The old Zack would take trips that ended up as alcohol-drenched affairs. I still recall the dread that filled my stomach on checking out of a hotel in Cambodia to learn I had racked up a bar bill in the multiple hundreds. I’m determined that this one will be different. I’m different now. I do yoga, for God’s sake.
My previous abortive attempts to cut down on drinking have run aground upon the same old rocks: what do you do instead?
I’d cut the booze and a few weeks later realise life was boring. In response, I’d grit it out, suck up the boredom, assume it was part of the deal. This approach is like a horse walking a tightrope: admirable, brave, but ultimately doomed. Because you can’t live your life that way. You can’t define yourself by what you’re not doing any more than you can avoid picturing a purple polar bear now that I’ve described one.
Instead, I had to tell myself, “You’re not erasing. You’re replacing”.
Like all great truths, this is as powerful as it is blindingly obvious. If you want to stop doing something you like, it’s not enough not to do it. You need to fill that time with something else. Something you can sink your teeth into and be shit at and improve at gradually. You can swan off to German yoga retreats – and this one is as good as it gets. You’ve got to do something to fill the time. It doesn’t have to be yoga. But here with Patrick I learn that it helps, because it’s something that requires absolute introspection, mindfulness. That will strengthen your body and give you access to ranges of motion you thought long off-limits. That calms the mind and soothes the nervous system. That focuses on intrinsic goals, like achieving a feeling of flow. Yoga does do all of those things.
And there is something powerful in immersing yourself. We’re ritualistic animals, after all. And a retreat like this, somewhere in a fresh and isolated environment without the distractions and triggers of daily life, can be transformative.
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I have a couple of glasses of wine at dinner and stay up a little later talking to a fellow transformer. He’s challenging, at first, but I warm to him; in the way you inevitably do to someone when it’s one-on-one and you’ve had some wine and they’ve let their guard down. Or maybe it’s the yoga actually working. And there is no 3am finish and no hundred-quid bar bill and my stomach the next morning is free of dread. I fill it instead with eggs and sourdough and coffee distributed by a harassed, ruddy-faced waitress with forearms like ham hocks. The guests are testing her patience this morning and I refrain from whispering ‘namaste’ lest she tip my omelette in my lap.
The afternoon session is just me and my new friend. It’s led by a different teacher, a South African woman who looks as if she’s made out of gazelles. The Germans have abstained. Presumably, they don’t get out of bed for anyone but Patrick.
I enjoy this class even more. It’s in English – which helps – and I relish the intimate environment and close attention. And lo and behold, I am moving more freely, folding myself into those arcane positions with, well, I won’t say ease but certainly less agony.
She shows me a sequence she calls the ‘Magic Six’. As I write this two months later, I still do the poses every day.
One of the nuggets of wisdom that stuck to me throughout all this mid-life crisis/breakdown/call it a rebirth is the idea that every action you take is a vote for the kind of person you want to be. That means your actions count even when no one else is around to see, because you’re telling yourself who you are. I want to be the kind of person who does yoga on Sunday instead of hate-watching reality TV from under a duvet. I want to be the kind of person who comes back from a trip like this refreshed and positive, having learnt a new skill, excited to explore it.
I want to be that person. For the time being, I am.
Photography by Marc Sendra Martorell, Marco Borggreve and courtesy of Schloss Elmau
Get out there
… as many classes as you can and not just the most popular ones – smaller classes mean more one-on-one attention.
… get a pedicure in the hotel’s sumptuous spa. Yoga is a barefoot activity and you don’t want to be that one person with nasty feet.
… bring layers. The Bavarian Alps are a real ‘four seasons in one day’ kind of place and that can be the case at pretty much any time of year.
… forget your hiking boots. The area around Schloss Elmau is perfect for hikes and the scenery is spectacular.
… be deterred. Even if you don’t have a spiritual awakening here, the more you enter into the spirit of things the more you’ll get out of it.
… worry about your lack of experience. Yoga teachers are trained to deal with all levels, so there’s no need to be intimidated or worry about messing up.