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Natural Awakenings Richmond

Welcome to Yogaville: the Experiences of a First-Timer and a Resident

Aug 29, 2014 01:47PM

In honor of National Yoga Month, Natural Awakenings Richmond presents two articles about Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, one contributed by a recent first-time visitor and the other written by a resident.

First-Timer’s Experience Proves Magical

The morning promised to become a summer scorcher, but the sky remained a crystalline blue as we pulled up to the visitor center. Curiosity competed with wonder as we climbed out of the car and slowly took it all in: the monks in orange robes, the yogis sitting on the grass quietly chatting, the friendly faces that sensed we were newcomers and offered us structure and guidance for our visit. Hours later, after experiencing meditation in an enormous pink and blue lotus flower, picking our way along trails with breathtaking views, sampling a buffet of delicious Indian cuisine and touring magnificent shrines, we returned to our car—knowing it would not be long before we would find our way back again. The ride home was spent in quiet rumination, thinking about the gentle visionary who had the power to create an ideal for living and the perfect setting in which to do it.

Sri Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, was born on December 22, 1914, in a small South Indian village as C.K. Ramaswamy Gounder. The second of two sons in a religious and esteemed family, he encountered traveling poets, philosophers, astrologers and holy men throughout his early childhood, as his family regularly welcomed them into their home. From a young age, he was deeply devoted to God and recognized the inner light in all human beings.

As an adult, Satchidananda married, had children and pursued a business career until, tragically, his young wife died. He then shifted his focus to spiritual practice, studying with several spiritual masters until he found his guru, H.H. Sri Swami Sivanandaji, of the Divine Life Society, under whom he became a monk and received his spiritual name, Sri Swami Satchidananda. People were quickly drawn to Satchidananda and his simple but profound teachings. His popularity soared and took him out of India and eventually to the United States.

In America, Satchidananda thrived—writing books, ordaining monks, winning humanitarian awards, appearing on television and even serving as the opening speaker of the Woodstock Festival. All the while, Satchidananda streamlined and promoted his own teaching philosophy, known as Integral Yoga. He believed that the goal was for all of humanity to live harmoniously as one universal family—regardless of race, religion or wealth. To do this, he emphasized that people must return to their natural state by learning to be easeful with their bodies, peaceful with their minds and useful by serving others and the world. He synthesized several types of yoga into one practice. The five types of yoga that form the core and heart of Integral Yoga are hatha (physical), raja (meditation), karma (service), jnana (devotion to God) and japa (chanting and prayer).

In 1979, Satchidananda purchased nearly 1,000 acres nestled in the sprawling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Buckingham County to establish Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville as his international headquarters. Although Satchidananda left his earthly body in 2002, his teachings live on today through more than 50 Integral Yoga Centers and 1,000 certified teachers of Integral Yoga across the globe.

Yogaville comprises the Satchidananda Ashram as well as the surrounding private homes owned by his devotees and students. There are about 150 permanent residents, as well as a monastery and a learning/retreat center with dorms to host the more than 2,000 annual guests and participants. Delicious, vegetarian meals are prepared at Sivananda Hall, which also houses a bookstore and gift shop. The village has three main sacred sites, including the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS), Chidambaram and Kailash.

The LOTUS, shaped like a pink and blue lotus flower, is remarkable in that it features 12 altars, each dedicated to one of the 12 major religions of the world, thereby professing Swami’s core belief—that people of all faiths can come together to share in spiritual unity, quiet meditation and personal growth. Majestically sitting atop a peaceful lake and flanked by striking gardens, it is most awe-inspiring when its bells chime to announce the beginning of meditation.

Up a nearby hill is Chidambaram, a sacred site that houses an altar and the marble tomb where Satchidananda’s human remains are interred. Lastly, atop the hill and facing the sprawling green valley and noble mountains stands Kailash with its statuary of the Hindu gods and goddesses, occasionally honored with ceremonial offerings.

With the other treasures on the property, such as nature trails, a charming coffee shop, a cyber café and a library, plus a full calendar of events, the ashram is constantly humming with activity.

Since my initial visit last summer, I have found myself returning to Yogaville several more times to get caught up in its sacred, mystical energy and emerge refreshed, renewed—learning more about the incredible visionary of Satchidananda along the way. What first appeared exotic and foreign has become completely welcoming and familiar. How inconceivable it is to me that such an international pearl is easily within reach of Richmond.

Cynthia Jyoti Sinanian, an educator for Hanover Public Schools, recently completed her first Integral Yoga teacher training in order to share her love of this glorious yoga practice. Connect at [email protected].


Ashram Life – Heaven on Earth

Straight and narrow is not the path to Yogaville, making it seem like a mystical place hidden in the mist, even though it’s only about two hours from Richmond. Many guests get lost along the winding path and have to call for directions.

In 1986, my wife and I were living in Santa Barbara, California, and expecting our first child. We had a happy life. My wife taught a dance class at the local girls’ club where she met an Integral Yoga teacher who invited her to try the class. Eventually, I went too. I loved it. After class, my body was relaxed and my mind was calm. The teacher was a person of integrity, authenticity and peace. We didn’t know much about yoga, but she told us about her teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda. We read some books, listened to tapes and learned about LOTUS, the interfaith shrine that was being built. Eventually, we met Satchidananda at a 10-day silent retreat in Santa Barbara.

That summer, we had the opportunity to visit the Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville. On the drive up the hill, the dusk sky was a beautiful orange. When we got to the campus, many people were eating dinner picnic-style, sitting on blankets outside on a lawn under the spreading branches of an ancient oak, and enjoying the sunset, fireflies and majestic river and valley views. We spent two weeks at the ashram and fell in love with the place, the people and the practices.

Yogaville is a small village of people from many different backgrounds and religions that have made a commitment to the yogic lifestyle based on ethical principles; working with dedication to build a community where people can live, study and work together in peace. This community of seekers can be described by the Sanskrit word, satsang, meaning good company or company of the truth. We resolved to become a part of this community, to learn and practice yoga, to enable our children to grow up there and attend the Vidyalayam (the Yogaville school) and to become a part of something greater than ourselves. We moved to Yogaville in 1990.

A typical day at Yogaville begins at 5 a.m. with meditation. I have a family and a job outside the ashram and this hour of meditation grounds me in a practice that calms and focuses my mind. My love and appreciation for the benefits of regular meditation have continued to grow over 30 years of regular practice. When I get home from work, I might walk the forest trails, work in my garden, roll out my mat to practice yoga or simply step out and enjoy the 360-degree view overlooking the James River Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains. It is truly a special place—my Heaven on Earth.

Tim Krishna Howeth, an educator in Albemarle County Public Schools, has been a disciple of Sri Swami Satchidananda since 1985. Krishna teaches hatha yoga at the Ashram, the Yogaville Academy and in Charlottesville. He also assists at weekly pujas, Hindu worship services, at the Nataraja temple in Yogaville. Connect at [email protected].

Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville is located at 108 Yogaville Way, in Buckingham. For more information, call 434-969-3121 or visit