Blessings for the new year, dear friends!
What is it like here in the Karma Yoga program at Ananda? We’re up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in a deeply spiritual place, meditating and doing yoga all the time. There’s so much I love about being here, but the most profound aspect is the peace and stillness of this place. It cuts to the core of my being.
Outwardly, I can give you a sense of what I do each day, told through the tale of the gloves I wear.
Dawn – Glove-free – Meditation and Yoga Postures
Energization – This is a technique Yogananda (the guru in this line of masters) created. It’s not vigorous exercise, but it will wake you up more than a morning run and give you more lasting energy than a cup of coffee. It involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group of the body in a certain pattern. The idea is to actively draw energy into the body. When you’re done, every cell of your body is vibrating and awake. It only takes about 15 minutes to go through the whole series.
Yoga Postures – I emphasize postures here to differentiate the postures (that most people just call “yoga”) from the full yogic tradition itself which includes, postures, grand spiritual teachings, meditation, and ultimately, union with The Divine. The postures at Ananda are very gentle. The purpose is not to get your workout for the day, but rather to relax every part of the body, removing any tension, blockages, or toxins, in order to sit in stillness for meditation. Each of the postures has a corresponding affirmation that you repeat mentally while in the pose. For example, the affirmation for a downward-facing dog is “Calmness radiates from every fiber of my being.” Each of the affirmations helps you tune into the divine energy that you’re moving through your body.
Meditation – This is the main act of the show! The meditation technique we use here is called Hong-Sau (which means “I am Spirit”). The purpose is to concentrate all your energy on the spiritual eye (the point between the eyebrows) because that is the doorway to experience God within yourself. As you breathe in you mentally say “hong” and as you exhale you say “sau.” I’ve been amazed at how much my concentration has improved after 6 weeks of practicing this technique. Not only during meditation, but throughout my day, I’m able to direct my will, my focus, and my energy with much more ease than before. More than concentration, I’m beginning to experience an actual connection with Spirit during my meditations. I’m cross from theory into experience, which inspires my devotion to this spiritual path even more. I’m looking forward to growing my meditation practice once this adventure is complete.
Morning and Afternoon – Latex Gloves & Dish Gloves – Karma Yoga
After breakfast in silence and a morning meeting where we have lively spiritual discussions, we start our Karma Yoga shifts for the day.
Karma Yoga means “service to God through action.” The Karma Yoga program here is about doing service for the retreat center while being in spiritual immersion. We spend 30 hours a week doing different cleaning shifts: cleaning the dining room, the kitchen, the dishes, the bathrooms, and preparing breakfast in the morning. It truly is service, rather than “work.” It’s a kind of meditation in its own way. We’re all using the service as an opportunity to uplift the energy in ourselves and in those around us. I usually feel as relaxed after doing a shift as I did before.
Mondays and Fridays – Garden Gloves – Permaculture
On Mondays and Fridays, I have the privilege of serving at the permaculture garden run by Alex and Devadasi. Permaculture is a way of designing systems (often gardens/farms) so they can last longer than we do. I love getting to roll around in the dirt and learn about natural systems. For the first time in my life, I can identify a couple of dozen plants by glancing at them. I’ve spent most of my life in front of a computer programming (or more recently, on Skype with my coaching clients), so this is a wonderful change of pace for me. As an environmentalist, it’s fulfilling to have more direct experience with the natural environment.
I’ve planted young trees, started seeds, transplanted the starts to greenhouse beds (this winter we’re growing chard, kale, mustard greens, arugula, spinach, carrots, radishes, and more). I’ve chopped wood, pulled blackberries and scotch broom (invasive species), and accidentally come in contact with poison oak a few times.
Alex and Devadasi are generous teachers, sharing the reasons behind why we’re trimming a certain plant back for winter, or the idea behind a particular location for a new garden, or how the rainwater swale system collects water and releases it into the terraces where the plants are. I wish I could be here for a full year to see a whole cycle of planting, growing, and harvesting. It’s so new for me to even be thinking in terms of cycles! Being indoors in a city shields me from most considerations of each part of the year.
There’s more to the days here, like eating meals where we cram way too many karma yogis around one table so we can all connect and chat. And the classes we have a few times a week where we learn about the spiritual teachings of Yoga, and of Yogananda, and expand our minds along with our hearts. In the evenings you can often find a group of us by the fire playing games or chatting. There’s also meditation at noon and energization/postures/meditation again before dinner. I’m working my way up to two 30-minute meditations a day. One of the best blessings of this experience is that two days a week I am doing 4-6 coaching sessions with clients via Skype. What a joy that I get to be immersed in this experience and continue serving my clients!
I’m blessed to be in this place as we pass into the new year. My commitment (not the intention) for the new year is to maintain and deepen my meditation practice, and find new adventures as I build a community in my new home in Oakland! What is on your horizon for the new year? What would make 2014 extraordinary for you?