Yasodhara Ashram

»Bringing Indian ashram living to British Columbia«

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There are yoga vacations that gently weave yoga into a day filled with fun, cocktails and white sands. Then there are places like Yasodhara Ashram. There are no soft edges here, no gentle euphemisms that allow a guest to cut corners. Only pure yoga, designed to work the mind, body and spirit into a lean and toned tool for finer living.

  • What we love
  • Thorough training programs
  • Variety of retreats and courses in major branches of yoga
  • The option to stay on after completing courses 5 days or more in length
  • Family Retreats include children of all ages in the ashram experience
  • What to know
  • Daily karma yoga is expected, offering selfless service to the community
  • No external distractions gives the opportunity to focus inward
  • Yasodhara celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2013
  • The 675-hour Yoga Development Course is a prerequisite for any other training
  • Why go
  • Authentic ashram experience
  • Kundalini yoga as taught by Swami Sivananda Radha is offered as part of the style range, not easy to find
  • Personal and spiritual renewal

There is something unnerving about the wild places left in the world. Nothing reminds you of how temporary you really are until you are looking at a mountain that was thrown up 10,000 years ago. This is a place that has seen the last Ice Age come and go, the rise and fall of species you'll never know about, and when you are long gone that mountain will be showing your great-great-grandchildren the same impassive face. That cheery little realization hits like a hammer even before stepping foot onto the Yasodhara Ashram, and the deflation of the ego doesn't end at the door. This is serious yoga that strips away pretense and surface-skimming. Yes, there are short retreats and courses and yes, they are popular and deeply refreshing. However, the business-end of Yasodhara's principles can be best found in the longer-term programs. It is in these longer-term programs that the gurukulam (residential) way of learning yoga on an Indian ashram is key - a total absorption into yogic life.

The Yoga Development Course is a mandatory prerequisite to any further structured training (not to the retreats) at Yasodhara. A three-month residential intensive, the 675-hour course covers a seven-day per week program. Using a number of methods, the ultimate goal of the course - and of yoga in general - is what Yasodhara describes as “the union of individual consciousness with Cosmic Consciousness.” In other words, something divine. The practical pathways to this lofty aim involve a series of workshops over the 675 hours, with each workshop lasting from two to five days. These focus on topics like yamas and niyamas (the ethical foundations of yogic living), psychology, study of the Bhagavad Gita, dualism in nature and the human psyche, development of the self using techniques that draw from Buddhism, and an academic component of three book reports from a required reading list of thirty books. There is also an element called Life Seals, which calls upon students to draw a series of personal symbols which represent past, present and future elements of their characteristics and aspirations. Interestingly, Life Seals is a registered trademark, an unusually business-like step for an ashram engaged in spiritualism. Workshops are given six days a week, with the seventh day 'off' to be dedicated to Karma Yoga.

Karma Yoga is also widely known as selfless service and is basically a way to humble oneself while working up a sweat. On an operational ashram like Yasodhara this can mean anything from cleaning toilets to peeling vegetables or tending the on-site garden that produces much of the kitchen's organic produce. Karma Yoga is part of any stay on the ashram, short or long, and even the little tykes who are here with their parents on the Family Retreat can be seen wielding a broom or uprooting potatoes.

The Family Retreat is an unusual offering among yoga centers. Many others deem very small children to be disruptive to the peaceful environment, but Yasodhara feel that even babies can give to – and gain something from – ashram living. Childcare is available for the times that parents are in class, and this service is offered at an extra per-day cost. The Family Retreat does not charge for children under five years old, and as long as there are two caregivers paying full rates, the fees for anyone under eighteen is pretty low. Accommodation for families is in shared rooms, and if this hints at a lack of couple-privacy it might be worth noting that the ashram is celibate anyway.

Length-of-stay at Yasodhara varies widely. There are those who are only here for the three-day Relaxation Retreat which is a small taste of ashram living and designed as a 'quick cleanup' of mental stress. There are others who have stayed for the three-month Yoga Development Course and are now enrolled in the further courses of study in Kundalini or Hatha Teacher Training. There are even those who have completed these and have taken up the option of living on the ashram for up to a further five months, consolidating their knowledge and deepening their self-awareness. One or two of the former students have simply never left, finding a home here and welcoming new faces. Some of these long-term residents were originally here for the Young Adult Program, whereby anyone between 18 – 30 can be part of the daily Karma Yoga.

Food is served in the communal meals hall three times a day. Prepared and served by professional cooks, food is always vegetarian, and much of the produce is organic and grown in the ashram's garden. Meal times are generally silent, albeit punctuated by the often curious youngsters who may have little experience in ashram etiquette.

All ashram guests meet at the Temple of Divine Light each evening for Satsang. This is a peaceful gathering to give thanks for the day and participate in rituals like the 20-minute mantra chanting, singing of the Bhajans (devotional songs), and enjoying the Prasad, which is a sweet given to each attendee to symbolize all that is good and rich in the preceding day. Satsang is a time for the whole community to spiritually connect before an early night.

Although there is supposed to be no gender discrimination in the eyes of the Divine, it is worth noting that Swami Radha, the spiritual leader of Yasodhara, is a woman. She has published many no-nonsense books on yoga, all of which are in the extensive Yasodhara library, and her demeanor is one that has permeated the entire ashram. The firm guiding hand of a loving mother who sees the potential for greatness in all of her children and allows no laziness or short-cuts along the way to achieving it. High expectations, hard work, and a strong feeling of community – this is Yasodhara Ashram.

About the area: British Columbia

British Columbia is a short hop across the US border but worlds away from the crowded, smog-filled bustle of American daily life. The Kootenay Rockies are one of the six regions that make up the area and offer a green world of mineral springs, alpine meadows and pleasantly exhausting walks to visitors. Seemingly endless mountain ranges dip delicately into placid lakes and thundering rivers. The sky is closer here, untarnished by pollution or the night-lights of cities. This is the kind of country where time is measured in seasons, not minutes, and errant hikers quickly realize that nature does not offer safety nets to the careless. Populated sparsely, four of British Columbia's seven national parks are in the Kootenay Rockies, all offering the most popular activities: Hiking, camping, rafting, kayaking, and bear-watching are at the top of the list, with skiing and snowboarding taking over in the winter months. The best times to visit are summer – as hiking trails are often too wet before July – and winter when almost all of the precipitation falls as delicate powder snow. Mid-year daytime temperatures are around the 23 degree C mark (73F) while winter is a much more chilly -10 degrees C ranging up to zero degrees C (14 to 32F).

Image credit: Yasodhara Ashram

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