Yoga Retreat

Yoga Retreat 2011

Yoga Teacher Training (YIC) 2011 Grass Valley Retreat – a Report

Sivananda Yoga Bharati

About 60 volunteers and YIC 2011 batch students with their families went to Shivanand Ashram, Grass Valley, near Sacramento from July 2nd to 4th 2011. It was a two day retreat where the participants got an experience of Ashram’s daily life that consisted of morning meditation, bhajans, satsang,  morning and evening yogasana classes, arati and prasad offering. Ashram’s satvic vegan meals at 10am and 6pm were wholesome, healthy, complete and soul filling. Apart from Ashram’s activities, Yoga Bharati organized satsang and discussions between noon and 4pm. Shree N.V.Raghuram, the spiritual founder of Yoga Bharati conducted the satsangs and discussions. The ambience of the Ashram, the friendly, hospitable and accommodative Ashram staff and management, and Raghuramji’s wisdom filled talks were a great elixir for the inner quest and curiosity of the retreat attendees. Most of all, the purity and authenticity of Vedantic tradition in the ashram and the simplicity and spiritual ferver of the ashramites was the highlight of the retreat experience. Many retreat attendees said that it was like visiting ancient India with all its glory.

The retreat began on Saturday morning with check-in and brunch. After this, we all met in the main yoga hall (Bhrama-Jiignasu mandir) which was a beautiful room with a pedestal on which Dakshinamurthy was placed in the center, the murty’s of Swami Shivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda on either side and Shankaracharya’s pratima to the side blessing us all. The very appearance of this setting set the retreat attendees at peace and we were all ready to begin the satsang. Swami Sitaramananda, Director and the spiritual head of Shivananda Ashram welcomed us all and a wonderful introduction of the lineage of Swami Shivananda right from Sankaracharya to Vishudevananda was explained. Raghuramji talked about how he had met Swami Vishnudevananda when he was a teenager. Raghuramji then gave us all a wonderful discourse on the topic of “Yagna”. He explained how yagna always took place in creation from time immemorial. He said that many refer to yagna as a ‘sacrifice’, but yagna is more than that. Every seed has a tree in it. Only when the seed gives up his seed-ness would a seed become a tree. So yagna in essence is nothing but the constant transformation and change that happens in the creation. The food that we eat becomes energy and hence it is also yagna – said Raghuramji. He explained the meaning of ”brahmarpanam brahmahavihi”. He talked about four types of yagnas mentioned in Bhagavad Gita – dravya yagna, tapo yagna, swadhyaya yagna and Jnana yagna. He also explained the significance of ghee put in the yagna. Cow’s milk signifies satva. Curdling of milk represents the paradigm shift from the materialistic thinking to the spiritual thinking of a seeker. Churning of the yogurt represents the constant nidhi-dhyasana or spiritual churning that we must do. The result of this churning is the butter which represents spiritual knowledge. When this is further purified and ego is removed with the fire of sadhana, ghee results – pure Jnana without any ego. When any task is thus done without ego, it becomes yagna.

The talk was followed by a discussion on our respective Karma Yoga. People talked about what was their spiritual experience was, after completing the yoga course and what is the karma yoga that they all want to be part of, in their sadhana, and in contributing to spreading the message of yoga.

The evening session was specially wonderful as we had a great bhajan concert by a local  group of singers from Sacred Caravan group. They sang bhajans with their wonderful instruments - flute, 12 string guitar, harp, tabla and other instruments. Their professional performance, their beautiful voices and their devotional and passionate rendering of the songs was enchanting. They sang bhajans on Ganesha, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, Hanuman and Gandhiji’s Raghupati Raghava song. They also performed some wonderful solo Hindustani instrumental pieces and a great rendering of an instrumental piece on Harp. The audience was mesmerized.

On Sunday morning Swami Sitaramananada conducted meditation, bhajans, and then talked beautifully on Prana, Pancha Bhutas, the way to channelize prana and how to live life so that our pranic body is in good health, etc. We had a satvic brunch and then we all set out to a small hike to Durga Mandir. The small and yet neatly constructed temple, the beautiful pratima of Durga in the sactum sanctorum, the cool and shady veranda outside the temple, the flora and fauna around the temple, a little bubbly pond and a white marble shivalinga at the center of the pond created our moods for a bhajan session. We sat at the veranda in a circle and sang Devi bhajans followed by a song from Supriya on Tyagaraja composition, Shiva bhajan by Ankita and Gayatri Mantra song by Vedant and Shushant  sung in a classical style. Raghuramji explained how Tyagaraja attained the first advaita state (Nirvikalpa Samadhi) and how he sang the song after coming back from the advaita Samadhi where he sung a song that said, he missed mother Sita, Rama and Lakshmanna in that advaita state and was glad to be back to the normal dualistic world. This gives Dvaita state as much grandeur as Advaita in Indian philosophy. Raghuramji answered the question on whether one can deviate from the traditional chanting style and said that it was okay to sing it in other ways and enjoy, although all the benefits stated in the Vedas may not be obtained when the rules of Vedas such as udatta, anudatta, sarita, etc are not followed. With many such discussions on various topics, no one wanted to leave the temple,  but we had to disperse eventually.

We met in the Brahma-jignasu hall again and then after a refreshing drink of lemonade and orange juice prepared by Yoga Bharati volunteers, and a wonderful deep relaxation by Yogi Mahendra, we all moved into a question and answer session. One of the questions was about chanting of A-U-M versus OM and when are we allowed to break into Akara, Ukara and Mkara and when should we not do so. Another set of questions was about who is Ekanath Ranade, how was Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Vivekananda Yoga Movement began. Yet another topic was about ‘What is the meaning of false belief?’, ‘Is there is such a thing as false belief?’, ‘Being a seeker for Self is a selfish act?’, ‘Shreyas and Preyas mentioned in Kathopanishad’, etc. Raghuramji addressed each of the questions in his own elegant manner where his answers were logical, rational and scientific and satisfying to both a rebel inside the seekers as well as to the already surrendered seekers. No one left the hall without getting their questions answered.

On Sunday evening, there was a beautiful bhajan session followed by satsang by Swami  Swaroopananda who is the head of Shivananda Ashram in Bahamas and Israel and was visiting the ashram. He answered some of the questions such as – ‘Can we change the world?’, ‘Is there such a thing as good and bad?’, ‘Why do we have fear’?, ‘Should  we be good to people who are bad to us?’, etc. Swamiji answered every question elegantly and satisfyingly with references to Vedanta, Sankaracharya’s philosophy, Bhagavad Gita quotes and with references to Swami Shivananda and Vishudevandanda’s teachings. To the question “Can we change the world?”, he beautifully explained that we cannot change the world, but only change ourselves. He said however, we can never give the world what we don’t have, so we need to make an effort to have good values and then share with the world what we have and that makes the world a better place. He referred to Swami Shivananda’s teaching to “be good and do good”. To the question “Is there such a thing and good and bad?”, he cleverly understood the intent of Advaita student where Advaita is beyond all of the duality and said that in the dualistic world we live, there is something called dharma and adharma. He said ‘there is such a thing as the right way to fly an airplane and a wrong way’ and said that we should attempt to follow the path of dharma. He said that only to the yogi who has transcended the universe, there is no duality and only then he can be beyond good and bad. To the question “Should we be good to those who are bad to us?”, he referred to Hindu Karma theory and said when someone is bad to us, we should think that it is perhaps because we have inflicted bad to others in our past lives. So the smart thing to do would be to do good to others now, so that they will be good to us later. To the question about fear, he beautifully explained how fear in inevitable in dualistic world and until and unless we realize the inherent non-dual reality, we all have to  face fear.

We ended the retreat on Monday morning after the Ashram’s morning activity where Swami Sitaramananda explained the workings of the mind, its distractions, how to control the mind, and how japa, tapa, yogasanas, etc help us come out of the distractions and help us realize ourselves. After the brunch, we had a photo session with Swami Sitaramananda and a concluding program (see below for picture). She read some of the poems that she had written about Swami Vishnudevananda and then blessed us all. She was happy to see a large Indian group visiting the ashram which she said rarely happens. She asked us to visit regularly. She also gave some books as souvenirs for Yoga Bharati. Raghuramji and Swami Sitaramananda exchanged good words before concluding. Little Ankita sang Bhagavad Gita shlokas in front of Swami Sitarananda that made everyone ecstatic with joy. All the kids had a great time and did not want to leave the ashram.

We got a deep experience of Karma Yoga where Yoga Bharati folks took turns to help in the kitchen and cleaning of dishes, we experienced Raja Yoga with excellent asana classes, we experienced Bhakti in the meditation, bhajans and aarati and Prasad, and we experienced Jnana yoga with all the satsangs we attended by Swami Sitaramananda, Swami Swaroopananda and Raghuramji. It was a spiritual retreat indeed!


Yoga Retreat 2009

Point Bonita San Fransisco Yoga Retreat  Report

Yoga Bharati conducted a three day Yoga Retreat from July 03 to July 05, 2009 in SF Bay Area.

The theme was Happiness and Spirituality. This retreat was also blessed to have both Swami Bodhananda Saraswati and Guruji Raghuramji –both stalwarts in their own right! The location was Point Bonita – a place very near San Francisco. The rolling hills, the greenery, and the low fog just made it seem like paradise itself!

People arrived from far and near on Friday afternoon, and after a brief round of introductions, everyone began settling down. There were unsaid expectations, apprehensions and questions. But, the enthusiasm and energy were palpable!

The program started as planned at 4:00 pm with the lighting of a lamp, ‘Ganesha Vandana’ the ‘Aashirvachana’ by both Swamiji and Raghuramji. They gave an apt, wonderful introduction to Happiness and every human being’s natural quest for it. It was a great start for all the seekers. A coffee break and Cyclic Meditation by Raghuramji followed this session thereafter. It was an exhilarating experience to practice the slow Asanas with subtle instructions regarding awareness about various aspects of human faculties – and those of body and mind.

Dinner that evening was welcomed warmly by the campers! This also served as a platform for more introductions /socialization. The day ended with a ‘Trataka’ session conducted by Ashwini. This was a wonderful rejuvenating experience as expressed by many campers. People were relaxed and were ready to go to bed, but the little ones were too excited to call it a day! Climbing the bunk beds, running from room to room, their giggling and laughing made the entire camp atmosphere feel like it was a house where a wedding was being performed – like they say in India, a ‘Shaadhi ka Ghar’.

On Saturday morning 5:00 AM the alarms went off, waking all the sleepy-heads! People jumped right out of their beds even though it was not their regular wake up time. Some went out to see the deer that were running around. And a few others took a little stroll out in the beautiful camp area. Everyone arrived at the ‘Patanjali’ hall for advanced ‘Pranayama’ session conducted by Ashwini. The dawn saw most of the campers immersed deep into their practice that began with a chanting of ‘Pratasmarami Hridi sam spuradatma tatvam’. The chanting itself was so melodious and peaceful that one could feel the ‘Satva’ flow in and around the whole place.

This was followed by Yogi Mahendraji’s laughter yoga session. Everyone laughed until they cried! This laughter session was followed by a very deep and sublime experience of Swamiji’s meditation session, which made us all reach our true selves and gain that wonderful inner quietude.

The food at all mealtimes was thoroughly enjoyed by all, given that it was all organic and fresh from the farms. It was also made with utmost care, hygiene and love by the chefs at YMCA. As an example, the chef took special effort to cook Indian meal for Saturday night and he took care to roast every single cauliflower piece separately so that we Indians will appreciate his Indian cooking and yet they were nervous until we ate it and we told them we liked it!! The dining hall was also aptly called “Annapoorna” – this seemed to be the hub of many interesting discussions on various topics when the sessions ended!

A hike to the beach helped everyone shake off any left over lethargy and also set the mood for a Deep Relaxation session in the afternoon.

Nearly forty people sat at the feet of the two Gurus – to receive the warm shower of spiritual wisdom. Topics were varied, ranging from “What is Happiness”, to the mundane questions about Parenting and Relationships. Madhavi and Reshma’s moderation of the session using skit and dialogues from their day-to-day experiences set the stage for some real life problems for the two Gurujis to tackle. There was also the wonderful topic discussed in-depth about Mahavakyas from the Upanishads – explained with the greatest simplicity by both Swamiji and Raghuramji. We were both touched and humbled as we sat there and tried to grasp every word that was said – it simply felt as if we were being drenched in showers of love, wisdom and of everything else that was so humane and so very beautiful.

While all of this happened, there were other things brewing in the “Krishna” hall that was dedicated to the little bundles of energy – the kids! In fact there were moments when you could see that they had too many choices on hand, and were switching one to the other in a haste to taste every activity. Coloring, DVDs, games that were organized by parent volunteers, dancing and the best of all even Mahendraji’s krida yoga that was completely tailor made for them! They were lovingly taken care by responsible parent volunteers while their own parents enjoyed the discourses nearby.

One could hear peels of laughter, jumping and giggling from the “Krishna” hall at all times. It was obvious that the kids felt as if it were one big extended family that constantly had multiple parents watching over each other’s kids throughout the event.

The evening was dedicated to cultural programs presented by the little ones and the adults. The participation was fantastic and especially the little ones were enthusiastic to be a part of everything! Songs, dances, skits and games – made it all very enjoyable. Some of the highlights of those high moments were melodious songs sung by Geetha, Supriya and Vidhya, games by Priyanka, a hilarious skit on Mahavakyas by the upcoming yogis who supposedly received enlightenment from Swamiji during the camp, a fusion yoga dance by the team of yogis with little yogi Ankita in the center and a final flag dance by the little kids and their moms for the song “Aao baccho tumhe dikhaye jhaaki Hindustanaki…”. The audience was thoroughly entertained.

The evening had yet another grand finale to it. The fireworks! All the campers had the privilege to watch the fireworks of both the cities of Oakland and San Francisco with the man made wonder – the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The crowd was simply thrilled!

Day three and the last day of the camp began with advanced ‘Pranayama’ session (at 5:30 AM), laughter yoga by Mahendra-ji and meditation session by Guru Raghuramji. It was the repetition of the same wonderful experience we had on the previous day!

A hike and a closing ceremony wrapped up this great event in a wonderful way!

To summarize, the camp was very well organized with every activity/program starting on time and ending on time and well thought of in every way. Though everyone participated in many activities, they still had time for socialization, bonding with like-minded campers, to play volley ball, basket ball, hike, chat and argue about philosophy/ideologies, and most of all make new friends!

It would also be so very true if the campers claimed that they came back happier, wiser, and more relaxed! Don’t you wish you were there too? Next time…for sure!

Kudos to all the volunteers for making this great event happen.

First Yoga Bharati Retreat 2002

First Yoga Retreat by Yoga Bharati

Set in the beautiful surroundings of the YMCA Camp at Camp Jones Gulch near La Honda in San Francisco Bay Area, the 2-day Yoga residential camp on “Yoga In Daily Life” conducted by Yoga Bharati from March 22-24, 2002 was truly a retreat and attracted close to sixty enthusiastic participants. The hallmark of the program was the integration of Yoga with the teachings of non-dualism as prescribed in the Upanishads. While there are many programs that have focused exclusively on spirituality or on the physical aspect of Yoga, this camp was unique in that it took a holistic view of Yoga in the context of spirituality. Spiritual knowledge and Yoga are highly interrelated because while one is the science, the other is the methodology. For a true holistic living, one needs to inculcate not only a physical discipline but also a discipline in mind, food and prANa (breath, i.e. Life Force).

The different schools in Yoga (Raja Yoga—by endurance, Karma Yoga—by action, Bhakti Yoga—by devotion and Jnaana Yoga- by spiritual knowledge) all have ultimately the same goal of controlling the mind and destroying the ego within the seeker. During the Camp, there was a little bit of each of these different streams of Yoga.

The program commenced on Friday, March 22nd with a brief introduction to Yoga by Sri. N V Raghuram, the main speaker of the Camp and the practice of “traaTak” (eye exercises) by the participants. Sri Raghuram, who directed he program, displayed that rare ability to explain highly profound and intricate topics at a simple and easily comprehensible level to the audience. One of the attendees commented with awe and admiration after one session, “He paints pictures in your mind when he tells a tale to illustrate a concept”.

Each morning began early at 6:00 am with the invocation of several Shanti mantras, followed by a discourse by Sri Raghuram on the role of Upanishads. The meaning of Shanti Mantras was elaborated in detail in subsequent lectures over the course of the Camp. The starting prayer for Isha Vaasu Upanishad (“Purnamadaha purnamidam” mantra) explains that we are complete in ourselves. We are all a creation from the same cosmic and divine source. Therefore, creation is not a curse; it is freedom. The manifest comes out of this complete source that never gets depleted despite creation—which is why we are all the same irrespective of our race, color or creed.

While the knowledge of the Upanishads is timeless, Sri Raghuram explained how the practices that are followed (“karmakhanDa”) have evolved over time. The Upanishads answer the most profound of questions that have haunted mankind since the very beginning—what is the true nature of our existence? But for us to understand the meaning of the Upanishads, the question in our mind should become an intense quest. Sri Raghuram gave the example of Ramana Maharishi’s intense search to understand “Who am I?” and Swami Vivekananda’s eagerness to answer the question that perplexed him, “Have you seen God?” Quite clearly, there are several methods of finding this inner peace even though there is unity in such diverse methods. What is worth remembering is that an object of desire is never a source of happiness; while these may provide transient comfort, they do not provide happiness. Fixating on an external object for happiness only limits our freedom. Rather, that source of happiness always lies within us and all that we need to do is to discover that source and understand the lens through which we look at life and ourselves.

On each morning, a 90-minute Yogabhyaasa (Yoga practice) session was conducted in the Camp by Sri. Udayakiran, a software engineer by profession and trained in Yoga at SYVASA. The asanas included “Yogic jogging”, suryanamaskaara (salutation to the Sun), several types of praaNayaama (conscious breathing) including vibhaaga praaNayama, sookta taaDasana, pavana muktaasana, ardhakaTi chakraasana, bhujangaasana, shalabhasaana, danDaasana, sarvaangasana, janu shirsaana and many more. During the practice, the approach was to become conscious of the specific body part after doing a corresponding pose. The session after dinner on each night of the Camp also included the practice of “traaTak” by the participants under the guidance of Sri Raghuram. traaTak is done with the assistance of a candlelight where the group sits around the flame, and focuses their gaze on the candle even as they focus their attention at the point between their eyes.

During the evening, there were keertans and bhajans that were recited by the participants to foster devotion (bhakti). Bhakti, as Sri Raghuram said, is finding God everywhere.

Are emotions bad? No. Rather, we do not know how to manage emotions, which is why it causes unhappiness. A much-abused word today is the word ‘love’. We all have experience of love but find it difficult to understand what true love is. In the state of love, we go to the object, to the outside but never try to understand what happens to us/within us. True love is unconditional. In contrast, when attached to any condition, the emotion begins to wear thin and could even turn violent if the condition ceased to exist. In true love, one gives and takes happiness. “Amrutaswaroopa anubhava” is the experience that one gets when (s)he views the world from this state of love. An excellent example that Sri Raghuram illustrated to drive home this point was the love that Radha had for Krishna. When Krishna had to leave Radha to fight Kamsa, Radha understood that Krishna was leaving for a greater cause and would not be coming back to marry her. She knew that Krishna would be with him, irrespective of where he would physically be present. What Radha had for Krishna was true love and not lust.

Distinguished speaker and CEO of SelfCorp, Sri Prasad Kaipa explained in an inspired session how these abstract concepts could be used in management and in our career. The Gita is an excellent management manual for aspiring leaders because of the relevance of its context, since it is set in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It shows how even the greatest warrior Arjuna faced a moment of quirkiness and almost felt his skills desert him at a crucial moment. This was a battle for which Arjuna had prepared and honed his skills as a warrior for a whole lifetime. In today’s competitive world, business leaders periodically face such an ‘acid test’ of their abilities and character. For a leader to become effective, (s)he only needs to take a leaf from the Gita: Maintain equanimity (stithapragnya) at all times, pay attention to one’s perspective in whatever (s)he does, choose actions consistent with this perspective at every point, identify the way in which one lives out these actions, understand the context in which (s)he currently operates and be persistent in each one of these endeavors. If one does all these, happiness (sukham) will naturally follow. Indeed, Sri Prasad Kaipa has co-founded his company, Self Corp ( to help business leaders improve their effectiveness by doing the afore-mentioned steps.

Patanjali, the great saint who gave Yoga to the world was also one of the founding fathers of Sanskrit grammar. In addition, he laid the foundation for good health in the form of Ayurveda. The three fields are thus naturally inter-related. Noted Ayurvedic practioneer,. Pratichi Mathur explained the essence of Ayurveda and its relationship to Yoga. Ayurveda is about health and not just disease; indeed it is an encyclopedia of life! What marks out Ayurveda is that it takes a holistic view of the body and does not treat a symptom or a body organ in isolation. The result is that there is no camouflaging of symptoms or no side effects that develop in the process of healing. Naturally, Ayurveda is thus administered on a case-by-case basis since each person’s constitution is unique. Because the process of aging cannot be fought and the physical body (unlike the soul) is not eternal; Ayurveda attempts to help an individual develop his own immunity and his power of self-healing. Ayurveda thus has three goals—prevention, cure and development of the consciousness within the individual. An excellent example that Pratichi gave to distinguish between the Ayurvedic approach and conventional medicine is about food—conventional wisdom says that we are what we eat; in contrast, Ayurveda says that we are what we digest! Pratichi practices in the Bay area and provides healing services at the Ganesh Ayurveda Institute in Los Altos ( Pratichi’s background should in itself convert skeptics to admirers of Ayurveda. Pratichi, who was born with a genetic disability called ankylosing spondylitis and also grew up with asthma, has used the power of Ayurveda to not only avoid her dependence on drugs or even a wheelchair, but also to lead an extremely active lifestyle. It was little wonder therefore that her 75-minute talk was very interactive and evoked a tremendous amount of interest from the audience.

Samskrita Bharati sevak, Sri Vasuvaj gave a lively talk in Sanskrit on the importance of Sanskrit—although over 70% of his talk was in Sanskrit, nobody in the audience, including people of non-Indian origin, found it difficult to follow him. His energetic speech convinced the audience that “Samskritam kaTinam naasti” (Sanskrit is not difficult). It is a common misconception that Sanskrit is a language that is difficult to learn or is not “alive”. Yet, most people passively know Sanskrit when they know any Indian language, since Sanskrit is the root of most languages. Its structured syntax makes the language highly scalable and new words can be formed from the 4,000 dhaatu (root) words to keep pace with man’s new inventions and/or discoveries. Sanskrit’s application in the areas of natural language processing are already well documented, due to its context-independent structure that makes it easier to parse by computers. Sri Vasuvaj showed how Panini, who laid the foundation for Sanskrit grammar wrote such a concise text called “Ashtaadhyaayi” (“8 chapters”) containing all the rules of grammar in strotras (verses) that it could easily be printed in a small text of less than 75 pages!

The Camp had many other activities too. On Saturday evening, a one-hour event, “Yogic games” was held by Sri Vasuvaj and other volunteers that was filled with games adapted from tales of Ramayana/Mahabharat and intended to develop a subtle awareness of Indian heritage in the process. During the evening, there were keertans and bhajans that were recited by the participants to foster devotion. The Camp was filled with very community-conscious participants, who served food in groups to all and even rested in groups during late evenings. For kids, there were special programs planned that included nature walks, hand painting, asanas (postures) for kids and many more. Each session was very interactive, with tremendous enthusiasm and participation from the audience that extended into discussions and personal consultations with the speakers during inter-session breaks. The Camp participants were immersed in these activities from 6:00 am-10:00 pm every day, making it was not only a ‘Yoga In Daily Life’ Camp but also a ‘Yoga In Every Moment’ Camp!