In the beginning of April, I was guided to spend ten days volunteering at Mangrove Yoga Ashram in New South Wales, Australia, and it turned out to be a lovely experience that I will always look back on with love. It was all quite amazing. The people, the healthy, vibrant food, the lush plants and native wildlife, the multitude of stars, the peaceful atmosphere, deep relaxation and mediation, and so much joy. I volunteered as a WWOOFer, which stands for Willing Workers on Organic Farms. WWOOFing is a worldwide organization which connects volunteers with hosts of organic farms. I was lucky to find Mangrove was a participating host through an article in Australian Yoga Journal. Mangrove is a residential yoga ashram, where people embrace a simple yogic lifestyle based upon the tradition of Satyananda Yoga. Others are also welcome to spend time at the ashram for personal retreats or to attend a variety of workshops.
I had no idea what to expect, but I wanted to see what living in a yogic community would be like. I met several other WWOOFers, from Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and France, and heaps of Aussies. In exchange for working at the Yoga ashram, I received delicious vegetarian food and dorm-style accommodation. I worked an average of 5-6 hours per day, doing things I have never done before, like cleaning bathrooms, scrubbing toilets, washing dishes in the kitchen, sweeping, and mopping floors. During one Karma Yoga session, one of the residents had to show me the proper method of sweeping, as I appeared quite inexperienced. I had much to learn. The tradition of Satyananda approaches the yogic lifestyle through the lens of Karma Yoga, which is the path of releasing one’s Karma through meaningful service. The ego is set aside and one works with complete awareness at the task at hand. This experience was incredibly joyful and mind-opening in many ways. It forced me to release all attachments, all desires in order to surrender to the present moment. The first few days were a transitional period, and after several days I got used to the routine.
Life at Mangrove is active, yet peaceful. The day begins with a 5:30 am yoga class, breakfast at 7 am, and Karma Yoga at 8 am. According to Yogic tradition, the best time of the day for the physical practice of yoga, the asanas, is in the morning, at the time of the sunrise. Getting up that early was admittedly a great challenge, yet proved rewarding. My body felt more in balance arising to greet the sun. Throughout the day, in between my work shifts, there was Yoga Nidra, where you lay on the floor and are guided by the instructor to enter a state between sleeping and waking, in which the physical body is fully relaxed, as if about to drift off to sleep, while the mind is fully awake and aware. The point is to enter that space of deep relaxation without falling asleep. This is achieved by rotating awareness around the body, visualisation, meditating on the breath, and intention setting. Yoga Nidra was one of the hilights of my day. I would emerge from each 30 minute session both relaxed and invigorated, as if I had taken a restorative nap.
In addition to the wonderful yoga and meditation classes that were held daily, the food was absolutely amazing. It was all vegetarian, healthy, vibrant, and prepared freshly with love. Some of the vegetables came from the ashram’s garden. I could see the difference between the fresh veggies as opposed to the stuff that is packaged and shipped to local supermarkets. I could feel the difference as well. The healthy food allowed me to take a break from the crap I was eating, reset my body, and raise my vibration.
At Mangrove, I experienced what it was like to live in community and perform service without attachment to my ego or the results, without expecting reward. My time there turned out to be so rewarding in a multitude of ways. I did not want to leave my new found family. I also got to listen to an amazing didjeridoo player named Scott, who learned how to play from Aboriginal tribes. It was so great to listen to him. He played from his heart, and everybody in the room could feel the loving, primordial vibrations.
I have so much to say about my time at the Ashram. Overall, it was a lovely time and it felt amazing to be a part of a yogic community. I needed to take a step away from the hectic, fast-paced city and just slow down, and get tuned in to the subtle energies of nature and my body. I am planning to return in June or July and spend more time there, in addition to visiting the Rockyln Ashram.
Love and light.