On the Mountain and Beyond

Posted on: June 7th, 2016
Alix Northup Nepal
“Body like a mountain, Heart like an ocean, Mind like the sky” –Dogen

I switched my headlamp off as the first light of dawn exposed my otherworldly orientation with the sea of clouds below me and the mysterious snow covered formations looming above.

The cold wind chilled the exposed skin on my face. The secure crunching sound of my crampons biting into the icy snow orchestrated with the swing of my ice axe. My lungs filled to capacity with the rise and fall of each breath as we gained altitude. The nauseating smell of sulfur reminded me that I was on an active volcano. The tension of the rope held the intimate connection between my climbing partner and I as we approached the summit of Mt. Hood last month. Climbing a mountain is indeed an experience of sensory awareness.

Time had been spent slowly stretching my perceived comfort zone physically and mentally through climbing and yoga, and then waiting in anticipation while watching the changing weather forecast. Finally, schedules aligned with an open window for the climb. As I placed one foot in front of the other, everything that had come before and everything that was to come dropped away into the immediacy of what was right in front of me. These timeless moments when the connection of mind, body, and spirit are at one with nature are the reasons that I climb and the heart of my yoga practice on and off the mat. In this space, the practice comes alive and technique and routine give way to intuition and spontaneity. As I stood on the summit ridge, looking out from the iconic Oregon peak, I felt humbled by the vast and boundless expanse of space surrounding me.

Whether I am spending time in the mountains or sitting quietly in my garden, nature is a place I find inspiration and insights that relate directly to my yoga practice. The Sanskrit word Tadasana translates into Mountain Pose. In Tadasana, the feet are firmly rooted to the earth, and the crown of the head reaches up towards the sky. The heart is lifted and open. There is a feeling of presence and firmness, yet adaptability and ease. In the Zen practice, the mountain is often used as a metaphor and is associated with stability, yet also impermanence.
A quote by Robert Green Ingersoll reads, “In the presence of eternity the mountains are as transient as the clouds.” As Oregonians, we know well the implications this implies living near a few active volcanoes in the Cascade range. Like watching the weather systems that pass through the sky, we can observe and sense our own internal rhythms and thought patterns. The ever changing flow of prana ebbs and flows in our bodies like the ocean tide as we navigate through circumstances in our lives and climb our own internal mountains.

Climbing to the summit was just half of the journey. After a long descent, fatigue began to set in. I was grateful to find myself back at home in my bed, lying in a most welcome Savasana. I drifted off to sleep with the whispers of the mountain echoing through my spirit. The next day, my sunburned face and sore muscles would remind me that it wasn’t all a dream.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” –John Muir

Originally posted on The People’s Yoga Blog, June 7, 2016