In our digital affluent society, we are longing for complete calmness and peace more than anything else. But how can we achieve this? Our author has escaped into the mountains to find out how and where to relax best. Is it by burning off energy? Meditating? Could a rush of adrenalin be the answer? Find out more in her story.
Actually, I think I am quite a relaxed person. Relaxing on the couch and watching TV? Yes, I can do that. In fact, I am rather good at doing that. For quite a long time, I laughed at the fact that there were already Apps which were supposed to help you relax. Then I noticed while sitting on the couch that I myself was constantly thinking about my to-do lists and my work. Shut the laptop, disconnect – that just doesn’t seem to work. Not anymore. But when exactly did we lose this ability? When we were kids, we came home from school, shouted a short “hello and bye, mum!” and then we rushed off outside where the children from next door were already waiting on their bikes. We spent all afternoon outside and did not think about the next day. But that was a long time ago. That’s why I am off into the mountains – in order to properly relax.
First stop: Calmness lies in strength
My goal: the Bärenbadalm at an altitude of 1,457 metres. My vehicle: a state-of-the-art mountain bike – and a helmet of course – which I hired directly at the Karwendel cable car facility in Pertisau. It’s a really unfamiliar feeling because usually I am out and about on a squeaky Dutch bicycle.
It is still before noon and the fog is hanging above the lake Achensee. However, the weather forecast predicted some sun. Before the start, I peddle along the chilly lake flirting with the idea of just hanging out in the valley – that’s how beautiful it is. But that’s not the challenge!
Straight after the cable car station, I turn left onto a road: the tarmac then changes into a gravel path and the route is slightly uphill. “Here we go!” Woods on the left and the right, above me the blue sky, in front of me the mountains. It smells so fresh and the air is getting warmer.
I don’t think I am the most unathletic person, but my thighs are starting to burn. Great, just after 15 minutes. In my defence: it is getting steeper and steeper. I stop to take a large sip of water. I am not in a hurry and can enjoy the view. Time to move on. Except a few persons greeting me in Tyrolean saying “Servus” and “Grias di!” there is hardly anyone about. “You’re climbing this mountain without an E-bike? Not bad!” a woman hiking praises me. Do I already look that exhausted
Time and again I have to get off and push the bike and take a short break. But I am progressing. And then I hear a babble of voices. The Alpline pasture hut up here seems quite full – I am not so happy about that I must say. Being on my own felt so nice. So I keep on pushing my bike a little further up the hill. There it is the lake Achensee which I had just cycled along one and a half hours ago. I am quite proud of myself. Even though my legs are feeling a bit wobbly, my t-shirt is sticking to my skin, my scalp is itchy under the helmet and I look as if I had cycled three times as far. But I just feel content and relaxed. I did not think about work even once while cycling up the mountain.
Second stop: Naked in the woods
The narrow street along Feistenau in Kaiserwinkel leads into the forest. Are you sure nobody lives up here? In a curve just below, Sebastian Schrödl is sitting on his moped and is waiting for us. White beard, hat, good-tempered, white eyes. “We are staying down here.” He has also got a wooden staff with him. “I don’t need all these energies here at my farm. All we need on this late summer evening is here: sweat lodge, hay barn and many trees.
Sebastian is a forest pedagogue (“Waldpädagoge”) – not a shaman! He refuses to tolerate being called a shaman. “It’s not about hocus-pocus here.” Here in his home – the woods – he only offers a “shoulder to lean on”. What does that mean? Sebastian explains to his course participants – managers, sportspersons, housewives – how nature works and how we can learn to listen to ourselves. According to him every tree radiates a special energy which is transferred to human beings. A maple tree is really calm. “Persons with depressions should stay away from maple trees. For them birch trees are a lot better,” Sebastian explains. I seem stable, so I am allowed to lean on the maple tree. At first, I do not notice anything.
Then we stop in front of a hut. A hut without a tree – just a curtain. The hut is filled with lots of hay. Sebastian looks at me and grins and says: “You’ll sleep well in here tonight.” But I don’t think so.
Before having a good night sleep, I have to go to the sweat lodge – a kind of sauna in at the edge of the woods. Next to me there are some curious persons and old fans of the non-shaman. They are telling him why they are here: to find calmness, to find themselves, to find closure. And then it can start. I am sitting there naked, together with seven other people. Fortunately, it’s dark. Sebastian starts pouring water over the heated rocks. It’s hot and it smells like essential oils. We stay there for 15 minutes. Sebastian is playing the drums. What am I doing here?
Afterwards we all get into a large wooden tub filled with warm water. And we repeat this ritual four times. And every time I am sitting in the sauna drenched in sweat, I swear to myself: that’s the last time. As soon as I get out of the sauna, I think: just one more time. While we are sitting in the tub, Sebastian tells us about the trees. The calm fir tree. The selfish linden tree.
Suddenly, it’s already midnight and we are all sitting together in the ritual hut eating “Miasl” (a typical dish made out of buckwheat flour and lard) which Sebastian has prepared over the fire. This dish is similar to “Kaiserschmarrn” (Austrian pancakes) just without the raisins. It’s often also referred to as a dish for the poor. The food is the highlight of my evening. Then I grab my sleeping bag and lay down in the hay. It’s smells amazing. I bury myself into the hay, but I am prepared for a restless night and … then I hear the cow bells ringing. It’s already 7.30 am. I slept through the night. I slept like a log. And now I am feeling fit. I cannot believe it.
Third stop: Action & Adrenalin
What could be the complete contrast to camping in the woods? Canyoning in the Rosengarten gorge. Gunnar Amthor is already waiting with his bus and a selection of neoprene suits, waterproof socks and helmets at the parking area Schotterparkplatz in Hochimst. I squeeze myself into the tight suit and am already sweating. Gunnar is a pleasant, tanned, athletic Tyrolean, who offers private Canyoning tours. He assures me: “Nobody has ever been injured badly during my tours.”
The sky looks beautiful and clear. But when you are canyoning, you are looking down into the valley. You swim, slide and jump down the mountain stream. First rule: Canyoning is a one-way street. There is no way back. Gunnar has been working as a tour guide for twenty years. I feel safe. We start off with some preliminary exercises: abseiling, climbing techniques, and tips. “Never look up a waterfall. Stones could fall down any time.”
We climb into the canyon. The first slide is already waiting for us. Unfortunately, there is an audience. “That looks good,” Gunnar says. Then I hear the starting signal. I sit down on the ledge, stretch out my arms and hold on to the thumb of my other hand. Tension, lay down, and then down into the puddle. This is amazing! And now? I knock on to my helmet. That way Gunnar can see from the top that everything is ok. I am already soaked to the bone. But I don’t mind. The next slide already lies ahead. It looks steeper, deeper and wider. While I am still toddling about clumsily, Gunnar is moving about like a young chamois buck in front of me. The next part is extremely steep. The water is not deep enough, so we have to lower ourselves down on a rope. Gunnar secures me and tells me to lean back with my feet a hip-width apart, arms stretched out away from the rope. If it were so easy! It’s like a reflex – I cling on to the rope. Gunnar stays calm and shouts from the top over and over again that I should lean back. But I don’t have the courage to do it. I’ll manage to get to the bottom – somehow. My ego is broken.
But Gunnar smiles and cheers me up. He’s already inspecting the next section. Definitely a completely new experience: In the narrow but tall canyons I can only hear the rushing water. No time to think about work, no annoying thoughts. Gunnar shouts: “Jump!” And I jump. We have arrived at the exit. What now? I feel a bit sad. “Next time I’ve got a more challenging rout for you!” Gunnar promises. Yes, there will definitely be a next time!
Three days, three completely different experiences: endurance training, wellness in the woods, extreme sports with a helmet. I was stretched to my limits and learnt things about myself that I did not know before. But first and foremost, I feel calm and relaxed. While jumping down 3-metre-high waterfalls and overcoming one’s fear, while sitting naked in a hut with strangers, one does not think about to-do lists and other everyday life. Suddenly, the couch just seems so far away.