Ice yoga in Swedish Lapland: Does this latest wellness fad make any sense?

Forget hot yoga, now you can do ice yoga in the Arctic. Here’s what it’s like to strike a pose in -17C...

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The Independent Travel

As an adamant enemy of hot yoga, with its yuppie cult following and seriously unpleasant stickiness, I had high hopes for ice yoga.

The brainchild of Arctic wellness outfit Active North, based up in Swedish Lapland, I’d imagined all that fresh, frigid air would be much better for me than a stuffy studio.

But now I’m out on the ice, I’m not so sure.

Standing facing the edge of my mat, I take my right leg out to the side. Shifting the weight of my torso, I place my elbow on to the top of my bent knee. My left arm reaches over my head while my snowsuit attempts to keep up with the stretch. Warmth, rather than flexibility, seems to be the strong point of my outer layer.

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Ice yoga is performed on reindeer fur ‘mats’ to protect from the cold

I try to bring my focus away from the constricted feeling around my armpit to my breathing. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I can see my icy exhalations right in front of me.

My instructor tells me to move into the plank pose, and as I slowly come into position, I realise my movement is a little off balance as my clunky snow boots make sure my footwork isn’t as nifty as usual.

I’m now face to face with the reindeer hide, which is acting as my mat. Reindeer hair traps heat better than any other animal skin, so I’m told, and I don’t feel the cold emanating from the block of ice I’m balancing on – which, incidentally, is the only thing (aside from the dead reindeer) between me and the Byske River beneath.

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Hands up if you’re beginning to realise this wasn’t such a good idea

Moving from plank we push up into cobra. I lift up my chin, but since two of my base layers have hoods and I’m wearing a hat and a scarf, I struggle to get much of a bend in that area.

From here, moving back into child’s pose is quite nice. The snowsuit starts to remind me of a puffy one-piece I used to wear as a toddler, and I think I’ve maybe reached the level of yogi enlightenment were you begin to regress.

We finish the class by lying down on the mat in shavasana (corpse pose). Just as I begin to relax, we’re up again, being handed warm wooden cups of chaga chai. I’m reluctant to get up, but I guess lying motionless in -17C isn’t a great survival technique. 

The slow and static postures I’m using for this “Yoga on Ice” session are drawn from Virya and Yin yoga, allowing me to focus on my frosty surroundings. The ice-covered lake and snow-capped trees are calming, but staying so still for so long did feel counterintuitive in the cold. 

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Our writer takes the ice plunge, which is purportedly good for you

However, our instructor and founder of the retreat, Rebecca Bjork, is all fresh-faced, cheery Swedish perfection and despite the slight discomfort, if it means looking like her, I’m willing to give it a chance.

Following the yoga session, we’re invited to try a typical Swedish sauna and ice plunge pool, which, we are assured, will improve our circulation and relieve muscle tension. 

There’s more tension first, though – making it into the changing room in your snowsuit is a logistical nightmare. I feel like I have more of a workout taking off all my layers than I had during the yoga session. 

Walking into the 80C sauna, my body begins to warm up pretty quickly, but before I get too comfortable, I’m told to take a dip in the ice plunge pool – created by drilling a hole into a layer of ice covering the river.

Running from the sauna out into the cold, the powdery snow burns as it sticks to my feet. I have to balance my need to get this over with really quickly, with not wanting to knock out all my teeth on the icy wooden ladder. 

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Snowshoeing expeditions are also part of the Arctic wellness retreat

Surprisingly, compared to the snow, the 0C water feels tepid, and I sink myself lower and lower to feel warmer. 

However, emerging from the water, it feels like I’ve pressed a reset button on my whole body. The endorphin rush is worth the pain of the previous few minutes, giving me a newly gained understanding of masochists.

Other activities during the retreat include snowshoeing through the forest, cooking reindeer, moose and Arctic char over open fires, and deeply meditative ice sculpting. Hacking at a block of ice for an hour with a really sharp tool does wonders for my stress levels – more so than the yoga, to be honest.

After three days, my skin glows from the saunas, my muscles relax from the icy plunge pools, and my soul soothes from the ice smashing and sublime frozen landscapes. 

But I don’t think I’ll be taking my downward dogs out onto the frozen pond in my local park just yet.

Travel Essentials

Visiting there

There is a choice of four-day Arctic Winter Yoga retreats run by Active North across three locations: Munkviken, Aurora Safari Camp, and Byske.  

A retreat at Byske costs from 6,500 Swedish krona (about £592.40) per person, running from 6 to 9 April. It includes full-board accommodation in log cabins by the beach, yoga classes, countryside walks, and access to sauna and hot tub. There is also a day session available based from Byske upon request.

There are also dates for day retreats between January and March 2018.

Getting there

Norwegian Air flies from Gatwick to Stockholm. Transfer to Skelleftea (for the Munkviken and Byske camps) with Scandinavian Airlines, or to Lulea (for the Aurora Safari camp) with Norwegian Air. Prices start at £160 return. 

More information

visitsweden.com

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