There was no Kool Aid to drink.

18 Mar

I’ve been doing a lot of yoga lately. It’s one of my new year’s resolutions. Last year, in my quest to swim 50 miles, I got a bit lazy about yoga since I didn’t have a regular studio. And while people claim that swimming is a great whole body exercise, I found that I lost strength and muscle tone that I’d built in yoga. So this year, when it came time to choose between a gym membership (for pool access) or a yoga studio (for, well, yoga), I decided to spend the money on yoga.

I know, some of you are scratching your heads asking why the two are mutually exclusive. Two reasons: time and money. Satisfied?

To help kick off my recommitment to yoga, my friend Betsy and I went on a yoga retreat at Yogaville in February. Yogaville is an ashram on 800 acres of wooded land outside Charlottesville, Virginia. If you google it, you might become a bit worried that it’s possibly a cult. I’ll admit – that was one of my concerns as we headed into a weekend.

It didn’t help that when we arrived, the people greeting us were all wearing white flowy clothes and had names like Chandrani and Vishnu, despite the fact that they looked like they were probably originally baptized as Mary and John. While we had an option to sleep in the “dorm,” we opted for a private room and private bath. The only wall decorations in our room were a photo of the late Swami G, founder of both the ashram and the integral yoga movement in the United States, and the ashram’s symbol, which looked like this:

Yogaville Symbol

Yogaville Symbol

At first, these decorations did little to convince me we weren’t about to become indoctrinated into a cult. But as the weekend went on, I began to realize that if Swami G had been a politician, his platform would have focused on creating peace among all world religions.

Cult concerns aside, the weekend-long immersion was a great way to kick-off my yoga commitment. We rose at 5:30 for a 45 minute meditation led by a monk, then attended a 90 minute Hatha yoga practice followed by breakfast in the communal dining room. A hike to the LOTUS shrine, then lunch. Then a yoga nidra practice before dinner, followed by satsang, which is their Saturday night celebration.

A word about satsang:

Imagine a small auditorium with three musicians on stage, all in flowy white robes. For the next 45 minutes, they will play variations on the same song while singing chants in a call-and-response format. The chants are based on the Hare Krishna mantra, so you revisit your cult fears and wonder if you are surrounded by Hare Krishnas.

Then you wonder what that means and realize your knowledge on this entire subject is a bit vague. Are Hare Krishnas are the bald people who hand out poppies at airports and drive little cars? Or are those Shriners? Are Shriners associated with a circus, or have you made that up? Have you made up the bit about little cars? Are the poppies handed out by people honoring dead soldiers?

As your head begins to explode from all you do not know, you realize that behind you, some of the younger members of the audience (guys in their 20s) who presumably live at Yogaville year-round, have become so moved by the chanting and music that they can’t contain themselves. They are dancing, running and kicking up their heels in a way that seems a bit over the top. You want to be happy for their joy, but instead you think, “These guys just need a beer.”

To help pass the time, you sing along, realizing that you can subtly change the words for your own amusement, which will explain your Sunday night tweet: “Spent the weekend at an ashram. My main take-away is that when chanting Hari Om you can say, ‘Hidey Hole’ instead without people noticing.”

A word about meals:

The cafeteria featured only vegetarian and vegan meals. The volunteers in the kitchen did a good job pulling together meals that provided a good variety – as an example: borscht, sautéed kale, lentils, vegetable curry, fresh fruit and a salad bar. However, we quickly learned that if you don’t arrive right at the start of the meal, odds were good that the best items would be heavily picked over.

When I say “best items” I’m actually talking about potatoes. Rosemary potatoes for breakfast and cinnamon sweet potatoes for lunch? All cleaned out by the time we arrived. And that’s when I knew beyond a doubt that I couldn’t live communally. I’m fine honoring the quiet hours from 10pm to 8am. I’ll even chant with you on Saturday nights. And I won’t whine about giving up meat or wine. But taunt me with something I’m actually excited to eat – and demolish it before I get a portion? We are done.

funny Hare Krishna

Sunday we wrapped up with another Hatha practice before hitting the road and returning to DC. It was a nice escape from the city, but I won’t be packing my bags and changing my name to Ganesh any time soon. 

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2 Responses to “There was no Kool Aid to drink.”

  1. Babs March 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    Giving up wine on a retreat? Never!

    • pithypants March 22, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

      I didn’t read the fine print until we were in the car. Among other things, “No alcohol, caffeine, meat, or eggs are allowed on the premises…” I was wondering if anyone ever sat just outside the parking lot tossing eggs into a trashcan.

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