Today is my last full day at the Sivananda Yoga Ranch (near Woodbourne, NY) where I am profoundly grateful to be spending five days after visiting Eva in Rochester. I was disappointed to find that this is not actually a ranch; i.e. there are no animals being raised here, unless that is supposed to be some sort of spiritual metaphor for the folks attending workshops or doing teacher training. It's possible. It is a fascinating place for me to be, because my interest in Vedantic philosophy and Hinduism is purely academic, by which I mean I have been chanting mostly insincerely these past few days. But I do enjoy chanting, and harmoniums, and thus, here we are. Chanting with harmoniums.
I didn't do my teacher training here because I would abhor worshipping a false idol or whatever for a whole month (by which I mean I am ambivalent about the existence of God), but I can dig a long weekend. I like the energy that chanting produces. I am a believer in Science, and the law of conservation of energy tells me that this chanting is likely to produce Positive Vibes Somewhere. I can hare krishna with the best of them as long as I get a good cocktail afterwards.
Daily, it's four hours of hatha yoga physical practice, which I make sure I always do, despite feeling like a jello person by day 4. Sometimes there is also a 2 hour yoga nidra session, or guided meditation, which is particularly effective for mitigating the impacts of trauma or chronic stress, the topic of the workshop for which I'm here. There's also karma yoga, during which you can garden or clean things or whatever is helpful. There's also 2 two hour satsongs - - silent meditation combined with a lecture on a (usually spiritual in some way) topic of interest. Example: the difference between 'being nice' and 'being kind.' The value of service. And so on. I usually go in the evening but skip the morning because sorry, I have Murakami books to read. The meals are all vegetarian and delicious although some inexplicable ingredient among them is making me break out. A lot of oil, maybe? The mind boggles. Gorgeous plants everywhere, of course, and a pond for swimming. Hard to argue with. Caterpillars have fallen on my head a few times and I think I brushed a brown recluse off of my leg earlier, and but that's nature for you. There's also a wasp on my keyboard. It's fine! It's fine.
I came here to compare this location with the Sivananda Bahamas Center as I try to identify Homes Away From Home in my life, and unfortunately it just wasn't quite up to snuff, to be completely honest. I adore it, but there's not enough boats and not enough ocean. These are problems implicit with the Catskills about which they can do nothing. I suspect Yogaville will be much the same way in Virginia...but that is next on my list to try. A cicada landed on my shoulder and looked me straight in the eye earlier, which is a Good Omen. I am in the right place.
The other reason I came was for the Post Traumatic Growth workshop to which I alluded earlier, which was led by Molly Birkholm, who is a boss (check out her iRest Yoga Nidra program if you're into this sort of thing.) I did this because I would love to eventually volunteer teach some classes through the Wounded Warriors program or something similar, and she provided some super valuable feedback on how to adapt poses (asanas), to accommodate those working through traumatic experiences or chronic stress, which impact the brain and neural pathways in the same way, interestingly enough. The medical studies they have done indicate that there can be real, significant change to the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex (i.e. shifts in size and functional to a per-traumatic state) over the course of just 6 - 10 weeks, which is pretty neat. I'll probably write another post dealing more directly with some of my thoughts regarding what I learned, but suffice to say, meditative time and developing a more robust mind-body connecting has an enormous impact on quality of life for most people...it would be nice to be able to make these practices more accessible to them. Without all of the dogma and doctrine of Sivananda institutes. Although boy, is it pretty! But yeah, doctrine. It's a mixed bag. And my shoulders are killing me from all of these headstands. BECAUSE. I CAN DO. HEADSTANDS NOW.
Yoga is, at it's core, a practice of deep listening. And doing really dope-looking postures. Sorry not sorry, Sivananda. I am also celebrating the dope poses.