This past long weekend I booked a trip to Ananda Ashram in Monroe, NY. I was going to do karma yoga (volunteering), as well as for the meditation/yoga retreat portion of the visit. After falling down the stairs last November, I have not done yoga so I was a little worried about this part. My ankle was not where I thought it should be to start bending, twisting, and leaning all my body weight on it but hey why not give it a whirl, I could always adjust the moves down to something simpler. The meditation however was a big focus for me and I knew it would help that I was volunteering and eating well the whole time, as the Ashram is strict on a vegetarian/vegan diet with mostly gluten free options and no caffeine or other “poisons” to the system. I was happy because I pretty much live this way anyway so it took out some distractions.
The Food: I need to incorporate more gluten free options in my diet and combine my whole grains with a balance of veggies and fruits. Every meal was so well balanced that I found myself jealous of the chef. He was amazing. He knew so much about food and flavors and was so calm in the kitchen. getting to work cleanup in the Dining Hall was more meditative than work. But because Ananda is truly a magical place the trip had more in store than my volunteering with cleanup. I eventually got to help cook with the chef when someone called out.
The Experience: An Ashram is like a Monastery that they allow other people to come visit and try out. Lots of different types of people live there, live nearby, work there, do immersion projects there, and study there. I met at least one of each. I found that people go to Ashrams for a million reasons. Some just to detox from the city (since this one is run by Yoga Society of New York this is common), some go to figure something out personally, some go to discover if they want to become yoga teachers, some go to write/create in a quiet space, and others go to meditate and clear out the system. Because of this there are all kinds of people. Teachers, architects, artists, yogis, mystics, entrepreneurs, etc. Everyone however seems to have a commonality of being very open and honest and okay with others quirks. I met one woman who was very clear with me that I was not to touch her when I went to serve her some soup and another person who I became fast friends with I hugged goodbye and text with daily since. Either way it was very open and honest and refreshing. I would go every weekend if I could. I know I am probably not selling it but it needs to be experienced. The air, the dorms, the meditation, the Kirtan (singing prayers at the end of the night), the chanting, the music, the smell of incense, the lake, the walk, the feeling after early morning gentle flow yoga. It is all an amazing package. Everyone just falls into sync. We were cautious to not keep each other up at night, clean up after ourselves, do things together or apart without any clingyness or judgement, talk openly about our lives, tell others when those stories were upsetting or made us happy or curious, it was truly a magical time. Everyone always said thank you. This sounds underrated but everytime you did anything. The volunteer work you were slated to do or simply holding a door open or sliding to the side to fit in more people at Kirtan… someone said thank you. We said a prayer at every meal which I honestly haven’t done since I was a child. It felt nice to thank the world for giving us the food and god for creating it and allowing it to nourish us and each other for putting in the hard work to make it delicious. You forget what goes into a single meal and you forget to be thankful for well… everything.
The Yoga: First off, I didn’t fall or hurt myself so I am proud of that. Second, they have amazing yoga teachers. They even have a yoga teacher program so people can become yoga teachers. My first class was gentle flow yoga with my dorm roommate who was originally from Slovenia but now lives in NYC. She was literally the most amazing teacher. She just knew how to make a 1 hour class perfectly balanced and peaceful at 7am. I felt wonderful when I left. The next class I took was an intermediate level and I had to make some modest adjustments but I did rather well and was happy with myself. I did fall off my yoga blocks at one point while trying to sit on them but I survived. And I laughed.
The Cooking: I got to cook at the Ashram. I got to cook with an amazing chef at the Ashram. It was almost serendipitous. We all know I love to cook and I hope that I am pretty decent at it but being able to cook for 75 people at an Ashram is another deal all together. The chef (Jeremy) is someone that you feel like you knew growing up. He is the guy next door, your first crush, your best friend, your college roommate, and just happens to be a great young chef as well. He is from Long Island used to surf and loves to combine different cultural foods together to make strangely perfect combinations. I got to contribute to a quinoa dish he was preparing and infuse my Mexican cooking skills and knowledge with the Indian style he was infusing. It ended up lightly Mediterranean as if you were on holiday in Barcelona. I felt very inspired by him. It made me also want to not only cook more but start using different combinations. He swore that mint and cilantro combined well but I wasn’t sold on that. However it made me wonder what other combinations I may have let slide by that others find amazing. Perhaps I should take some cooking classes? See what the world is putting out.
Overall, I am in love with Ananda Ashram. I want to live there. The whole losing my pension thing may be an issue though and I would probably lose my house due to no income but I would be relaxed and refreshed and calm. I found my calm there. Sitting on a porch swing that was fashioned between two large trees overlooking the lake. That is where I felt my calm for the first time. I felt my brain finally go silent while trying to meditate. It was a wonderful feeling. I worked for it the rest of my meditations and found it if only for a few moments. Coming home has been hard though. I have been trying each day to fit in my mediation and balance my food so that I make better choices and kinda of take out the garbage. I have found that a breakfast of hazelnut milk (which FYI drinks like cows milk but with a hint of nutty flavor) and gluten free cereal of any kind is perfect with some fruit and a cup of tea. No more granola bars and water for this girl. I think starting your day out with a true meal that will benefit your body is the only way to start. I know I will forget some days and fall off the wagon but as a core item I think I will need to make this a priority. Meditating 2 times a day as well will need to be a priority. It helps me stay calm during my otherwise stressful work week. It isn’t easy but it is easier than having a rush of adrenaline causing you headaches throughout your work week. The yoga is also a positive change. There is a yoga study across the street from my office and they had a Groupon for $6.90 a class for ten classes so I joined. It just feels like the world came together after this weekend. So now I am off to tackle the universe and find out who “I am” (OM).
Food is Love.
The Hippie Gypsy