- Ashley Brown
Retreat or Retreat?
As some of you know I went on a week long retreat/training/sadhana at the peaceful Sivananda Yoga Farm in Grass Valley in August. I went for not only to get away for a week, but for a week long deep dive into Bhakti yoga (yoga of Devoion) with Swmai Vashistanada. I am still processing as I am still returning into this ebb and flow of the modern world. Yes I've been back for about 2 months and can still feel the healing vibrations from that special trip.
I went with deep intentions to drop deeper into my sadhana (Spiritual Practice) and by doing so maybe my actions of inaction would transform. I once prided myself (there is my first downfall) on waking up at 5am to do my sadhana in the early mornings. I worked with mantras daily to help open up energy channels and release mucus from my throat and sinus'. Early in the morning I had time on my side and we were able to drop into a rhythm of give and take. Until. Something happened to where I became complacent in my spiritual practice, I stopped waking up so early and I started staying up late. the practice of the Yamas and Niyamas were not being upheld in my being.
At the yoga farm I dropped deep into a place of acceptance and grace. I felt so welcomed by the nature and the spirit of the ashram. As I parked with excitement I wondered who I was going to meet and what I would learn and if I would be able to pitch my tent all by myself. To say I was nervous doesn't quite cover it, because I also welcomed the unknown adventure.
I am not sure what might have gone through my student's head when I named all of these things retreat/workshop/sadhana, but to me retreat can mean two different things. And both of them might have happened along with the deep studies of this spiritual practice I have dedicated my life towards.
I did feel in a sense that I finally was ready to retreat from my daily life, from the addictions to tv and shopping, and that I would be magically healed from it when I left. Well...sadly I have not been magically healed, but my intentions are starting to sprout little seedlings and I am able to see the desire for change beginning to manifest itself into reality. I was retreating from having to run around to make money, run around to avoid the stillness of reality and truth. I was retreating from my patterns that somehow have shown up again after I thought I masterfully tackled them. I was retreating from the EMF's and mindless technology intake. I was retreating to feed my soul, before I forgot why I was on this spiritual path.
After pitching my tent I began to walk the grounds to get my bearings and maybe meet some friends. I was in love with the big Oak Trees (no pictures, insert sad face) the permaculture garden and landscape, and the simple pleasure of nature and your wits (no cell phone reception). That evening I took my first ever Sivananada yogaasana class and then joined in a community meal. After the meal someone comes around to ask if you would be interested in doing Seva/Karma yoga (self-less work, we might see it as community service) throughout our stay. I was volunteered to do kitchen work, like cleaning the dishes after breakfast before my Bhakti yoga course. Dishes are not my favorite chore, but I was there to practice humility and contentment. After dinner there is peace chanting and then Satsang (gathering of Truth/Group of Truth seekers) with meditation and a reading from Swami Sivananda's teachings.
For those who do not know Swami Sivananda or Swami Vishnudevananda, I'll quickly explain. Swami Sivananda was a medical doctor before he integrated this into his path into Yoga. His practice and teachings are very scientific and precise on why the asana sequence is set up the way it is. There also isn't a lack of philosophy as their teachings is based in Vedanta. Swami Vishnudevananda was one of Swami Sivananda's main students who was blessed to bring the teachings into retreat spaces and Teacher Trainings around the world like Grass Valley and the Bahamas (where a lot of my teachers and community ends up throughout the year). One of the stories I learned was: Swami Vishnudeananda flew over the Berlin wall during a cease fire and was chanting Om Namo Narayanaya. I thought wow what a ballsy and non-traditional traditional Indian man being very active in his quest for peace. Not all of us can fly over the US boarder today and throw flowers, but what if we could? Our change and activism can be making phones calls, some march, and some chant.
After about 24hrs without phone/cell/internet connection I had to call my husband to tell him I made it safely and let him know what I was up to. Who knows where he thought I might have gone, maybe to my new home and never return (as some friends and students did express for me to return...I heeded your pleas;). The only place to get reception on those healing mountains was to climb up Siva hill and the 108 steps to the temple of Siva. What a view!
But if you turn around at the temple you can go deeper into the hill (watch your step, there is poison oak!) and there is the most beautiful mural of the Lord Siva himself. I was in awe and didn't have any material possessions or food to offer, so I offered water and a Siva mantra.
Every morning Swami Vashitananda would go around each Temple and would perform puja at each temple before waking us up. I still can hear him when my alarm goes of in the morning, "Om Namah Shivaya, 5:30!" By the third day I was up by 4:30am. There is something about sleeping out in the stars and without real walls that makes you more attuned to the rhythms of nature. Plus this gave me time to do my morning purifications and kriyas. I would be sleepy and groggy if I went back to sleep on these early mornings as I moved from tent to morning satsang. We would begin with a 30min meditation, some folks would have already been there preparing themselves with pranayama (life force retention practice).
After morning Satsang I would fill my time waiting for brunch by taking an asana class. By day 3 my body was telling me to stop the repetitive sequencing. I have notice this when I am practicing to teach, instead of my personal practice, my body does not like the repetitive movements and needs versatility. I ended up adding more blankets, the wall, and a chair into the practice. By the end of my stay I was doing a full on restorative practice. The best thing about a Sivananda practice in my opinion is all the Savasanas. You are really able to feel calm and wholeness throughout the practice.
After brunch it would be my time to do the dishes and help clean up in the kitchen. Not my favorite, but I would hum bhajans to myself (I noticed after the first time it didn't seem customary to sing while you work). After seva I would have about an hour until my Bhakti yoga class would start with Swami Vashitananda. I would read or take a stroll around the pond. The days were hot in the last part of summer, so I wasn't looking to get a good sweat in, as that was happening whether you liked it or not.
I did become very homesick during my stay as well as feeling at home. I felt homesick for my husband, but also for my Guru. I would call out to her in my heart to see her face around the unfamiliar landscape. She came. In meditations all I could see was her face shining her Grace upon me. The most difficult part about being at the farm was the lack of Divine Shakti (Female power/energy).
It wasn't until a friend from my program offered to take me up to the Durga temple. I can't believe I was there for 5 days and it wasn't until now I went. After a rough kitchen duty where I held back tears we made it to the gate. When he opened the temple door (this was the most elaborate and most protected temple on the farm) I started to cry. The Divine mother was there!!! In all of her radiant glory showering love to hold and comfort me. (Sidenote: As I was training to be a ballerina I was told to hold in my tears by a friend, not until recently have I allowed them to flow freely. It has taken me a decade to befriend my emotions again).
After being back for about 2 months I feel like I miss the community aspect of being in satsang together, but I did feel like a visitor. One who was only somewhat connect to the Sivananda lineage, but was homesick for an ashram or farm devoted for her Guru. I guess I need to start planning to go to India (as that's where the source is). If you feel like you would like to dive deeper into yogic traditions I believe Sivananda is the purest for the West. I came back with a deeper yearning to study Vedanta, continue meditation practice, as well as with a clearer devotion in my heart. It sometimes feels like I am fighting daily monsters to stay "on top" of it all, but by the Grace I will soften into the flow of nature and Her timing (just like the many savasanas).
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