Stress Relief At Sivananda
My eyes opened at the first clanging of the bell. It was 5:30 am. Our breath made little clouds in the cool morning air as the moon lit our path down to the meditation hall. By 6:00 am we settled, wrapped in warm shawls and surrounded by other practitioners, into our morning meditation. At 6:30 am the sound of Om brought us back into this realm, into a room transformed by the rising sun, the mural on the wall of Krishna and Jesus now greeting us and welcoming us into the new day.
We had arrived at the Sivananda Ashram the day before. We left the city on a busy Friday afternoon traveling over the Bay Bridge, making our way up 80, past Dixon and Davis, and turning off in Auburn towards Grass Valley. The road up to the ashram sets the tone for what’s to come. Wide open pastures, green rolling hills, reservoirs and long wooden fences. We definitely weren’t in San Francisco anymore.
The last portion of the drive is down a dirt path, pocked with holes and puddles from recent rains. “Slow down” it called out to us, “look at the path ahead of you instead of anticipating what’s to come.”
The Sivanada Ashram Yoga Farm was founded in 1971 by Swami Vishnudevananda. Looking for a place for ‘yoga vacations’, Swami Vishnudevananda found this location through a newspaper advertisement and purchased it on his first visit. The land has morphed and changed since that time, but many things remain the same. The main reception building is the original farmhouse that was present on the land when Swami Vishnudevananda purchased the land. A few years back, the barn, tucked behind a small lake burned down, and was replaced with a Peace Miracle Labyrinth. The 80 acres of rolling hills and meadows, nestled in the Sierra Foothills, also feature 3 temples that have built around the land. The Moksha Trail, a one hour walk, will take you to all 3 sites.
My partner and I decided to walk up to the Shiva shrine on the day of our arrival. We bundled in warm socks and sweaters and began the short hike 20 minutes before sunset. At the base of the 108 steps that lead to the shrine, we paused our conversation, we paused our running minds and set an intention. We walked up each step in silence, focusing on the pattern of one foot leading the other. Beyond the 108th step, and eastward facing Shiva temple rises up from the hill. A small path leads from the temple, through overgrown grass, to a large Shiva painting on the face of boulder. This opposing temple, facing west, is the perfect place to witness the sunset. Beyond the boulder, views of the valley below with fog creating ribbons in the low hanging air, provided the backdrop for our first sunset on the farm.
We hiked back to join the group for dinner and our opening reception. The three-day Stress and Relaxation weekend began with a short introduction meeting. There were a group of girls there for a bachelorette weekend, a couple looking for ways to destress their marriage, a long time devotee of Sivanada, a few practitioners who were enticed by the name of the workshop, and my partner and I. It was small, intimate, and personal. Each party felt comfortable stating what had lead them to a weekend devoted to destressing their lives.
I won’t give away the magic of the weekend or what is discussed in the content of the course, but I will tell you this: if you are a yogi and have been looking for a way to look at the impact of external and internal stressors through the doshas, this course is for you; If you don’t understand what I mean by that, this course is for you; If you are looking for an experience that will bring a sense of calm just by attending, this course is for you. You don’t have to be a skilled meditator to understand the message that this weekend provides, you just have to be open to new possibilities, possibilities that already lie within you. Are you ready for that?
Beyond the structure of the course, everything about coming to the Ashram set us up for relaxation. Each day my partner and I strolled to a different temple, taking in the sights of rolling green hills, mist on our faces and the sounds of wind against the trees. On Saturday we walked to the Durga temple, stopping along the way to enjoy the lavender farm that spotted the rustic hillside. We found the Durga temple empty, so we opened the door to the main shrine and sat in meditation, our faces reflecting the idols peacefulness. On the way back, we stopped to feed the llamas and chat with their caregiver. The llamas are a quintessential part of the Ashram’s day to day life. Things I learned about the llamas; they love long hair on girls, they run very fast, if you hear a sound in their throat walk away very fast.
My partner and I stayed in the Shiva Cabin #3, it was the last cabin at the edge of the farm, right before the trail up to the Shiva Temple. It was quiet and remote, and the front door opened to a pristine view of green lush hills and low hanging fog. We sat on the deck at dusk to drink tea and watch deer graze. To our right, under a large tree, was a platform for camping. The platforms are all over the farm and for $50 a day you can camp and eat and do yoga. They also have luxurious Shanti cabins, with all of the amenities of hotel living. Where you sleep is important, but you won’t spend much time in your sleeping quarters, so don’t dwell on that.
The important things are the yoga, and the food. Two yoga classes a day, one at eight am and one at 4 pm frame the day. The yoga is a traditional hatha practice that is accessible to all. You can make this practice as easy or challenging as you desire. The more challenging portion of the morning class is the meditation at the end, because you know that delicious food awaits you. Many people told me before going to the ashram that they came for the yoga and stayed for the food. I can attest to this. Fresh, handmade, lacto-vegetarian food greets you at 10 am for brunch and six pm for dinner. We were lucky enough to be present for two birthdays while at the farm. The cake alone was reason to come back again and again and again.
The Sivananda Yoga Farm has juice fasting retreats, meditation camps, cooking courses, yoga teacher trainings, and so much more. You also don’t have to go for an event. Get out of the city, get into fresh air, do some yoga, walk to a few temples, eat some great food and rejuvenate for the weekend. Or, if you would like to attend their next Stress and Relaxation Weekend, sign up now, the next one is April 13th-15th. Their entire calendar can be found here.