There’s yoga – and then there’s wild yoga.
And, as I perform a series of powerful ‘mountain’ poses in the shadow of stunning Steall Falls, I’m in no doubt about which I prefer.
Wild yoga truly is a feast for the senses. The aroma of damp grass and moss beneath you, the crash and roar of the falls, the sight of majestic mountains rising up on all sides…
Ahead of Fort William Mountain Festival – the biggest outdoors celebration in Scotland – I’ve joined a wild yoga class led by Penny Clay.
It’s a taster for a session that Penny, who runs Wild Yoga Glencoe, will be running during the festival.
It’s worlds away from the yoga most of us are familiar with – bodies lined up on mats inside stuffy, sweaty studios.
An adventure getting there
Getting to this spectacular spot, deep in the heart of Glen Nevis, is part of the experience.
Having met at the Upper Glen Nevis car park, our small group walks first through woodland and then through a rocky, boulder-strewn gorge high above the crystal-clear Water of Nevis.
It’s a short but exhilarating hike, billed as one of the best in Scotland.
After about a mile, we emerge from trees and the scene changes, with the glen broadening out to form a grassy meadow surrounded by precipitous mountains.
The crowning glory, of course, is the Steall Falls. Also known as An Steall Ban (‘white spout’ in Gaelic), the waterfall is the second highest in Scotland, plunging 120m to the valley below.
Waterfall stars in Harry Potter films
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, the waterfall might look familiar. It featured in multiple movies as the backdrop of Quidditch matches, although its biggest role was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005.
After a quick chat about the benefits of doing yoga outdoors – “you’ve got all this vast space and stunning beauty” – Penny invites us to settle into our surroundings with some breath work.
Then it’s a case of flowing through a series of fluid movements, most of them done while standing, some using mini yoga mats on the ground.
The aim is to do them as smoothly as possible – no speedy, jerky motions are allowed!
Becoming more flexible
It’s a while since I’ve done any form of yoga, so I’m a bit stiff in some poses. However, any potential discomfort is soon soothed away with the gentle stretches and I feel myself lengthening and becoming more flexible.
Performing cat, cow, downward dog and warrior poses has never felt better!
After a few minutes of blissful meditation while lying on our mats, gazing up at the sky, the session comes to an end. I realise I’ve got a huge grin on my face – as does everyone else. I’m pretty sure we all feel revitalised, energised, and full of joy.
We’re lucky it’s neither raining nor windy but it’s fairly chilly, and I’m glad I’ve brought a flask of coffee. Even better, Penny produces a box of homemade cookies which we devour with gusto.
Focus on seasonal yoga
Penny, who also runs Kinlochleven-based Mountain Yoga, says the focus of her sessions is “seasonal yoga”.
“Each session is associated with an element,” she explains. “In traditional Chinese medicine, the element for winter is water.
“So it’s like a moving meditation with the element of water in mind. The power of water gives us flexibility and fluidity; we’re trying to flow through the movements.”
Penny formed Wild Yoga Glencoe in 2018 with Claire Thomson, aka The Highland Yogi.
Together they run outdoor (plus some indoor) yoga sessions and retreats. Other stunning spots include Glen Etive and the Hidden Valley of Glencoe.
“Our aim is to head out somewhere beautiful, meet nice people and do some yoga, with the seasons in mind,” says Penny.
“Practicing yoga in such an inspiring landscape is so important to us. It’s wild, invigorating and energising. We often include mindfulness. And we always have cake!”
Festival packed with events
Meanwhile, the festival programme is packed with guided outdoor events, inspiring speakers, workshops and engaging films.
Outdoor instructor and festival coordinator Anna Danby says: “It’s a privilege to be part of organising the 20th anniversary festival and bringing together everyday adventurers, elite athletes, mountain professionals and local residents to share stories.
“The aim is to encourage everyone to be inspired by, respect and protect our natural landscape and, with our 2024 programme we’re confident all our visitors will leave feeling motivated to do just that.”
- Fort William Mountain Festival runs from February 15-18 and boasts an exciting programme of workshops, speakers, activities and films. Events take place across Lochaber, centred around the festival hub at the Nevis Centre. There’s everything from mountain illustration, nature writing, wild swimming, trail running, mountain biking, winter walking, mountaineering, skiing and, of course, wild yoga. Plus there’s the chance to meet Hamza Yassin, the wildlife cameraman, TV presenter and winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2022. For more details see mountainfestival.co.uk/
- To book a place on the Steall Falls Wild Stravaig/Wild Yoga session on February 18, see wildyogaglencoe.co.uk Tickets are selling fast.
- Gayle stayed overnight at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel. The dog-friendly hostel offers a range of private en-suite rooms and shared dorms. Facilities include an open-plan living area with log-burning stove and mountain views, self-catering kitchen, decking area, drying room, laundry and bike store. You can order a continental breakfast, plus snacks and drinks are available at reception. hostellingscotland.org.uk/hostels/glen-nevis/