ENGLAND'S HIGHEST YOGA CLASS - DAVID'S STORY

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The idea…

In March of this year (2019) I had a hip arthroscopy to deal with some chronic injury issues that eventually turned out to include a torn labrum, cam lesion and wear in the acetabulum. Basically a very sore hip. It’s during the post-operative recovery period that I had a lot of free time for thinking.

“The devil makes work for idle hands.”

An idea came to me that would combine two of my favourite pastimes, being on the fells (I am a keen fell runner) and yoga. At the time I was progressing through my yoga teacher training 200 hour course with Studio One yoga under the tutelage of course director and studio founder Michelle Almond. I had been practising at the studio for almost 5 years. As a chartered surveyor, (Surveyor by day but in the mornings and at night he was Mountain Yoga Man!)  I firstly did not have the ability to progress my idea fully and secondly, whilst I knew that a lot of people would say the idea was crazy, I knew that Michelle would be keen to get involved even though she might also say it was crazy. I like to push boundaries!

On paper and in my head the plan was simple. Get to the top of the mountain, do the class and then head back down, going home via the pub. The actual logistics became apparent as the days ticked away before the class. This proved to be a massive learning curve but also gave lots of areas of potential improvement for next time. Nature does not always behave the way you want it to, although in this instance I have to say we were fortunate that there was no rain. Having said that, I think that in an ideal world, a little sprinkling of rain may actually have added a little something. It would also have allowed us to experience an extra element whilst practicing. Thinking about it, maybe I’m the only person who wanted that.

In order to be sure that this would work I had carried out two practice runs. These involved early morning trips up to the top of Helvellyn before work. I’m talking at the summit pre-8am. The first was a general recce to look around, get a feel for the place with my yoga head on, rather than my walking/running mindset which would mean I was just looking at the view or stopping to eat. The views were great, I found the spot and all felt right. I also needed to find a place that was sheltered for more lengthy stops when heading up and also heading back down from class. Sort of half-way up.

The second recce trip was more about the actual yoga practice. This time it was raining and the clag (cloud) was down around the mountain. Visibility was circa 10-15 metres and it felt different again. I visited the class venue and laid out my mat. Rocks were needed to weigh down the corners in the wind and I wanted to film it so that I could reflect on it all later that day. I built a little stone wall around my phone balancing my rucksack on top to give shelter.

I now knew what challenges would be faced. Uneven ground, moisture, lack of gaze points, wind, rain and so on. All set and ready as you can be. Just the small matter of trying not to check the weather every half hour for 5 days before the class!

On the day…

The energy on the day was amazing. A real buzz at the foot of the mountain as we all prepared to set off. Every step of the ascent brought about more anticipation. The group made great progress to the summit via the shortest route available from Wythburn. This route is almost 2.5 miles of which the first mile is very steep and challenging but giving great views of Thirlmere and the surrounding peaks. A refreshment stop half way was welcomed by all.

Upon almost reaching the top we all met in the stone cross shelter just shy of the summit, sheltering from the elements and seeing the low cloud blow across us, about a metre above head height, it was very atmospheric. As I watched everyone head towards where we were going to practice the excitement built hugely but the well-planned class needed to change and fast. Students body temperature was always on the mind in the days leading up to the class. Tips on using hats and gloves to regulate body temperature gave me the nickname “Layers Dave” on account of my constant reminders on the WhatsApp group.

The class…

The grounding and warm up had to be shortened. We were already warm and did not want to lose that. The 30mph wind would quickly rob us of any benefit gained if we sat about too much. A short warm up into the sides of the body after a lot of repetitive back and forth (sagittal plane) hiking was followed by sun salutations and 3 flows designed to be easy enough to allow the students to take in the surroundings and simply “Be in the present moment” but also enough to challenge them in the wind. Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with eyes closed was the peak pose. There are not many places or classes that this works as a peak pose but here certainly did. Connection with the ground, the perfectly imperfect mountain. The class finished with a short but amazing savasana and one Om.

One other change to the original plan. The class were going to face east and look over towards Striding Edge, Catstycam and Red Tarn, however with the wind they faced west south west and the view was probably even better. The fells looked dramatic, moody, amazing. This allowed the class to be able to hear me and also most of the bemused passers-by were behind them.

The descent…

Now to pack up, back to the shelter, team photo courtesy of a passer-by and then the hike back down which included a sheltered lunch stop. This was one of the hotly discussed points of the entire day #piegate. Did Juno (Studio One Yoga Canine in Chief) take the pie from my dinner or was it David Groom? If it was Groom, then fine as he had very kindly packed a couple of cans of beer to share.

We all then headed to the Kings Head pub for a well-earned coffee/pint.

Future plans…

Another event? Yes. Where? Well a few options spring to mind including Rivington, Pendle, Skiddaw, Brim Fell, and Lattrigg. In fact so many places could work. I think that holding the class just below any summit would work well so a plateau say 20 metres off the top would allow a class with maybe less wind but also views and the connection with the mountain and the elements.

Thank you to everyone that came along and practiced with me, Groom for taking amazing photos and Studio One for supporting the event. Most importantly to Jane and Isabella for putting up with my strange ideas.

Was it England’s highest ever yoga class? I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter. It was an incredible experience all round.

Namaste

“What a day…what a day!!!! I feel absolutely amazing today. Filled to the brim with positive energy from the wonderful people I walked and practiced with yesterday. A wonderful experience.”

Rachael Johnson

“It is amazing to feel the wind in your face as you stand in Mountain pose, grounding through the feet, eyes closed. Then you blink them open and you are facing mountains. Wow!”

Lynn Lea

Comment below with your thoughts on the day…