A mother who moved her family to a remote mountain in Spain is now teaching others the lessons in serenity that she learnt after becoming a monk.
Kirsty Bortoft, 48, from Scarborough, had suffered with severe anxiety and bad mental health for years, before deciding to uproot her entire life after the breakdown of a ‘toxic’ relationship.
The mother-of-three would have regular panic attacks and decided to give up material possessions for a simpler life – even becoming a monk in the process.
Recalling her decision to move to Spain in July 2011, saying: ‘I suffered with really bad anxiety and panic attacks so my mental health was one of the reasons I left.
‘I also walked away from a toxic relationship. I felt so lost but I had to do it for my family’s sake.’
Kirsty Bortoft, 48, (pictured) from Scarborough, became a monk after uprooting her entire life and moving with her children to a remote mountain in Spain
In 2005, Kirsty was trying to juggle life as a single mum with three young children, aged 6 months, two and three.
She had just split from her ex and her mental health was rapidly declining.
Kirsty said: ‘It was extremely hard; breaking up with my partner, along with having next to no money.
‘I went to the doctors and they were lovely, but they’re trained in drugs and pharmacology – a drug would numb it [my feelings] but I knew it wasn’t the answer.
‘Then, after my appointment, I had this inner, small flickering of hope.’
In a moment akin to Eat Pray Love, the biography written by Elizabeth Gilbert, which was later turned into a movie starring Julia Roberts, in 2011, Kirsty realised that she needed to find a new path.
Kirsty was miserable in her office job while trying to juggle life as a single mother, before becoming interested in a ‘soul-searching journey’. Pictured: Kirsty around the time she left her toxic relationship
She was miserable in her office job and wanted to do something that would reignite her zest for life.
The mum started by going on a free weekend course to become a life coach – which, in a roundabout way, would soon see her jet off on a journey to Spain.
‘During a class, I had this awakening where I realised that my life was like one big jigsaw puzzle but there was one piece missing,’ Kirsty said.
‘I’d been trying to “fix” myself on the outside for so long, when really, that one piece is where I need to fix myself on the inside.
‘I needed to go on a massive, soul-searching journey.’
Kirsty had become interested in mediation, and while researching her next step stumbled across the Ishayas Monks.
Kirsty became a life coach after completing a free weekend course then stumbled across the Ishayas monks. Pictured: Kirsty rising in a hammock at the monastery in Spain, 2015
Kirsty, who took her two youngest children out of school to move to Spain, said her extended family were supportive of her decision. Pictured: Kirsty’s sons aged 18, 17 and 15
Kirsty shared a house with another family while at the monastery, which had three other families from the UK and Australia. Pictured: Kirsty with one of her friends at the monastery
The monks, who live in Reus in the Mont-Ral mountains, are dedicated to consciousness and ‘mastery of the self’ – the inward journey of ‘letting go’ or surrender.
Instead of Gilbert’s Italy, India and Indonesia, the mum opted for a closer location – taking her children along for the ride.
She said: ‘I felt so drawn to what they were teaching to the point where I took my two youngest out of school and drove to Spain to study the working of the mind and the mastery of the self with a load of monks.
‘It may sound like a crazy decision but my extended family were really supportive.
‘Plus, it was great for my oldest kids, who were eight and 11 at the time, as there was a little school there and loads of opportunity for adventure.
‘It sounds crazy but I wasn’t scared whatsoever.’
Kirsty said the monk teachers would teach the children and take them on a nature adventure, while the adults learned their teachings. Pictured: Kirsty’s sons aged eight, 10 and 11
Kirsty and her children shared a house with another family, with everyone following a programme each day including sunrise yoga and meditation.
There were three other families from the UK and Australia, and a school and pool for the children to learn and have fun.
Kirsty said: ‘Our children would be taught by monk teachers and go on incredible nature adventure while the adults learned their teachings.
‘The house was beautiful, fairly big and open and with incredible views over the mountain to the coast.
‘The breakfast would be pretty normal with porridge and lunch would be salads, soups, cold soups, fruit and then dinners were more hearty.
‘It was a very clean diet, so no alcohol, no rubbish and it was almost all organic.’
Kirsty (pictured) was christened as ‘Rudra Dev’ after graduating from her four years spent studying to become a monk
Kirsty remained with the monks for four years and even studied to become one herself.
She graduated as an Ishaya Monk in 2015 and was christened as Rudra Devi – meaning The Goddess Who Removes Pain.
‘It’s not about meditating 24 hours-a-day anymore, bald heads and big cloaks – it’s a new modern way,’ Kirsty said.
‘It’s about bringing something back into the community and using it in real life and that was what really excited me about it.
‘We were on top of mountains, surrounded by people who wanted to be more, still, present, loving, kind and helpful.
‘It was the best experience.’
Kirsty has since left Spain (pictured) to help other people suffering from anxiety and mental-health related issues in England
While in Spain, Kirsty had kept her house in the UK and once a fully-fledged monk, decided to head back home to to share her wisdom with stressed-out Brits.
Now a mindset coach too, she helps people suffering from anxiety and mental health-related issues using the techniques she learned while living with the Ishaya Monks.
Kirsty said: ‘Moving back to England, I was so excited to tell everybody about it and teach but then I realised that not everyone was ready to hear it.
‘I knew I needed to share what I’d learned with the world and after a while I started to get more and more clients, and now I work with people all over the UK.
‘I believe and teach that we get so busy with stuff that’s generally external to us; such as what ifs, bills, work stress what-nots, that we get confused, worried, and don’t sleep because of them.
‘Life is for thriving, not surviving, it’s one short life and we need to find that part inside of us that really helps us through.’
Up until lockdowns happened due to Covid, Kirsty dedicated some time every summer to go back and visit the monks in Spain.