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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Mindfulness, Food and Adventures in the Austrian Alps

I wasn’t sure what I had let myself in for when I booked a mindfulness, yoga and walking retreat in Austria but in need of some rest and relaxation and not having been to Austria before, I thought it was worth a go.  The good news is that the flight from London to Innsbruck took just 1.5 hours.  More of a surprise was that the transfer to my mountain based home for the next week  took 2.5 hours.

The name of my home for the week is MoaAlm Mountain Retreat which is in the middle of Hohe Tauern National Park near Kals in East Tyrol. It is overlooked by Austria’s biggest mountain: Grossglockner. Whatever the weather, the peaceful mountain views from this place are stunning although I was a little surprised to see snow on top of the mountains in early September!  As we were only half way up the mountain, we were lucky enough to have sunshine all week.  

Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by our hosts and other guests and this feeling of friendliness and inclusiveness continued throughout the week and was the part that made this trip so special.  Our fellow guests ranged in ages from 20s to 70s and were from a range of European countries.  Our hosts Barbara and Hubert had such a sense of passion and enthusiasm for this place which rubbed off on the group so we knew we were in for a fun time.  Included in the team was the Chef Oskar who is truly the best cook in the world and I honestly did want to take him home with me but he politely refused.  Oskar prepared delicious and creative meals every day including food he had foraged for locally. 


Oskar also joined us on his day off when the group took a day trip to Lienz – a quaint little town which reinforced my view of what typical Austrian buildings look like.  This was our one and only day to shop and eat out.  We ventured into a local restaurant for our evening meal and although tasty and accompanied by a welcome free schnapps at the end, we were keen to return to Oscar’s healthy, nutritional and inspirational cuisine.   

For me, life doesn’t get much better than good food, great company and a pleasant location, but of course there was more – I was here for yoga, mindfulness and walking. 

So what is mindfulness?  According to our teacher Marie, and based on the work of the founder of Mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment without judging them”.

The daily workshops included a range of meditations, teaching and discussions. Embarrassingly during our first meditation, John and I proceeded to sleep through the whole thing.  However, with practice and deciding to sit instead of lie down, I managed to train myself to stay awake and be mindful. 

I particularly looked forward to the morning yoga classes which took place before breakfast each day in a tranquil room that looked out on the picture postcard view of the Alps.  Our teacher, Barbara gently encouraged us all to practice a range of yoga postures and breathing techniques that were suitable for every level of yoga experience.  Very Zen!

As for the guided walks, for me they were a bit of a challenge as I am not used to walking uphill at altitude.  However, Barbara and Hubert took time to make me feel safe and helpfully re-defined the daily hikes as “gentle strolls”.  For John and our travelling companions, I know they particularly enjoyed the walks in the mountains, being surrounded by nature and the beautiful views. 

Returning from this week, I feel refreshed yet re-energised and the Company motto of “Relaxingly Active” makes sense now.  This week was so much more than just a string of daily activities. Our hosts made us feel like special friends who were staying in their house, nothing was too much trouble for them.  Mealtimes became more and more animated and noisy as the week progressed and by Friday night we were all roaring with laughter at what had already become a range of in jokes!

Lastly, I have to mention a very special occupant of the house – Nelson – a very loveable but scatty puppy who has recently joined the household and like its hosts, welcomes all new guests to the house.  Even non dog lovers such as me can’t resist giving this cute ball of fluff a big cuddle.

Many thanks to our hosts and fellow guests for making this such a fun week. 


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