It was supposed to be an entire week, a week that this tired mama/yoga-lover was looking forward to for months on end, like a metaphorical life-raft (no, Leonardo di Caprio, you don’t fit, it’s all mine ok?!) to keep me afloat in a sea of winter stresses and strains. One week at the Elysia Yoga Convention in Amorgos, practising all kinds of yoga and meditation taught by some of the world’s top teachers, at the stunning Aegialis Hotel & Spa that is perched on the side of a hill overlooking a cobalt-blue bay, so close that you can hear the whispering sound of the waves.
And all this in the island where The Big Blue was filmed; the island often described as having “magical energy” that mystics say is owed to crystal formations underneath it; where you can hike up to the second oldest monastery in all of Greece, built gleamingly white into a giant grey rock, where the miraculous icon of Panayia Chotzoviotissa is. Where the locals are known for their endearingly open nature, the food is fresh and traditionally wholesome and the normally barren landscapes - this spring surprisingly lush from the ongoing downpours throughout the weird winter - are nothing less than jaw-droppingly dramatic.
But freakish weather meant that the boat I had planned to catch was stopped from leaving the port on that given day, because of the 9-Beaufort winds and tides, thus sadly missing the first three days of my dreamy escape. Still, clinging to a yogic determination to remain tranquil and live in the now, I ventured over in the nine-hour ferry trip, arriving at the hotel in the middle of the night. In the darkness and swaying tiredness, I couldn’t yet grasp the expansive natural as well as architectural grandeur of where I was. It is a beauty that unfolded slowly, deeply and strongly in the fibres of my being, as I began to stretch and breathe away my urban walls over the next few days, and have continued to do so way after having returned to Athens so that I am now yearning to revisit it in summer.
Eager to make the most of my time, I dived right into the activities of Elysia early morning yoga classes in yoga shalas (rooms) with ceiling-to-floor windows exposing delightful vistas of the sea and mountains across and below, plentiful and buzzy breakfasts with everything from yogurt and honey to chocolate spread and cereals, brownies, halva and pancakes to fresh organic fruit and vegetables, joyful hikes in the daytime to the island’s beautiful sites, more yoga classes - from warming and activating Kundalini with Maya Dattani to Shiva with Garth Hewitt, to curative Yoga for Depression with Becca Thorne or emotionally-awakening Kirtan with Morena Shree Sundari and deep Night Meditation with Anja Kursawe and David Kennet. Mat Turner, the man behind the entire convention, (now in its third year) has made it his mission over the years to seek and find and invite and secure the best teachers in the world, who could bring the international group of participants - including numerous Greeks - a real and meaningful yoga experience.
As this year it was designed to offer participants and teachers more free time to enjoy the day and each other’s company, I spent the cooler, moodier moments of the schizophrenic-weather days practicing the chakra sounds I’d been reminded of in a class alone in the sauna, taking in the steamy curative fragrances of bay and other local herbs, and alternating that with a dive and quick swim in the spa’s cold seawater swimming pool. In sunnier moments I lay sunbathing by the outdoor pool or took walks in the village of Tholaria or the beach.
Never wanting to change from my super-comfy, breathable, temperature-adapting, seamless perfectly form-fitting luxury yoga garb by I Am Vibes, I tried to rest as much as I could, relaxing outdoors at the Aegialis hotel as I inhaled the ozonic breeze giving rising up from the sea, letting the sun kiss me warmly as I let my body quietly process the subtle yet profound shifts I was experiencing. In such a short time I already felt myself awaken and harmoniously rebalance from the yogic exercise and deep breathing, the proudly stark natural elements, the hotel’s organic food packed with vital energy, the silence and sounds of birds, wind and the sea or singing voices, laughing chatter and spiritually invoking chants, the unapologetically, blissfully, bold colours of the incredible Amorgian landscape.
On two evenings Stamatis Iannakopoulos, the son of owner Irene, dazzled us with his incredible musical performances, adeptly playing traditional and classic Greek tunes on his violin and inviting everyone to dance - or in my case, sing (without a second thought I chose to sing them Synora I Agapi Den Gnorizei - Love Knows No Borders, by Marinella).
On the final night, only three days after tumbling off the boat but as with all such rich experiences leaving me feeling as though I had been there for years, with a beautifully varied and inspiring tribe of comfortingly like-minded or entirely, intriguingly different global blend of new yogi friends, we stood under the stars sipping ‘psimeni’, the local raki drink cooked with honey and spices on a rooftop, and were treated to a fireworks display. Then, we danced, spinning and twirling like the shooting stars and hopping and shimmying with the celebration of having lived Elysia together, before collapsing into a huge group hug around Mat Turner to make a “sound carpet” to chant OM, the sound that connects one to the universe, in gratitude and love. The next morning we would all be returning to our duties, responsibilities, habits, routines, countries, cities, families, friends, lives. Everything would go back to being the same. But completely different at the same time.
Here is some feedback from the yoga teaches who participated in the event-
Garth Hewitt, Yoga teacher (US)
"I have taught at Elysia twice. I highly value connecting with the people and being on the island, which is very special. I teach all over the world right and I love how universal the practice of yoga is, no matter where or who you are. It’s always wonderful to see the practices working. That’s powerful. Yoga is for everyone. Shiva Power® yoga is a vinyasa-based flow class that emphasizes concentration and going into the fire. All of my classes focus on the bigger picture of yoga — quieting the mind and experiencing the true nature of the Self."
"In my third year this May, I offered a sound healing ceremony on the transformational power of sacred sound, reminding us that we are our own best healers. ELYSIA is a place where gifted, like-minded conscious souls make a pilgrimage from across the globe; as a group of heart-centered individuals, I feel we collectively create a powerful healing vortex of peace, joy, and understanding. Honoring one’s body, mind and spirit is something all of humanity can benefit from experiencing."