By Saul Schwartz
My wife Fern and I spent a fun Valentine’s Weekend 2020 at the Satchidananda Ashram in Buckingham, Virginia. Ashram is a spiritual center in natural surroundings, often in forest or mountains. The serene Yogaville campus is located about a three hour drive south of Washington, D.C. During our retreat, about 80 individuals were in residence at the campus either for the welcome weekend or yoga teacher training. This Ashram is an interdenominational facility and the international center of the integral yoga program. Its address is, of course, 108 Yogaville Way! More information on their program is available on their website, http://www.yogaville.org
The Yogaville campus was founded in 1979 by Sri Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002). He was one of the great Yoga masters from India and he helped bring the classical Yoga traditions to the West. He picked these beautiful 1000 acres far removed from the distractions of towns and cities. The campus is bordered by trees and overlooks the James River. The environment is quiet and peaceful.
Yogaville’s founder was an esteemed spiritual leader whose message of peace was promulgated around the globe. He dedicated his life to the causes of peace and religious harmony among all people. Satchidananda was honored with the Albert Schweitzer humanitarian award, the U Thant Peace Award and the James Park Morton Interfaith Award. At the 1969 Woodstock music and art festival, he led half a million youth in chanting “Om!”
On this campus, some of the students have chosen the path of monasticism. A number of monks live separately on the campus. We did notice a number of staff and attendees who had taken vows of silence and certain tables at meal times were reserved for those who were taking the vow of silence. Yoga Journal lists Yogaville as one of the seven most authentic yoga experiences to be found.
The Welcome Weekend Program:
The welcome weekend is a package which includes two nights lodging, six meals and an extensive array of program options. During our weekend we attended two guided meditation sessions, two different levels of yoga programs, two different talks on yoga in daily life and a super session focused on the freeing of the body’s joints. Yoga mats are provided in the classrooms. Sessions went from early morning until mid-evening, with several options provided at the same time (e.g., gentle yoga or level 1 yoga or level 2 yoga). The programs take place in several buildings around the self-contained campus. Everything is easily walkable from the guest houses or dorms.
The guided meditations included breathing practices. The hatha yoga sessions focused on yoga postures, breath control and relaxation. We found the instructors to be tremendously talented and they were very willing to answer our questions. The sessions last longer than typical yoga classes, up to one and one half hours.
We stayed in one of the Lotus guest houses. There are also dormitory options. There are quiet hours in both residential facilities beginning at 10 p.m. The rooms are modest, but adequate. Indeed the Ashram intentionally designed these rooms to be basic.
Six meals were provided as part of the welcome weekend package. The Ashram staff requests that no visitors consume alcohol, tobacco products, illegal drugs, meat, fish or eggs while staying in Yogaville! All meals are vegetarian and vegan, buffet style. We really enjoyed the extensive salad bar, the special bread, the herbal teas, the granola cereals, the fresh fruits, the vegetarian lasagna and the baklava for dessert. Fruits and vegetables are grown on the Ashram’s farm. Coffee was available for purchase on campus at the Mandala Café, which also sold tasty cookies.
The weekend is very informal. We wore loose fitting yoga pants or jeans and exercise tops throughout most of the weekend. However, the Yogaville staff requests that attendees wear modest, not revealing clothing. For example, short shorts and miniskirts are not to be worn. Shoes are not permitted in Ashram buildings.
Ashram Van Tour:
One of the highlights of the weekend was the tour which took us to the Yogaville shrines. These are sacred sites where prayer and worship services are held, along with meditation sessions and holiday celebrations. In better weather, these shrines are walkable from the campus along hiking trails. The two staff members who took us to the shrines explained their meaning and allowed us time to view each. The three shrines are located very close to each other.
Kailash: Dedicated in 1991, this site is located at a lovely hilltop location overlooking the Lotus shrine, with a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The shrine contains a seven foot tall bronze sacred statute of Lord Siva Nataraja. This magnificent statue dances or rotates every six hours. Adjacent to the shrine are additional enclosures housing marble statues of other Indian deities. These statues were created in Jaipur, India. Also nearby is an additional bronze statue of the founder.
Lotus: Lotus is the light of truth universal shrine. This is an interfaith shrine built in 1986. Lotus celebrates both the spirituality of world religions and the diversity of the world’s religions. Lotus is open to all faiths to meditate and pray. The shrine contains altars for every major faith, as well as some less known. From a distance, the shrine looks like the lotus flower. Inside there are displays featuring information and objects on the world’s major religions.
Chidambaram: On August 19, 2002, the Ashram’s founder died. This shrine is his final resting place. This shrine is open daily for meditation and prayer.
Our Valentine’s Day weekend was packed with healthy activities and food. Fern and I would definitely return to explore more at Yogaville. During the winter off-season, the Yogaville Welcome Weekend package is available at a discount from sites such as Groupon or Travelzoo. Although the Ashram came out of the Indian culture, at no time during the weekend did we feel that the staff was trying to impose their beliefs or religion. Indeed the weekend was a peaceful, educational and healthy retreat from our normal busy lives.