We were a small group of hikers meeting each other for the first time during that weekend climb. As we blazed through the Legacy Trail of Masungi Georeserve in Baras, Rizal, we were in our most natural state – gadgets stashed at the pit of our knapsacks and stripped off of our usual corporate garb, make-up and the city grime which is apropos since we are, after all, coming home to nature.
The organizer of this soul discovery trip was SoulSpeak, an outdoor yoga organization committed to helping people slow down their frenetic pace and aims to heal the soul through yoga retreats that take place in various stunning destinations across the Philippines.
Our yoga retreat was held in Masungi Georeserve, a hidden gem of rock gardens found in the rainforests of Rizal. The name Masungi is derived from the word ‘masungki’ which means spiked which is fitting as this rock garden is made up of a vast 60 million-year-old limestone landscape. Park rangers have been restoring this area since the 90s.
The georeserve is an area we have been protecting for over 15 years now. Having to deal with a myriad of illegal loggers, quarries, and others, it has been a challenge, but ultimately a meaningful and fulfilling one.”Masungi Georeserve
There are a couple of trails to choose from in Masungi but we took the Legacy Trail, which is still undergoing restoration efforts. As we walked deeper into the forest, we soaked in the amazing work that the park rangers have done in healing the trees and land from being cut down, slashed and ravaged by greedy people.
It took a couple of hours to reach the summit since the point is to slow down instead of rushing. The scenic hike featured rows of bamboo trees, grasslands that covered most of the area, fields of cosmos flower embellished the hillside, tropical pine trees blanketed the slopes and the open space allowed us to enjoy the loud whooshing sound of the wind. Everything was utterly magical that I felt I may have found my spiritual birthplace tucked in the rainforests of the Southern Sierra Madre mountain range. The only thing messing up the natural environment as we hiked up to the top were huge holes dug by uncaring treasure hunters searching for the legendary Yamashita treasure.
The scenery stirred lots of excited chatter but twenty minutes away from reaching the summit, SoulSpeak’s light teacher and yoga instructor ‘Teacher Enzo’ gently informed us that we should be relishing in the ‘now’ and reminded us to commune with nature.
Nature is crucial for our mental health. The greenery and fresh air can elevate our mood and relieve us from stress. Couple that with meditation walks and it feels as though you are baring your soul to natural wonder. Embracing the sheer rawness of this experience will not only heal your soul but will kickstart your spiritual expansion.
Since the land has suffered from illegal logging and quarrying, this part of the mountain range has become bare. So tree planting and forest nurturing is completed every day by park rangers and guests, on a mission to heal and restore the natural environment.
We were given the chance to nurture trees that were planted three months ago by previous guests. We were each given a pair of gloves and a digging tool to cultivate the soil, remove the weeds, and turn the weeds into mulch so it can be placed on top of the cultivated soil to serve as the roots’ protection from the harsh weather. There were newly planted trees lining the grassland and each of us had to look for our own baby tree to nurture. And that we did. It was an honor to contribute to the restoration of this amazing forest.
Our Minalot meal was prepared by the locals. Wrapped in banana leaf hence the term ‘minalot’ a word derived from the term ‘binalot’ which means wrapped. This traditional Filipino meal is made up of grilled pork belly, a cup of rice, grilled eggplant, grilled tomato and salted egg and what made eating it extra special was the view of the gorgeous landscape.
After our delicious meal, we gathered around the Amihan area where we were situated on top of a huge ropeway under floating huts. In the circle, everyone was given the chance to share and talk about the card we picked at the start of the hike.
I picked a card that said ‘Friendship’. Being away from my family had given me a chance to rediscover myself and meet new people so the card was on point.
After sharing, Teacher Enzo, guided us for a few minutes of meditation and intention setting. Being suspended among the pine trees on top of a mountain, feeling the wind and being enveloped in the serenity of the view made this meditation almost sacred.
SoulSpeak is in partnership with a business called Create Outside that helps encourage our creative spirit. Angela Favis guided us on how to paint our very own mandala. Painting is believed to reduce stress and anxiety. As we painted away, we found ourselves in the moment, in the ‘zone’ without realizing it, this practice allowed us to be more present in what we were doing which somehow created a sense of balance as we delved deeper in this mindful practice.
Practicing yoga on a mountain top with a 360-degree view of the Masungi Georeserve was all that we needed to remind ourselves that we were born to be free, that we are one with our environment and that reaching up to the skies, believing that we are an extension of the heavens, is the most natural feeling which also, funnily enough, helps us find our centre as we remain rooted to the ground.
In the middle of the session, the rain came down hard. We were covered in mud and drenched in rain water but it added new meaning to the whole experience. Life won’t always be sunny and when the darkness comes, we are much more prepared to face it, embrace it and eventually, move past it.
As we hiked back down, the night had fallen leaving us trailing after our guide into the dark unknown. However, a day of loving space, we felt Mother Earth hold our hands as we thread through slippery slopes with nothing but the moon to light our paths.While this mindful escape tested our physicality, it healed our souls and allowed us to be more connected to what was around us. We may have come home dirty, wet and muddy but our soul was completely nourished and satisfied.
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All images supplied by author.