This is an innovative, non-dogmatic yoga retreat, with over 75 hours of teaching, to deepen your understanding of yoga and spiritual practice. The thread of this unique Himalayan pilgrimage is the Yoga, and we will receive teachings and practice yoga continuously as we travel to sacred sites in Nepal.
Our teachers are experienced yogis, spiritual masters, and artists, many of whom have lived in Nepal for over 25 years. They will guide us through the fascinating mix of Buddhist and Hindu iconography to discover the roots of Tantra in Nepal, all within the context of yogic philosophy and practice.
Kathmandu is known as “a garbage dump filled with saints,” a sacred site buried in the confusion of the modern world. It can assault and challenge your senses and you may leave never the same. This adventure will be an experience of a lifetime that will take you deep into your own practice, giving you skilful means to manage your life, and a good understanding of the ancient science of yoga.
Nepal is the land of ‘Living Tantra’ and it finds expression in architecture, painting, sculpture, dance and performance, as well as rituals and ceremonies. To the uninitiated eye, the true meaning behind a holy site, the deities covering temple walls, or a sacred ritual, can be misunderstood. To help demystify spiritual practices, we’ve designed a program that is a transformational journey taking you deep into your own practice, and providing the context to find meaning in the experience and embodying the sacred.
Each year different teachers join the program to give you a glimpse into different Tantric practices all within the context of yoga. Darshan is the theme of the 2018 Yoga Adventure and we investigate the concept of ‘seeing’ and ‘being seen’ by the guru, deva and dakini. The teachings explore the non-dual philosophies of yoga and especially the ‘View’ of emptiness found in tantric traditions. Maharaja Ishanath, an Aghori Nath yogi, living at Pashupati, is our interpreter of symbols on the spiritual path. He guides us through various temples where we learned how to make offerings, have puja and take darshan. He teaches us how to cultivate Bhakti. Without devotion we don’t get very far on the path.
Heather Elton teaches Hatha Yoga in a way that integrates ancient wisdom traditions with contemporary psychology in a mindful practice designed to diminish suffering in our lives. Meditation will include the Tibetan Loving Kindness meditation, Shamatha and Vipassana meditation techniques. The entire practice is designed to give you a better understanding of the ‘inner limbs’ of yoga and glimpse our true nature beneath the stain of perception. ‘Tools of Tantra’ includes the basic techniques of spiritual practice: How to use a mala, recite a mantra, spin prayer wheels, walk the Kora. Practice Tantric visualisations of prana/nadis/bindu and chakra meditations to deepen your understanding of the subtle energy body. Experience darshan and learn how to enter a temple in a respectful way and what to do inside. Make an offering to the deity. Receive darshan, puja and blessings. Respectful conduct in the presence of realised beings.
This Yoga Adventure is for anyone with an interest in yoga and Nepal. It’s great if you’re interested in a spiritual practice and have read a few basic yoga philosophy texts and have a regular asana practice, but it’s open to all levels of yoga practitioners. Dharma practitioners, artists, sculptors, and photographers are all welcome. A curious mind and a desire to experience the wider realms of yoga are essential.
This adventure is ideal for young yoga teachers, yoga teachers needing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses with Yoga Alliance Professionals UK, and those who want to integrate yoga philosophy and texture into the teachings, or Religious Studies academics who want to embody the theory into a living practice.
We will immerse ourselves in Nepalese culture which can sometimes mean pushing the boundaries of our comfort zone. We will engage in a yoga journey that is also a spiritual sadhana. A Tantric practice is about transformation. It will be fun but engaging at the same time.
Please note: This is not ‘spiritual tourism’ or a ‘yoga asana holiday.’ It’s not for people with a need for high standards of comfort, or who don’t wish to engage in spiritual practice.
The Kathmandu Valley was once a vast lake trapped by the Himalayas. Sacred texts tell the story of how the yogi Manjushri saw a sacred lotus rising from the waters and cut a channel with his sword to drain the waters. Since then, the sacred valley has been home to the Buddha, Lord Shiva, great yogis like Goraknath and Matsyendranath, Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), Kali, Vajrayogini, a retinue of dakinis, and a continual mix of Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims dating back to the 5 BCE.
The entire Kathmandu Valley is a World Heritage site, a living museum, filled with ancient temples, hidden shrines, enormous stupas, and priceless stone sculptures. Nepal is the perfect location to explore the roots of yoga and tantric worship in both ancient Hindu and Buddhist yogic practices. This Yoga Adventure is the perfect way to experience important religious sites in a way that you will understand their meaning.
Hindu and Buddhist holy places in the Kathmandu Valley that are charged with divine presence and are the abodes of the Gods. These mysterious power places give access to the palaces of the gods, and open us a space within where we may connect to our own divine essence. These are some of the sites we visit.
Swayambhunath Temple is a Buddhist stupa built in the 5-6th C.E. and considered the mythical origin of the city. It is one of the oldest surviving religious sites in Nepal. According to Swayambhu Purana, the entire valley was once filled with an enormous lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as Svayambhu, meaning “Self-Created.” The name comes from an eternal self-existent flame (swayaṃbhu) over which a stupa was later built. It was here that the Boddhisatva Manjusuri had a vision of the lotus and travelled there to worship it. Seeing that the peaceful valley was ideal for human settlement, and to make the site more accessible to pilgrims, he cut a gorge at Chobar. The water drained out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower become the Swayambhunath stupa. Swayambhunath is revered by Buddhists and Hindus alike.
Pharping (pronounced ‘Farping’) is as holy a pilgrimage site as Bodhgaya for Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana practitioners. Here is the Yangleshö cave where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the second Buddha and the person who introduced Buddhism to Tibet in 6 C.E., attained the level of a Mahamudra Vidyadhara – the state of ‘awakening’. He lived and practiced here with his consort Yeshe Tsoygal. Since then, Yangleshö has been visited by many great spiritual masters, like Marpa Lotsawa, who practiced, made offerings and aspiration prayers. For Hindus, Pharping is the place of ‘nine hoods,’ or cobra heads, symbolizing Self-Realisation and is blessed by the presence of the Naga king, Shesha – the snake that Vishnu floats on in the cosmic sea – Patanjali’s metaphor for the yoga practice.
Patan (3rd C.E.), known as the “town with a thousand golden roofs,” was the capital of one of the three Malla kingdoms. The center of the city is like an open museum ; intricately carved doors, lattice windows and beautiful courtyards adorned with exquisite icons enhance the beauty of the city. Patan is a centre for artisans dedicated to the preservation of ancient crafts. Sculptures of deities are found in stone, metal, terracotta and ivory.
Patan is designed in the shape of the Buddhist Dharma-Chakra (Wheel of Righteousness) with four thurs, or mounds, located on the perimeter of Patan, one at each corner of its cardinal points, and are known as Asoka Stupas. There are more than 1,200 Buddhist monuments scattered in and around the city. Patan Durbar Square is as one of seven Monument Zones that make up the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pashupatinath is a temple complex (400 A.D.) sprawling on the banks of the Bagmati River. Pashupatinath Temple is the most sacred of Lord Shiva (Pashupati) temples in the world and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to pay homage to Shiva and receive their last rites at the cremation Ghats. For Newari Buddhists, Pashupati is the bodhisattva Avolokiteswara. The Tibetan mahasiddhas, Naropa and Tilopa, meditated in caves here in the 10 C.E. The Pashupati Temple Complex is filled with exquisite temples, shrines, statues and prominent tantric holy sites. It is filled with colorful sadhus who emulate Shiva and rub ash on their bodies.
Boudhanath is famous for its massive stupa bearing the omnipresent Buddha eyes on all four sides. Boudhanath Stupa is designed as a giant mandala, or diagram of the Buddhist cosmos. Four of the Dhyani Buddhas mark the cardinal points, with the fifth, Vairocana, enshrined in the center. The five Buddhas also personify the five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether), which are represented in the stupa’s architecture. The nine levels of Boudhanath Stupa represent the mythical Mt. Meru, center of the cosmos; and the 13 rings from the base to the pinnacle symbolize the path to enlightenment, or “Bodhi” — hence the stupa’s name. The stupa is closely associated with the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Buddha of Compassion) whose 108 forms are depicted in sculptures around the base. The mantra of Avalokiteshvara – Om Mani Padme Hum – is carved on the prayer wheels beside the images of Avalokiteshvara around the base of the stupa. Boudhanath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A long flagstone staircase meanders through a pine forest, past traditional hiti (water spouts) and temples to Bhairava and Daksin Kali, up to the top of the hill where lies the impressive Vajra Yogini Temple. Padmasambhava brought his consort, Shakya Devi, here and concealed many treasure teachings for the future. When Shankacharya attempted to establish orthodox Hinduism in the valley he was unable to capture Sankhu from the Buddhists. Vajrayogini’s necklace of skulls is said to be the heads of Shankacharya’s Brahmin monks. Vajrayogini is considered to be the supreme wisdom goddess and female Buddha protectoress. The two-roofed copper pagoda temples are ornately carved and a Newari Vajrayana monastery, with a traditional Rana-style courtyard and hiti, rests at the top of the hill.
Bhaktapur was the capital of Nepal during the great Malla Kingdom until the second half of the 15th C.E. and has been an important center on the trade route between Tibet and India since time immemorial. Bhaktapur is a well-preserved ancient city, and is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site for its rich culture, temples, and wood, metal and stone artwork. Portions of the movie Little Buddha starring Keanu Reeves and Bridget Fonda were filmed in the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, as well as “1001 Nights,’ by Pier Paolo Pasolini who saw the special beauty of Bhaktapur in the sixties.
Namo Buddha is one of the three main stupas of the Kathmandu Valley and is built on the bones and hair of prince Mahasattva, Mahasattva was one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s former incarnations. One day as he and his three brothers were walking through the forest, they saw a tigress with the five cubs she had given birth to. She was so hungry she could hardly move. His brothers walked on but Mahasattva went back to cut his flesh and gave it to the tigress to eat. When his brothers went to look for him they found only his bones and hair. The stupa was built on top of these remains. On the eastern side of the hill resides the Thrangu Tashi Yangtse Monastery monastic complex.
Namo Buddha Resort is an eco-style resort built on top of a ridge with panoramic views towards the Annapurna and Khumbu range. The small and cosy houses are beautifully built in the traditional Newari style by carpenters and masons from Kirtipur.
We’ll stay in simple, but comfortable accommodation – a mix of 5-star hotels and Nepalese guesthouses, from rustic chic traditional Newari homes to basic pilgrim lodges. We’ll eat local vegetarian meals, and dress and behave respectfully in accordance with local custom. The program consists of a full schedule, but there will be time for shopping and exploring too.
“A spiritual polymath, Heather is able to draw on an enormous range of secular and spiritual sources to demonstrate the union of wisdom teachings, from Gandhi to Tagore, from Nagarjuna to something she read in the paper last week.” – Jonathan Ekstrom
“Heather is an outstanding yoga teacher. She is authentic with a strong approach and style of teaching. Our group was a mixed level group and Heather excelled at teaching to all levels. I’m a yoga teacher and am very impressed with how Heather handled the group. By the end of the week, everyone’s practice had evolved and deepened. She is open and friendly. Heather provided the perfect balance of asana and philosophy. Every thing she taught was relevant and interesting. Heather is an excellent instructor and she very quickly became familiar with each of us, our abilities, limitations and levels of expertise. She understands alignment principles and her adjustments were spot on. I really enjoyed the way she conducted each class and I particularly enjoyed the sequencing. She is concise, competent, and supportive yet firm. She created an atmosphere of trust and we all bonded as a group from the first day. It was truly a memorable week.” – Connie Muradyan
“Heather provided a safe and nurturing environment, which facilitated the group dynamics as well as the individual’s pace of learning and development. It was a profound experience.” – Ellie Roberts
“Once again, THANK YOU for a great retreat. The setting was amazing, the company was great and the teaching was excellent. It has been great being taught yoga by a true yogi and I have totally enjoyed and learned plenty during the week. Thank you also for inspiring and empowering us to self-practice…” – Maria da Cunha
“I feel like this is the beginning of the rest of my life. I’ve taken that first, very difficult step, on a very long road. I’ll be eternally grateful for the support and guidance you’ve shown me in making a life-changing journey.” – Sarah Osborne
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