• Mary K. Armstrong

Revisiting the Basics

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Pinch me! It's about 50 years later, and I'm really here! But I never used to ache like this. Ouch! My ears are ringing, and every muscle in my body hurts. I'm sure the paths up and down the steep mountain valley were never this steep or rough. I'm exhausted just climbing from the shores of Kootenay Bay to the guest house halfway up the mountain where my comfortable room awaits.

It wasn't like this when I spent three months at Yasodhara Ashram as a young yoga teacher, deepening my knowledge of yoga's ancient traditions. Back then, my husband, our seven-year-old son, and I had packed ourselves into our small car for the long drive from Toronto to British Columbia. We were about to spend three months at the ashram run by my spiritual teacher, Swami Sivananda Radha.

The land, the mountains, and the trees were all so familiar that I almost expected to see Swami Radha taking her daily walk around the property. The bookstore use to be there beside the parking lot. But wait -- it has changed. It has been converted into two living spaces.

A photo from the website of Yasodhara Yoga of a group of people sitting around in a circle doing yoga

I know if I walk down the hill, I'll come to the Main House where we eat our meals, and further down the hill I'll come to the prayer room that overlooked Kootenay Lake. Long ago I'd start each day with asanas (yoga's physical exercises), followed by workshops in scriptures, the five senses, and answering such questions such as What is the purpose of my life? What makes my life worthwhile? Every night, following satsang (prayer service), my husband and I prepared papers on our brand-new electric typewriters for the next day's workshops.

All three of us shared a room. For the first week, our son complained that he couldn't sleep with the lights on and the typewriters clacking. By week 2, he could sleep through any number of visitors and late night noisy debates with other students.

He and the other children staying at the ashram attended a one-room schoolhouse in the mountains. They were accompanied by an adult up the road to where a school bus picked them up. An adult was a necessary guardian, as cougars were known to attack children, but not if an adult was present. Once back home from school, the kids were led in activities until suppertime. Our son has nothing but happy memories about being there.

In those days the buildings were erected by residents who had picked up various construction skills. Visitors often volunteered to practice the yoga of work, known as karma yoga. So I wasn't prepared for the beautifully designed buildings I was encountering all these decades later. The new dining room is a far cry from the old days when we sat on benches at long tables to eat food cooked by the residents. Back then, after dinner, there would have been satsang in the cabin at the water's edge. All of us students were wrapped in grey woollen blankets as each of us took turns leading the service and playing mantras on the harmonium, a small organ-like instrument that blends mysteriously with the human voice.

Today a remarkable temple designed by architects who have volunteered their talents rises up from the land. The ashram I am finding nearly 50 years later has grown in remarkable ways.