Many of my yogi friends use to tell me things like "You'll feel the call for India when it rings" or " oh you'll know when it's time to visit India, spirit knocks loudly in that place" .
I would often chuckle at these notions, thinking "How can a place -not a person- call you? "... Most of my inquiry into spirituality and yoga began at home in the US. When it came time to complete both my 200hr and advanced yoga teacher training, instead of going to India the source of yoga. Guatemala was the place, I suppose, that "called" me. In all honesty, India actually intimidated me greatly. I figured it was too chaotic there for me and that my understanding of my own spiritual path would just be lost in the hub bub of daily ritual that is ever abundant in India.
Then it happened, my heart phone rang and low and behold Mama India was on the other line. It was perhaps a culmination of things; My time in Bali working with Sadhana Yoga School that exposed me to a vibrant Hindu culture that made me thirsty for more or just my love in general for Yoga Philosophy and practice. But most of all I'd say it was to be with Amma- Mata Amritanandamyai- who fueled much of my interest to go.
About Amma; I found Amma - or maybe she found me- right after college. She came to me in a time when I was very unsure of my spiritual path and seeking direction , when I began to connect with her through my dreams and meditation, I knew it would be wise for me to find a way to sit with her more in person. Amma's message is one of pure nurturance, embrace the world and the world will know peace- and more importantly you will know peace. Amma's message is the importance of selfless service, true knowledge and devotion as yogis. This means to be of service in the world without the need of reward or praise, and to remain devoted to practices that cultivate peace in ourselves and our communities. To simply work and give from the heart is the most noble quest. To love all beings as a divine mother loves all her children, is true wisdom. One of the main ways Amma demonstrates her message is through "Embracing the World" with Dashana- Hugs. She is also known as the hugging saint because she has hugged over 33 million people world wide and continues to do so each year. Her humanitarian and charity work far surpasses the amount of hugs she has given , and continues to be a fueling inspiration in my work and desire to help other, especially those in need.
When I decide to go visit Amma at her Ashram I simply wished to be closer to this energy for a substantial amount of time so I could absorb myself in these truths of selfless service and devotion. So much of today's yoga practice in the western world is selfishly about the individual, about the type of pants you wear or how many people like your photo or show up to your class...I wanted to move past that. I also wanted to experience the ins and outs of Ashram living daily. To be in a community where devotion and service are the backbone and forefront.
After and overnight flight and long bumpy road through rural South India, I arrived at Amma's Ashram at 4:30 am, just in time for morning prayer. Sitting by the main office in front of the main temple I watched as all these beautiful women dressed in white made their way to the temple. Around 5 am the sun was rising and the women began chanting -108 names of the goddess Devi- and the black crows in the Palm, Banyan and Tamarind trees echoed theirs chants. I too entered a state of meditation, or absorption and remained there for sometime.
When I came out of this state, people were beginning to buzz around the place, the smell of chai waffed thru the air and a man asked if he could help show me the way to my room, just as a beautiful elephant walked pass with joyous children jumping and dancing behind her. "WHERE AM I?" I thought.
This remained the golden thread of the energy I experienced during my three weeks at the Ashram. Pure magic...
Over my time there I studied yoga and scripture intensely through a Patanjali Yoga Sutra course guided by one of Amma's main disciples and Swami's. I practiced yoga, meditation, and ceremonial Pujas daily. I sat with Amma as she answered questions and gave advice. I received darshan from her and listened to her beautiful voice as she sang sacred chants. I served the Ashram through washing giant dhal pots that were bigger than me x3, drying dishes like they were precious gems, and unloading the food trucks of organic vegeatables that fed an Ashram army of 3,000 peace loving people.
I also learned how to play the tambourine and drank pineapple juice until my hearts content.
Photos and the use of phones are discouraged at the Ashram, this was at first a hard practice for me because I love taking pictures and the grounds were a wealth of beauty and inspiration. However, I quickly came to love the peace that came from being present and unattached to devices. I'll openly admit however, that I did snap one photo of the goddess elephant Lakshmi, early on before I understood the rules. Mostly I recorded my experiences through journaling and drawing mandalas; a practice I was definelty not open to before, that now is part of my regular spiritual routine.
Yes, living in a place that lives and breathes the spiritual life is magic, and awesome. My meditations there were some of the deepest I have ever experienced. I would highly recommend anyone who is truly committed to this path of yoga to please spend time in A Gururkula- a spiritual school and community. Live, work, pray and breathe with others who are on a spiritual path, this will teach you more about yourself and your path than you ever could imagine. I'd be lying if I told you the Ashram was quiet, clean and pristine... it wasn't... it was loud, it was crowded, it was sometimes realllllly smelly, and some people I bumped shoulders with there- pardon my saying- bugged the crap out of me, and I know for sure I bugged the crap out of a brahmachari more than once. (pro tip: never sit or stand in the line sight of a brahmachari priestess and her view of her guru, they will shoo you away the way a loving grandmother does). However most of the experience was beautiful and enlightening, I learned that it's really up to the individual to decide the emotional quality of each experience and each scenario...in the end, at Amma's you realize we are all children of this magnificent universe, worthy of love and abundance- some of us just need to learn to share more than others.
SO this is life, life is loud and smelly sometimes, it's also redicously beautiful and serene at other times. We don't practice yoga to escape the hard or uncomfortable parts, we practice yoga so we are better at leaning into those uncomfortable bits and dancing in the chaos. We practice to find that peace is a state within us; so therefore it is everywhere we are. As long as we can be present and tune into it, it's there , that's the practice...
Amma's Ashram is open to all. For a westerner you pay 6$ a day which gives you a bed and three meals. You can add additional courses/workshops on if you like and you can pay less than a dollar for that morning coffee you love , but the chai is always free. Amma’s ashram is located in Kerala India, in the place she was born and has lived her whole life.
I am forever grateful for my time at the Ashram and I can't wait to go back. However, I know now that any place can be an Ashram, as long as my connection to the divine is clear and my heart is open. Visit www.amritapuri.org for more information about Amma's Ashram.