This documents my first two days at Yogaville. For the article explaining why I am here, click here.
As I was approaching the Ashram for the first time, I felt a surge of energy I have not felt before. It was a pulse in my body, but I was not nervous; it was more of a feeling of arriving—home.
I was early to the Ashram so I could sign in and settle. Walking clueless around the welcome center, a man stared at my suitcase, laughed and quickly pointed me at the right direction.
Although graduation from college (which I did this May) is supposed to signify a milestone where you evolve, I smiled when I realized my life had gone full circle: I now lived in another dorm. However, it cannot be compared to a college dorm: here we practice silence, respect, communal cleaning efforts, unlocked doors and full restrictions on the line between the male and female dorms. I also happen to have hit jackpot as my roommate is a 25 year old health food private chef. All I can say is that this is probably the exact opposite of my freshman dorm experience. But I deviate.
There is a lovely energy in the air. Inspired after setting up my bunk and unpacking, I was eager to get to the L.O.T.U.S. L.O.T.U.S. is the meditation temple that includes all religions within. It is tucked in by the Blue Ridge Mountains and caressed by a beautiful lake. Well—that’s what I had seen in photos and I knew that seeing it was a goal before my mandatory first session. As soon as I step outside, there is my friend from before; lets call him Frank (I will avoid using everyone’s real names to respect their privacy) who had playfully guided my wandering. After we did the typical introductory conversation—he told me he was also heading to L.O.T.U.S., and yet again he was my guide.
I could not help but to think of the people in my life who could be here with me, also incorporating such a beautiful philosophy into their lives. Everything just makes absolute sense—my idealistic truth but—made real with the teachings I hear, eg: “Through selflessness and inner peace we can live a life of purpose. “
The Ashram is based from Sri Swami Satchidamanda’s teachings and of what he called “Living Yoga”, which simply means not just philosophizing the ideal, but living it. Living yoga is being physically focused, mentally alert while pursuing and being a caring person.
We went through a shortcut of lush forest landscape. It was raw, it was novel–and it included a side of political and philosophical conversation with Frank. Frank must be twice my age, and he visits the ashram once a year. He stumbled upon the Ashram 10 years ago when he wanted a weekend getaway (a GET AWAY from work and life). He just so happened to pick a Yoga Ashram and he has been involved ever since.
The L.O.T.U.S. is phenomenal. It encompasses the unified belief of all religions on a peaceful world. Each main religion (yes, Secular Humanists included!) is represented through the belief of the “light” we all search through our beliefs. Frank and I quickly meditated and headed back—after all I had to get to my first meeting.
We rushed and of course, we get lost. Climbing in flip flops, I began to run up the mountain in hopes of seeing where to go. Frank followed me apologizing for his lack of direction. There I was, a Miamian LATE to the introduction. I joked with Frank about the unruly true stereotype that was occurring. Regardless, I was so thankful he took me to see L.O.T.U.S. It was worth the hustle.
As I walk in to the introduction late and hyperventilating, there sat two women: one young, around my age and another older woman around her forties. Emma, the 22 year old, and I quickly hit it off and went to the rest of the programming (Hatha Yoga then Dinner) together. Emma is definitely more overwhelmed by the experience than I, she is constantly fascinated by what she sees and has to mentally readjust. She questioned for how long people lived here and was shocked to hear that Yogaville was for many a personal choice for their permanent home. As I chose a beautiful medley of organically grown food at dinner, she asked me, “Now, talking with others—why are they all here?”. Strangely, without thinking I replied, “Well, I feel like either they are running away from the world or they are running away to the world”. She smiled and we both realized that’s precisely where we fit. We were running towards the world, and the world replied “well—isn’t it about time.”
I am overwhelmed with kinetic energy and have absorbed the journey ahead. Lights out tonight at 10pm, to wake up for a 5:30am meditation. It is a complete shift of how life is lived in Miami. For one example, my phone has no reception at all and I can rarely use the computer. I could only think “I’ve a feeling we are not in Miami anymore”. Interestingly enough, this thought made me smile, and without hesitation I turn off my computer and wish my body a good rest.
The Drive up was an amazingly meditative experience. The hours just slipped pass my car’s digital clock and I got to see friends that represent different stages of my life. I would like to thank Caroline, Ximena, Christina and Jessica for being so caring, hospitable and supportive. I dedicate my meditation to you today. I also am sending thoughts to my friend Molly, who was hospitalized and needs some good energy.
Quote of the day:
As we are leaving my first hatha class here, a woman is talking to a yoga instructor, all I could catch was “wouldn’t that be weird?”, and the yoga instructor wittily replied: “No, that is NOT weird. We live in an ashram, now that’s weird”.
The full acceptance (without frustration) of how an ashram is perceived made it a yogi magical giggle as we stepped out into the beautiful hills around the building.
The alarm went off at 5:30am today. Although most of the dormitories are woken up by a resident easefully playing her violin through the hall, my floor is where the LYT students (pronounced “light”) reside, and we must have our own discipline to wake up early. My familiar and jarring phone alarm woke me up to be one of the most peaceful mornings of my life. (LYT is living yoga training, where you come work/study from 1-3 months; it is a larger commitment and therefore is more rigorous than only coming for the welcome weekend as a guest.)
My days are filled with approximately two hours and a half of meditation plus three hours of a mild Hatha Yoga (I do miss my Ashtanga and Power Yogas, I am already plotting certified yoga instructor guests to do renegade alternative classes). A note about meditation: being still for long periods of time is an abstract concept to most Americans, but particularly with me. I am in constant motion, making myself busy and then making my busy schedule busier. I think a lot. I think about thinking a lot then I think about my thinking about it. Then I think, why did I think so much? It is just how I have always been. I have been doing more and more meditation this year, however THIS is a full immersion. After meditation and hatha, I was very excited for what came next in the schedule: BREAKFAST.
At breakfast I was fascinated by all of the fresh produce and variety of organic food available to us. Yogaville is self-sustained (except for a few products like peanut butter and soy sauce… and some fruits and vegetables to feed masses) which means they have their own farm and grow a good amount of the food displayed for us in the buffet. We have the contrast of raw and cooked food, all made fresh by those of us in LYT. I have not starting the working/studying aspect of my program, that will begin in a couple of days.
I made myself an apple, banana and granola fruit salad with a touch of peanut butter. To drink I served myself a concoction of rice and almond milk , and got another cup steaming with aroma of the green tea bag I had put inside. I sat on one of the low tables on the ground alone for 10 minutes, savoring the food and being completely thankful for the richness and the nutrients of the food. I can tell you honestly that this was the first time in my life I had such a serene moment with my food. Even though I have even been raw vegan, I don’t think I ever absorbed what a beautiful connection I was having with what I was eating. I know, it sounds like a premature insanity, but I truly felt food as nourishment for the first time.
My new friend Emma found her way to where I was sitting and we again discussed our experience and how we were feeling. Often, we find ourselves in complete silence, with nothing to say. It is so refreshing to be with individuals who accept silence as better than filling the air with insignificance. Although silent, we were absorbing the energy of the place, the actions of others and our own mind’s adjustment. During one of our moments of silence, I see Frank across at another table and I had to say something to my “guide”. He is here only for his “yearly Ashram trip” and is doing a course called “The Science of Yoga” which surveys the science and medicine behind this one word we are all here for: Yoga. Coming next in my schedule was a talk, Frank smirked and joked “What kind of a talk—a PEP talk?”. We laughed as we each went to our own programs.
My talk turned out to be about Raja Yoga, which is the mental discipline branch of Yoga. Yoga has six branches: Raja, Japa, Hatha, Karma, Bhakti and Jnana. The largest misconception is that Yoga is simply a great workout, when really that is only a small branch. Here we practice what is called “Integral Yoga”, which the introductory booklet describes it as “the synthesis of the various branches of Yoga. It is a scientific system for the harmonious development of every aspect of the individual.” Not bad, right?
My favorite is probably the goal of integral yoga they have outlined for us (please bare with it, the principles are beautiful):
“The goal of Integral Yoga, and the birthright of every individual, is to realize the spiritual unity behind all the diversities in the entire creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family. This goal is achieved by maintaining our natural condition of: a body of optimum health and strength, senses under total control, a mind well-disciplined, clear and calm, an intellect as sharp as a razor, a will as strong and pliable as steel, a heart full of unconditional love and compassion, an ego as pure as crystal, and a life filled with Supreme Peace and Joy”.
Brilliant. I had to agree completely. It’s the remedies we know are the best for us summarized in one paragraph.
I now am going to L.O.T.U.S. for a 30 minute independent meditation followed by a tour of the entire Ashram’s property and a Satsang that will include more “pep talks” about “loving now” and will have a traditional Indian dance performed. (Read the bonus below for the meditation recap) I cannot imagine a more beautiful and serene way to all of us unite and give great energy off on a day where 9 years ago brought immense pain to the United States (September 11).
This is only 24 hours, and I already feel revitalized. Bizarre though, I thought I was exuberant of so much love and light but it was all only the great beginning. I now quickly turn off my computer to avoid being late again to any of the programming. The individuals here have uncanny amounts of patience but I still rather not test out their limits.
Today was the longest I have ever at one sitting have ever meditated. 30 minutes. 30 MINUTES. I thought it would be excruciating: but strangely enough my mind was prepared for the challenge. As I sat, I sat with complete acceptance of the task at hand—though my mind kept throwing thoughts, ideas and frankly strange dream sequences at me. I was surprised at how I was able to control the “monkey brain” (they say our mind is like a drunk monkey bitten by a scorpion… I wish I could make these things up!). I hope to channel this more intently, without frustration. I remember back in January that 10 minutes of meditation seemed to be an eternity, where I could hear each second of the clock tick as a Chinese torture.
Quote of the day:
(in so many words) “What is that ash we put on our foreheads made out of?” “Its cow dung. See, anything burned becomes pure—we are here to burn the hatred, the restrictions, the fears. If turd can be pure, then humanity definitely can figure it out”