“Waking up is hard to do,” so says Halle Becker the Manhattan yoga instructor who has corralled a group of twenty or so pilgrims from the comforts of their New York City homes to the foothills of Mount Mansfield in Stowe, Vermont and rallied them for an early morning deep flow outdoors. Day two of a four day escape from the ruckus of city life. Here to inhale the earth are they, to exhale, to reconnect with their true norths in the company of kindred spirits – humans and horses. “Get glorious,” she continues. Not such a tall order when your mat has been plunked in the pastoral setting that is the Stowe Mountain Yoga Ranch Retreat Center. Mountain ranges in all directions, the earthy scent of an early spring and these gorgeous four-legged friends wandering the margins blend seamlessly in the elegant air of this very special place. Surrounded by acres of wide open space and home to the famed Yoga with Horses program, the boutique retreat center has swiftly caught the attention of city dwellers such as this tribe, many of whom are part of the “sangha” at Earth Yoga on Manhattan’s upper east side and have made the pilgrimage for this private retreat.
“Barn Sweet Barn” reads the sign at the stable entrance around which horses roam. Not an inn or a commercial property, the equestrian ranch is situated alongside a magnificent 40 foot waterfall, just 400 yards from skiing with mountain views in three directions and can be booked for private group visits such as this. In addition to the large outdoor yoga deck where this group has spread their mats in morning practice, the center boasts an indoor hardwood floor/cathedral ceiling yoga studio, again offering magnificent views of both the mountains and the horses who make their home on the property. There is also a fabulous on site chef who prepares a host of farm to table creations at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Gathering family style around her signature meals only adds to the charm and community feel of the setting.
Gerry Scott, the Center’s General Manager (or steward) takes great pride in the property’s support of the environment noting its extensive use of solar technology. In addition, his “Vermont Bound” yoga and adventure retreats which the Center donates for inner city teens from The Boys/Girls Clubs of Boston and therapeutic riding programs for cancer survivors during Stowe’s Annual Weekend of Hope serve as other extensions for giving back. A strong calling to reconnect with the land, with others, with animals led him to create his mountain sanctuary. “Most people today are completely unaware of the role that horses played in the lives of their ancestors. Prior to the arrival of the train in the 1850s, horses were an integral part of every family. Spiritually, they were with the family everywhere. It was how folks connected to the universe,” recalls Mr. Scott. He notes that his signature program takes its cue from that period of time in the early 1600s when the Native Americans first met the horse, the encounter sparking an intense spiritual rush. “As a retreat steward, there is a culture I can create for my guests. I suppose what I’m doing here with these retreats is an attempt to reconnect people back to their ancestry in some manner. When you’re with a horse, you are automatically present. Horses are not in pursuit of anything. What they are is… in a natural state of happiness. Maybe I can instill a reconnection for the 600 or so people who come here each year?” And while the Retreat Center is widely known for its weekend retreats in the company of horses, throughout the year they also host gatherings catering to assorted other passions such as Acro Yoga and Stand Up Paddleboarding.
There’s a fellowship that effortlessly arises in experiences such as these escapes. Throw the New England landscape and yoga with its universal language into the mix and the shift from strangers to pals accelerates. I’m personally humbled by the swift kinship I witnessed time and again in this setting involving breath and asana and waking up, not to mention the springtime soundtrack of the green mountains. “So what is it… What is the message YOU want to send out to the universe?” so inquires Ms. Becker as our morning practice winds down. A few chipping sparrows offer their perspectives as we sink back into our mats in consideration, in stillness, held in the earth’s splendor.