Fifty-One years ago, Yasodhara Ashram began — The first ashram in Canada, and one founded and led by a woman, Sivananda Radha Saraswati. Sivananda led the Ashram in its current location on the east shore for 32 years, all the while building a legacy that we can take part in today.
In June this year, the Temple dedicated to the Light in all Religions burned down. The ending of this beautiful structure, though only a small (and relatively new) part of the ashram, moved many people who have been touched by the ashram over the years to help in its rebuilding.
This weekend, the transitional temple was dedicated in a satsang on Thanksgiving Sunday afternoon. As current president of Yasodhara Ashram, Swami Lalitananda, said of the occasion
“Construction had just been completed on Friday. Saturday was all about cleaning and drying it out—there was dampness under the tarps. Sunday morning was setting it up with chairs and gorgeous fall leaves and altars. And Sunday afternoon, we were inside a glorious sun-filled light space. We were inside something that hadn’t existed the week before. It was magical and beautiful, and full of gratitude.”
Swami Radha, the founder of Yasodhara Ashram, was a brilliant pioneer who could see the Eastern teachings needed to be adapted for our Western lifestyle. Her robust, strong character helped her survive the two World Wars in Germany and immigrate to Canada. After studying in India under Sivananda Saraswati, she brought these teachings back to Canada where she eventually founded Yasodhara Ashram. The Ashram moved to its current location in 1963, 51 years ago.
As Swami Lalitananda told me, “She managed to extract the essence and develop courses that keep the original depth and purpose of yoga as a practice that leads to liberation, but in a way that is helpful for people now.” The ashram takes on the task of staying current in the world, while holding true to the “essence and depth of the teachings.”
The yoga of the Yasodhara Ashram is one of self-inquiry. “We ask big questions such as, What is the purpose of your life? Each person finds their own way, but the questions opens up self-exploration. We learn the language of our personal symbolism and start to see the power of choice in our lives.”
The legacy of the Ashram is long and large. Though its permanent location is on the east shore of Kootenay Lake, “tucked away in this beautiful corner of the world,” the message and meaning of the Ashram is extended through both local endeavours and through training teachers who are thoroughly trained and then offer workshops across North America. Currently, there are workshops being offered in Halifax, Ottawa, and another teacher is at a conference in New York City.
Swami Lalitananda says, “People are looking for something more, and Yasodhara Ashram has proven to have valuable teachings to offer—teachings that can be applied to people’s lives and that make a difference.” It can sometimes be difficult to travel to the Ashram, so having the Ashram’s teaching available across North America is a welcome opportunity.
The Ashram also offers local, Nelson-based workshops at Selkirk College and monthly satsangs, beginning on October 19th. Of course, visiting the Ashram in person create a near-perfect setting for renewal and spiritual growth. Though the Temple is in a period of rebuilding, it is only one of many buildings at Yasodhara Ashram. The Ashram has continued to function smoothly throughout the rebuilding process and there has been no slowing down of offerings at all! The outpouring of concern for the Temple is wonderful, but visitors should not shy away from the Ashram during this time. If you can make it to the east shore this fall, do it!
The Temple Rebuild Design Competition
The temporary, or transitional temple, was built in one week, and is in itself a gorgeous light-filled structure. But the permanent structure is on its way, with designs currently being drawn up as part of a design competition at UBC’s School of Architecture. RFPs have also been sent out to architects, both local and a few firms outside the area. The student design competition will be judged by the Ashram design team in conjunction with UBC professors, and the winning team will come for a retreat at the Ashram. The Ashram hopes to choose their architect by the end of November and get started with generating ideas.
For those who want to be a part of the Temple rebuilding process, a major fundraising campaign is about to begin. Helping to rebuild the Temple is, of course, a tangible way to help the Ashram live on and participate. But there are many ways to participate at the Ashram, and giving is just one of them.
One upcoming retreat is called “Tools for Transformation” happening October 24-28. It’s a four-day retreat that gives participants tools that can help them understand themselves and reach for the Light within. The retreat also offers plenty of time to enjoy the silence and the beauty of nature. This fall is a particularly peaceful time at the Ashram, very nourishing, with lots of ways to engage.
As well the Ashram offers our one-month Karma Yoga programs open to Young Adults and people of all ages. This is a month-long program of working as part of the community and participating in all aspects of the community, with classes and workshops added in. Next intake date is November 3. The Yasodhara Ashram has a vibrant young adults program, one that helps young people, ages 18 – 30, more fully reach their highest values and ideals.
108 Tweets Challenge
Each year, the Ashram raises money for the Young Adult Program. The program brings so many amazing young people to the Ashram and helps to support them as they reach in so they can reach out. The program provides financial assistance to many participants who need it as well as providing bursaries for courses for them. This year, Swami Lalitananda is taking on a challenge called the 108 Tweets Challenge
As Swami Lalitananda says of her challenge:
“The fundraising model is a friends asking friends model. I chose to do 108 tweets about the Temple. First I liked the challenge of overcoming my hesitation about social media, especially Twitter for some reason (maybe the name!) But I thought I could do it for the young people and for telling the story of the Temple. As an editor, I also liked the challenge of writing only 140 characters. Now I’m seeing the value of social media, and I’m enjoying it. So it helped me to open my mind, overcome a mental barrier, and raise money for a great cause. Always good!”
It can be hard, I think, for many of us to overcome the Twitter challenge and dive into this social media platform. What an encouraging and thoughtful fundraising challenge, and what an appropriate tie-in to raise money for a young adult program.
Visiting Yasodhara Ashram
The Yasodhara Ashram is a ½ hr drive from Nelson, plus a 35-minute free ferry ride across Kootenay Lake, one of the most beautiful landscapes ever. Situated on 120 acres, including lakefront and forest, it is quiet and beautiful. As Swami Lalitananda says, “Nature supports your inner work.” The Ashram takes great care of you here with lovely organic food, often fresh from our gardens and orchards. Rooms are clean and comfortable, and they have a library, practice spaces and bookstore.
There are many ways to be here. If you are in the Kootenays, simply drop by, visit our bookstore, walk the grounds, see the transitional Temple. If you have time, come for a retreat—which can be self-guided any time of the year, or a guided retreat—which blends personal space with teachings. Ashram workshops give even more depth—they range from weekends to 10 Days. And their signature course is the residential 3-month Yoga Development Course, which is a fabulous path to self-exploration and expansion; this course is also the foundation for their teacher training. Karma Yoga programs are open monthly—this is a way to contribute to the community through work, as you learn about yourself through work.
The Yasodhara Ashram is proud to be part of the East Shore community, which is home to so many talented artists and artisans, musicians and caretakers of this beautiful land. Swami Lalitananda and the entire Yasodhara Ashram community hopes visitors will be able to drop by the shops and cafes in Crawford Bay and tour the local areas while in the area.
We hope all visitors to the Nelson Kootenay Lake area have the chance to visit the Yasodhara Ashram at least once. It is a remarkable center for spiritual growth that adds to our community.