We live in a highly demanding, fast-paced, technology-driven world. We are attached to our devices. We are constantly connected to the world surrounding us and to the identity we have shaped in the virtual world. Finding the time to reconnect with our hearts and minds is critically important for our overall wellbeing, but we rarely allocate time to unwind and disconnect. We underestimate the impact the external world has on us and forget that our happiness (in today’s world) is heavily dependent on external rewards. Neglecting to look within can hurt our personal growth, environment and evolution. Our hearts and minds are way deeper than what we know, and if we forget to look within, just like anything else, we will collect dust, get rusty, and function at a slower speed. If you are experiencing exhaustion, pressure, tension, and anxiety or if you are a high achiever who demands a lot of yourself …it’s time to take some time off.

Here is my recommendation – visit the Yasodhara Ashram in Kootenay Bay – a yoga retreat and a study center located in the southeastern part of British Columbia. The center was founded in 1963 by Swami Sivananda Radha, a spiritual leader who was best known for her teaching of Kundalini Yoga and Eastern yoga philosophy. To date, the Yasodhara Ashram is one of the longest-running spiritual centers in North America welcoming thousands of people each year. The center offers a wide range of programs year-round, such as a three-month intensive training, private retreats, teacher certifications and introductions to various yoga practices. The new Temple of Light, built in 2017, three years after the original Temple burned, is breathtaking. The architecture is like nothing I’ve seen before. I got the chance to visit the Ashram and spend some time unwinding there last month.

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My 5-day journey exposed me to numerous opportunities to dive within, to connect to others – in a meaningful way – and to mother nature. There was something so majestic about this place. The silence allowed me to hear my thoughts loud and clear, the workshops reconnected me with my compartmentalized and undisturbed feelings, and the karma yoga reminded me of the gift of giving. The morning air, fresh and cold, felt alive inside me. The mantras brought out of me many emotions; I was able to express gratitude, and myself. I also experienced the power of patience through music – harmonization is totally possible, only if we give it time. The history of the center and its surrounding mountains reminded me that I am a very small part in this grandiose and gigantic world, and that life is not just about nurturing our personal “I.” It’s about the higher purpose not related to oneself, which is about what we will leave behind and how we would be remembered. We are dependent on each other and should share the responsibility to take care for our world.

The Ashram’s purpose has always been to stimulate one’s intellectual and spiritual curiosity by offering a safe place for learning and transformation.  Built on the principle of selfless service, Karma Yoga is a vital component of life at the center. To support people from all walks of life, the Ashram offers various Karma yoga programs including a 1-day taste of the Ashram as well as a 1-month karma yoga introduction which are offered for no-fee.

“You can do yoga in the city, but you really can’t go deep.” (Ashram Karma Yogi)

Committed to sustainability and resilience the Ashram has run their Food Flow system for many years. In the kitchen, the menus are based on what is available seasonally, including offering various meal options for people with specific dietary needs. They even host various food-related workshops. I fell in love with the food, specifically their homemade (heavenly) ketchup, and roasted carrot hummus. Also, I had the opportunity to chat with Kyle, the garden’s manager, who mentioned that he is very passionate about growing nutritious food, but more so helping people grow through their work in the garden. A mama bear with her two cubs was also present, as they wanted us to share some of the garden’s goodness. The experience of navigating in harmony with these majestic animals was also new, and exciting. We made a lot of noise, moving from one building to the other, respectfully allowing them to share the same fruitful land. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours with the main chef, Steven, while cleaning about 40 squashes for that day’s dinner. We talked about his inspirations and motivations. His mission is to be of service to the Ashram and to the people, who come, stay and leave. I learned that he loves to create new recipes – he enjoys presenting different cultural tastes – and teach people about the importance of mindful eating. “I get my inspiration from the ingredients,” he said. The Ashram also works with many local farmers.

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I met so many people from different backgrounds. Some have never been exposed to yoga, or spirituality but had a void in their life, so they searched for a place that could offer them space for self-introspection. Others, like busy executives, simply wanted to disconnect. I chatted with another Karma Yogi, a busy professional in the non-profit sector, who once upon a time visited the center and loved it. She thought: “How can I spend more time here?” Soon enough, she was able to arrange time off from her job, and committed to the One Month program. Two weeks in she shared with me that she feels way more connected to herself – “I was able to go inward, and find the answers in myself, and that is just a small part of what I’ve got out of it.” – N. Sljuka

We talked about correlations and the importance of unique moments. She shared a story with me, which entailed pruning kale at the Ashram’s garden. As she was doing it she asked the gardener – “So what’s the message here?” – and he said: “Use this exercise to reflect on your personal life. Think about what it is that you need to prune in your life that would give you more energy.”

At the Yasodhara Ashram the opportunities for self-discovery and introspection are endless.

You just need to step a foot on this land and you’d feel the positive vibrations. I experienced a sense of transformation. I know you will too.

Cover Photo Credit: Daniel Séguin / Yasodhara Ashram

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