Back from my first ever ashram visit – I brought back so much energy that I stayed up last night cleaning the bathroom and the closet!
The ashram I visited was Yogaville which is located in Virginia, a 4 hour drive from here. The area is nice and mountainy but the buildings are not new and not pretty. Clean though. Inside – Hindu aesthetic, with it’s crazy eclecticism: Lord Buddha, Jesus and Mary along Sri Satchidananda, who established the ashram. It’s more of a spiritual venture than a yoga studio.
The crowd is predominantly female, which for me is a nice change after Buddhist centers I’ve been to where the balance tilts towards guys. Of particular interest are the swamis – yoga monastics who wear orange clothing. You do not get many old wise women speaking in public in our culture. And they all have a sense of humor and seem pretty happy too.
To give you a bit of an idea about the daily schedule: there’s a meditation session around 6am (guided option usually available) followed by an Integral yoga class, which is 90 minutes and includes pranayama (and let me tell you: LONG INVERSIONS. I got to practice my headstand). Food is vegetarian and NO COFFEE (which I don’t drink anyway, but most people do). As a guest you get a fail amount of free time to relax without distracting yourself (reading is about the most exciting thing available. I read a whole book and it felt awesome). There’s another meditation session at noon and a yoga class in the afternoon, and an evening talk. They also do a lot of chanting (including kirtan, which I love) and I found it pretty magical. In fact, after this trip I started singing out loud in my car instead of listening to the podcasts. It’s as if something opened in my throat… No kidding!
Aside from the visitors like myself, at the ashram there is a group of long term volunteers, some staff and a large community of people who moved to the area – including families with little kids! – to be a part of the ashram. Walking around in the woods you can come across little houses like this:
Way to live, if you ask me.
For me personally the two most valuable personal take away points (aside from the energy and the throat thing, which are actually pretty big too) where these:
- What’s inside me is the same, wherever I go. And that means darkness and exhaustion. There is no way around it, as far as I can tell, though there are environments in which it’s easier to stand it and others which make it extremely difficult. Yogaville was pretty good in this regard though my stay was too short to know for sure. I can either assume there is something good beneath it (as advertised), or that that’s that (more of my personal experience). I decided to give it another few months of digging before I assume it’s shit all the way down and move on to something else outside of myself.
- In one of the swami talks, the idea of gunas (it’s an Ayurvedic term) of the mind was explained: different minds have a tendency to different states: tamasic, ie low vibration, stagnation, don’t feel like doing anything mood, bored, lazy; rajasic – excited, sometimes angry or annoyed, or: man, this is awesome, best thing ever!; and finally sattvic – peaceful blissful equanimity (though I have a hard time believing that anyone is a natural at this…..). The trick is to be aware of this and know what moves your mind from one place to the other. I rarely get anything remotely sattvic, BUT I do go between tamas (hate it!) and rajas AND I have a sense that I cannot hop from the low depressed place to the sunny grounded one, I have to go through the more excited one. Which is useful information, especially that I have a little bit of impact on this – I know what turns me on (and meditation is NOT it!). Now the trick is to be somewhat high on energy and still want to ground… Call it wisdom, call it practice, call it willpower.
What strikes me after coming back home to Charlotte is the amount of NOISE. There is something humming everywhere – the heating, the fans, air purifier, not to mention traffic. I’m kinda sensitive to noise so it’s hard for me to settle and relax in this environment.
My mind is screaming too. Not that it was quiet at the ashram, but now it’s af if it was trying to outyell all the external noises. Really, sweetheart, chill, I hear you. I know you’re excited. It’s nice. I’m glad you’re not depressed. I’m trying to be kind to it, you see…