I just returned from a month-long Yoga Teacher Training intensive at the Expanding Light, Ananda Village ashram in Nevada City. It was an incredibly powerful, empowering month of self-discovery, tuning deep into the sacred vibrations of Yoga. It was a wonderful experience to live and be a part of the beautiful spiritual community of Ananda, located on 800 acres of sacred land in the foothills of the Sierras. Ananda means Divine Bliss, and the community feels like a bliss bubble of heaven. The outside world seems to melt away, as the high vibrations seep into your consciousness. There are wild animals everywhere including deer, rabbits, squirrels, skunks, all kinds of colorful birds, and even black bears. Because of the yogic/vegetarian/ahimsa energy of the place, the deer are fearless of humans and come so close you can almost pet them!
The members of the community are all disciples of the great master Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the spiritual classic Autobiography of a Yogi - and in just about every room, you'll find photos of all the great masters and saints, watching over the whole scene. It was really wild, many times I'd catch myself during class, daydreaming or thinking some impure thought, and I'd look up and see Paramahansa gazing at me with his Divine eyes, smiling lovingly, telling me, "I know. It's okay. It's all God. All part of the cosmic dance." It was a very humbling experience.
The training into Ananda Yoga was incredible throughout the month. The love and energy put forth by all the teachers and staff was inspiring, for they truly live the teachings of Yogananda, and are great yogis themselves. It was quite difficult at times however, because this style of Hatha Yoga is unique and different than my own personal practice prior to coming. The asana pratice moves at a much slower pace, holding each pose longer, enabling the practitioner to go "deeper" not necessarily stretching "further". The whole practice is aimed at preparing the body and mind for meditation, as is traditional in Raja or Patanjali Yoga. In fact, the asanas are seen as "meditation in action." As it is a level-1 200 hr training, we were learning how to teach yoga to beginners with little or no experience, how to teach to seniors, people with osteoporosis, high blood pressure, hip replacements, etc. We moved slowly through each pose, breaking down the components of the asanas so that we can modify them for any body. I am very thankful for the knowledge, however, it was challenging at times to stay in "Beginner's Mind"- I found myself craving more advanced poses, and we'd often sneak off after class to practice inversions...
Ananda Yoga can be summed up in 3 words "In and Up" - the whole practice focuses on bringing energy into the body, and directing it up the spine toward the brain. On a more subtle level, we are receiving prana/life-force and raising it up the sushumna central channel to our spiritual eye-center, the ajna chakra point between the eyebrows. In this way we are working to raise our consciousness, to move toward superconsciousness. When we can begin to tune into to the subtle energy flowing through our practice, then we can really go deep. One of my favorite classes of the month was a Chakra Asana practice led by Gyandev, the director of the program. We started at the root chakra, the muladara and worked our way all the way up to the crown, practicing asanas specific to awakening each energy center. It was a powerful experience, where I was able to touch deep into the subtle body, experiencing the swirling energy of the chakras fully for the first time within. Noting where energy flowed more fluidly, and where there were blockages. This subtle energy is working all the time, however, when we begin to consciously direct our awareness towards the centers, we can begin to really work with the energy flow, leading to powerful awakenings. It was very inspiring, and I'm excited to study chakras further and integrate them into my own practice and teaching.
The thoroughness of the training was excellent. We studied asanas, pranayama, chanting, philosophy, anatomy, diet, and much much more. I feel that I received an incredible foundational yoga training that will serve me greatly in whatever direction yoga takes me. However, the best part of the experience was the people, the teachers, the staff, the community, and mostly the other students in the group, the family - the tribe. Interestingly enough, I was the only male in the group, amongst 13 other women, which was an experience in and of it itself! I feel like I was also receiving a degree in Women's Studies as well as yoga training lol... But they all quickly became my soul mommas and sisters and the group came together really tight. So many laughs (thank you Meadow for your beautifully contagious laughter), many cries (we couldn't sit down for sharing circle without the kleenex making rounds as well), ups and downs - we all were there to support each other, and created such a safe space to learn and grow. Thank you all so much for your love and kindness, I miss you already. Jai guru!
The last week we split into four groups and did team teaching. We really got to put everything we learned into practice as we led two classes with our groups. It was an awesomegasana experience and so much fun to feed off each other as we flowed through the classes. The classes were open and free to all so we had some folks who were on personal retreat attend, which was a lot of fun - we got to modify a lot of asanas, bust out some chairs, and really get in there with the adjustments.
Before I knew it, the month was coming to a close. I am still in awe at how quickly the month flew by - Ananda is seriously on another plane... The last night we had a closing circle filled with lots of laughs and tears. I looked around the room at all these beautiful people I spent so much time with these past weeks, I could not believe I would not be seeing them every morning for sadhana. My heart was filled with an incredible sensation of blessedness. So thankful for the opportunity and time we all shared. Once again I was blown away at the thought of the ancient lineage of Indian masters, who's teachings and practices have been handed down over years, brought to life in this moment. This sacred current of Yoga, the thread still being weaved, the sutra we are all forming. All the teacher trainings around the country - we were brought HERE, right NOW. Breathe.
Thank you great souls. We performed a sacred Vedic ritual by chanting the Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya Mantras seven times over candle flame, followed by making an offering, writing a blessing/prayer and releasing it into the burning flame, the smoke sending our prayers into the universe.
I am now back in Arcata, once again surrounded by the redwood rishis of the Northcoast. It's good to be home, transitioning back to waking life. However, I miss everyone so much. Ananda already feels like a dream, a beautiful bliss dream... I am so grateful for the time I spent there and the teachings I received. I am very excited to put this wisdom into action and start teaching yoga here in the community. Thank you all great souls! Jai guru jai!