A pagan visit to a Hindu Ashram Community

Used via Creative Commons license

Last weekend I went up to the Virginia mountains to become certified as a Laughing Yoga Leader.

I am now trained in laughing exercises to use as a means to help people re-learn to laugh. :-) More on that in another post.  My focus for this blog is the center of which the two-day laughing yoga class was held: Yogaville, and the resulting observation that can only be heard from a neutral Pagan.

Tell me, what does that word, Yogaville bring to mind for you?  Lots of people doing yoga? Healthy eating? I’d heard from a few friends about their experience of visiting Yogaville, but it did nothing to prepare me for the peacefulness found upon arriving. Yogaville is an Ashram community of peace-loving individuals established by the late Sri Swami Satchidananda, well over 30 years ago.

If I’m not careful, I could go off on a tangent that would resemble the makings of an actual marketing campaign FOR Yogaville. I’ll try to keep that in line.

Getting to Yogaville was fairly simple, in that they offered clear maps on how to get there.  The back roads reminded me of my time spent in Africa – paved, but with plenty of natural scenery and distant landscapes to take in during the drive. I felt welcome upon arrival; everyone at the Ashram center was exceptionally friendly, positive, and helpful.

For each of the laughing yoga sessions, the instructor would sometimes have this woman, whose voice is so beautiful, lead us in some chanting/singing of “Hari Om.”  The sound was beautiful, and I enjoyed following along with the chanting.  I did observe however, two women who appeared slightly uncomfortable with the whole process. They sat with their eyes lowered, mouths closed, pensively waiting for the chanting to end, while the rest of the group exhibited full-bodied vocal engagement in the chanting process.

I felt bad for their seemingly uncomfortable-ness, but what did they expect with a Laughing Yoga workshop being held at an Ashram community? It was a delight to later hear these two ladies sharing their good-natured humor regarding the differences in culture and religion.

Another lady at one point shared her concern as to the positioning of our feet while sitting in circle during a session.  We were sitting in the Samadhi space, on the floor in a group circle, using those backjack chairs to help us sit for an hour or two at a time.  After a while, sitting with one’s legs crossed gets a bit uncomfortable, so I know I would sit back in the chair occasionally, stretching my legs and feet out in front of me.  This position left the bottoms of our feet facing towards the raised platform where the Satsang and other activities took place. This woman asked me if the raised platform were an altar, and if it was being disrespectful for the bottoms of our feet to be facing the altar.

My pragmatic response was to say that if there were truly an issue with our feet facing the altar, we would have been instructed to not let this happen, the same as we’d been instructed to always take our shoes off upon entry into the building in the shoe shelving area, before entering the next room (always deemed sacred communal space, whether it be the teaching room, or the dining hall).

By lunchtime of the next day, I was ready for some downtime (too many people at one time can do that to me), so I made the choice to opt out in attending the evening’s activity of Satsang music and chanting, preferring instead to stay in my room and read a book – something else I don’t have much downtime to do.

My point is that, even in this extremely peaceful community, I felt the same profound sense of not belonging (mostly by choice), as I would have at a Christian church; just on a different scale. For being a Pantheist-Naturalist type of Pagan, I wasn’t really interested in buying into the dharma of Satsang, or Hatha Yoga, or the ritual of listening to the daily lunch reading of a passage from the Bhagavad Gita. Although, these readings and ritualistic acts were a bit easier to take in than other religious texts and acts I’ve witnessed.

While attending the Ashram community was a more pleasurable experience of interacting with a religion not my own,  having enjoyed the delicious vegan food, and experiencing the peacefulness of this long established Hindu monastery high up in the Virginian mountains, I still found myself being a detached observer witnessing the another spectrum of the interfaith wheel.  It was a great experience to add to my belt.

About Drea Parker

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