This was written on April 10, 2011-
It is a cloudy Sunday morning here at the Aurovalley ashram. It feels like the clouds not only covered the sun but also brought a blanket of hush over the ashram grounds. All the leaves I raked and put into huge piles this week have been set on fire to burn, and I can smell the smoke faintly as it travels up to my room to fill the corners. I left the windows open to see the fire; it’s giving me a sense of satisfaction and cleansing. But alas, a gust of wind will shake up all the branches and I will be raking more leaves again tomorrow.
My rear windows face the outer walls of the ashram and beyond those walls I can see that the rice fields are yellow gold and it’s almost harvest season. It is a stark contrast from Kerala where just a few months ago everything was green and the farmers were getting the seedlings ready for proper planting. Here, the air I breathe is dry and it feels like winter should follow soon.
Unlike the Sivananda ashram in Kerala where I spent some time in December, there are no wake-up bells or teachers that enforce strict rules and regulations at Aurovalley. There is a schedule but your participation in group meditation or asana classes is not required. The people here are at least a decade or two older than the lot at Sivananda. I suppose it could be that the Sivananda ashram in Kerala is written up in the Lonely Planet travel guide and this one, you really have to look for it. I can’t remember exactly but I think I found it by chance on some blog I was reading. Certainly no one is treating this place as a means for cheap accommodations as I have seen people do at Sivananda or at Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh.
The Sivananda ashram had an atmosphere of an international summer camp, whereas this ashram I hardly know anyone’s names or how they came to stay here. But I can tell that Russians and Columbians outnumber all other nationalities by 5 to 1, and I may be the only American here. I mostly hear Russian and Spanish spoken but English is the language everyone uses for general communication, and appropriately the library contains books in Russian, Spanish, and English. Dhyana (Diana), a Columbian woman with whom I corresponded to arrange my stay and has lived here for 10 years, told me that the swamiji travels often to Russia and to Columbia.
While the style of daily asana practice at the Sivananda ashram was borderline militaristic, the asana practice here is as gentle and relaxing as watching an episode of Bob Ross paint landscapes. In comparison, the food at Sivananda was infinitely better than the daily lentil fest we are blessed with here- I suppose it could be a difference in south vs. north Indian cooking… We ate just two meals a day at Sivananda but I think would take that over three meals a day we have at Aurovalley. But I do love that the vegetables we eat here at Aurovalley are grown and nurtured on site by karma yogis and I most certainly appreciate the effort that goes into preparing all of our meals. There have been days where we even had some baked treats such as banana bread and apple crumble, which when compared to lentils and beans so luxurious and almost gluttonous.
When I was at Sivananda I wished for more austerity and tranquility, and here at Aurovalley I’ve come to realize that I am missing a sense of joy. In pursuit of self-realization and developing one’s inner peace, the guests here seem so very serious and everyone’s perpetual state of being is silence (at Sivananda, you wore a little badge that said “I am silent today.”) I understand that discipline, conviction, and withdrawal of the senses are all necessary to educate my mind and an ashram is a good place to practice. But is there an ashram that combines heart opening asana practices, an inspiring teacher, deliciously sattvic nourishments, devotional chanting, and meditative practice all in a beautiful and spiritual setting? I sound like some kind of an ashram Goldielocks… And of course, I know that this is a silly line of thinking.
Aside from Dhyana, there are several others who live, work, and study at the ashram. The other day I overheard a woman talking about how she and her husband lived here for 9 months before and they’ve been here for 3 months so far this time. I thought about the British director of the Sivananda ashram in Kerala and his wife, who have dedicated their lives to the teachings of swami Sivananda and have been living at that ashram for the past 6 years. I suppose this is how they are serving the Divine and/or fulfilling the purpose of their lives.
One of my teachers in Chennai said that one should practice yoga less and live yoga more. If a doctor prescribed medicine for your illness and over the years you’ve had to take more and more, you’d know that the medicine is not effective. He said if you have to practice yoga more and more, obviously yoga isn’t working for you. Less time on the mat, more time in the real world.
I talked to the swamiji yesterday about living mindfully and in balance. Along with silence and spirituality, I think there should be creativity, appreciation for culture (and food), music and dance that move you to tears, and freedom to be joyous. I will leave this ashram in a few days and will leave India in about a week. I am so happy that I was able to experience and learn from two very different ashrams. I hope there will be more opportunities for me to do this again in the future but I’m looking forward to my life out there beyond the walls of an ashram.