Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let Me Take You to ... Yogaville

I can't help thinking the name is funny. It sounds made-up, something that might show up in Doonesbury or in a T.C. Boyle novel - like Drop City or Funky Town.

But Yogaville is the real deal, a wonderful community of wise people and wisdom-seekers, nestled (sorry, Fran) in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, about 45 minutes from Charlottesville

I have been there now more times than I can recall, and I gratefully call Yogaville (Satchidananda Ashram) my spiritual home, but my first visit at a time when my illness was still undiagnosed gave little promise of the glorious relationship that the future held.

And it's interesting that I was ill and didn't know it the first time I went there, precisely because of what my relationship with Yogaville has become. But that is now, and this was then, and we're talking about "then."

Then, my best friend from Hilton Head Island, Betsy Spencer, and I were heading to Yogaville for a retreat from our demanding newspaper jobs; she was in advertising, and I was in news-gathering.

On this hot, dusty Labor Day weekend,  the drive from Winston-Salem seemed interminable. It's about 3 1/2 hours, but the first time you drive it, you really think you'll never get there, that you'll be lost in the Virginia woods, abducted by rednecks, or just slowly succumb to the weariness of endless, winding mountain roads - beautiful but endless.

The ashram is about 45 minutes away from U.S. 29. It is secluded among rolling hills, deciduous woods and both well-kept and untended farmland. On your drive, you'll see shacks and mansions, thoroughbreds and mules, all in testimony to Virginia's agrarian past and present.

I'm told that the locals at first had concerns about the white-bearded, saffron-robed swami who moved onto the land and began building homes, schools and a magnificent if slightly bizarre-at-first-glance pink lotus temple in the middle of their pretty-conservative community. But the ashramites  - a ragtag group of hippies, Yankees and construction workers (my brother Jacob was among them) - began volunteering at a charity in Buckingham a few miles away, and it wasn't too long before they all began co-existing harmoniously.

Betsy and I arrived at Sivananda Hall, the ashram's communal kitchen and dining room, and were met by a swami who seemed a little annoyed at having two slightly harried and discombobulated travelers washed up on her tranquil shore. But she led us over to guest services, got us checked in and sent us to our dorm room.

Oh my god! There was no lock on the door, but as it turned out, we had a giant room all to ourselves, and there wasn't a lot of activity on the hall.

Not that I needed to be worried about noise and being able to sleep in the dorm, since what I really couldn't seem to do was wake up. I was trudging around in a funk and still baffled as to why.

We went to a hatha Yoga class that I thought was too easy - too much chanting and meditating and not enough asana - but was probably just about right for my skills and energy level. Then to my first of many fabulous meals in Sivananda Hall where we chatted with other women from places like Baltimore and Taos.

I went to sleep at about 8 p.m. - unbelievable - and didn't wake up till 5:30 a.m. when a white-haired female swami came down our hall playing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on a violin.

If we hadn't had enough clues, that did it. Clearly, Betsy, we're not in Winston-Salem anymore.

Stay tuned. Next week: In the sweet presence of Sri Swami Satchidananda and the pain of caffeine  addiction.

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