Yoga in Aphrodite’s gardens
“This is such a special place” said my student, joining me for Yoga in Cyprus for the first time,
as we sat together on the edge of the gardens, looking over the sea. “It’s the space, I just love all this space.”
“Space” is just what my Yoga retreats are all about in this special corner of Cyprus is all about. The space to rest and simply be and in that rest to come back home to ourselves for rejuvenation, balance and healing.
There is a fabulous word in Sanskrit, one of those that doesn’t directly satisfactorily translate into English. It is “Svastha”. It is a word meaning “health”, but is also translated as “to be established in the Self.” As much as anywhere this beautiful spot, unspoiled and with all its history connected to the cult of the goddess, I find, supports a return to “resting in the Self”. There is little to draw our senses outwards and to distract our minds apart from the sounds and sights of nature. There is, as my student commented, a wide open space in front of our accommodation, unbroken by man-made structure and where the land meets the sea. There are no buildings to the sides either. Alongside the eco-hotel gardens are olive and orange groves, vegetable plots, fields and mountains surround them. Here, our over-stimulated senses get that much-craved for rest from the noise and the glare the artificial lighting of modern day living. There are no lights in the gardens at night, which is primarily to protect the turtles who nest on the beach but which also contributes to calming and resting our eyes. There is only the natural world to rest the eyes on and at night this includes the stars and the light of the moon on the sea. Only nature’s sounds greet the ears: birdsong, the sounds of the sea breeze through the trees, and the rush of the waves up and down the nearby shore. This family-run eco hotel marvellously upholds it’s own ethos: it is a place where people can just be and where they can find true rest with little to distract from the healing power of nature.
It is this that draws me to run retreats here each year. Resting in the embrace of nature, we can switch off and tune in and living close to and in tune with nature, eating natural foods which are grown and prepared on the land we are living on, our senses, our minds and our nervous systems start to settle. We can then awaken to our essential nature, to that part of us that we can only really hear as a faint whisper in the rush of daily life but where are love, wisdom and innate joy reside.
One of the most powerful steps we can take towards reclaiming a sense of health and harmony in body and mind is to start to live in tune with the cosmic rhythms. And on retreat in such a natural environment this is exactly what we can so easily do: waking and sleeping with the sun, eating when the sun is highest in the sky, eating in tune with the seasons – seasonal foods - all support a boost to our health, immunity, and general sense of well-being. Here in Cyprus, we live and practice Yoga also in accordance with the cycles of the moon. In particular but not only, women are very much connected to and influenced by the lunar cycles. Paying attention to and coming into a balanced relationship with the cycles of the moon, by adapting the structure of our days, our diet and the way we practice Yoga, can do wonders for our physical health and mental-emotional well-being. When we live close to and aligned with nature’s rhythms not only does our general health and well-being increase. If we are serious about our Yoga and meditation practice, we add strength to their healing, rebalancing and transformative power.
A greater connection to nature and living aligned with nature has an alchemy. It brings a greater chance of connection to our essential nature. The rest that nature supports and the balance that living in tune with nature’s cycles restores to our body, minds and hearts can work wonders as far as switching off the stress responses of worry, anxiety, fear on the one hand, and irritability, impatience, frustration on the other hand are concerned. With the stress responses already calmed and rested in such an environment and with a daily schedule that moves in tune with nature, this potentiality of our Yoga to take us beyond these stresses and to awaken us to the qualities of the Self – love, wisdom, insight, compassion, healing and wholeness – are heightened.
And these qualities of the Self – love, wisdom, compassion, healing and wholeness - are qualities of the feminine sides of our being, are they not? (Not that they are qualities of woman’s nature only: I mean the feminine aspect of our being that is in men and women). And my experience is that on this ancient land that seems to exude the energy of the divine feminine after thousands of years of goddess worship, the very vibration of the place supports and strengthens Yoga’s deepening of our connection to our own hearts.
The heart is the dwelling place of the Self, of our essential nature. and so with these true nature even more. It is the centre to which our prana returns, quietened after a balanced Yoga practice. When our prana returns home to the inner heart, our minds can rest there and we are perhaps for even just a moment, “established in the Self”.
Long before the Greeks established the cult of Aphrodite here, proclaiming the island to be the birthplace of this goddess of love and beauty, the Cypriots were steeped in worship of the fertility goddess. Just a short distance from the hotel where our retreat takes place, an ancient sanctuary for worship of the goddess was discovered by archaeologists. And Mr Christos, the owner of the hotel, told me that when they were building the hotel, they had to call the island’s Department of Antiquities as they came across so many ancient artefacts in their digging. We are practicing, exactly where the ancients who worshipped the goddess and all the creative and nurturing qualities of the divine feminine lived and walked. We are in Aphrodite’s garden. The vibration of the goddess energy, Divine Feminine which permeates this land, I feel affects our own individual vibrations on this retreat and allows the practices (all designed to restore balance to and nourish body, mind and soul) to take a deeper effect. And coming closer to the love and compassion and healing within our own hearts, and resting in this land whose very vibration seems to be one of warmth and love, I’ve seen amazing, lasting and very supportive connections established amongst participants.
And that is what Yoga is about isn’t it? If we want to know how we are progressing in Yoga, let’s not measure that by the latest complex posture we have mastered, but by how kind and loving we are becoming. When the stress-responses and their accompanying mental states of worry, anxiety, anger, irritability are turned off by our Yoga practices supported by a balanced natural lifestyle, and when we our nervous systems are in a rested state, we can experience the opposite mental states – love, acceptance, patience, tolerance, compassion. We no longer see problems, we see opportunities for more giving and sharing, for making life and our worlds a little more loving and beautiful. Perhaps, Yoga takes us to the point where we actually embody the qualities of Aphrodite – beauty, grace and love. In Aphrodite’s gardens in Cyprus, we are embraced by and more readily nurture these qualities we all aspire to, these qualities of being established in the Self, qualities which nurture health, which bring us to Svastha.