Dates: April 20 – 30, 2018
Venue: Kathmandu Valley (Kathmandu, Pashupati, Boudhanath, Patan, Bhaktapur, Pharping and Namo Buddha)
Cost: 1,695 GBP (includes yoga tuition, shared accommodation, breakfast and dinner, entrance fees and transportation to sacred sites. Lunch is not included in the price. Single supplement charge is available on request.)
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.
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 who’ve 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. It is the land of ‘living Tantra.’ This adventure will be an experience of a lifetime that will take you deep into your own practice, give you skillful 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 both a transformational journey taking you deep you’re your own practice, and provides the context to find meaning in the experience and embody the sacred.
Each year different teachers join the program to give you a glimpse into different Tantric practices all within the context of yoga. The theme of the 2015 Yoga Adventure was ‘Embodying the Deity,’ and Dancer/choreographer Deepti Gupta taught mudras and the stances of tribal Chhau Dance which form the basis for the postures of dakinis, gods and goddesses in temple sculptures. This helped to deepen our understanding of the iconography of Hindu and Buddhist deities and understand the meaning behind their gestures.
Darshan was the theme of the 2017 Yoga Adventure and we investigated the concept of ‘seeing’ and ‘being seen’ by the guru, deva and dakini. The teachings explored the non-dual philosophies of yoga and especially the ‘View’ of emptiness found in tantric traditions. Maharaja Ishanath, an Aghori Nath, renunciate yogi living at Pashupati, was our interpreter of symbols on the spiritual path. He guided us through various temples where we learned how to make offerings, have puja, take darshan. He was our teacher of Bhakti devotion. 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. Mediation will include the Tibetan Loving Kindness meditation, Shamatha and Vipassana mediation 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 followers. The blood in her skull bowl is the blood of Brahma, after she severed his head. Vajrayogini is considered to be the supreme wisdom goddess and female Buddha protectoress. The two-roofed copper pagoda temples are ornately carved, contain numerous sculptures, and a Newari Vajrayana monastery with a traditional Rana-style courtyard and hiti rests at the top of the hill. The Vajra Yogini caves are nearby, and in another building are power objects and the most beautiful, serene statue of the goddess.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
We will 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; eat local vegetarian meals, and dress and behave respectfully in accordance to local custom. The program consists of a full schedule, but there will be time for shopping and exploring that travellers enjoy.