Author: Anne Steinbach
The laughter can be heard from afar and comfy sporting wear is the norm as St. Anton am Arlberg is steadily transformed into a yoga ‘temple’ for the duration of the Mountain Yoga Festival. The downward-facing dog might just be the unofficial salute to each day here. From arrival onwards, we yogis feel very welcome here in this tranquil alpine community of 2,500 inhabitants, and this helps us truly enjoy what we are all here for: yoga and the mountains.
The first day begins early in the morning down at the stream. At an hour that is presumably healthy in a yogic sense, but one that requires a bit of effort on one’s holiday, we follow in step like ants along the bank. The gurgle of the water has a somewhat meditative effect, causing one to fall into a steady stride, slower than usual, almost trance-inducing. “This energy-rich place has its own special effect, and everything comes together clearly and harmoniously. The less one disturbs this place, the more effective it can ultimately be,” says our yoga instructor, Patricia Thielemann. We are a diverse group made up of lifestyle yoga fans, spiritual yogis, and those seeking some respite from the daily grind. The group includes the young and the young at heart; also married couples who want to spend time outdoors together, in the peaceful setting of the mountains.
Perhaps the most difficult task of the festival is choosing which yoga course to attend, as the varied programme offers a wide array of option: from the sweat-inducing Spirit Yoga with Patricia Thielemann from Berlin, to advanced Vinyasa Flow with Sigrid Pichler from New York, or quiet meditations with Sally Duncan from St. Anton. There is something for all interests and abilities here, whether a beginner or a seasoned yoga practitioner.
With our yoga mats tucked firmly under our arms, we head in the direction from which the festival derives its name - the mountains, in order to practise yoga beneath open skies and as close to nature as possible. The second day begins with relaxation in the radiant sun and a view that is second to none. From the mountain known as Gampen, one can look over flower-covered alpine pastures far into the valley. In summer, the deep-green of the mountains makes them seem almost more magical than in winter. And practising yoga against this very spectacular backdrop, with these towering peaks directly in front of you, gives it an additional special effect. With every yoga exercise, the grass nestles closer around your body like a natural pillow. The air is fresh, and the sun tickles the 150 noses that stretch up to the sky in the tree pose. At long last, the stuffy yoga studios with their florescent tubes and air conditioning are replaced by nature. Yes, yoga and mountains are a perfect fit.
The four days in St. Anton pass in a flash. Judging by the aching muscles, more than 500 downward-facing dogs and 300 sun salutations have been practised – including one last time with all participants before the final farewell. Then, the newly-found yoga family of the Mountain Yoga Festival St. Anton says good-bye and departs for home in all directions. With broad smiles on our faces, yoga mats packed away, and mala bracelets on our wrists, we’re already thinking about next year, when from 31 August to 3 September 2017, St. Anton am Arlberg once again becomes a naturally adapted open-air yoga studio. Namaste, St. Anton. Namaste, Mountain Yoga Festival.
Yoga means ‘unification’ or ‘integration’ and has its roots in India. Gentle exercise, rhythmic breathing and meditation are employed to bring body, spirit and soul into harmony. Yoga is a holistic system and is neither a religion nor a sport.
1: Who can practise yoga?
The great thing is: anyone can do yoga – age doesn’t matter and neither does body shape. Yoga can help relieve back pain, sleeping disorders and circulatory problems. Depending on the kind of yoga that is practised and the intensity of the exercises, it can also have other benefits. Asanas, for example, promote strength, flexibility and one’s sense of balance; muscles are trained and tendons and ligaments are activated. Many people also use yoga to relieve stress after a long workday.
2: How often should yoga be practiced?
There is no hard and fast rule about this. You can practise yoga as often as you like. Some people start each day with a sun salutation and loosen up with gentle exercises. The more frequently one practises, the more one feels yoga’s benefits. It’s best to just listen to your body.
3: What does one need for yoga?
Yoga wear that is stretchable and hugs the torso is ideal so that your clothing does not flutter around and distract you. Since yoga is practised barefoot, you don’t need to wear shoes, but socks often can enhance your feeling of well-being. Finally, grab a mat and a towel and you’re ready to start.
4: Is this Far Eastern meditation practice even compatible with Austria?
Seemingly, a clash of two opposing worlds, Austria’s natural settings and yoga are actually a very good fit as yoga helps to find serenity, unwind, ground oneself and focus completely on the moment. Austria’s Alps offer the perfect surroundings for this. In the clear mountain air, one is able to concentrate more easily on one’s breathing, greet the sun under blue skies, and appreciate the lush green alpine meadows that are better than any yoga mat.
5: What does ‘Om’ mean?
Every yoga session begins and ends with the chanted Om. It is pronounced “a-u-m” and stands for the three states of consciousness: the waking state, the dream state and the deep sleep state. The mantra ‘Om’ also represents the universe, where – according to yoga philosophy – everything is in rhythmic vibration. The mantra is intended to help our consciousness focus on the fact that we are in motion as well, and part of the greater whole.
6.: What is a yogi?
Male practitioners of yoga – and especially the yoga master – are called yogi or yogin. Female yoga fans are referred to as yogini.