Seriously, how often do you see a sign openly welcoming all faiths, without an ulterior motive? All faiths welcome is just what I found last weekend at Yogaville. I recently took up the practice of yoga after an illness, and it has changed my life. Three days at Yogaville was even more life changing. Little did I know that there is a place, no a community, less than 60 miles from my home, where all faiths gather to live, learn, and worship. If that were the end of it that would be good enough, but there is so much more.
Yogaville, officially called Satchidananda Ashram, was founded in 1979 by Sri Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev). It is situated on 750 acres in rural Buckingham, Virginia. The Ashram is a self-sustaining community of about two-hundred, including sixteen Swamis (monks).The Swamis wear only orange, as a symbol of throwing all of their attachments into the fire. The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the James River from Yogaville is stunning. Little wonder that this site was chosen as a place of enlightenment and refuge from the material world
The highlight of the Ashram (campus) is the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS). I could fill up several pages with info about the LOTUS, but I will keep it brief. You walk up a long path to the LOTUS and enter the flower shaped dome. On the bottom floor there are museum quality displays of every major faith, minor faiths, and even unknown faiths. The second level is a silent meditation room, with an altar of light in the middle, and an altar and quote from every major faith ringing the back wall. You can enter the meditation hall for free any time it is open, but if you want to experience the energy of a group meditation then pick your spot (or the quote that speaks to you that day) before 12:30. This was my first real meditation, and it was difficult to sit still perfectly still for thirty minutes. After some shifting around and eventually coming to ignore the discomfort in my legs, I was actually able to clear my mind of all thoughts. Even though I was able to do it for only a few minutes, it was an unforgettable experience.
The next best part about Yogaville was the food. Oh the food! I can’t remember where I’ve had better food. Everything at Yogaville, with few exceptions, is grown on a nine acre farm and prepared fresh. Even something as simple as the fresh bread was some of the best bread I’ve ever had. It may sound like an exaggeration, but two days later I’m still thinking about that bread. When I signed up for the retreat I noticed that the brochure stated “no meat, fish, or eggs are served.” I was thinking “hmmm, I don’t know how I’m going to manage this.” The food was so good, and so filling you really don’t realize that it’s all vegetarian and vegan. I left every meal feeling so stuffed, I actually felt guilty for eating so much! Even the butter and ranch dressing was vegan. I have no idea how you make butter and ranch vegan but they were better than anything I’ve ever bought from the store!
Even though I went on this yoga retreat with my studio (which I would love to mention here but, I will keep it private for now since this is a public blog), Yogaville has several different ways in which you can experience the Ashram. The most common experience is called a “welcome weekend.” For about $160 you can live at the Ashram, participate in as few or as many meditation and yoga sessions a you wish, hike on the trails, eat your fill of three meals a day, and swim in the lake. The Ashram schedule is the same for almost all of the programs except the teacher training and workshops. If you want a deeper experience at Yogaville you can choose the “Living Yoga Program.” For $400 a month you can live at the Ashram, and spend about half of your time in service (working) and have the other half free to participate in the Ashram schedule, or relax and hike. They also have way too many teacher training programs to name, as well as workshops, internships, and dozens of different retreats.
When I think of all the things that had to come together just for me to find out about this place, it blows my mind. The most moving part of the entire retreat was the Saturday night Satsang (weekly gathering). Satsang actually means “gathering of seekers of the truth.” It was amazing to see so many faiths together. I saw Muslim, Christian, and Hindu, and probably many more, come together for chanting, inspirational talks, and a guest speaker, usually one of the monks. It was an amazing experience, to come together like that, no pressure to convert, no pressure to conform, just humanity seeking the light and the truth.
I will definitely return to Yogaville, although I’m not sure in what capacity I will return. Maybe I will go for a day trip, or stay for a welcome weekend, or maybe I will even stay a month and become a certified Hatha yoga instructor. Who knows what the future holds at this point, but it is wide open with possibilities.
- Nature at Yogaville (ofhumansandnature.wordpress.com)
- TRUTH is ONE, PATHS are MANY… Swami Satchidananda (nocheezpls.wordpress.com)
- Want To Escape The Modern World? 9 ‘Utopias’ That Really Exist (huffingtonpost.com)