Feeling the Energy at the Yasodhara Ashram
by Jasmine Morcos
This past September, I went through an unforgettable, life changing journey. This journey, which was more than I ever anticipated, started with a stroll into a forest with a beautiful lake and a stunning mountain view. I was in Kootenay Bay, British Columbia, about to embark on a retreat at the Yasodhara Ashram.
The Ashram was founded by Swami Sivananda Radha, whose vision was to create a sacred space where people could gather and grow. Swami Radha’s story began in 1956 after she had been drawn to India and her guru, Gurudev Sivananda. Before she returned to Canada, he told her to start an Ashram there and gave her these words of advice:
“When you leave here, go where you have mountains in the back, water in front, and trees all around. The mountains will give you strength and energy, the water will calm the mind, and the trees will offer you protection”.
With these words in her heart, she began teaching and offering lectures in Montreal until a group of her most passionate students convinced her to pack her bags once again and head to Burnaby, BC. There they bought a home and started the first ashram in Canada. However, after several years, she remembered Gurudev’s advice and searched for the place he had described. This led her to the Kootenays in southeastern BC and the home of the Yasodhara Ashram we know today.
Yasodhara Ashram offers many different programs and packages. Guests can choose to stay for one day, a week or even for several months. Regardless of time spent there, they will enjoy a variety of spiritual and self-development activities. All meals are included during their stay.
I stayed at the Ashram for three days. Coming from Montreal with a connection in Calgary I flew across the Rocky Mountains to Cranbrook, where I was joined by others. We then drove more than two hours through the magnificent Purcell Mountains and arrived in the late afternoon at the Ashram.
There was a snack waiting for us and we toured the premises-which included the magnificent new Temple of Light. I was then escorted to my room that had two single beds and a warm chalet feel, overlooking a spectacular view of lake and mountains. While I did have a private bathroom, it was not directly attached to the room.
Once settled, our group was given an introduction to the Ashram, the programs and the mission.
Every morning before breakfast, we were guided through a Hatha Yoga routine. The studio overlooking the lake and mountains was breathtaking. Each yoga session was about an hour, where we were talked through breathing exercises and stretches. During the later morning and afternoon I attended a retreat called “Breath: The Invisible Work.” It was recommended that we bring a journal to class in order to write down our thoughts and reflections. The instructor would often ask us to explore the feelings that were present after certain exercises.
Although I enjoyed the breathing exercises, it was not what I had anticipated. I expected more of a physical workout each day, but the focus here in this retreat was much more on self-reflection and breathing.
After dinner we went to Satsang, which is a nightly gathering of people in the Temple of Light. Everyone is given a booklet containing the songs for the evening. Some chants are repeated for 20 minutes and are called Mantras, which are meant to focus the mind. Musicians staying at the Ashram are encouraged to participate and play instruments. At the end of the session, the Satsang leader distributed a treat symbolising the sweetness of the yoga teachings. We shared a prayer together before consuming.
This is a traditional yoga – although unlike anything I had experienced. Karma Yoga means selfless service and we had the opportunity to join in. Participants are assigned a task such as working in the kitchen, cleaning rooms or working in the garden. Most of the group, including myself, worked in the garden. This activity is a way to give back to the Ashram, explore the power of work as a spiritual practice, and promote teamwork. We were also asked to devote this time to something or someone that we were grateful for. Personally this was one of the activities I enjoyed the most. Working in the garden where most of the food is harvested gave my group an appreciation and a purpose to perform the work well.
The food throughout the stay was excellent. It was nutritious, delicious, full of flavour and beautifully presented. Most ingredients are either grown on site or are locally sourced. Guests are able to choose their meals themselves with a wide variety of selections served buffet style. The chef is also very accommodating to dietary restrictions.
Inside the Ashram’s main building, guests are asked to remove their outdoor shoes and replace them with indoor wear. As we were taught during our introductory tour, all meals were taken in total silence. The purpose is to be in tune with what we put into our bodies and to promote mindfulness. For me this was very challenging as I believe meal time is where we share thoughts, conversation and laughter with others. I had difficulty suppressing the desire to speak with those around me. Breakfast was served at 8 am every morning, lunch at 12:30 and dinner at 6 pm. We had about 30 minutes to eat.
Exploring outside the Ashram
On the second day, we went on a visit to the East Shore of Kootenay Lake where we had the chance to visit local artisan shops, go for a little hike in the Crawford Bay wetlands and try out a local restaurant, the Black Salt Cafe. The sun was shining, the weather was great and we were able to eat on the café’s beautiful terrace surrounded by many flowers. I was delighted with the variety of choices on the menu and I can honestly say I ate one of the best falafel pita sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. I was amazed by how fresh and tasty everything was in this restaurant. I definitely recommend Black Salt Café to anyone visiting the area.
After lunch, we went to visit the diverse artisan shops in this small community. I had heard about a broom store in Crawford Bay that produced hundreds of brooms for marketing of Harry Potter movies. Being a tremendous Harry Potter fan myself, I was so excited to visit the North Woven Broom store. Inside this adorable log barn, we got to meet and chat with Luke Lewis, the broom-maker himself. We learned about different styles of brooms and how each are carefully woven and tied to many types of handcrafted handles. I challenge you to leave this store empty handed! There is something for everyone, from a small souvenir to a quality broom, you will find something that matches your budget and size preference. Shipping is also offered if you wish to purchase a bigger broom that you don’t want to carry throughout your trip.
After visiting a few other shops, we stopped at the Dog Patch Pottery store. We had a demonstration and small tour by the lovely owner Lea-Rae Belcourt. Once again it was hard for me not to purchase anything and ended up buying a beautiful turquoise jewelry bowl made on premises. I also purchased some wonderful greeting cards made by Kari Lehr, a local artisan.
On our second to last night we returned to Kootenay Bay for dinner. We went to a restaurant named the Kootenay Cabin and had the opportunity to meet the chef. Their mission is “to foster a greater connection between the regional farm and our guest’s table; it is the driving factor in our food, service & ambiance.” This was a perfect fit with our experience at the Ashram. The food was fresh, creative and delicious. Make sure to check it out if you are in the area, it is worth the drive. It is right next to the ferry landing in Kootenay Bay.
My stay at the Ashram was very educational and enlightening, and this short but meaningful retreat has given me a new way of looking at life and experiencing what is often lost in our rushed and hurried lifestyle.