Archive for the ‘photography’ Category

Slideshow from the Land of Fire and Ice

October 23, 2018

The following slideshow is of our recent yoga retreat in Iceland. It is a trip I hope to offer again and again.  The slideshow is set to the music of the Icelandic group Low Roar and the song playing is called Breathe In.  The words go well with the experience of being in the Land of Fire and Ice.  The melody seems to carry the mystery and stark beauty of the landscape.  Most of the photos in the slideshow are mine, but a few come from some of the other photographers in our group.  I believe all the photos capture the light that is unique to Iceland!  Being so far north, the sun’s rays hit at an angle, which, when captured by camera, makes every person holding a camera appear to be an extraordinary photographer.

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We did yoga every morning and every evening, though you will not find a single picture of our yoga sessions.  We immersed ourselves in our practice.  In our yoga sessions, we became warriors, molten lava, geothermal energy, and pure rays of northern light.

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It was a pleasure to see friendships deepen and new friendships forged.  As the week progressed, everyone in our group appeared to become more luminous. Was it the relaxing and cleansing aspect of the yoga practice?  Or was it the hot springs?  Or perhaps it was the hiking?  Could have been the pure spring-fed water we drank directly from the tap? It was probably a combination of all of these ideas and more.  All I know for sure is that the retreat was a great experience, one that I will never forget.

Turn up your speakers for this 6 minute slideshow of our retreat in Iceland:

Iceland: Yoga in the Land of Fire and Ice 2018 from Fran Gallo on Vimeo.

http://www.frangallo.com

 

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Laugarvatn Hot Springs

October 17, 2018

Today was one of those perfect days which I think I’ll replay in my mind again and again. The day started at 6am when my alarm went off.  I made coffee, read the news online, checked email. Then, I went off to teach yoga.  This morning’s yoga was focused on the chakras.  Chakra Yoga was followed by breakfast.

At 10am, we left our cabins for Laugarvatn.  There we hiked a hillside in a wooded area. Along the trail, there were panels with depictions and Icelandic instructions for various stretches recommended while hiking.  After the hike (and the stretches), Einar drove us to the hot springs of Laugarvatn on the Golden Circle.  We first enjoyed lunch, a beautiful spread of delicious fresh vegetables and fish.  Some people in my group enjoyed bread which was baked using geothermal steam.  I have tasted it in the past and it is delicious.  After eating, we enjoyed the hot springs of Laugarvatn.

The hot springs are located in a lakefront spa, featuring natural steam baths, outdoor mineral pools and a sauna. There are various temperatures, one being especially hot. Soaking in geothermal springs is very healthy.  At Laugarvatn, we soaked in a natural pool lined with rocks. While inside the steam rooms (both wet and dry sauna rooms), we listened to the sound of the bubbling hot springs coming from deep within the earth

Every so often, when the heat became too intense, we bravely walked over to Laugarvatn Lake, which is right next to the springs, and took a very fast dip in the 40 degree Fahrenheit water! Every bracing dip came with a yip and a few loud shouts.

The day ended with a second yoga session (a focus on postures to strengthen bones) followed by another delicious dinner (three bean salad for the vegetarians and lamb for the others).

I am including some of the benefits of soaking in geothermal healing waters:

Anti-Ageing Properties  Hot springs are also recognised for their anti-ageing properties. Bathing in a hot spring increases the production of collagen and tightens the elastin within the second layer of the skin.

This leaves your skin looking both firm and youthful.

Other minerals such as calcium, lithium, magnesium and even radium also help improve your skin.

As geothermal water cools, it saturates and then forms into a white mud. This form is completely hypoallergenic and has anti-ageing properties that can firm the skin, reduce pores and revitalise appearances. It is also effective against rashes, sores and skin problems such as dermatitis and psoriasis.

Respiratory Problems  As well as improving your skin, taking a dip in a geothermal spring offers many additional benefits to your overall health. As mentioned above, sulphur is a common mineral found in hot springs.

Sulphur can help treat respiratory problems such as asthma, and it can help clear excess mucus from your lungs.

Pain Relief  Moreover, the heat and buoyancy of a hot spring is very therapeutic for your body. The buoyancy helps to reduce the body’s work load.

As the body is focused on the sudden heat, the nervous system’s sensitivity lowers and the heat becomes a form of therapy for sufferers of muscle pains and arthritis.

Soothe sore muscles and chilly limbs.

Better Blood Circulation Bathing in hot springs helps to boost blood circulation. As the skin soaks in minerals such as calcium and sodium, hydrostatic pressure increases.

This increases the flow of oxygen to our bodies and boosts blood circulation, keeping your body fit and strong.

Increases Endorphins Our bodies absorb minerals in the water which stimulate the immune system and strengthen it. These minerals enhance the production of endorphins within the body and this interacts with receptors in the brain.

Think of it as a “happy chemical”, endorphins release a positive feeling and relieve the body and mind of stress whilst alleviating tension in tired muscles.

Overall, regular geothermal bathing can help normalize your body’s functions and nervous system whilst drastically improving your skin’s condition.

My lovely cabin mates Keira and Colleen.

There’s a whole lot of magic going on here in Iceland!

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Langjökull Glacier

October 16, 2018

Cold weather wears down batteries fast.  On the Langjökull Glacier, I was able to get one quick shot before my camera battery died. It is of Lisa and Rich walking in a near white out, walking to the edge of Iceland’s second largest glacier.

Einar guided us on our hour hike in the freezing temperatures. The snow and wind blotted out the place where you would normally see the edge of the glacier.  We followed the tracks of the snowmobiles and the occasional flag indicating the way towards the glacier.  The glacier visit was thrilling!

Actually, we were so bundled up that I don’t think anyone really felt cold. Under my layers, I was toasty warm.  Once we got back to the bus, I was able to get to my other camera and took a few more photos. The photos below are almost identical, but taken moments apart. You can see that the light changes constantly. One second it could be blizzard like conditions and the next moment, a blue sky peaks through the clouds.

Back at the cabins, we pet Orvar’s elderly dog, the sweet Dexter! After eating a late lunch, we soaked in the hot tubs and then did yoga.  I have not taken a single yoga photo, but Kevin got this shot of our yoga space.Kevin also took this shot of our cabins:

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I read the following poem (and a few others after yoga today). I am not sure of the Icelandic author’s name:

Storming Weather

Boisterous cold wind

Frozen sun fully exposed

Advancing snow storms

Mantra Story: re-posted

September 16, 2018

The following blog post is a re-post.  I hope you enjoy reading it:

When I first arrived at the ashram in Nepal in early spring 1996, where I was about to do an intensive month-long teacher training program, I met one of the newly minted yoga instructors who had just finished her month-long intensive with the previous batch of teacher trainees.  She was all packed up and ready to go home.

“So, how was it?, I asked her, hoping to get some insight into the program.

“It was GREAT!  You are going to learn SO much from Swami Vikashananda.  And at the end of your stay, he will give you your OWN mantra!”

There was something a little wild-eyed about her, which made me want to run in the opposite direction.  But her hyper-enthusiasm also made me want to ask more about the intriguing manta she had just mentioned.

“My own mantra?  Tell me more.”

So she went on to explain how Swami Vikashananda “studies his students in training” and comes up with a unique mantra that is specifically for that very person.  This mantra is to be said during meditation to keep one focused on the moment and it is NOT to be shared with anyone.”

You can just imagine my intrigue all throughout the month-long training program.  I imagined Swami Vikashananda secretly studying me, trying to come up with the perfect mantra for ME!  There was another side of me, the naughty skeptic, who wondered if he simply gave the same mantra to everyone and said, “Don’t share this with anyone!”

So, eventually it was time for me to leave.  One intensive month of learning and hard work flew by, and I found myself all packed up, standing with my luggage at the edge of the ashram property with Swami Vikashananda.  This was my farewell.  And I was feeling super emotional-not because I would miss him- but because he DID NOT give me a mantra!

I would not make a good poker player.  My face betrays my feelings.  I do play Pinochle and everyone instantly knows whether I have a good hand or a lousy one.  It’s just the way I am.  So Vikashananda, standing there next to me in his white flowing robes, looked at me and asked, “Please, tell me, what is the matter?”  Can I tell you how stupid I felt, practically in tears because I didn’t get my mantra?   I told him, “Well, see, I was told you would give me a mantra before I left here, and..”  I couldn’t even finish my words.

And then his whole face lit up!

“You want a MANTRRRA?” …followed by howling laughter.  To hear his voice, you have to roll your rrrs!

When he re-collected his composure, he said, “OK, I will give you your MANTRA!  OM SAHANA VAVATU.  OK?”

I was desperate to write it down, but everything was packed away tightly.  “Vikashananda, I need to write it down!”

“No, No.  Say it VERRRY quickly. OM SAHANA VAVATU. OM SAHANA VAVATU. Like that!  Ten Times!  You will remember.”

“Please tell me what it means. That will help me remember!”

So he explained to me, “This mantra is for YOU!  But this mantra is one that you WILL share from time to time with your students because this mantra means “Let us Grow Together”.  Listen, don’t be sad, but you will not find YOUR own one special guru.  However, you will find that your greatest teachers will be your students.  From them you will learn to be a great teacher.  They will be your guru.  Yes, many many guru coming to you. From time to time, you must share your MANTRA with them.  OM SAHANA VAVATU.  OK?  Om Shanti, Fran.”

This is my MANTRA story.  And yes, I share my mantra story with my students from time to time, just as Vikashananda suggested.  For me, it is powerful because I don’t have ONE guru whose teachings I cling to.  I explore my yoga practice through my readings, through my meditation and personal practice, through my life experiences, and from my students.  My students ARE my greatest teachers.  They teach me to be present.  They teach me how to listen, how to be intuitive, how to give and receive.  They teach me how to be kind, compassionate, and how to be courageous in life.  They teach me how to be the best I can be.  They teach me how to BE.

This is the first time I have written my Mantra Story.  Pia inspired me to write it down in my blog!  When I got back to the states, I began studying Sanskrit and I was surprised to come across my MANTRA.  Through my studies, I have learned that my mantra is part of the Shanti Mantra (the Peace Prayer).  It is a Mantra that originates from the Upanishads.  I have learned my Mantra’s many translations.  One translation of it is:

That is Absolute.  Absolute arises out of Absolute.

Below you will see it written in Sanskrit followed by the translation.  My Mantra is the first line of a well-known chant, the Shanti Mantra:

ॐ सह नाववतु ।
सह नौ भुनक्तु ।
सह वीर्यं करवावहै ।
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Saha Nau-Avatu |  (also read as Om Sahana Vavatu-my mantra!)
Saha Nau Bhunaktu |
Saha Viiryam Karava-Avahai |
Tejasvi Nau-Adhii-Tam-Astu Maa Vidviss-Aavahai |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||

Meaning:
1: May God Protect us Both (the Teacher and the Student),
2: May God Nourish us Both,
3: May we Work Together with Energy and Vigor,
4: May our Study be Enlightening, not giving rise to Hostility,
5: Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.

So from “May we Grow Together” to “May God Protect us Both, the Teacher and the Student, I say to you, OM SAHANA VAVATU!

 

There is a place…

June 2, 2018

There is a place….

where magic happens.  It’s not far from Seattle, just a short ferry ride away on Vashon Island. For a few years now, I’ve offered day retreats at what I will call a “secret garden”.  I’m not allowed to say on social media where this place is because it is a private property, but those of you lucky enough to have been at one of my yoga day retreats there will know exactly where it is.

The photos from this blog post are from a yoga day retreat I offered at this site two weeks ago.  I am afraid that this may have been my last retreat offered at this enchanted site as there are some changes taking place on the property.  I am not to talk about the situation.  Just like Jury Duty!  Being cryptic is not my style, but there you have it!

What I can say is that two weeks ago a group of 14 lucky yogis got to breathe in the emerald forest air, see a bit of Indonesia in the Pacific Northwest, walk among ancient stones imported from Asia, eat organic, locally-sourced food infused with love and tenderly prepared by Karen Biondo of La Biondo Farm on Vashon.  Together, we meditated in an ancient temple, shared some beautiful imagery we observed during our stay on the property, images we continue to carry in our hearts, did yoga in an authentic antique Chinese tea merchant’s house, and shared meals and warm conversations.  New friendships blossomed and old friendships deepened.  It’s the kind of gathering every yogi dreams of.

I will always have a deep gratitude and respect for David Smith, who visualized this lush paradise and created this Indonesian-Meets-Pacific Northwest haven at his home on Vashon. David was a delicate gentle soul. When he passed away, he left this precious legacy behind.  The current caretakers of the property have done a marvelous job of keeping this place vibrant and ever more beautiful when I didn’t think that was possible. I can’t believe we have been lucky enough to practice yoga on this property.  I will continue to search out another treasured place to host my next day retreats on Vashon.  Wish me luck and if you have any leads for future Vashon sites, let me know.

Chillin’ before our meditation session inside this temple:

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Summer
Summertime brings joy
The sun warms us outside in
Nature calls us out

Beach Walk
Nature opens eyes
While great blue Herons hunt fish
Water sparkles wet

Poems by Milo Minnis: fellow yoga instructor, yoga day retreat participant, poet, student of Judith Lasater, visionary, beautiful human being

Serene: photo of statue below taken by Skye McNeill (Surface Designer, Illustrator, Photographer, Graphic Designer extraordinaire! visit Skye’s website)

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“As yoga teachers, our job is to mirror back the inherent goodness and inner wisdom of our students. But first, we have to find it in ourselves.”  – Judith Hanson Lasater

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High on Montana

May 31, 2018

Our yoga retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, Montana was better than I could have ever imagined. The weather was excellent, the ranch and accommodations beautiful, the vast property exquisite, the guided hikes almost perfect (perfect except for the damned surge of voracious mosquitoes on the first day because it had rained the night before our first hike), the optional on-site massages with Michelle Richards therapeutic and deeply relaxing, the yoga studio spacious, fully equipped, and pristine.

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The guided hikes fell into two groups. The group who chose to do the easier and shorter hike was led by Amanda.  I was not in this group, but had a twinge of regret when I heard that Amanda knows her wildflowers and was able to identify the array of flowers popping up here and there, dotting the landscape.  The second group chose to go on the more challenging hikes, the first hike being a climb to the ridge on the property where the views were breathtaking. My group was led by James on both days. Though he does not do plant identification, he was knowledgeable in other areas: landscape and geology, plus we learned so much about his interesting life. There were only four of us led by James on the first day hike and two of us on the second day.  On the second day’s hike, Zimmie and I selfishly felt it was a treat to have James all to ourselves on the hike!

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Our happy group participants came from Seattle, Vashon, Eugene (OR), Whitefish, and from the District of Columbia environs. We enjoyed nutritious, abundant, delicious vegetarian meals made by our on site chef, Michelle Berry.  One evening after dinner, Michelle, a very talented and knowledgeable nutritionist, plant-based chef, and beautiful mother of three came and sat with us, answering our questions about plant-based nutrition.  We learned so much from her as you will see below.

How much water should we drink per day?

Take your weight, divide it by two and that is the number of ounces you should drink in water per day.  Drinking green drinks or herbal teas do not count as your recommended water intake.  These are seen as medicinal (good), but do not replace your water needs.

Sole Water Link 

Please refer to the link above to read about sole water!  I am going to try it. It is a great way to make sure you are getting essential minerals into your diet.  It helps prevent muscle cramping. All you need is Himalayan Salt and Water to make the mixture.

Name some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Bee Pollen with Almond Butter
  • Spirolina (add to your smoothie)
  • Sprouts
  • Hemp Seeds

Strategies to Detox/Cleanse:

  • oil pulling using coconut oil (how to and benefits) LINK
  • Body Brushing on skin that is not wet and later oil your skin before your shower  (See technique and how it is done)
  • Michelle mentioned that there are many kinds of detox.  Detox can include “emotional” detox as well as “screen” detox. Screen detox means moving away from your phone or your computer for a few hours or for a whole day at a time.
  • Colonics

Diet for people undergoing chemotherapy (these detox strategies can be used by anyone, even when not undergoing chemo):

  • Include chlorella in your diet (probably in a smoothie)
  • Eats lots of cilantro (sorry to those of you who do not like cilantro)
  • Better yet, if you do the following, it is one of the best ways to support and cleanse your body when undergoing chemo:  Eat Chlorella.  Wait one hour.  After one hour, eat Cilantro.  Do not eat the two together.  Do not change the order.  Wait one hour before eating the cilantro.
  • Eat a super low carb diet and a high vegetable fat diet (ketogenic diet).
  • Follow the detox ideas above.

What are some Calcium Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Figs
  • Tahini
  • Broccoli
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Leafy Vegetables (includes Kale)
  • Almonds

What are some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (list is not complete):

  • Edamame (soy beans)
  • Spirulina
  • Peanut Butter and other nut butters
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black beans
  • Broccoli

Below: one of Michelle’s breakfast skillet dishes:

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Everyone we met on the ranch had a very gentle spirit and I am left to believe that those who are lucky enough to live in such a pure peaceful environment, take on a very grounded, peaceful, gentle, and content demeanor.

One evening before dinner, the manager of Walking Lightly Ranch, Dave, played music for us with his friend Lee. Dave plays guitar and Lee plays cello.  Put the two together and add vocals, lyrics from renown folk singers or lyrics written by Dave or Lee, and you have a delightful impromptu evening of pure joy!  The next day, Lee came to the yoga studio and played cello for one of our yoga sessions.  Wow!!

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We also had an inspirational Shared Reading one evening after dinner. Some of what was shared follows:

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

 

Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

 

The Yoga Exercise by Floyd Skloot

Within a rushing stream of morning light

she stands still as a heron with one soul

held flush against the other inner thigh

and her long arms like bony wings folded

back so that when the motion of a breeze

passes through her body there is a deep

repose at its root and in an eye’s blink

she has become this gently swaying tree

stirring the wind of its breath while linked to ground by the slow flow of energy

that brings her limbs together now in prayer

and blessing for the peace she is finding there.

I already look forward to going back to Walking Lightly Ranch for another long weekend retreat. Not too early to sign up for February 2019.  Just let me know of your interest by commenting below and I’ll be in touch with you.

Feb 15-18, 2019 (3 nights) Yoga + Snow Shoeing (two guides: one for an easier shorter trail and another for more challenging longer trails offered on both days).

and further down the line…

May 22-25, 2020 (3 nights) Yoga + Hiking (just like this past one)

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I came back from Sicily and hit the ground running with teaching my weekly classes, leading the Vashon Yoga Retreat (a blog post yet to come!) and leading the Montana Yoga Retreat, doing workouts geared to get me in shape for a 5k Run for the Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser I am doing for my friend Lynn Fallows and for a duathlon I am doing with my nephew Chuck in Chicago in August (am I insane…a duathlon in August in Chicago??).  AND Jury Duty, on top of it all, these past two days.  I really wanted to be on the case as it appeared to be very interesting, but just got dismissed today.  A much needed quiet restful weekend at Ocean Shores awaits me this coming weekend.

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Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)

Dentro L’Etna

May 10, 2018

Sicily Yoga and Hiking Retreat is in full-swing and there is no time to blog…will post these photos of our exhilarating trek up Etna.  Climbing Etna was tough, but we did it!  It is one of those bucket-list activities that we dream of doing.  Yes, we did it!  We were accompanied by our trekking guide, Federico, plus a volcano specialist, the vulcanist Amilcare, and we also invited Darwin to come with us.  At one point, the vulcanist Amilcare shouted, “Siamo DENTRO l’Etna! (We are INSIDE Etna!) and my skin was covered in goosebumps by the very fact of it. I looked around me! There we were inside this great mountain, on the cinder slopes, looking down at Etna’s massive crater.

It was incredible!  It was a high that I have never felt before. Stay tuned for next year’s Sicily Retreats September 2019.  (only one of those weeks will be focused on yoga and hiking and we will be sure to trek Etna!)

Below is our group at the start of our trek up the mountain. We look so fresh and excited in anticipation of our adventure.  At this point, Amilcare explained to us that Etna is a woman, a mother, one who deserves our respect.  He told us that we were about to enter her sacred territory and that we should approach the mountain with reverence for Mother Earth, Etna, Gaia.

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Fantastic Federico of Step Siracusa Trekking and our volcano specialist, Amilcare:

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Dramatic cloud formations:

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Sweeping views:

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Mountain-Man Vulcanist Amilcare:

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Clouds clear so we can see Mt Etna’s peak:L1400879

Dentro Etna:

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Mounds of new growth on Etna’s lava fields:

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One of our Hale and Hearty Yogis:L1400885

Looks like a lunar landscape.  We practically floated and flew down these ashen slopes, boots full of ash.L1400897

Rick, my Mountain-Man:

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Us, the little specks on the mountain:

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Yoga and Hiking in Sun-Kissed Sicily

April 23, 2018

Yes, our yoga and hiking retreat in sun-kissed Sicily will be taking place very soon.  I am excited about this yoga retreat coming up and wanted to include some of the trip’s highlights!

Temperatures look to be in the 70s for the week ahead. Many of my readers know that this is not the first time I am offering a retreat in lovely Sicily and that this will not be the last time I will be offering a retreat in Sicily.  I love this island, its history, the sunshine, the warmth of the people, the sea, the landscape, the food, and the Italian language and the dialect.  I love doing yoga at the villa, outdoors, looking out at the sea.

On arrival day, we will be greeted by this lovely family of caretakers of Piero’s villa (photo below). They are originally from Mauritius, have lived in Sicily for many years, and they make sure we are well cared for during our week on this magical Mediterranean island, the pearl of Italy, Sicily.

The Bangaroo family: Darwin (son), Sheemee (daughter), Luckshmee (mother), Narain (father)

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Retreat participants will be impressed by the inviting villa with its breathtaking views of the Ionian sea and Mt. Etna.  This is the view we enjoy as we do yoga. I have taken so many photos of this view.  It is different every morning and evening.

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On arrival day, we’ll unwind with a yoga session of deep stretching and relaxation.  Weather permitting, our sessions are held out on the lawn overlooking the most fabulous yoga setting I have ever experienced in my life.  All week, our yoga session themes will vary.  During shavasana, I will pepper the relaxing imagery with Italian words and the yoga retreat participants will be lulled into a deep transcendental state of being.

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And sometimes, we will go a little crazy with our yoga creativity!

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Yes, we will spend time on the road, en route to various hiking trails.  We are certain to pass field of wildflowers. Spring in Sicily is green!

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On Sunday, May 6 we will travel to Piazza Armerina and the nearby Caltagirone.  In Piazza Armerina, we will visit the famous mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with our guide and archaeologist, Serena.  I visited this incredible site long ago, when I was 16 years old. I have always wanted to go back. And I am finally going back! 

More on Villa Romana del Casale LINK

Thirty minutes drive is Caltagirone, a town known for its ceramic arts and for the town’s famous 142 ceramic Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte built in 1608.  Those who like, will climb this staircase with me and we will all have time to walk around the town. There are various festivals throughout the year when the ceramic staircase is covered in flowers or in candles. Ceramic Staircase

On Monday, May 7, we will visit the historical nature reserve of Vendicari. In the past we have gone on archaeological tours and birding in Vendicari.  We will certainly see the many birds nesting here as well as the archaeological sites as we hike to Sicily’s most beautiful beach, which also happens to be a part of the protected nature reserve, Calamosche Beach.   I can’t wait to do yoga on this beach!

Flamingos of Vendicari as seen through my scope:

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photo below taken in Vendicari:Untitled Design

Tuesday, May 8, we will go on a long day trip Mt. Etna, where we will hike, if it is safe to do so.  It is about an hour and a half drive from our villa. Mount Etna was known to the Romans by its Latin name Aetna.  The Sicilians call it Mungibeddru, which translates to “beautiful mountain”.  It is an active volcano on the east coast of Sicily. The name Etna comes from the Greek Aitne, from aithō, “I burn.”

Some facts about Mount Etna:

  • It is Europe’s tallest volcano and one of the most active in the world.
  • Mount Etna stands at 10,810 feet tall
  • Since 2001, Mount Etna has erupted every year except 2007. The last major eruption was in 1992.
  • The circumference of Mount Etna is 93 miles (over twice the size of Mount Vesuvius).
  • There is snow present on the volcano year round.
  • The soil surrounding the volcano is very fertile. 3/4 of Sicily’s crops are grown near the volcano.
  • The biggest recorded eruption was on March 8, 1669. The lava reached Catania.  At least 20,000 people died.
  • “Another myth surrounding Mount Etna is that the Roman God of fire, Vulcan, used the base of the mountain for metalworking. As God of fire, he was considered as the manufacturer of art, arms, iron and armour, amongst other items. In this mythology, it is thought that Vulcan married Venus, the goddess of love and beauty after being promised a wife by Jupiter. At the base of Mount Etna, Vulcan built a blacksmiths, where he would beat red-hot metal whenever he found out that Venus had been unfaithful, causing an eruption.”

The photo below was taken by our hiking guide in March.  We will enter the park from Schiena del’Asino, which translates to “Spine of the Donkey” and take this trail for our hike.  Years ago, I went on a day trip to Etna.  At sea level, the day was warm enough for swimming in the sea, but up on the mountain, the wind whipped and chilled our bodies as we held our wind breakers tightly around us.

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After our hike on Mount Etna, we will head over to Taormina where we will have some free time to roam around this ancient Greek city.  We will have time to see the Greek Theater ruins and the romantic piazzas overlooking the sea and the butterfly-shaped beach below.

On Wednesday, May 9, we will visit the Baroque town of Noto and hike in the nearby Cava Carosello.  While on the hike, we will do yoga at this lovely spot photographed below by our trekking company, Siracusa Trekking:

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On Thursday, May 10, we will go on an Archaeological-trekking tour in Pantalica (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with archaeologist, Alessandro. Pantalica.  This is a place where ancient man lived and died in nature, a necropolis with honeycombed tombs dotting the sides of the trail. We will  have yoga at the ruins at sunset.

More information on Pantalica

Photo below Pantalica in March:

Pantalica (1)After yoga, we will head to the medieval town of Palazzolo Acreide where we will have dinner in a restaurant owned by two brothers by the last name of Gallo. They believe they are related to me, but I don’t think so because my father shortened our family name from “Brunogallo” to “Gallo” when he immigrated to America in the late 1950s…but you never know.

More on Palazzolo Acreide

On Friday, May 11, we will hike the nearby Plemmirio Nature Preserve where we will also have a peaceful and rejuvenating yoga session out in nature.  Later on, we will visit the colorful market of Ortigia and have free time to walk around on our own.

Link of Plemmirio Nature Preserve

I love this photo below. I saw this young woman texting on the side of this ancient cathedral in Ortigia.  The ancient and the modern side by side.  The cathedral was built over the Greek Temple of Athena. The temple pillars, dating back to 5th century BC, form the bone-like structure of the cathedral.  The open spaces between the pillars were filled in with stone to form an enclosed house of worship. The girl below is sitting on the original stairs of the Greek temple.  This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of my favorite cathedrals in Italy:

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Follow us on our Sicilian yoga and hiking adventures by checking back in on my blog post.  Namaste, Fran

So Hum

February 24, 2018

The mantra So Hum inspires me to look around, to see my reflection in all that is. It means “I am that”.  “That” refers to all of creation.

We had a rare snowfall in Seattle yesterday. I woke up to a few inches of snow.  Green Lake looked so pretty from my window. SO HUM.

I hastily put on warm clothing (it’s frigid out there), and walked around the lake. As I walked, I was overtaken by a profound sense of awe. SO HUM.

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I sometimes share the So Hum mantra with my yoga classes.  I tend to guide the classes in a So Hum meditation when we are in a new environment (like in India or in Sicily on a retreat).  It is when we are on a yoga retreat or when we travel that we tend to really open our eyes and see the world as if for the first time.

Recently, I came across the following handwritten journal entry I wrote while in India last month.  It is a meditation on the mantra So Hum in which I use imagery from Ranthambore National Park, home to 62 elusive Royal Bengal Tigers.

So Hum

I am the jungle cat dashing across the road.

So Hum

I am the sloth bear, with its anteater-like snout, making its way up the mountain side.

So Hum

I am the barking alarm calls of the spotted deer and the sambar.

So Hum

I am the grazing blue-bull antelope.

So Hum

I am the slumbering crocodiles.

So Hum

I am the colorful kingfisher sitting on the branch of a gum tree.

So Hum

I am the Royal Bengal Tiger sleeping in the tall grass, choosing not to be seen.

So Hum

I am the monkeys jumping from branch to branch, holding their human-like babies tightly, wrestling with one another.

So Hum

I am the elusive leopard, making its rare appearance as it climbs to the top of the cliff.

So Hum

I am a dusky eagle-owl, a brown fish owl, a collared scops owl, a spotted owlet living in a gorgeous forest preserve.

So Hum

I am the kindness and enthusiasm of the naturalist guide.

So Hum

I am the rough road leading us deep into Ranthambore National Park.

So Hum

I am dust. I am sunshine.

So Hum

I am the tiger I did not see.

So Hum

I am the pink sunset, warming my heart.

So Hum

I am India.

So Hum

I am.

So Hum


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