkle as Patina weaves across my backbody. The effect is magnificent; I arise clear-minded and calm. The only place I want to be now is alone in a bath. Thank goodness, the upper is open.
There are two outdoor baths at ecoYoga. The lower bath sits upon a wooden platform across from where riverwater falls off a cliff into a deep basin which serves as a natural coldplunge pool. The upper bath is built into a stone ledge, the edge of which the river trickles just past until it disappears down another cliff, eager to meet up with the main flow just below. On its way to the tub taps, river water is pumped uphill and heated with hydroelectricity
I am reading Srimad Bhagavatam, laughing aloud to stories of Govinda’s mischeviousness, seeing navanita chora through Yashoda’s eyes, witnessing the complete vastness of manifest creation within the purportedly mud-filled mouth of her infant son. I come back to myself and discover these vocal chords can echo the tone of the river, and want to. Toning irregular, elongated AUMs, the sound ripples out from within and in from without until the two are indistinguishable. I am kneeling in the tub, sitting tall to circulate breath. A crisp wind dances through the rising steam. The hot-cold contrast sends encoded shivers sweeping through my central nervous system. The play of opposites provides necessary tension; tautness is needed if a string is to sound its note. The final station in this morning’s round of self-care is the sauna. This sauna is a wood-paneled cave built into the hill, covered over with turf. The world glows green through the porthole windows, which give the sense of being deep within the hull of a sea-faring boat. It is pleasing to see, from safe inside, the rain splash into the stream swimming past. Inside, I become comfortably cooked. Well-cooked, I step out to submerge myself in a barrel of river water. The shock subsides after three breaths. Opened pores squeeze shut, sesame oil usefully caught in their lock. With this, the practice is sealed.Lunch is well-spiced lentil soup with fresh bread, taken not in the main dining hall but casually in The Workshop (the main communal gathering space). Some Yogascapers consume local salmon. It is, by all accounts, some of the best salmon possible. Let us not allow the apparent simplicity of this meal to disguise its profoundly nourishing qualities. Simple is not easy.Next, Nick treats me to a personal tour of the hydroelectric turbine that powers the entire ecoYoga project. In fact, this relatively primitive technology generates twenty times more energy than the center needs. The surplus is sold to power the town of Ford. Those dividends serve to make the ecoYoga operation financially viable.Again, the elements are relevant. Earth in the form of river banks and metal machinery funnel the water downhill, using structure and resistance to concentrate an otherwise dispersed potential force. The pressure of one ton of water per minute churns the turbines to create fire in the form of electricity. So much activity must move according to the air principle. Nick remarks on the crudeness of this technology, observing how it can only cram a limited measure of “power” up a wire cable, losing jules every inch of the way, when in fact every Planck’s distance of space is packed full of functionally infinite potential energy. The river Liever flows mere feet from the yoga room steps; its flowing returns to warm the wood floor and light the lights. The challenge is to make this interchange as frictionless as possible.“The gift is the river,” Nick says. “We’ve got so much water its stupid. Enjoy the abundance. Have a huge bath. Waste water [when you’re here]… These circumstances are not easily replicable, [but] wherever you are there is an abundance of something. It’s a huge con that energy is in short supply.”
Dinner is indescribable. Vegan and vegetarian dishes of heretofore impossible deliciousness are spread out on the table. The colors alone qualify as art, nevermind all the nourishment such a spectrum represents. Without sacrificing a single molecule of quality substance, the simplicity of previous meals is here eschewed for showmanship in the form of roasted vegetables contained in a casserole-esque creation that is somehow crisp, light and fluffy and soft and mushy all at the same time. All these words and yet, indescribable, so for now let’s leave it at that.
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David McConaghay is a student and teacher based in Boulder, Colorado. His mission is to share with the world information, attitudes and techniques of proven benefit to his experience as an Earthling. His work and play is available to share at SatsangEtc.com.