The author travel to Greece to join an old friend leading a Yoga retreat. During this trip, he will experiment inner transformations which will make him a better painter and a better person.

Introduction

I met Alexia Katsigera in an unbeatable setting. I was sailing from Sifnos to the port of Piraeus on a dilapidated ferry that could be drawn by Herge, the author of Tintin. The afternoon was falling on the Aegean Sea, the boat swaying and the impressive sunset opened the spirit to novelistic situations. Sitting in the hold of the ramshackle ferry, in the same bank a woman read lost in her thoughts. I observed her for a few moments, aware that people like this can only be found in Greece. She had a huge curly blonde hair and dressed as if she came from an uncertain trip in India. I stayed a few seconds watching Sifnos with sadness until it disappeared in the horizon line.

 

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Sifnos

-Do you speak french? – I heard a voice that seemed at the same time familiar and unforseen. It was Alexia’s voice opening a conversation.

Immediately, we started a talk that took us to Piraeus, in the blink of an eye. We revisited Paris, where she had studied long time ago and I lived in those days. We talked about meditation and some ancestral practices of mindfulness. In that time, I had approached intellectually to the oriental currents of thought, bored as I was of being a Westerner without any transcendence.

We had the opportunity to exchange experiences on that boat of the summer of 2015, creating a connection that even today, is still alive. Arriving at Piraeus, we said goodbye, satisfied both of the shared moments.

Then there were some complicated years in which I had no chance to return to Greece, the origin of everything.
Fortunately, this last summer the way to Greece was open again. Alexia, as a connoisseur of unusual places in Greece away from mass tourism, came to mind right away. I called her.

-I have the perfect plan for you, Javier- she said without hesitation.
-What is it? – I answered
-Come with us to Nysiros, to our Yoga Retreat.

Alexia is a Yoga practitioner since at least 20 years. She has been introduced to Satyananda Yoga and has been travelling to India several times, meeting teachers from the Shivananda Center of Kerala. She considers the most exciting “school” is life itself and believes it is important to always be a student of life.


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Alexia Katsigera, Athens, Greece source
The same afternoon I book the plane tickets.

Nysiros


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Nysiros map, credit Dominique Decobeb source
Alexia had warned me that Nysiros is an arid and wild island, far away from the landscape of Sifnos and everything there is governed to the presence of the volcano . The volcano is currently active (but not erupting), and fumaroles are found at the craters. It is an incredible experience to walk above the crater, telluric energies surrounds you while you are intimatly connected to the center of the Earth, in Greece, the center of the World.

On the 14th August, I was travelling from Bordeaux to Athens. I had to scale in Kos, an Island close to Nysiros. The next day, I took a ferry from Kardamaina to Mandraki, my port destination in Nysiros.
I was eager to get to my destination, since the trip had been long, having to take three planes and one boat.
Alexia advised me:
-Take the 9:30 ferry from Kardamaina, since the Yoga class starts at 11:00.

And I found myself again, sailing accross the Egean Sea, the waters of Poseidon, in Greece, where everything started.

Sometimes I think that all the civilizations that have ruled the earth are nothing but a bad imitation of Greeks’s golden age. They develop an Art that has never been overcame:


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Venus de Milo vs Marilyn Monroe Statues
Now we are ruled by those strange people from NorthAmerica, I have to say they are good software engineers.

Have you noticed that in the root of any pleasant and constructive activity you develop in your life you can find a Greek dressed with a bed sheet?

I am lucky to have been born in Madrid, Spain, near the Mediterranean sea and directly colonized by the Greeks, 600 b.c, so we received from first hand this awesome culture. But my country is very young, it only has 2000 years of history. Greece is at least 4000 years old, that is 40 centuries old. This means that the eggplant salad has been optimized during almost 1500 years! In a NorthAmerican nutrition advise, experts have found recentlythat olive oil can protect from heart diseases. Experts!


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Loutra, Nysiros, Dodecanesian Archipiel
While I was sketching this landscape in Loutra, Marilia, a 5 years old shining star came to me and revealed my new identity:
-Oh! zoographos!

Zoographos means Cartoonist in Greek. See the decadence of our poor civilzation? How can me pass from Zoographos to Cartoonist? Zoo in Greek means life and graphos means sign, so for the Greeks, a cartoonist is somekind of life-poet-journalist, but a cartoonist automatically brings someone who can draw Mickey Mouse.


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Pali, Zoographos in action
Alexia drove me to Loutra, where a new surprise was waiting for me:

Loutra



Polyvotis Watering Place, Loutra, Nysiros
Alexia had selected this nineteenth century spa to host the fortunate participants of the Yoga retreat. When I entered in this building, I found myself thrown to the pages of The Magic Mountain from Thomas Mann, where a bunch of pintoresc characters they experience an internal transformation encouraged by the disturbing conversations with Settembrini.

A spa in Europe, you have to know, it’s a place where the people who meet there have not been randomly chosen. The spas in the old continent have hosted revolutionaries, anarchists, poets and musicians, painters and scoundrels.
Just recall that watering places have been the setting of Literature Jewels in European magnificient XIX century. Thanks to @perezalatina, I can share with you the following titles:

  • Parade’s End by Ford Maddox
  • Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
  • The Gambler, Fiodr Dostoyevski

So my trip to Greek was not only a shift in the space, but also in time.



Thomas Mann, Ford Maddox, Fiodr Dostoyevski souls exchanging on mental diseases


Loutra ruined waterplace


Loutra ruined waterplace
But surprises did not end there. I barely had time to leave my luggage in the living room and go upstairs to the room where the Yoga session was held:

The Sun Salutation

We sat in lotus flower position, Alexia, from the center of the room transmited concentration and serenity.

“Now we chant the omg sound”- she said after a brief breathing relaxing exercise.

We inhaled and we started singing the famous omg. Something incredible happens when you are next to 10 people and all sing at the same time the omg sound. A mysterious force leads you to modulate your voice along with the other people and contribute with all your best to produce the same frequency. The sound was then produce somewhere in the center of the room. I realized that I passed through the threshold and I was entering in a new dimension.

During the class, we follow Alexia’s instructions, movements and try to imitate her gracious and beautifull asanas.

Alexia was conducting the class in English with her soft and comforting voice, as I don’t speak Greek (still).

A Yoga session with Alexia is composed of relaxation exercises, asanas, meditation, breathing exercise and final gratitude.
These elements, relaxation, meditation, streching and breathing have the same value in a Yoga session. Unlike other physical activities, where the main focus is in the “no pain no gain” statement, pushing the body beyond its limits, in Yoga, breathing is a gift that you offer yourself when you are coming from a strech pose which is then followed by a relaxation pose. So, my very first impression of my Yoga introduction is a kind of dance between strecthing, breathing and relaxation.

Automatically a talk with your body is established which boost your concentration and sweep away disturbing thoughs as “merde! I have to pay my taxes!”

So, in Yoga, breathing, stretching and meditation are part of the same body. Nevertheless, Yoga means in Sanscrit “Union”.

At some point during the class, Alexia, advise us to “send your breathing to this part of your body which is suffering”. “Send your breath” I mentally repeated it as I imagined sending an army of ambulances to my shoulders while I was stretching in the “Dog” position.

The class took 2 hours, but I would say it only took 5 minutes. Hearing Alexia’s voice, a voice with two thousands years of history loosing my gaze from time to time to Egean see through the window and listening to my body make an unique life experience.


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Egean Sea from Loutra, Syrinos
When we finished the class, after singing again the omg sounds with the “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, hare’im..” mantra my body had an unexpected gift to offer to my mind:

My knees were floating. If I were a car or a sophisticaded engine, seems that the best engineer has oiled my articulations and revised all the internal screw and replaced damaged ones. I was experiencing an easy feeling.

If it were like a running session, a 2 hour Yoga session brings you more endorphins than a 2,5 hours long run.

If I were a Catholic practitioner, it is like being confess by the Pope in the Sixtin Chapel.

If I were a Jazzman, it is like being playing in a Jam Session where your hands were attracted at every time by the correct note in the correct beat.

If I were a mediocre worker, is like receiving a pay rise.

Summarizing, Yoga brings you not only physical benefits but also, aesthetical and a peacefull unestressed feeling. As an anecdote, while we finished one of the two daily session in the middle of the week, I entered in my room, and an inner voice whispered me:
“Fold your clothes as your mum taught to you”. I obey.


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Sun Salutation, drawings by author (yogi in progress)
more surprises:

Yogi advise to a frustrated Watercolorist:

I had been suffering with watercolors for some time. The inability to make the correct mix of tone and value in the palette had led me to a state of frustration. On the other hand, the fact that I had to sketch the drawing with a pencil also seemed an insurmountable barrier.

However, in this magical week, while we were bathing naked on a desert beach on Gyali Island, the incipient yogi inside me whispered to me:
“Dive your brush into the palette, no matter the tone and the value that results, let it flow and instead look for the place in the drawing where that stroke works.


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Gialy
disrupting Watercolor, no pencil direct painting (art from a Yogi in progress)

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Gialy
disrupting Watercolor, no pencil direct painting (art from a Yogi in progress)

Gratitude

I would like to thank Dimitris, Maria, Eiphy, Lea, Xhrisa, Evgenia, Sophia, Yoannis and Apostoles members of Alexia’s Yoga retreat for the moments we have shared togoether and thanks to all the crew of the Loutra Bar for your Cafe Frappe and incredible Eggplant salad.
Special gratitude to Alexia Katsigera because you have bring to my life a powerfull tool which will reduce drasticaly my living cost invoice as well as helping me growing.

thank you for reading, and please, feel free to contact if you want more details in the upcoming Alexia’s Yoga Retreats.

have fun!

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