Karma Yoga and Ashram Life

     In a continuation of the amazing experience I had WWOOFing at Mangrove Mountain Yoga Ashram, in New South Wales, Australia, I decided to spend two weeks at the other ashram in Victoria. It is called Rocklyn Ashram, and both of them follow the yogic tradition of Satyananda. Rocklyn was absolutely freezing. Only an hour and a half outside of Melbourne, I couldn’t believe that it felt noticeably colder than the city, until I learned that the ashram is located by the mountains. I had no proper winter clothes, aside from a knit beanie and a sweater, so that was kind of a bummer. I layered up all of my thin knit clothes and kept warm with cups of tea and sitting by the fire heaters. I was cold most of the time, but I got used to it and tried not to think about the beautiful summertime in the northern hempishere. I still got outside to enjoy the lovely bushland seeting, take a walk in the Wombat State Forest, and see some wild kangaroos. They are surprisely tame creatures, and one of them let me get pretty close as he was having a snack in the field. They just hop around, eat, and lounge under trees in the sun. They are remarkably weird creatures, but that is Australia for you. I couldn’t get much further from home.

     People come to the ashrams for a variety of reasons. Some just need a personal retreat to take time away from the world to relax, rejuvenate, connect with nature, and clear the mind. Others stay to take a yogic studies course, a workshop, or an event that the ashram freqeuntly hosts. Most people stay for a short time, while others are long-term residents who have dedicated themselves to serving the ashram. A handful of women were residents, donning head to toe clothes in shades of orange, the color of the Satyananda tradition. At Rocklyn, there were also some people who were not residents, but had spent a signficant amount of time at the ashram and gained some resposibility tending to ashram duties. Everybody who stays at the ashram is invited, or encouraged, to help out for Karma Yoga in the morning. During my stay, I had the oppurtunity to serve others, get involved in every aspect of ashram life, and meet many inspiring, loving people.

     Karma Yoga is the path of service. It means being fully aware in the present moment while completing actions to serve the ashram as a whole. In this way, one detaches from the outcome of performing the action, like being praised, rewarded, or recognized. Nobody at the ashram is going to give you a pat on the back or recognition of a job well done. Instead, it is all about putting aside the ego’s desires and aversions. It is a significant practice of yoga, a practice in being present and a tool for self-awareness.

     Each day, I was allocated to perform Karma Yoga for breakfast and dinner clean-up in the kitchen. I also had two other Karma Yoga sessions in the mornings and afternoons, in between meals, tea, meditation, and relaxation classes. My duties were to clean, wash dishes, sweep, mop, help prepare the meals, and whatever else the ashram needed. I was definitely kept busy throughout the day. After the first few days, I got into the routine, which was nearly identical to the Mangrove Ashram. I loved the amazing, fresh vegetarian meals that were cooked each day. Breakfast would be a simple rice porridge or museli with hot milk, which I always sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day, which would always be so yummy. Baked veggies, Indian food cooked with fresh herbs from the garden, rice, beans. I ate so good there. I felt vibrant, and healthy.

     The alarm in the morning would go off at 5:30 am, and it would play a Hari Krishna chant. Usually I was drift back to sleep until a bell would ring before 6 am, for the yoga class. I would get out of bed, brave the cold while I brushed my teeth and put on more layers of clothes to walk over to the practice room nearby. I really enjoyed the gentle yoga classes. In Satyananda, the teacher sits at the front and doesn’t usually give demonstrations or adjustments unless needed. The teacher talks to class and clearly guides them into each posture. The poses themselves were nothing too strenuous, and the end of the class would have a few rounds of sun salutations, surya namaskar. I prefer a high-energy, vigorous vinyasa class, but I enjoyed these slowed down, gentle classes as well, because I turned my attention inward during each pose. I really felt each movement and moved slowly with awareness. Even though the classes were not as demanding as I like, I still got something out of it. I felt more open physically and it brought balance to my yoga practice.

     I loved my time at the ashram, especially because I got to practice meditation, pranayama, and relaxation with others. Each deep breath, each moment of awareness is a practice, and it must be repeated over and over in order to solidify into a way of life. There is a certain headspace I get into at the ashram, still, silent, peaceful. It is where I feel happy and secure, and I bring that mindful perspective with me when I leave the ashram. If you have the oppurtunity to experience living in an ashram or a yoga community, I would recommend. Even if you can’t make your way to an ashram, your home can be a sacred, restful, and relaxing retreat. Your space can be an oasis, a paradise, a place safe from worldly stresses and preoccupations. It only requires an open, positive perspective, a peaceful mind, and the power of devotion to one’s practice.

Sending love and light.

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