The Yasodhara Ashram’s residents’ devotion to Swami Radha is palpable, always. Although we do not interact with most, we have our ‘house mother’, Swami Jyotihananda, who greets us in her housecoat at our lodge to make sure everyone gets in safely in the dark. She is a warm and friendly presence throughout our stay; mostly working in the Ashram bookstore, which is a constant draw in the days ahead during breaks from studying with Sharon, for the most delightful and desirable selection of books, art, music, as well as Sharon’s CD’s, etc. Some of the elder swamis remind me so much of benevolent spirits, taking care of the Ashram, devoting their lives to Swami Radha and their life of Spirit. I have an image which keeps coming into my mind of the cartoon characters of the fairy godmothers from Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty”; lovable, grandmotherly, gray-haired and aging with little bumble bee wingsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ I don’t know why. This is not disrespectful towards them, I think, just an image that comes to mind of gentle, loving spirits living a life of quiet devotion and useful industry. But when I ask Swami Jyotihananda affectionately on day three of the intensive if anyone ever calls her just “Swami Jo”, her answer is simple and unequivocal: No. So I am reminded that we are guests here and this is a sanctuary, and although staying in our lodge feels to me like what I imagine it would be like in a college dormitory for young women, it is not. This is the Ashram.
Day One with Sharon, after morning meditation and blessed, silent breakfast; warm oatmeal and applesauce, attention without the distraction of conversation, to savor gratefully each spoonful, under the warm presence invoked by the large portrait of Swami Radha, brings us all face to face with this reality from Sharon: “what are we here for and what is your main challenge, and what is the wisdom you see in your challenge, and let’s get on with it, because WE DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME”. Introductions made all around. Looking around at all the mostly young(er), mostly lean and mean(er) yoginis, I state that my main challenge is trying to keep up with my fifty-two year old body, aging and developing aches and pains faster than my perennially lazy nature, busy daily schedule and inconsistent commitment to my yoga practice can keep up with. And yet, the wisdom and joy of being here at age fifty-two, with two grown beautiful children to love and cherish, all the rewards and joys of being my age, is huge. I am here, here to study and practice with all of the souls in this room under the tutelage of a revered yogi, here to have this time with myself and everyone else, (not like MY mom).
Our first practice leads us into the fluidity of a practice measured by a metronome four-count, filling the counts of in-breath and out-breath with the full expression of each posture of Surya Namaskar; not lunging, jerky, “gotta get there”, militaristic movements, but measured, pouring, fluid and yearning to full expression, like dance. I relate. I heat and sweat. But dawning on me through all of this as the practice becomes more and more intense is the truth she brings as well: There has got to be a good reason to do this, to fire up all these cells of my body for, to the point of melting and ending up a puddle on the floor, and it’s not just for myself. Yoga is not something you ‘do for your self’, it’s something you do to get ‘beyond yourself’. Doing it ‘for myself’, it will just amplify the “self cherishing” aspect of avidya. And we are guided to bring to mind, right there before us gazing into our eyes, our Beloved to devote our practice to, now, today, and I strive to make each asana steady and joyful, mutually for myself and for whom I am devoting my practice to, and everyone present, not just myself.