Viniyoga Odyssey

Viniyoga™ Odyssey

From the Mexican Pacific to the Greek Mediterranean

After living in Mexico for 25 years, I was sure that I was accustomed to living and working in hot weather, but I have to confess to have been taken by surprise by the intensity of the sun when I visited Southern Greece in mid-June to conduct a Viniyoga retreat in Agios Nikolaos, next to Stoupa, about a 50 minute drive south along the coast road from Kalamata the nearest town of any size (population around 80,000). To one side, the Mediterranean Sea and inland, another “sea”: mile after mile of dense, light green olive groves.

After 36 hours travel, two nights spent in flight, Mexico to London and then on to Athens followed by a three hour taxi drive to Stoupa, I finally arrive at 7 a.m. at a stone house where I was met by Kyriacos Kousiounis (“Kerry”), Director of Spirit of Life Yoga. Small, solid looking stone houses in a rural area surrounded by – yes, olive groves and some familiar cactus, Nopal Prickly Pear cactus, the flat, fleshy “leaves” of which in Mexico we grill (after taking off the spikes) or liquidize raw with orange juice as a healthy breakfast juice – highly recommended for lowering cholesterol! Here in Greece, they apparently eat the ripe Prickly Pear fruit as they also do in Mexico.

I take two days respite to explore the area and adapt to the 8 hour time lag. I breathe deeply, taking in pure, clean air laden with oxygen, pure delight after the high altitude and pollution of Mexico City. Here there are beaches close by, in Agios Nikolaos, and more notably in Stoupa, Kalogria and Gnospi, although the latter has no beach but rather a rocky platform which serves as a diving board into deep, crystal clear water where you need to know how to swim, tread water – or just take water wings! I went up the hill to Spirit of Life on the Saturday to share a yoga class attended by “locals” conducted by Kerry. In fact, all the locals proved to be from anywhere other than Greece (English, German and Scandinavian) but all either owned property locally or were in the habit of spending months at a time in the area. The Yoga Shala at Spirit of Life enjoys 360° views of the dry summer countryside, of olive groves and out to the horizon across the deep blue sea, bright and sharp in the sunlight, the shutters open to allow us to breathe in fresh air carrying the fragrance of wild flowers and herbs (rosemary, thyme and sage) accompanied by the constant background buzz of the cicadas. During the Viniyoga week, after each morning session, we were able to enjoy breakfast prepared in Kerry’s outdoor kitchen, interesting grains: bulgur and quinoa, cooked tasty vegetables, frittata, fresh bread, Greek yoghourt and honey and many other delicious ingredients. In particular, I loved the home made orange marmalade! From the breakfast table, we were to able enjoy the view down to the village of Agios Nikolaos and to the sea beyond.

From Monday through Saturday, I conducted 10 sessions of Viniyoga to participants who had travelled from England to the Spirit of Life retreat, and also several “locals” who attended classes regularly at Kerry’s Shala. In the Viniyoga tradition, we allowed our breathing to carry and guide our movements in asana, gently awakening our levels of energy in the mornings and relaxing our bodies and minds in the evening sessions. We included simple Pranayama exercises, mindfulness meditation and we discussed Patanjali’s “Ashtanga” -  the 8 limbs of Yoga. Each day we introduced reflections taken from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, - Pratipaksa Bhavanam, Svadhyaya, Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Aparigraha, Brahmacharya. We also practiced chanting combined with repeated movements in asana as a tool for controlling and measuring the breath as we exhaled. In particular, Om Jyotir Aham and Om Aham Chaitanyam seemed very appropriate in these beautiful surroundings where Nature enhances “that radiant light of pure awareness” intrinsic to the Sanskrit mantras. 

Graham Sharp led his first Viniyoga™ session in Europe at the Spirit of Life in June, 2013. He has lived in Mexico for 25 years, where he teaches the Viniyoga style of yoga to both individuals and to companies as part of a 'Wellbeing at Work' programme.

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