Where the Sun Meets the Soul
Happy New Year!
How Swami Vishnudevananda
Invented the Yoga Vacation
Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda
This article is from a question and answer session with Swami Swaroopananda in February 2010 at the Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas. Before the first question, Swami Swaroopananda was welcoming people to the ashram and told the following story:
Swami Vishnudevananda was the first one to come up with the idea of a yoga vacation. In fact, he came up with the idea before he started his first ashram.
It was many years ago, in the early 1960s, when he was teaching in our Montreal center, and he saw that during the summer his students disappeared, so he asked, "Why do they disappear?" People told him that they were going to the Laurentian Mountains. "What are they doing there?" he asked, and he was told that they were going for a vacation. Then Swamiji said, "Well, if the students are going for a vacation, then why shouldn't we have a yoga vacation?" That's how he came up with the idea of a yoga vacation, and he conducted the first one in the Laurentian Mountains, in Morin Heights.
He started with this idea of a yoga vacation and later, when he opened the Val Morin ashram, there were very austere conditions, nothing like now. Now it is luxurious. But at that time, Swamiji wanted to keep it simple. Some people said there were not enough toilets. "We have plenty of toilets," Swamiji would say, though there were hardly any toilets. It was very austere. When Swamiji did his first yoga vacation program in Morin Heights, he took a bucket, a big bucket, and he made a few holes in it and he filled it with water. This is how people were showering. It was very simple, very austere. But he called it a yoga vacation.
I remember when I came to my first yoga vacation. I slept in a very small tent, and heavy rain came and I got soaked to my bones. All of my items – books, everything – got wet. He called this a yoga vacation. [Laughs.] So the question is what is a yoga vacation?
Swamiji explained that normally when people go on vacation they return home needing a vacation from the vacation. This is a normal experience. He pointed out that when people come for a yoga vacation, they're coming from the city; they're very tired, exhausted, and they need to recover, they need to recharge their batteries. So he said that the first three days they would be very tired and so on, but after the first three days – let's say they would stay for one week – they would come out of it rejuvenated. In fact, their batteries had been charged and they were ready for a new encounter with what we call "ordinary life." And this was the experience people had.
Many many people came to Swamiji and they lived a very simple life, and the external conditions were almost hostile, and they loved it. They would come for 30 years, year after year after year, with these simple conditions, and people testified that they came out recharged and rejuvenated.
The reason they were coming out with a profound experience is because what we call a yoga vacation is actually an opportunity to get introduced to the spiritual practices of yoga and to experience their benefits – their physical benefits, their mental benefits, and also the benefits of being in an ashram, although in an ashram there are so many new experiences, especially for people who come for the first time.
I would like to congratulate the yoga vacationers here in the Bahamas, who are coming to do a period of spiritual practice and to recharge themselves. And also, of course, there is recreation. There are outings, a beautiful beach, beautiful nature, but indeed it's a period of meditation and spiritual practices.
Swami Swaroopananda, one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda, is the Acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda Yoga Centers and Ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East, and in the Bahamas.
"From Inspiration to Transformation"
To do justice to the incredible experience of my Yoga Teacher Training Course would require the poetic flair of Shelley, the powerful dramatic nature of Shakespeare and the heartfelt spirit of Rumi. Indeed, these qualities pervaded my entire month and made my TTC an unforgettable time. The early morning Satsang gatherings, bursting with joyful chants, woke us up to the incredible potential of the glorious new day. Then off to be guided through stimulating and purifying yoga postures by deeply attentive teachers, hearts flowing over with compassion and patience. Then, after devouring a delicious and nutritious breakfast and a short rest, we plunged into lectures exploring the wonderfully wise Bhagavad Gita and the rich depths of yogic philosophy. It was inspiring to learn how to truly live a more healthy and spiritual life, suffused with meaning and vitality. The atmosphere was enriched with caring, free spirited, warm-hearted teachers and an ashram staff who always did their best to make sure that we were happy and getting the most out of the course. Every evening I went to sleep with my spirit soaring in gratitude and joy at experiencing such a life-changing month in such beautiful, tranquil surroundings.
One of my most memorable experiences was the day we learned the "kriyas," or yogic cleansing exercises. Instead of flowing into our usual morning yoga practice, we were told to bring a few instruments and head to the beach. There ensued some demonstrations that made me feel rather queasy but which were at the same time fascinating. Our instructor swallowed a few feet of soft gauze and then slowly pulled it out, an ancient yogic technique for cleaning the food tube. Then he showed a way to clean the nasal passages, guiding a long thin rubber tube through his nose until it came out of his mouth. There were various other mind-boggling demonstrations which I could never have conceived possible. Then, to my horror, we were instructed to do it all ourselves! Being up for anything, I complied and an hour later, after all sorts of weird feelings, I felt immensely clean and sprightly, amazingly energized and joyful.
This was to me a kind of metaphor for the entire Teacher Training Course. It was hard work, doing things I never thought possible, the entire day packed with things to do and learn, hardly an hour left to rest. But in the end I found myself walking down the steps of the temple, amid the tuneful chanting and singing, being blessed by the ashram's South Indian priest, receiving my certificate of completion and the spiritual name I had elected to receive. I felt glorious and proud, elated and energized. It was a truly magnificent way to transform one's life and move one's spirit that much further toward the exquisite and eternal shining light of Nirvana.
Mahadev, who is from the United Kingdom, completed the Yoga Teachers' Training Course in April 2011. He is currently enrolled in the January 2012 Advanced Teacher Training Course in the Bahamas.
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December TTC: Unity in Diversity
Xmas, Hanukkah and new year symposium and celebration:
Swami Vishnudevananda s vision of Unity in Diversity was put into practice in the December Yoga Teachers Training Course. The 38 women and men in the course were from 24 different countries. In no particular order, they came from Canada, Sweden, Germany, Panama, the United States, Mexico, Holland, Russia, China, Ireland, Taiwan, France, Hungary, Poland, Eritrea, Austria, Iran, India, Denmark, the Bahamas, Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom and Madagascar. There also was a diversity of ages in the group, with 12 of the students between the ages of 19 and 29, 14 students between the ages of 30 and 40, 6 between the ages of 41 and 50 and 6 who were older than 50. The oldest student was 65 years old. After more than 40 years, the Yoga Teachers Training Course continues to be a powerful force for promoting world peace and understanding.
"Unity in Diversity: Realizing the Oneness"
Spiritual leaders and musicians from the world's major spiritual traditions gathered together in the temple.