The Magic Mountain

Further climbs high into the Georgian Caucasus to explore wellbeing, consciousness, and the mind-body connection.

Text: Frankie Wechsler
Videography: Eldon van Aswegen
Photography: Anka Gujabidze & Ani Gabashvili

But how will this widening field of knowledge and desire affect the way people travel? To address this question, Further headed high into the Georgian Caucasus, one of the most beautiful, mystic places on Earth, with a group of leaders in the fields of psychosocial health, nutritional sciences, and esoteric practices to explore the mind-body connection and how new approaches to wellness are changing the ways we live and travel.

“I think the past holds a lot of the answers,” said Jasmine Hemsley, a London-based food and wellness guru whose bestselling cookbooks offer a holistic, contemporary interpretation of the ancient Indian philosophy of Ayurveda. “When technology wasn't interrupting the natural rhythms of our body, when we lived by the seasons, we lived by the sun and the moon,” she continued, “we were much more in tune.”

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“Suddenly it's about journeys both inner and outer.”

– Martin Raymond

Composed of the Sanskrit word, “Ayur,” meaning life, and “Veda,” meaning knowledge, Ayurveda, “the science of life,” is a holistic system of wellbeing developed in India some 5,000 years ago. As a nutritional philosophy, Ayurveda focuses not just on what you eat but—far more than most nutritional systems—on how and when you eat and in what combinations and proportions. Balance is the highest virtue.

“It’s like being a surfer. You have to be able to ride the waves,” said Hemsley, who, in addition to her work as a television host, public speaker, and author, now runs Hemsley + Hemsley, a consultancy that aims to help people with their digestion and their relationship with food using the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. Its wild popularity speaks to growing interest in Eastern mind-body practices as ways to reach, if not enlightenment, than at least a healthier way of being in the world.

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Another practice in increasing demand is breathwork, a method of controlled breathing that has its origins in the ancient yogic breathing exercise of Pranayama. Breathwork is meant to give rise to altered states of consciousness and positively impact physical and mental wellbeing. “The easiest way to describe it is that you can breathe yourself into this unconscious mindset where you can unfold and open hidden doors. And this can lead you to overall wellbeing,” said Sascha Zeilinger, who quit his job as a fashion and sales executive to travel the world, ultimately as a breathwork practitioner for clients like Nike and Soho House, as well as private people and groups. “I think we should all learn to be more conscious, to be a more aware of our surroundings and what we're doing,” said Zeilinger, “because everybody is leaving a footprint.”

This notion of mindfulness—of knowing exactly where you are in the world—was a central focus of The Magic Mountain, which took place at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, a former Soviet-era workers’ resort perched 1,800 meters above sea level in the village of Stepantsminda. A breathwork session by another Further resident, Miriam Adler, led directly into a meditative hike through the spectacular terrain of alpine meadows and forests, gorges, ridges, and snow-covered slopes surrounding Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, and up to the 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church, an important spiritual pilgrimage point. There, the group experienced the rare Aramaic chanting of Assyrian priest Mama Serafime and his choir, reciting ancient prayers in the original language of Jesus of Nazareth. This awareness of the spiritual, cultural, and natural environment is an essential component of wellbeing.

“The easiest way to describe it is that you can breathe yourself into this unconscious mindset where you can unfold and open hidden doors. And this can lead you to overall wellbeing.”

– Sascha Zeilinger

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“Suddenly it's about journeys both inner and outer,” said Martin Raymond, co-founder of The Future Laboratory, one of the world’s leading foresight consultancies. For Raymond it’s clear that travelers increasingly want to find ways to reconnect with themselves. They are looking for mindfulness, for wellbeing, for ritual.

“After journeying and traveling, a ritual will allow you to readjust to the locality again,” said Raymond. “It also allows you to think, meditate, and consider. Because we forget when we're traveling. We're just doing things. And increasingly we realize that part of travel is doing nothing but in a structured way. So the ritual—whether it's yoga, pilates, Ayurveda treatments, it could be an Ayahuasca ceremony, it could be peyote ceremony in Mexico—all of these are part of a sense of how you both structure your travel, and how you build your inner character.”

It's not just esoteric and Eastern practices that are particularly resonating today. Further resident Samantha Clarke is in constant demand as a “happiness consultant,” coaching businesses on how to navigate the impact of technology on happiness at work, elevate emotional intelligence, and build environments that nurture psychosocial health in the workplace. She cites statistics, such as that 54 percent of millennials say their loyalty is influenced by how much their employee cares about their wellbeing, as evidence that workplace happiness is crucial to any organization’s success.

“Wellness isn’t just one thing. It's this overall feeling,” said Julia Chaplin, a journalist, author, and designer whose latest book, “The Boho Manifesto,” is a tongue-in-cheek guide to “post-conventional living,” from microdosing psychedelics to spiritual ceremonies and ideas festivals. When it comes to travel, says Chaplin, wellness is “this magic visceral cocktail… It isn't just one yoga class. It's not one breathwork class. It's also the other guests who I'm talking to at breakfast, the staff. It's really a holistic picture.”

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For Further resident and celebrated Danish chef Kamilla Seidler, this holistic picture of wellness has a profound ethical and humanistic dimension. “In our industry we tend to forget the person,” said Seidler. “We talk a lot about where the fish is fished and it's being carried in on a silver tray, and then we forget about the people working 18 hours in the kitchen. So what I would like to see is that we connect the food that we eat with the way we treat our staff and our colleagues and then come together as a whole.”

It’s a philosophy that Seidler has put into practice—and exported out of the kitchen. As the head chef of restaurant Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia, she worked together with a local nonprofit to empower locals, many living below the poverty line, to make best possible use of local food supplies, leading expeditions, for instance, into the rainforest, demonstrating harvest and preparation techniques and sharing meals with the community. Named “Latin America’s Best Female Chef” in 2016, Kamilla is now on a culinary expedition around the world, teaming up with local food festivals and pop-ups in collaboration with indigenous communities, spreading the word on conscientious cuisine.

“If we're willing to share, if we're willing to pay the right price for products, if we spread what we have, we could feed the planet easily,” said Seidler. “To me, wellness means being generally comfortable. When you breathe, you breathe all the way through your stomach. When you eat something, you enjoy the meal, you focus on what's on the plate and where it came from. It‘s just being aware of how lucky you are.“

“We talk a lot about where the fish is fished and it's being carried in on a silver tray, and then we forget about the people working 18 hours in the kitchen.”

– Kamilla Seidler

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