On Our Recent Visit to the Divine Grace Yoga Ashram

Those who are certain of the outcome can afford to wait without anxiety
— A Course in Miracles

Hey guys.  It’s been a while. 

The creative force that was going into making this blog, switched gears and went into creating eyeballs and fingernails for the beautiful baby in my belly.  But thankfully, and through much grace and support, I have held on strong to my yoga practice (Sadhana) and am continuing on in my Ayurvedic practices and studies.   This has given me (mostly) peace of mind to accept the stage of life I am in, and to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I would be back in this writing space, sharing with all of you again.

It seems fitting to be back during the first week of spring.  It also seems fitting to be back after the first visit, on the first open weekend, on the new moon, to the Divine Grace Yoga Ashram in Sedona, AZ.  It is that visit which has inspired this writing.

In Ayurveda, before we get into any teachings of right diet, right conduct, right breathing, we begin by understanding that the root of all disease lies in forgetting our true Self – the Self that is the inner most part of us.  The Self is that still small voice.  This is why Yoga complements Ayurveda so well.  Through the yogic practices – all four paths; raja (the exercises and breathing exercises), bhakti (love of one another and of the greater Being), jnana (yoga of knowledge) and karma (hard work, without expectations of results), we train ourselves to come into alignment with that still small voice. This small voice will always lead us to health, happiness and fulfillment.

We are all so familiar with ‘yoga’, but I’m writing here to share the specialness (definitely made up that word) of the roots of yoga. I want to encourage each of you to explore the roots of the yogic culture, to spend some time in the sacred space of an ashram, and to realize the context on which yoga was built.  It was never about having the perfect body.  It was always about having perfect control over the mind.  And these days, with so much distraction, confusion and information overload, it is the perfect time to seize the opportunity to better control our mental facalties. 

Why learn from someone who has dabbled in a few books, when, for a quarter of the price, you can learn from a teacher who has been taught from a lineage passed down over thousands of years, teacher to student?

The yoga lineage I follow is that of Sivananda.  Traditionally yoga has been taught by yogic monks, or swamis.  Swami Sivananda brought the physical yoga to the West, through his disciple Swami Vishnudevananda, in the 1950s.  It was his disciples that spoke at Woodstock, created the first western Yoga teacher training program and brought the practices out of the closed doors of India and allowed them to be shared with all.  It used to be that you had to stay in an ashram with your teacher for years to learn yoga.  I am told that Swami Sivananda was criticized by conservative thinkers in India at that time.  But he was told by his teacher that the West was ready to learn.  And boy are we grateful for the work he has done to spread the tradition of yoga!

Swami Sivananda
Swami Vishnudevananda

My teacher, Swami Sankarananda, who runs the Divine Grace Yoga Ashram, began his journey as a yogic monk sharing the peace teachings of all religions while he walked across the country.  He did this for two years.  Then he went by way of RV.  He most recently has settled in Sedona, AZ to continue on the teachings in a more traditional Ashram. 

Swami Sankarananda

An ashram is similar to a monastery.  It is a sacred space for learning and practicing austerities.  Some of what is lacking in the more westernized yoga classes, is the emphasis on austerity, which brings about great strengthening, and then clarity of the mind.  (Remember, that is the focus of yoga – to clarify the mind, which in turn, gives us great peace and happiness).   Ashrams are specific to practicing yoga and learning the yogic (Vedic) teachings. 

The Divine Grace Yoga Ashram in Sedona was a lovely opportunity for retreat and for Karma yoga – the yoga of hard work, of action and of community.  Just last week we were able to bring 4 adult hands and two toddler hands to help in the basic set up of the building. 

Through the Grace of Guru our family set out for a road trip from the high desert of New Mexico to the Verde Valley of Arizona for the opening week of the Divine Grace Yoga Ashram.   We had been following the status of the Ashram and have been eagerly awaiting its establishment.  Since we are due to welcome our second daughter into the world in just two short months, we knew we had to make a visit sooner rather than later.  What a blessing for our visit to be timed perfectly with the Ashram acquisition – literally two days later.

Walking into the Ashram, it immediately felt like home.  I could feel the Divine intention set by the Masters, Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda. The yoga hall, the previous site of a home family and living room combined, could not be more perfect.  Ample lighting through large windows to the north, and strategically placed skylights mid-room, makes the space feel as if God himself designed this space to remind all who visit of the light and warmth within.

Ashrams are run by volunteers, or karma yogis.  Who, in exchange for classes, receive bedding, food and the necessities.  Also, visitors who come are expected to help out.  It is not quite like a retreat, where you would be waited on hand and foot.  This is part of the beauty! The humility it brings, by creating instant community in the ideal of creating a space for learning.  We have a hard time learning when our minds are convinced we know it all.  Working in the spirit of service helps to break some of these mental conditionings which help to let the light of knowledge in.

It was an honor to meet the beautiful souls who have been surrounding Swami Ji and helping to make this vision a reality.  Annapurna Ji, a Karma Yogini who has just returned to the States from spending 10 months with Mooji in Portugal, was such a lovely host.  She had our bedroom lovingly decorated, complete with a vase of flowers, photos of Swami Vishudevanandaji and Swami Sivanandaji and an offering of apples, dates and bananas.  Bea, our two year old, was especially grateful for the dates! 

We arrived late on Thursday, but promptly began the ashram schedule the following day.  In the true spirit of Swami Sivananda, Swami Ji has not wasted a moment of time in sharing the message of Yoga and establishing regularity in these services. 

The daily schedule follows that of the Sivananda lineage:

                              6am: Satsang

                              8am: Yoga

                              10am:  Brunch

                              12noon: Bhagavad Gita Class

                              1pm: Karma Yoga/Silence

                              6pm: Dinner

                              7pm: Peace Chanting

                              8pm: Satsang

Michael, a local budding Sivananda Yogi, joined us for the first official asana class. He was patient with Beatrice as she provided a bit of spontaneity in an otherwise very structured sequence.  Annapurna Ji did a lovely job accommodating all of our various needs in our yoga practice.   

Throughout the weekend we saw many hands come together to make the Ashram a reality.  Radhika and Kailash from Chocolatree in Sedona were instrumental in providing nourishing, sattvic foods.  Although, they provided much more than nutritional nourishment.  They brought such pure energy to the Ashram space. Listening to Radhika describe the trees and fruit trees that will be aligning the property painted a picture of such peace and serenity.  She described the doorways that will be added to create space between the yoga hall and kitchen to maintain purity in each space. 

It was without question that it will become a reality, as we saw by her side, the Siva to the Shakti, Kailash was busy working with his hands to make the vision a reality.  The first piece of custom furniture was a 12 inch table so that meals could be eaten while sitting on the floor. 

Ashram Table

Swami had the large vision.  Radhika brought the vision down to project based pieces.  Annapurna provided the support for the daily tasks to keep the whole event running.  Kyle and I jumped in where we could. Bea provided a sense of innocence to the whole production.  It was so clear how each of us were being used as instruments in the larger vision of the Sivananda mission.  I found myself on several occasions close to the verge of tears.  I was filled with so much gratitude to have the honor of witnessing these first steps. 

The Ashram, although in the beginning stages of development on the physical level, has been thoroughly remodeled and lovingly cared for in the mental field.  The hearts of the community surrounding this space could not be larger.  It was amazing to meet all of the individual souls who have great plans, and have already taken great action, to make this space welcoming and inviting for all.

Our visit was short, but deeply impactful.  I can only imagine the number of souls Swami Ji had impacted on his walks throughout the country.  He found us and led us to the empowering teachings of the Sivananda lineage.  Through Grace, all of those who desire will be able to experience the deeply transformative power of living by the yogic principles at the Divine Grace Yoga Ashram. 

Divine Grace Puja

I would strongly encourage anyone who has a bit of interest in deepening their yoga practice to visit this, or any other, ashram.  By yourself or with family.  The value in this method of practicing yoga is that it is as close to the traditional teachings as you can get these days.  It provides a means to clarify the mind, which in turn helps us to make better choices for our overall well-being.

Yoga can be defined as a method by which we can maintain individual consciousness even in an unconscious state. The development of this awareness is realized through meditation and practices of willpower. Yoga is a method of seeing the subconscious and unconscious. Yoga is a process of knowledge, awareness, understanding, observing and fulfilling our experience. This is how we define yoga. The first definition is that yoga is an art by which we have complete mastery over all the patterns of awareness. The second definition of yoga is that it is an art by which we become a spectator of all the experiences of awareness. The third definition of yoga is that it is a process of dehypnotization of all the stages of consciousness.

Yoga is a science of consciousness. Yoga is a science of personality and a science of creativity. Come to yoga, and you will definitely realize that you have something more to give, something more to learn, and something more to gain.”
— Swami Satyananda Saraswati, 1975

Om Namah Sivaya