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Yoga and the River

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Artwork by Bethany Leonard, courtesy of Madawaska Kanu Centre

We were all seated comfortably in the yoga pavilion – a simple wooden structure with screens for walls where light and fresh air enter freely. The wind in the trees and the sound of the river hushed any unnecessary mind chatter and the retreat began with the simple sharing of how we found ourselves seated here in the woods. One participant said it well when she shared: “I came to see what the yogis in the forest could teach me”. 

Our “forest yoga teachers” were Jess & Nate, who traveled from their home studio, Creekside Yoga in Stirling, Ontario to collaborate on this unique Yoga and Paddling Retreat at Madawaska Kanu Centre. Our first session focused on the ancient teachings of yoga – connecting our practice to its origins in India. We learned that “yoga” in Sanskrit means to yoke, to unite, to join, and one of its many purposes is to channel energy and have it flow more freely. 

Nate of Creekside Yoga
Nate of Creekside Yoga

Here enter the lessons of the river. Everyone was gifted a book, ‘Siddhartha’ by Hermann Hesse which follows the journey of a man in his pursuit of wisdom. His ultimate enlightenment after a lifetime of searching is found quite simply (spoiler alert), by the river.”He saw that the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new.” These lessons flowed into our subsequent yoga practice with the “om” of the river guiding our breath and movement. 

Jess of Creekside Yoga
Jess of Creekside Yoga

From there it was time to get up close and personal with the river, just as Siddhartha had done. Rushing water would no longer be nearby but instead all around us. Whether we would come away from our river kayaking lesson enlightened was yet to be determined. Our river teachers, Katrina and Stefi Van Wijk are sisters and the third generation of their family caring for Madawaska Kanu Centre. They were raised on the river and have canyons of knowledge shaped by water. 

Stefi Van Wijk
Stefi Van Wijk of MKC

With paddles in hand, sprayskirts hoisted and PFDs fastened, it was time to get wet. The next question was could we bring what we had learned on our mats that morning onto the river? Could we channel our energy to flow more freely, remove judgement and ego, adjust our internal environment and breath with every paddle stroke? These were questions answered by each of us in our own way as we learned to navigate the river’s currents. We finished the day understanding on a deeper level that “gentleness is stronger than severity, water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha).” 

These are some of the precious experiences I came away with from the Yoga and Paddling Retreat at MKC. The yogis in the forest, the yogis on the river and the yogi within had much to teach. 

As shared by Jess and Nate on the first morning of the retreat – “we are only ever relating to ourselves as we have in the past and the future which can cause suffering as we judge our past and future selves. Yoga brings us to the present.” And in the words of Hesse, “have you also learned that secret from the river? That there is no such thing as time? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha).” 

This post is courtesy of the Madawaska Kanu Centre, story and photos by Bethany Leonard.

Would you like to experience Creekside Riverside this September? Visit MKC’s website to view details.

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