My sacred adventures in Bhutan: Meditation Malas, Mantras and so much more…
Side-stepping away from my wellness posts for a moment, I though it would be interesting to share my journey to the land of the Thunder Dragon AKA The Land Of Happiness – where they measure their gross national happiness. Nestled between Nepal, India and China, Bhutan is a hidden treasure only allowing few tourists to visit so they are able to preserve culture and boarders…
Going back to May 2019, which seems to long ago after everything that has happened in the past few years … I made the tough decision to leave my children behind for 10 days, to embark upon a once in a lifetime adventure – sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and follow your heart…
As a wife, mother of two, a life-long yoga student and now experienced Yoga teacher, I had for some time worked on bringing a calmer and more spiritual approach to my daily life – something I felt aligned with my own personal values, such as cultivating mindfulness, all while running a fairly loud household, challenging for even the most grounded yogi.
Our journey began with a flight into Nepal, a bustling, busy and a little dirty, very chaotic in stark contrast to our arrival in beautiful Bhutan, clean, serene and calming to begin our hiking and yoga adventure. Much in the same vein as my slightly chaotic life the itinerary set forth by Heather Elton [www.heatherelton.com] was jam-packed. As we trekked to our initial camp sites we were joined by Lamas to guide us physically and spiritually to the campsite, donkeys at our sides carry our equipment all while dealing with the traumas of travel, altitude sickness and anything else that hit us. From the outset this trip was to help everyone deepen their spiritual yoga practice as well as work on the physical realm, with early meditations, uphill hikes to monasteries, temples and holy Buddhist sites… all while fully embracing meditation at every possibly moment, even on the mini bus as we started each trip.
This isn’t to say everything in the journey was there to challenge us, as much as we should work on our minds and bodies we should reward them too – with new experiences and self care. We visited many Temples, various Yoga Shalas (Sanskrit for home), and even experienced the bliss of beautiful, restorative wooden hot spring baths. The ever-welcoming locals filled the tubs with mineral-rich Himalayan water, heated with hot rocks and sprinkled with Artemesia herbs, known for their detoxing benefits. While it is definitely a rustic experience it is also simple and beautiful at the same time. I can’t tell you how relaxing and soothing it was.
Heather, a well-known Yoga teacher, organised this unique adventure, she wanted us to fully-embrace the feeling of meditation as part of your daily life, to be continually aware of our actions, to be present and observant of those around us, cultivating respect for others at all time.
This extra level of awareness and respect also came to play with our physical Yoga practice. When you are in a pose you become more aware of your alignment, to keep thinking and reassess yourself. As Heather would say: “We are all disillusioned to what appears to be correct”.
This isn’t to say we are crazy, But it reminds us that our minds have such a powerful ability to twist our thoughts and make things up to how we ‘think’ they should be. This is why meditation is such a powerful tool for your mental health. Meditation grounds us, it brings us back to our ‘homebase’ (no not the DIY shop!), it gives us a reality check! Once you begin to bring meditation into your regular routine it becomes clearer and easier to see how important it is to keep checking in with ourselves, to see that we are aligned with who we really are – our true selves, heading towards our Well Life Vision.
But I digress, back to Bhutan …
At our first candle-lit evening ceremony we passed round a talking stick the circle, this was to help us express our voice. A very simple idea, helping solidify thoughts – when you hold something and put your belief in it, that it will help you, and it does! Heather then gifted us Malas, Sanskrit for garland, we were taught how to use them and I began to understand how useful they are for deepening your meditation practice, especially when accompanied with Mantras
Malas, Mantras and Meditation
Japa is the the practice of using Mala with mediations, whilst walking or sitting, they’re a handy, tangible tool for focusing the mind. This is achieved by rolling or moving each bead along the thread from the main Guru bead. They contain 108 beads and you can go back and forth as many times as your life – the more Mantras the better. This rhythmic act brings you into a deep, almost hypnotic state, enhancing the profound benefits of meditation on the mind, a mental state of rest but also allowing the mind to be free, creative and able to manifest exactly what you need.
Throughout the trip we experience a huge variety of meditations from silent walking meditations towards temples, alongside Lamas, Mantras and Ceremonies with Nuns. This deep immersion into a world that had been silently reaching out to me for some time, camping 4,000 metres above sea-level, far above this Greek Sea-lovers natural habitat, was quite something! Feeling the effects of altitude sickness, dizziness, and an upset tummy with just a hole in the ground as a toilet in the middle of the night sounds like hell, despite any unpleasantness. It was worth every second… to reach our breathtaking final destination, with its stunning view. Any discomfort, any doubts were below away by the amazing view of Paro Taktsang, also known at Taktsang Palphug Monastery and The Tiger’s Nest. A sacred Vajryana Himalayan Buddhist site, one of thirteen Tiger’s Nest Caves located in Tibet, in which Padmasambhava meditated and taught Vajrayana students, including Yeshe Tsogyal before departing the Kingdom of Tibet in the early 9th Century. Words cannot do it justice, but it is truly spectacular and a wonderful, humbling place to sit quietly in and be present.
Variety is the spice of life
On the trip we stayed in a variety of accommodation from boutique hotels to camping at 4,000m. However different the locations they all had one thing in common, the people. Their hospitality was always immaculate and they were the most beautiful, calm and positive human beings you could ever had wished to be around. This rubbed off on you instantly, as positivity and light always does. it made you want to embrace a life like that, with that humble and continually aware calmness.
Not forgetting physical Yoga…
I’ve spoken about the mental side and location of my Bhutan experience, but we cannot forget the way most of us end us on such a journey… the physical side of yoga. This was also a big part of this trip in the morning and evening, as expected but occasionally it was taken off the programme if we’d had a long day out but this did not bother me one bit, Yoga whether mental or physical is about honouring oneself, and I didn’t go to Bhutan to master my Pinchamayurasana (peacock pose). We, of course did work on the physical manifestation of our practice and our incredible teacher, Heather, was always hot on alignment and was there to help you find a deep and real practice of Yoga – no fluffy Vinyasa! She wanted us to experience the raw and ancient stuff, which is why I loved her teaching the first time I met her at an Adjustments workshop on The Isle of Wight. This is something I feel is lost in a lot of Yoga classes today, its not about showing off or being hot at your Vinyasa, but about finding stillness in the mind.
This experience was profound for my own practice and teaching, it heightened everything, realigned and cemented my own values.
Upon arriving back in the UK it did take me a while to feel like I wanted to live a normal life and not hide away in a cave meditating for the rest of my life – an extreme case of the holiday blues and a newfound meaning in my practices. However, my learnings and the things I took away from Bhutan can be brought into daily life. Not just for myself but for you and my clients. You can gain as much as possible in the way of skills and knowledge. You can Learn how to be a kinder person to yourself as well as others. You can retain values deep to your heart and treat people with respect – always.
Which brings me back round to meditation… How can you learn from my experiences in the beautiful Bhutan?
The preconceived image of Meditation often makes you feel like you have to sit and do something. For many of us it’s an unknown place to sit and quieten your mind, it can be scary, it can be difficult and bring up many feelings and emotions. It may make you feel like you’re out of control, and bring things up that you’re not ready to deal with. Fortunately if Bhutan isn’t in your reach, there was many apps and podcasts available that can guide you gently into a regular meditative practices. Apps such as Calm, Headspace, Insight Timer as well as Podcasts on Apple Music and Spotify are a helpful introduction to this fine art, making it accessible for everyone without having to put on your Yoga Thai Fisherman’s pants and Mala beads on but to be able to practice in your work clothes, heels, make-up or whatever you choose, however YOU’RE comfortable!
As I discovered, meditation has many forms and even movement. It doesn’t have to be crossed legged it doesn’t have to be with closed eyes and it doesn’t have to be when all your setting is perfect, shrine and all! OK, having a nice, calming setting helps, even something as simple as a a candle to focus on is a tool you can use as well as a Picture, an Icon or whatever resonates with you and your life. Maybe it’s lying down or walking. It’s YOUR time, for YOUR mind… It’s your time to be with YOU!
If you’re inspired to give Meditation a go, even once a week, My advice is keep it simple and use an approach or breathing technique that works and feels comfortable with you. Use it as a time to be quiet with yourself. An opportunity to allow your answers to arise while not thinking about the questions, the mind is a wondrous and amazing thing, it will have answer if you let it speak to you. Your own practice will naturally give you a greater understanding of yourself and help you find a calmer way of living. Let’s face it, that’s something that we all want – peace and happiness, especially after a chaotic few years.
An, right back to the beginning – it was hard to take such a chunk of time away from my two children. However, it was heart warming to come back to this from my son Jake. Showing you’re never too young to be inspired by the teachings of The Buddha.
Some interesting facts about Bhutan:
- Area: 38,394(sq km)
- Currency: Ngultrum
- National Language: Dzongkha
- National dreaa: Gho and Kira
- National Tree: Cypress
- National Flower:Blue poppy
- National animal:Takin
- National bird:Raven
- National sport: Archery
- Capital: Thimphu
- Population: 779,666
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