I have just returned from a “Yoga relax” retreat at the Satyananda ashram in Mangrove Mountain. After a hectic few weeks at work, some time out to reconnect with myself and nature was just what I needed. This was my second visit to Mangrove Mountain and I knew I was in for a treat. The ashram is an hour and a half outside of Sydney but a whole world away. Set in a beautiful valley, next to a creek connected to the Hawkesbury River, it is a self-sustaining commune with 30 residents, welcoming yogis for personal retreats, teacher training and those who want to do seva (selfless service) such as helping out on the farm. But even those of us on the “Yoga relax” retreat are expected to help out and I am issued with a full timetable on arrival – incidentally an hour late after insisting on making a flask of chai for the journey and then getting hideously lost! Although I consoled myself that this was the perfect opportunity to practice some deep breathing and yogic detachment from the ego’s desire to not be the last one to walk into the room!
Despite my lack of punctuality, the ashram has such a peaceful atmosphere that I can’t help but feel instantly relaxed – as if I’ve just been transported into a very special and magical place. Within a very short time I can feel the stress sliding away to be replaced with a deep sense of inner peace. I’m certain I’m not the first visitor who has contemplated throwing in the towel and moving to an ashram. And after a day and a half of blissful yoga, meditation, kirtan, chanting, yoga nidra, swimming in the creek, walking in the bush and eating delicious home grown vegetarian food, the temptation became almost unbearable. Why on earth would anyone choose to live in the city and be part of the fast-paced rat race when they can live a simple and meaningful life? Surely I’d be able to achieve all my yogic dreams if I lived with a group of like-minded people and had the time and space to dedicate to my practice without the distractions and temptations of “normal” society ?
But ashram living is not all about growing vegetables and chanting om. There is work to do, and some of it hard. Dharma, one of the residents, tells me that he works 11 shifts a week. That sounds like some seriously hard yaaka to me. And while undoubtedly the residents are more mindful of their behaviour, they are after all, still just people. Even in this almost perfect ecocosm, the yogis are striving to overcome their weaknesses, desires and false ego.
So are my dreams of running away to escape modern living and “difficult” people just a fantasy that would only end up being a disappointment? After all, if it’s true that “With our minds we create the world”, most of my perceived problems are simple that – a perception in my mind. I firmly believe that you can run to the other side of the world but unless you tackle your issues, they will inevitably just follow you, sneak up behind you and tap you on the shoulder once again.
The answer? Stay on the yoga path, keep up the practice, surround yourself with people who inspire and bring positive energy into your life. Do things and go places that bring you peace of mind and happiness. Visiting the ashram environment is a great way to help me find the balance I need, almost a way of “checking in” from time to time to ensure I’m still on the right path. Sure, I’m not dismissing the idea of living in an ashram for a period of time, but I now know it’s not the panacea I once assumed it to be. The challenge is to strike a balance between my yoga practice and my other commitments of work, family and friends. Of course it’s not necessary to renounce all your possessions and society in order to be happy! There is a middle path. And if I can stay balanced on that middle path and put yoga into practice in my everyday life, maybe I’ll be setting an example which will inspire others to explore the wonderful world of yoga.