Bhutan Trip Article for Yoga Journal
Note: this is a copy of the article published in Yoga Journal China September 2017
Yoga and Qigong in Bhutan – Qi Meets Prana
by Francesco Garri Garripoli
A golden sun rises over the snow-capped Himalayas as it dances through gossamer clouds. Rays of light pierce the cool air here at the top of the world as 98 young Buddhist monks chant their morning puja, singing the sweet spiritual song of this majestic land. A group of souls representing 9 different countries move like the clouds themselves, slow and elegant, though the forms they practice are not actually from this magical Kingdom known as Bhutan. My partner Ambikha Devi and I teach our retreat group practices that we’ve learned from gurus and masters in the two largest countries that border this Kingdom – China and India. Somehow it is fitting and poetic that we share Yoga and Qigong in tiny Bhutan, melding the energies of Prana and Qi in a land that is the embodiment of expressing life force itself…
Ambikha and I lead groups to Bhutan, Europe, and Thailand each year to share the amazing experience of deepening your personal practice in an empowering retreat setting far from home. It is also for learning about the most unique countries on Earth and visit the power spots there. For our Bhutan Trip, it has another dimension, and that is to support a renowned Rimpoche and the 300 year-old monastery he is responsible for.
Rimpoche Trulku Jamgoen is also a monk like the 98 young monks who live and study at this ancient monastery, only as a Rimpoche, he is an acknowledged reincarnation of one of the most revered lineages in all of Bhutan. From a birth that was marked with rainbows and other telling signs, through a young childhood reciting scriptures and memories that a normal child would not know, Rimpoche passed the traditional test of identifying the sacred objects that belonged only to those previous Rimpoches in his lineage, and now in his mid-30’s, has the heavy burden of keeping the Sewala Monastery and it’s 98 young monks healthy and able to fulfill its mission.
Founded in 1718, the Sewala Monastery hosted its first group of foreigners when we brought a group here in 2016. Our group in April 2017 was only the second to stay there and live in the same quarters the monks sleep in and eat with them in their dining hall as well. As many of these monks are actually orphans taken in by the monastery, this opportunity is so heart-opening and adds a dimension to this journey that is beyond words, especially when you learn that the monks are constantly making the trek down the mountaintop (a four-hour hike without any paved road) to service the needs of the three surrounding villages. These impoverished villagers need the monks to provide traditional prayers services for everything from childbirth to funerals, from home construction to holiday rituals. Only spending time in Bhutan shows you how sacred life is there and how everyday activities are integrally tided to spirituality… something we all need to remember.
In 2016, the world learned of the massive earthquake in Bhutan’s neighbor Nepal. What we didn’t hear about was the damage done in places like Sewala Monastery where the destruction in one ancient temple was so bad that it had to be demolished. A precious dormitory for the monks also has a bad crack in the main retaining wall and now many have no place to sleep or study. Our groups help raise funds to repair this type of damage – and to support the ongoing maintenance of such a historic site. With the funds we’ve brought, we discovered that the monks now can be fed two meals each day instead of the single meal they have been eating up to now. Add to that the repair of the only motorized vehicle the monastery has and you see why all profits from our group Trips go to support such a great cause.
Practicing Yoga and Qigong atop this mountain hideaway with views of the Himalayas in every direction truly does something to transformative how we feel about our body, mind, and spirit. Ambikha and I put an intentional emphasis on the breath, so mindful breathing at 9,000 ft (3,100 m) elevation also adds to teaching us the value of breathwork. The way we’ve been combining the empowering and healing principles of Yogic Prana and Taoist Qigong Qi has been inspiring people around the world in our workshops and retreats like this to revisit their personal practice and expand it in ways that reflect how we grow and develop throughout our life.
Bhutan, as a kingdom that has committed to being fully organic, environmentally conscious through sustainable energy sources, and compassionate to her people with an amazing healthcare system, is such a beautiful location that resonates with the values Ambikha and I seek to share in our offerings. The energy that you feel is palatable when we meditate in ancient monasteries, do our movement practices in Himalayan power spots, eat food that is prepared consciously in the traditional Buddhist way, and chant with dozens of monks who play ancient, sacred instruments in styles that haven’t changed in 500 years. Hiking the all-day pilgrimage trek up to the incredible Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) Monastery is the physical “pump” that anyone interested in fitness desires, but Bhutan is like that, it draws you into her, invites you to explore her untouched beauty from virgin forests to mountain passes that make you feel you are kissing the heavens themselves.
But isn’t that what we all want to feel when we do our practice? To see ourselves in our essential state, to remember who we truly are, beyond our work identity, our relationship identity, our self-identity. This is key to personal transformation. It’s natural for us to get into a rut with our practice. It is natural for us to feel like our life has lost a bit of its meaning. It’s natural to feel frustration and limits in our life. It is these times, these “edges” that help propel us to change and make new choices. Many times it takes getting away from our normal “triggers” in life and do something for ourself, for our inner growth. That’s what motivates Ambikha and I to organize journeys like the ones we lead in Italy, Greece, Thailand, China, or Bhutan. We have come to see how it benefits us to push our “edges” and explore new ways of being, whether it is how we discover the benefits of merging Prana and Qi, or folding breathwork and dance into our offerings in power spots around this beautiful planet. Practicing conscious movement and breathing in a group is healing as you know, and taking this group energy to places like Bhutan is conscious sharing that awakens deep gratitude in us. Meditating with Bhutanese monks that send intentional prayers of peace to all sentient beings from their perch on top of the world is truly inspiring and allows us to bring back a gift that can only be carried home in our hearts.
Our Bhutan Trip 30 March – 6 April price of US$4,995 covers airfare from Bangkok to Bhutan and all Bhutanese Visa fees, food, accommodations, two classes each day, and land travel expenses inside Bhutan. Classes include a wide range of Yoga and Qigong styles suitable for all levels. Our small group size allows for personal instruction and attention to individual needs. A full daily itinerary is available upon request with all conditions, and details of this amazing Trip.
Francesco Garri Garripoli is an internationally recognized Qigong instructor, Yoga practitioner, musician, brainwave researcher, author, lecturer, and wellness advocate. Past Chaiman and current advisor to the National Qigong Association, Francesco is featured in a series of award-winning, instructional Qigong DVDs and has written books on his experiences living in China, India, Hawaii, and Thailand studying with elder healing Masters. An Emmy Award-winning producer, Francesco’s Qigong documentary aired on PBS-TV with over 88 million viewers. His WujiTech brainwave feedback software bridges Western and Eastern healing concepts, as do his Study & Healing Trips around the world. More info at: CommunityAwake.com
Ambikha Devi's personal healing journey began with Yoga 15 years ago when she studied with various renowned masters and teachers in India, China, and Thailand in several healing modalities and Yoga lineages. Her Yoga Gurus have guided her to dive deeper into self-healing and her work in sound healing, breath work, and dance were clear affirmation to her life journey and personal growth. A Certified Yoga, Dance Mandala, and Breath work facilitator, Ambikha leads workshops around the world helping others explore self-healing and true inner peace. Learn more on Facebook at: Ambika Devi Karma Yoga and CommunityAwake.com
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Eggs4Monks Donation - $25
Thank you for your donation of $25 to help support the Eggs4Monks project where we are working to supplement the nutritional quality of the diet for the 98 monks at Sewala Monastery in Bhutan. Your contribution goes to add 4 eggs to the meals of each monk per week. We are still not met our target to ensure each monks gets what they need, but your support means a lot. Kadrincheyla ("Thank you" in Bhutanese!