April 1, 2009

A Trip to Yogaville, or How I Learned to Stop the Mind Stuff and Love Meditation

(L.O.T.U.S. Temple. Light of Truth Universal Shrine at Satchidananda Ashram)

YOGAS CITTA VRITTI NIRODDHAH: The restraint of the modifications of the mind stuff is Yoga. (The 2nd Yoga Sutra)

Okay, so I fell asleep in meditation once or twice at Yogaville (Im usually only up at 6am if I forgo sleep or score a cheap airline ticket), but while the prospect of sitting in meditation for five minutes used to scare me (Jack Kornfield’s guided meditations eased that fear), not too long ago, the thought of sitting for up to four times a day would have sent me and my yoga mat packing. When I signed up for my yoga teacher training, one of the instructors told, or rather warned me, that our weekend ashram trip would be somewhat of a meditation boot camp if I didn’t have a regular meditation practice (and apparently gazing at pictures of Twilight hottie Robert Pattinson doesn’t count). However, after a guided morning meditation and one session of meditating in the LOTUS temple, an ecumenical shrine that also houses a museum of the world religions, from Islam to Judaism to Jainism and Native American traditions, I was actually eager to meditate the next day. The otherworldly pink and turquoise mud blossom is located in Buckingham, Virginia, also known as middle of nowhere and prepare to get car sick when you leave the highway roughly two hours before you reach the ashram, Virginia (though this might have had more to do with sitting in the backseat of a large van. And nothing to do with the three slices of pizza and chocolate birthday cake I had for lunch…nothing).

As part of my 20o hour Yoga Teacher Training, I spent this past weekend at Yogaville, an ashram founded by Swami Satchidananda, creator of the Integral Yoga method, a meditative practice that includes eye stretches and pranayama, in addition to gentle asana, in each session. Satchidananda is probably best known for opening Woodstock in 1969, describing music as “the celestial sound that controls the whole universe.” My first evening at the ashram I was, er, upset about a boy. I am pretty sure that other ashram visitors were a little surprised to find a girl crying in the dorm bathroom around the 10 pm silent hour (this coupled with the fact that one of my fellow teachers in training came down with the flu in the van and was throwing up in the stall next to me. The whole situation kind of reminded me of my boarding school years, but I digress.) One of my best friends even texted me “Don’t cry! You’re at Yogatown!” I thought I might spend the whole weekend crying, not a first in my book as far as broken hearts are concerned, but after two days, 4 yoga sessions, multiple sitting meditations, and one walking meditation, I reached a sort of detachment and calmness. In fact, I stopped obsessing over painful thoughts, and it was not because they did not come to me, but I was more adept at sending them away by weekend’s end.

This was the first ashram I have visited, but I’m pretty sure the schedule was standard ashram fare, early (early) morning meditation, morning yoga, vegetarian meals, afternoon yoga, and more meditation opportunities and lectures. At Saturday Satsang, Doug Keller was one of the featured speakers. There was also an Israeli family of five visiting the ashram. The oldest son, a young teenager, masterfully juggled at meals. Their young daughter could go into Lotus pose without batting an eye, and their rambunctious four year old son giggled all day, riding a bike around the lawn, a constant reminder to cultivate child like wonder and awe. They were my favorite ashram guests, sorry Doug! Yogaville has also cornered the market on its unique alarm clock system. Each morning, I awoke to the sounds of violin music played by an 80 year old former Nun turned Swami (And I also heard they were hosting line dancing the night after we departed. It’s an Ashram Y’all!).

In meditation the first morning, I kept having an experience which is somewhat hard to describe, but let me try…I kept feeling like I was dropping into myself, as soon as I became aware of the feeling, as in “This feels goooood,” I lost it. But I kept dropping into it; it felt like home. Of course, again, as soon as I realized this, I was no longer there. However, I wanted more. In that sense, meditation became like the homemade cornbread served at several of the meals, addictive, yet with no threat of loosing brain cells. (In fact, meditation has been shown to increase the part of the brain that is responsible for tempered decision making, the part of the brain that is still developing in teenagers).

I also sat for mediation in the LOTUS temple, which is on the second floor of the building, situated on butterfly lakes at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The inner sanctum is illuminated by subtle neon lights (surprisingly not an oxymoron). This is not your grandparents temple, and I wasn’t too surprised to learn that the shrine was constructed in the 80s, a decade I associate both with being born and with substantial lapses in judgment from Miles Davis. Despite this, the temple does not feel hokey, rather it buzzes with energy, perhaps from the neon tubes, but maybe also from good vibes and from the fact that the temple was built to promote interfaith understanding; The goal of Integral Yoga is “to realize the spiritual unity behind all the diversity in the entire creation and to live harmoniously as members of one universal family,” as Integral Yoga Teacher Trace Sahaja Bonner explains (a mission that melts even my cynical post-college-in-the-recession-era heart).

Yeah, it’s a lofty goal, but a LOTUS temple in the middle of the rural Virgina probably sounded pretty lofty once too.

Does this temple make me look fat?

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