The Icelandic sun warms our cheeks as we arrive at Lýsuhóll farm on the Snæfellsness peninsula. The area is well known as the setting of Jules Verne’s novel ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth,’ but on this trip, it proves also to be a journey to the centre—of the self.
We are here for the Sumarsólstöður Yoga Festival, held annually during the Summer Solstice when the days are the longest. The festival goes on for three to four days, but it’s possible to go for a day or two, which is what we do.
Inhale. The mountains around the farm consist of sandy black rock formations that look as if they are about to collapse any second. Exhale. I pitch my tent. There are around forty people at the festival and most of them inhabit tents, although it is possible to stay in a room inside the house.
There’s no time to waste. The Kundalini yoga introduction is beginning. A group of mostly women sit in a circle and listen to the teacher, Estrid. “The mind is like an untamed horse,” she says. “We have to learn how to tame it. Kundalini yoga represents one of the attempts to gently tame it.”
Kundalini yoga, which originates from ancient India, is focused on sounds and the chanting of the mantras, which use powerful syllables or sets of words for spiritual transformation. It’s about the inward travel, finding a connection to something larger than us.
Don’t worry, don’t be afraid
The introduction is over and we have a 30-minute drive before we arrive at Djúpalónssandur, where the sea glistens in the sun. A Bill Hicks quote comes to my wandering mind: “Hey, don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.”
The grass stings through the yoga mat as I sit down in the cross-legged lotus position at Hólahólar, the crater of a volcano. I close my eyes and attempt to connect the dots. I make pulsing hand movements, which are often directed towards one specific part of the body—in this case towards the glands and the hormones connected to them. I give into it, breathing rhythmically in… and out… concentrating on the body; my mind travels inwards.
Back at Lýsuhóll, dinner is ready. The food is organic, vegetarian and delicious: lentil soup, salads and homemade bread. After dinner, I take part in the ‘Seva,’ which literally means ‘selfless service,’ everyone takes turns helping to do the dishes.
I take my yoga mat and move on to the big meditation room. Yoga Nidra is on the schedule. This soft version of yoga is far less physical and my mind drifts off into a strange state of consciousness. This type of final meditation happens at the end of a practice and proves to be one of the most intense experiences of the festival for me, sending me somewhere between being awake and asleep, aware and oblivious. The day ends.
Break on through to the other side
At 5:45 in the morning I’m all but wide-awake. My muscles are sore and I’m exhausted. My mind, however, feels relatively calm. Outside, birds are chirping. I crawl out of my tent and into the meditation room.
After breakfast we gather for a yoga practice outside. While I’m staring into the blue sky, I keep thinking that the powerful landscape around me facilitates this practise. The mountains inspire energy and power, yet are impregnated with the still freedom that is only to be found in Iceland. The exercises get more difficult and my leg muscles shake. There’s no pressure though. You do what you can, and you learn to understand your own limits.
In the afternoon we visit Lýsuhólslaug, a pool that supposedly has cleansing powers. Tara, a massage therapist who also performs water shiatsu (a relaxing water treatment involving water floating), hands me what looks like a silver glitter helmet from the future, a floating hat that is meant to facilitate the practice.
I plunge into the algae-filled pool. I float on the water and she moves my body gently through it. I’m weightless. The sounds of other people in the swimming pool are muffled, almost disappearing. As I float, I lose all sense of time and space.
As I take down my tent on Saturday night, I am grateful to have come to this festival. Yoga is a way of life. The word comes from Sanskrit and means “union.” It is a personal union, and no matter how much I try to recount it, it is something you will need to explore and discover yourself. Having said that, it’s of course not the only way to achieve fulfilment and happiness, it’s just one way. But it’s definitely worth trying.