Backroads´ Active Adventures in 2019

Backroads, the worlds #1 active travel company, has recently expanded its activity horizons by adding yoga to their trips! There is still biking and/or hiking and the multi-sport type trips haven´t been dropped or changed, but Backroads has simply added yoga as an extra option. In fact, Backroads has always been a yoga friendly company, with free yoga classes at lunch time for their head office staff and dozens of existing leaders already being certified yoga teachers. But now, you have the opportunity to book an active-packed adventure in one of the many countries Backroads is working on incorporating yoga into.

the yoga space at Hotel Húsafell, Iceland

The yoga classes will usually be offered in the early morning or late afternoon, getting in hour of yoga after big meals, and somehow connected to sunrise and sunset times, theoretically (hard to do in Iceland with only 4 hours of daylight). The yoga is Hatha style, a slow flow intended to stretch and strengthen the body. The yoga is not just seen as its own activity, but an exercise to help increase and improve the experience of the other activities offered on trip, since a little bit of yoga never hurt a cyclist or hiker! After the yoga classes, guests (and teacher) felt relaxed and better prepared for the next days activities, and I even noticed I was sleeping better.

Dark and wintery Iceland offers lots of time for cosy indoor yoga

The first ever yoga trips started just this year in Costa Rica and Iceland, and I was grateful to be the yoga teacher leader on Iceland´s two yoga departures this January. The first Iceland trip was a shining success, and more yoga-enthused guests means more yoga options with Backroads in the future. So far, we have California, Florida, Hawaii, Utah and Arizona in the US, plus Costa Rica, Iceland, India, Italy, Mexico, Bali, Indonesia and Mallorca, Spain. If those segments go well, who knows where the yoga will stop – perhaps it will slowly creep into trips in all of the 60+ countries Backroads operates at!

your Backroads yoga teacher leaders have all gone through YTTC training

Check out your active adventure dreams at backroads.com, especially if you´re thinking of traveling with a bit of yoga in your future. Or if you´re a yoga certified teacher and have ever thought about teaching yoga as a Backroads leader, why don´t you try applying for the 2019 season?

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Kashish Yoga School

What happens when you spend 24 days in Goa, 21 of them in school for 14 hours a day? You become a Yoga Alliance certified yoga teacher. I also finally got the balls to roadtrip on my own motorcycle on our only 3 days off to visit the whole coast of Goa and down into Gokarna, Karnataka, when that wasn’t enough, since I’m not used to sitting still for 3.5 weeks in any place. Sleeping in the same bed for 24 nights straight hasn’t happened since college, and even then I don’t ever remember exactly when.

the days off were as refreshing as the yoga training

I enjoyed the yoga a lot, which was good because we had atleast 3 hours of it a day, but I couldn´t get into the daily meditation. Dynamic meditations, Osho Kundalini, just made me tired or energized. The guided, relaxing mediation was wonderful, but never for the right reasons. They always lost me somewhere around “you´re walking in dewy grass, barefoot, and dip your toes in the cold clear water…” or “listen to the babbling brook…” because instead, I was feeling mosquitos and listening to dogs bark and a rickety train pass. When I was relaxed, I’d never fall asleep, but get so distracted, with an intense clarity of mind for all the things I wanted to do and write.

meditating on the sunset at Gokarna beach

The daily structure was the same:

6:30 Self Practice and ‘neti’, salt-water nose rinsing

7:00 90 minute yoga class, either Ashtanga, Hatha, Aerial or Yin

8:30 breakfast

10:15 Philosophy or Anatomy

11:30 Yoga Asana clinic

13:30 Lunch

15:20 Philosophy or Anatomy

16:30 90 minute yoga

18:30 Meditation

19:30 Dinner

our wonderful class

All the meals for vegetarian, and the menu didn´t change much from day to day. Breakfast always had 1 hot item, either porridge or pancake (or crepe or roti, whatever you want to call it), oats, corn flakes, yogurt and fruits (watermelon and bananas were constant). Lunch was roti, rice, dhal and a curry, either with red, green or yellow gravy, salad (which was usually cucumber based) and more yogurt. Dinner was roti, rice dhal, curry (a different colour than lunch) and salad, but no yogurt. If you were lucky, there was a milky desert, or someones birthday meant a chocolate cake was shared sparingly around to forty sugar craving mouths.

the newbies, now fully trained yoga teachers!

I had intense chocolate cravings almost the entire time I was there, and Im not even a sweet tooth normally. I never missed meat, and didn’t get tired of rice or poppadoms (the gluten-free substitute to roti), but chocolate was an issue. And half way thru the training, a chocolate monster stole a bunch of my (and some others´) chocolate from the tiny communal fridge and they anonymously received a karma-death sentence since we never found out who it was but made sure everyone knew the chocolate was missing.

fire ceremony

The yoga teachers were wonderful, and taught us so much in less than a month. The learning was intense, and burn out is bound to happen, so they became more than just teachers, but also our friends and mentors. Some were more professional than others, and some more strict, but the only teacher I couldn´t enjoy was the one foreign teacher. The Indian teachers seemed better role models of the yogic lifestyle, while the Australian was only half present, impatient and frankly, not spot on the material she taught.

last day of training… can you see the improvement?

We completed the course with a handful of written assignments, one written exam, and a practical exam that meant teaching our first yoga class. Everyone passed, and no grades were given since giving a mark defeats the whole purpose of yoga. I wish other schools of learning applied the same rules! Although it makes you wonder if everyone that graduates should really be a yoga teacher, especially me…

JOY Workshop in Iceland: 50% early bird discount

SATI Mindfulness had their first Mindfulness workshop in Iceland last year; I attended and wrote about it hereI’m super excited to say they’re hosting another one this year, in the stunning playground that is Hveragerdi, which includes more mindfulness and meditation exercises, nature hikes, hot river bathing, plus a bit of ´art and science´ of meditation at Solir studio in Reykjavik.

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My friends Devon and Craig are now offering a limited-time discount on the workshop – for one week only – at 50% off the original price. For only $169 (with airfare to Iceland from many American and European cities not much more than that), you can attend their 3-day workshop, which includes:

  • An evening teaching at Iceland’s most beautiful yoga studio, Sólir.
  • Two full days of teachings at a gorgeous boutique hotel in Hveragerði.
  • An optional mindful evening hike to a hot river.
  • Gourmet lunches during the workshop.
  • Meditations, discussions, and exercises designed to elicit joy.

You just get it all for $169. Total. That’s it. Ridiculous, no? For the discounted price, register here.

If you’ve even been considering this workshop, now is the time. To put this in perspective, mindfulness workshops guided by others like Jon Kabat Zinn cost $700+ in Iceland right around the same time!

Offer expires May 1st – don’t wait! It will fill up quickly, and double in price after a week. 

Mindfulness in Iceland

I was recently in Nepal and participated in a number of yoga and meditation classes, and realized they’re not very different. Meditation is actually something we do all the time, though it may be mindless, and sometimes misused to be a tool for negative rumination.

I’ve always noticed that Icelandic nature, and the things I do in Iceland, seem a perfect setting for productive meditation. I’m usually most relaxed when I’m horse back riding, looking out on some epic scenery in the highlands, sitting in a natural hot tub in the middle of nowhere, or watching the midnight sun touch the ocean before going back up into the horizon. If the weather was better, I’m sure there would be more yoga retreats here.

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meditating with my horse in some summery sunny Icelandic weather

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, an ambassador of peace and well-known spiritual leader from India, was in Iceland last week to give on a talk on the importance of meditation. He explains it as a way for people to find inner calm and happiness, which spreads naturally through a population and serves an important role in creating peace.

Exploring Iceland and SATI Mindfulness worked together to put on a Mindfulness Retreat in Hveragerdi last weekend, and I was lucky enough to take part with another 20 or so participants, a mixture of Americans, Icelanders, and one German. Our teachers were Craig and Devon, along with a landscape architect with a Phd. in Environmental design. Calling it a Mindfulness Retreat was an interesting marketing move, since telling my family I was going to a 3 day meditation workshop would have made them a little worried about my mental health – why is it that practicing meditation is such an alternative/hippy thing?

Along with some hiking, stretching and exercising, we learned that meditation is a transition from movement to stillness, and noise to silence. It gives you time to contextualize life, commit to happiness, and consider compassion. When meditating, Sri Sri’s three mantras are: I want nothing. I am nothing. I am doing nothing.

Have you ever wondered how hard it is to do nothing? Its nearly impossible. Your mind never shuts up, and if it does it only lasts a few moments before something else you need to remember or plan to do pops up. Devon and Craig also like to call ‘mindufulness’ ‘bodyfulness,’ since its in those moments when your brain quiets that you can really feel and listen to your body. Even if its pain or tiredness, just listening to your physical sensations is an extremely powerful ability that many of us ignore.

Sometimes I caught myself imagining what it would be like to have a super low IQ, or super intense ADHD, maybe then it would be easier to focus only on the here and now. Focusing on just yourself in the moment is a really difficult way to narrow your thoughts, and I’m not sure I ever managed to truly get there in our 3 days together.

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Reykjadalur, the smokey valley and hot river most people come to Hveragerdi for

Hveragerdi was a wonderful place to have the workshop. We were surrounded by summer, green vegetation, a steaming mountain side, and a hot river to bathe in. There were also hundreds of girl and boy scouts having some kind of retreat at the same time, offering endless fields of coloured tents and people walking around with rolled neck bands. We didn’t have to compete with them for a supply of nature and relaxation, but one day when we all ended up in a forest with instructions to try and hug a tree, literally, I was hoping some of them would walk by and see a bunch of grown, sober adults tree hugging and wondered what their reaction would be.

We did some other strange exercises, like trying to walk as slow as you can without stopping (you can go really slow!), or making one hand a fist be the sun and smashing it into the other open palm which represented the moon, but everything was more fun when we did it together. What I came away with from this retreat was to remember more often to bring out the inner child and just play – with myself, with nature with thoughts, and with feelings. It definitely makes you feel lighter.

Escape to Nepal

I wasn’t planning on going to Nepal before Pakistan, since Pakistan is right beside Afghanistan, but the overroad routes between the two were unsafe and my fake husband Michael from Germany couldn’t get a visa. For whatever random reason, Icelanders don’t need a visa to Pakistan (which was a problem in itself, since every hotel and customs guy asked for my visa and I nearly couldn’t leave the country). But yeah, visa-free entry, not visa on arrival, for me and not German Michael. So, in Kabul, when it was time to leave Afghanistan, we had to go to the airport and find a way out by air.

lots of stupas and prayer flags in Kathmandu

lots of stupas and prayer flags in Kathmandu

We had preemptivley booked the cheapest flight to New Delhi but missed it after our flight from Bamyan was delayed. So we bought another, much more expensive flight at the airport, to New Delhi, and instead of stopping there went onwards to Kathmandu because… well, why not, we had both never been there (and its hard to breathe in New Delhi). The trip was last minute and very unplanned, but after more than a month in Iran and Afghanistan, it was a breath of fresh air to arrive in a country where I didn’t have to be covered, and alcohol and pork were legally sold.

Boudhanath stupa

Boudhanath stupa

Kathmandu was smaller than I expected, but not as crowded as I feared. Its squashed between China (slash Tibet) and India and the mixture of Buddhist and Hindu religions all nestled under the Himalayas, making the most beautiful backdrop for a cultural mixture of faces and features.

Phewa Lake in Pokhara

Phewa Lake in Pokhara

I felt as if I had escaped to a colourful place, full of freedom and spiritual enlightenment. In Pokhara, I took a 2 day course of yoga and meditation, and in Kathmandu, I managed to socialize in cafes and public places as a solo woman. Strangely enough both of those things were equally enlightening. I also jumped off a bridge 70m down to a woman herding her livestock home, but luckily the bungee line bounced me back up.

bungee jumping

bungee jumping

Nepal is a place to travel to for more than just an unplanned week. And escaping to Nepal in my tshirt and skirt after a month covered from head to toe in black clothes was a form of travel therapy. But a week in Nepal is better than no time in Nepal, and I sent Michael on his way to Germany and had to go back west to Pakistan. The road can get tiring sometimes, but the best thing about traveling is change. And Nepal was a pleasant break from the Silk Road.