I am currently in the process of planning my return to Sivananda Ashram and Yoga Farm in the lovely, remote area of Grass Valley, CA.
Last September certain areas of life beckoned my recognition and I turned to my yoga practice for guidance. I was led, by fate I presume, to the beautiful farm retreat with a close friend with whom I had practiced before. We spent two nights camping on the property, waking at 5:30 to a soothing bell and the soft chant “Om Namah Shivaya, it’s 5:30…” We would then meditate for twenty minutes, the early morning light peeking in through the windows and falling on the edges of the silent room, bodies draped in soft scarves and wraps, eyes closed, bodies humming with peace…after meditation we would chant, and then the Swami would give an inspiration, uplifting lecture. I hesitate to even use the word “lecture” for his beautiful blend of spiritual, relatable, modern and thematic story-telling. It was more that, story-telling, than lecture. A “take what you will from this” type of verbal presentation in the fresh morning atmosphere.
From there we would go to our first yoga class. Sivananda yoga is a different practice from the Vinyasa Flow I’m used to, and it was difficult for me to bend my practice away from what I’m used to (an important lesson I learned about myself off the mat, an unwillingness to bend…we must learn to bend so as not to break); my heart has opened greatly in the past year and has embraced many styles of practice and now I look forward to practicing Sivananda yoga again with a year’s reflection in my medicine kit.
Post yoga we would retreat to brunch, which was a decadent spread of vegan, hearty, wholesome goodness. Lots of lentils, breads, soups, vegetables, potatoes, salads, tea and rices were served and tasted absolutely divine. In part due to the expert Ayurvedic preparation and in part because we’d be up since 5:30 and not eaten (that would be false if I let you believe that – Megan and I indulged in a Luna bar and piece of fruit each in the tent at 5:30 each morning before heading down to meditation…I cannot make it through four hours of my day without a bite to get my body going, I don’t believe it’s healthy for the metabolism either so…packing your own healthy snacks is a must).
After brunch, and the washing of our own dishes, was something called “Karma Yoga” which I expected to be another type of yoga, what a rookie move 😉 Karma Yoga consisted of kitchen clean-up, working around the ashram, watering the plants, turning the soil…etc. and it was a lovely concept. A spiritual place of beauty that is kept spiritual and beautiful by those who are present doing the work it takes to keep the land flourishing. It really is yoga. The act of beautifying what is in, around and part of you, because no one else will. It was a humbling and inspiring practice.
After some free time we would reconvene for afternoon yoga. The class would be the same as the morning. After that class we were feeling particularly drained and sleepy from the heat, the lower consumption of food and the lack of sleep. We took free time to do some vinyasa and reflective writing on the gorgeous meditation deck overlooking the lake before dinnertime. Dinner was another phenomenal spread of vegan Ayurvedic amazingness. A bit more free time elapsed afterwards and then it was time to refill our mugs of tea and congregate for evening Satsang, which is the same as morning time, with meditation, chanting and lecture.
We arrived on a Friday and partook in dinner and Satsang, then the next day was as I described, and the last day was as I described up until the afternoon when we did Kirtan (a delightful call and respond singing/chanting practice) and departed from the Ashram.
All in all, I was completely changed by my experience. Now, this is not a place to be “holier than thou” and act as though I was all blissed out and reached self-recognition and enlightenment during meditation. No. That did not happen. I had an “Eat Pray Love” moment during meditation where I wanted to crumble forward out of Sukhasana (simple cross-legged sitting pose) and wail into the floor, “WHY AM I THINKING ABOUT EVERYTHING THERE HAS EVER BEEN TO THINK ABOUT RIGHT NOW WHEN MY MIND IS SUPPOSED TO BE BLANK!?!?” The answer I came up with after months of reflection is not one you want to offer that hair-brained, mess of a self that is floundering in meditation amidst practiced yogis. No. Just be gentle with that poor fragile part of you, because the answer that you too will realize is that you need to meditate more. Do I meditate more? Not really. Sometimes. But not really. I’m coming up on a year since my retreat and I’m just now realizing how much it’s changed me. I’m just now itching to go back. I’m just now realizing I want to meditate more. But I’m going to meditate lying down, or walking, because that’s what allows my mind to quiet down. I urge you to make your practice your own. Naturally, don’t get up and stride out of Satsang to go do walking meditation because that would be rude. Try their methods, try to acclimate. Do your best. But in your own practice and your own life outside of the retreat, be creative. Find what works for you. So in the quest of answering To Retreat or Not To Retreat, I can only tell you that in a year’s time I’ve found it to be life changing and the first step in a long journey; one that I anticipate with a soft smile and a very open heart.