Miracles do happen. I was sent to a yoga teacher training at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram and Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I met one man who, after listening to my story, decided I needed a month of intensive yoga practice. He signed me up, sent a check, put me on a plane and said, “Good luck.” That is how I ended up becoming a certified instructor – through the goodness and compassion of another person.
The Sivananda Yoga Ashram and Retreat is located on a spit of land wedged between millionaire mansions and the Atlantis, a sprawling hotel and resort complex. Swami Vishnudevananda, founder of the Sivananda Centers world-wide, was given this land by the family of a girl whom he helped to heal through the practice of yoga. It was believed by him that the Bahamas are a remnant of the ancient civilization of Atlantis and that this location was well-suited energetically.
With crystalline Caribbean waters and soft, white sands to the north and a bustling harbor packed with cruise ships to the south, the ashram is a curiosity nestled in an unlikely place. Orange-robed swamis wander the grounds with curious smiles while the yellow and white-clad initiates and volunteers run the resort and maintain its occupants. Saronged vacationers, who have come looking for yoga and respite, marvel at the religious attitude of the ashram: Please keep your shoulders and knees covered, and no running. Meanwhile, aspiring yoga teachers are shipped in and out monthly to be trained and stamped with the marks of a certified beach-side yogi – vegetarianism, flexibility and a good tan.
Most of the students, and many of the guests, camp in tents during their stay, for this is less costly than lodging in private rooms or shared dormitories. The bell would ring at 5:30am, calling all volunteers and students to the temple for meditation, chanting, and a lecture. Afterward, we would have a two-hour yoga asana class in the giant wooden pavilion in the center of the ashram property. Then off to a picnic-table breakfast of Indian-spiced bean soups, rice, fruits and breads. All students were assigned to a karma yoga position, and I spent forty-five minutes after breakfast packaging the remains up for later use. Others washed or dried the dishes, swept the floors, or carried the garbage to the boat which took it to the main island.
Home Sweet Home, Sivananda Yoga Ashram and Retreat, Paradise Island, Bahamas
In our classes, we read from the Bhagavad Gita, yoga’s holy book, a tale in which Krishna instructs Arjuna on the many paths of yoga and transcending earthly passions. My favorite verse from the book is translated as follows by Swami Sivananda:
Renouncing all actions in Me, with the Mind centered in the Self, free from Hope, Egoism, and the fever of Sorrow, Do Thou Fight.
We also took a class in ayurveda, the yogic perception of healthy being, as well as in kirtan, devotional singing. I would go when possible to the Balakrishna puja ceremony and watch as the ceremonial priest and Vedic astrologer lit a candle and incense and offered flowers, butter and raisins to the statue of Krishna as a mischievous, joyful child. How important I learned it is to be in touch with this aspect of ourselves!
Some mornings we would take our satsang, or gathering of people interested in the knowledge of yoga and God, as a walk down the beach right before dawn. The sun would crest over the horizon as we reached a point just beyond the hotel, whose pools and patios and beachfront were empty yet as its guests were still sleeping inside. Sitting, watching the sun rise, we would sing together, led by a man who goes by Arjuna, a name given to him by Swami Vishnudevananda himself. Arjuna would instruct us anecdotally about learning how to see oneself in others through the lens of Love, and once I even led the gathering in a song dedicated to Shiva, god of transformation.
Transformation is exactly what this experience offers to those who seek it out. Many yoga teacher programs are more asana-inclined, as most people assume they want to teach vinyasa yoga classes. However, the Sivananda experience is rather religious. I did not complain–for me it was truly a novelty. I was coming out of several years of intense family tragedy and the catharsis offered by devotion and regular physical and mental exertion worked. What’s more, the other aspiring yogis were amazing people from places like Belgium, British Columbia,and San Francisco.
I will probably say many times on this blog these two things: Wherever you go, there you are; and, I met amazing people.
When I returned to Cape Cod, where I was living at the time, I decided I was not ready to jump into teaching. I hadn’t fully assimilated the teachings of Yoga and decided to hone them for my own benefit until the time would be right. Now, I am living in New York City and opportunity abounds. More on these experiences to come.