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Hiking in Patagonia Gave Me a Better Understanding of Yoga

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Hiking to places that can only be accessed on foot is one of the most immersive ways to experience nature. The sacred reveals itself in these unspoiled landscapes where all you hear is the crunch of your boots, the sound of your breath, and the wind singing its ancient stories.

On a recent trip to Patagonia, Chile, I experienced pure moments of peace in the forests, exhilaration on mountain peaks, and revelations—subtle and significant—along the way.

(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

Patagonia is a region that encompasses the southern end of South America, governed by Argentina and Chile. When I asked my guide to explain the geographical borders of the Patagonian region, she responded, “It’s not a place, it is a culture.” I nodded knowingly, but I wondered if my Spanish translation had failed me. I didn’t really understand what she meant, but I remained quiet and refocused my attention on descending a dusty trail of loose rocks.

Ingrid Yang practicing yoga asana on a large rock in front of a green body of water. In the background are tall gray mountains, The Towers are located in Torres del Paine, the national park that is central to the Chilean side of Patagonia.
(Photo: Tessie Vukovich)

Our group hiked to the famed Three Towers in Torres del Paine, the national park that is central to the Chilean side of Patagonia. From the rocky summit of the three granite Towers, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I took in the incredible topography created by glacial erosions tens of thousands of years ago. As a gust blew back the hood of my jacket, a sutra emerged as a melodic chant in my head.

“Bhuvanajñānaṃ sūrye saṃyamāt.”

There are many interpretations of Sutra 3.27, but the one I always gravitated to most is Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra: “By samyama on the sun, knowledge of the entire solar system is obtained.”

Samyama refers to dharana, dhyana, and samadhi–concentration, meditation, and divine union. As I looked in awe at the vast steppe of the Patagonian landscape in Chile, thousands of miles from where the Yoga Sutras were conceived, I wondered why this sutra came to mind.

Rocky streams flow through the green forests with Patagonian mountains in the background.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

With a conscious awareness of my surroundings, I gazed past the large boulders of the Torres del Paine’s mountain passage, and followed the downward slope which revealed lenga forests dissolving into fields of prairie grass ribboned by crystalline streams.

A brown and white sentinel guanaco, a Chilean llama, in a field of rocks. Behind it are brushy hills.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

I spotted a sentinel guanaco, cousin to a llama, perched on the hilltop, ready to warn its herd if it spotted a preying puma. An Andean condor soared overhead, displaying its incredible 10-foot wingspan (twice my height!). Another blast of wind startled me to attention and pushed me to continue.

We entered a forest of lenga beeches, trees that are native to the southern Andes range and thrive in the subantarctic forest. Sunlight peered through their jagged leaves and we were welcomed by the singsong call of native birds, as though we had stepped into a storybook.

I thought back to the sutra, which focuses on the theme of interconnectedness. It tells us that, upon contemplating this universal knowledge, and arrangement of the sun and then the moon (Sutra 3.28), the interconnectedness of all beings is revealed. In this way, we may be provided insight into our very existence.

People rest along a rocky hiking trail in the Patagonia. In the foreground are rocks and green brush. Below them is a pool of deep blue green water, and in the background green hills rise up into the snow dusted mountains.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

Walking on the terrain where nomadic tribes once journeyed did feel like a spiritual sojourn, the trails we hiked creating a common thread between us and those who walked these paths long ago.

“It’s all connected,” I whispered to myself.

Patagonian landscape with a bush with bright orange flowers. A gravely terrain is in the midground and the blue-gray mountains rise in the background.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

Brilliant calafate flowers offer a burst of color against a backdrop of mountains and rolling hills. Legend has it that anyone who eats a calafate berry will be certain to return to Patagonia.

Looking at this landscape, I think I understood what my guide meant when she explained that Patagonia is a culture, not a region. By definition, culture is a way of life. In Patagonia, this revolves around a connection to and reverence for nature. The culture grows out of a communion with the environment. It recognizes that wisdom unfolds in the shape of every calafate flower, in the seemingly chaotic movement of bees around their hives, and in the dignity of the mountains that stand majestically against the never-ending wind. It is in these complex simplicities that we feel the interconnectedness of all beings, drawn together with the vital force of prana.

The snow-dusted mountains of Patagonia against the blue sky. In the foreground are brushy green hills with a blue river running through.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

Patagonia is often called “the end of the world” because it is the southernmost part of the American continent. In this place, an actual half-world away from where the sutras were transcribed thousands of years ago, I felt a deep connection. The wind played a symphony around my ears that week while I continued to chant “Bhuvanajñānaṃ sūrye saṃyamāt,” as though the breeze were singing it to me. Had it been carried through the years, on the trade winds, to me at this very moment?

A woman practices Downward Facing dog on a blue mat, set on a deck in front of a geodesic dome. Some of the triangular windows have crocheted curtains covering them. Located in Patagonia.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

After each long day of hiking past petrified fossils and glacier-made lakes, we returned to EcoCamp Patagonia’s compound of geodesic dome structures, sustainable lodging for adventure travelers. My legs felt heavy, my toes begging for liberation from my shoes after the climb. But I felt a spiritual lightness in my heart, Sutra 3.27 still singing in my head like the wind circling past my ears.

Bhuvanajñānaṃ sūrye saṃyamāt.

The domes’ aerodynamic structure is designed to resist Patagonia’s strong winds (which can reach up to 250 km/hr). It allows the wind to move gracefully over its curves, allowing air and energy to circulate without obstruction.

The shape is a tribute to the indigenous people, who used to move from one place to another, building and removing dome-like dwellings. In ancient Persia and the Hellenistic-Roman world, domes were associated with the heavens; a dome over a square base reflected the geometric symbolism of perfection, eternity, and the heavens.

Because domes are concave from below, they can reflect sound and create echoes. Inside the dome, I could hear the winds whirring around the walls–a sound that seemed to echo spirits past. It was the sound of the universe. The sound of indigenous people who migrated through this land, and of the philosophical seers who studied the sutras half a world away. It’s all connected.

A woman is silhouetted against the triangular windows of a geodesic dome. In the foreground there are yoga mats rolled out.
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

Each evening as we filed into the yoga dome—the only one of its kind in Torres del Paine—we shed our layers, leaving a litter of boots and jackets scattered around the entry. One by one, we entered the light-filled space with quiet reverence. The large window in the dome revealed a setting sun, with the sky turning a brilliant pinkish orange against the silhouette of mountains. Streaks of sunlight reminded me of the sutra translation: “By samyama on the sun, knowledge of the entire solar system is obtained.”

A group of people sit cross-legged on yoga mats on a wood floor. They are sitting in a geodesic dome in Patagonia. The sun set streams in
(Photo: Ingrid Yang)

In each yoga class, I deepened my breath and felt more grounded and awake in my consciousness. As we moved together under the dome, our bodies synchronized in slow, deep stretches. The subtle aspects of our interconnectedness was shared in the movement of our bodies, like the dance of the wind. As each breath invited soothing waves of warm air into my nostrils, the connection of all things unveiled itself, there at the end of the world.

Bhuvanajñānaṃ sūrye saṃyamāt. Life unfolds in ever-changing and infinite ways to manifest awareness within us.

Having returned from this extraordinary place, I’ve found that the connections stay with me. The mystical energy of Patagonian culture—revealed in ways both subtle and significant—revealed my connection to all things. It happened in a way that can’t be explained but rather felt here at the “end of the world,” where the journey both begins and ends.

Bhuvanajñānaṃ sūrye saṃyamāt.

 


(Photo: Kelly Bruno)

What you need to know about traveling to Patagonia

Traveling mindfully cultivates deep connections—to others, to nature, to the universe, to those we meet, to past and present. Attending to the practicalities of travel is an exercise in mindfulness as well. Here are things to be aware of when you travel to Patagonia.

When to travel to Patagonia

High season is November-March, when the weather is warmer, but the winds are also stronger. Consider the shoulder season (October and April), between peak and off-peak seasons, when it’s a little cooler but the winds are calmer.

How to get there

Select a close flight. The gateway cities to the Chilean side of Patagonia are Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales (5 hours and 2 hours from the entrance of Torres del Paine, respectively). Flights into Puerto Natales from Santiago are limited, more expensive, and only run during high season, but if you can snag one, that is your best bet for a convenient arrival into a small, charming town that caters to international travelers.

Where to stay

EcoCamp is the world’s first geodesic hotel, a compound of geodesic dome structures that are designed to be strong, light, and energy efficient—ideal for someone looking for sustainable lodging. It has three daily yoga classes in its one-of-a-kind yoga dome. Practicing asana before and after hiking helps rid your muscles of lactic acid and gives you another way to fill your lungs with mountain air.

Essentials to pack

A requirement of hiking in Patagonia is ensuring you have just the right number of layers to regulate your body temperature. The temps can fluctuate from lows in the 40s to the mid-70s during the day. What you really want to prepare for is the wind, which can make it feel much colder. Be sure to equip yourself with windproof everything. My guide wore this jacket and recommended it for its windproof and waterproof capabilities. Below are links to other items that worked well for me. But, of course, choose the gear and equipment that will be most comfortable for you.

Layers, layers, and more layers
Balaclava for the wind
Windproof and waterproof jacket
Insulated jacket (down is typically the warmest)
Waterproof shoes to wear at the campsites
Gloves to protect your hands from the wind but also with flexible grip for your hiking poles
Hiking boots
Day pack
Travel backpack that fits 5-7 days of clothing (if you’re hiking the W trail)
Hardcase luggage (if you’re checking a bag)
Foldable hiking poles
Travel water bottle

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Ingrid Yang is an internal medicine physician, yoga therapist, and published author. She has been teaching yoga for over 20 years and is the author of the books Adaptive Yoga and Hatha Yoga Asanas. Dr. Yang leads trainings and retreats all over the world, with a special focus on kinesthetic physiology and healing through breathwork, meditation and mind-body connection. Find out more at www.ingridyang.com.

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