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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

The Mountains Lift Me Up

February 17th, 2015: After rising early, we made the four hour drive to Helambhu, a sacred beyul in the Himalayas where we would have our first trek. We had a dal bhat lunch and set out on our adventure. Ten minutes in of going up a steep stone staircase, my breath was labored. Close to hyperventilation, I regretted all those days I put off exercise to go out with friends or watch a movie with my younger sister. I paused to catch my breath. I can’t do this, I’m not going to make it, I’m not ready for this, played over and over in my mind, a poisonous thought pattern that rekindled itself whenever the path started to get challenging.
I did end up making it to our destination, not only the first day and but also all the other days I was on the trek. However, it was never with a happy or even content state of mind. The entire time I was trekking, the noxious record of self doubt played in my head, every syllable weighing me down and making the trek that much more difficult.
During the Patan homestay, I pursued the independent study project of yoga. Besides the physical asana postures that most people know as yoga, I also learned about pranayama, or yogic breathing. I practiced deep breathing and conscious breath control. I started to have more confidence that I could trek while maintaining stable breathing. I also learned about mantras – the use of words and vibrations to set intentions and reach a certain state of mind. On the first trek, my mantra was I can’t do this. I needed a supportive mantra to go forward.
April 17th, 2015: On our fifth day in the village of Balamchaur, we decided to take a day hike to the nearby village of Galegaon. A soccer tournament was taking place, and people from all the nearby villages were gathering for the festivities. I was very nervous that the hike up to Galegaon would be a repeat of the first trek. The sun was shining as we set off up the hill. I started near the front of the line and was determined to stay there. When I looked at my watch for the first time, I was surprised to find that 45 minutes had passed. My breath was easy, and my mind was clear. I was not only enjoying the beautiful scenery of the forests and the mountains, I was able to have conversations with the people around me. On the first trek, breathing was an enormous effort, and talking was next to impossible. It started to drizzle as we reached the top. Instead of a sad rain, however, it was cleansing and transformative – I felt like I had finally crossed the barrier that before had hindered both my mind and body.
While encouraging me to keep going on the first trek, Kristin told me that despite gravity and everything pulling them down, the Himalayas are growing three inches every year. After spending more time in the mountains, I definitely feel more in touch with the mountains than I did before. Even with the huge boulders, cliffs, and crevices, a certain airiness pervades that mountains. It can be seen and felt in the swirling clouds around the snow-capped peaks. Getting ready to go on the next trek, I have found my mantra:
The mountains lift me up.