By the time I got home on March 5 after 33 days in South America, it hit me that travelling is tiring. Somehow I'd forgotten this part of being on the road. Not only the travel but almost two months spent packing, cleaning up and renting out the house, moving, and getting my house/personal admin sorted for a year away had left me cumulatively exhausted. And I had given myself a day and a half turn around time in Ottawa before moving on to Vancouver, Seattle and Japan.
I took the unprecedented step of changing my plane tickets (two separate ones) to postpone my departure for three weeks. In between repacking, taxes and an ever-growing pile of personal admin, I took time out to go to a yoga ashram in Val Morin, Quebec.
I stayed 5.5 days at the ashram and did 18 hours of yoga, plus some karmic yoga, meditation and chanting Sanskrit verse. And snowshoeing! We had a major winter storm when I was there, and it was a perfect snowy winter wonderland. It was also snowy on my drive in and I managed to get stuck halfway up the hill blocking the ashram entranceway. A young Indian guy got the car unstuck and parked it for me – I found out afterwards he was the Swami.
I didn't believe it at first – he looks younger than his 30 years, is tattooed all the way up one arm, and just doesn't fit my Swami image. Age notwithstanding, he is responsible for the entire Sivananda complex in Val Morin (over 250 acres and capacity for hundreds of guests) and he is also the Director of Spiritual Guidance for Sivananda North America, which appears to be a quite large and wealthy enterprise.
I found out this ashram is more relaxed than most, particularly those in India and Europe, where they will come get you out of bed if you don't get up for the 6:00am Satsang meditation and chanting, which yours truly skipped, twice only. They also probably don't serve (Boston) pizza with french fries either, what we had for our Monday night dinner – two of my favourite foods! Also unexpectedly, the swami cancelled evening Satsang twice in the same week, to no complaints on my end.
On the Chanting
I had gotten more into singing along with the parts of the chanting I could follow as the week progressed, but it was a slow transition. I read in the verse book that the chanting was to be done with enjoyment, devotion and awareness. The first wasn't a problem, it was fun to sing. The second two had me questioning things – I couldn't consider myself devoted and I didn't know the meaning of the sanskrit. While flipping through the book I read that Rama's wife was so devoted she walked into the fire to show her loyalty, which was enough to make me feel outraged about gender inequalities in India.
I tried to ask about spirituality and yoga with some of the yogis and the students. 'Open vowel sounds', said Rob from Ottawa – he enjoyed the singing without bothering about the meanings. After her first and only Satsang one harried older woman from Montreal said “I've had it with the chanting!” She stayed for the second class of yoga and went home after dinner. A young blond American karma yoga staff member (full-time volunteer) said she didn't initially relate to an image of 'a bearded guy sitting cross-legged on a cloud' but was working on her spiritual path.
Perhaps the most helpful thing I learned about the meditation was from one of the older karma yogis. She said – 'No one meditates, it is impossible to clear your mind from thoughts. We practice trying to meditate.'
I haven't continued practicing meditation, but I am practicing new ways of doing other things this year, like learning about different cultures, keeping in touch across long distances, and learning how to take it slow.