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5 lessons from a week in an island ashram

It's been more than a decade since immersing myself in ashram culture, and upon the passing of my beloved dog, Gus, the idea to visit the Sivananda ashram in the Bahamas (which I heard about many years ago, and always wanted to visit) kept popping into my mind. A welcome change from winter weather in the mountains, I booked my trip for late February.

My heart sunk into relaxation as I glimpsed the turqouse waters from the plane. After spending a week immersed in this little paradise, I was reminded of a few things:

1) Ritual and routine help to Recallibrate the body, and the nervous system.

The ashram's daily routine of meditation, yoga, satsang (community gathering), and community meals, provided routine and structure, allowing me to relax into giving my mind & body space to breathe, rest and simly be.

2) Breathwork is a gateway to calm

Every yoga class at the ashram incorporated breathwork, which is such a simple, yet powerful way to engage the relaxation response in the body: providing a gateway to calming. My favorite breathwork technique (that I first learned in my early ashram days) is called alternate nostril breathing.

To practice alternate nostril breathing:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with legs crossed.
  • Place left hand on left knee.
  • Lift right hand up toward nose.
  • Exhale completely and then use right thumb to close right nostril.
  • Inhale through left nostril and then close left nostril with your fingers.
  • Open right nostril and exhale through this side.
  • Inhale through right nostril and then close this nostril.
  • Open left nostril and exhale through left side.
  • This is one cycle.
  • Continue for up to 5 minutes.
  • Always complete the practice by finishing with an exhale on the left side.

3) The insights you seek may come when you're washing dishes

Service is an intregral part of the ashram experience. My personal favorite is dish duty. Something about the repetitive nature of the task + water element helps my mind to relax and be in the moment. Often, I have found that this is when insights, new ideas and inspirations will pop in. It happens to me in the shower too!

In moments of feeling stuck or frustrated, give it a pause, walk away from the task: wash some dishes and see what happens!

You can apply this "dish washing technique" in many other ways too: Walks in nature, gardening, yoga, etc! The idea is to find a task that feels simple and brings your attention to the present moment.

4) Food is medicine

Sivananda ashram serves two meals per day: truly medicine for the body and the soul. The foods we choose to consume can very much servce as medicine for our systems, bringing health and vitality (think fresh healthy fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds) - plus herbal teas to detox and refresh the body.

Additionally, the environment and state of mind in which we consume our food also impacts its medicinal value. (The ocean energy & views on paradise island helped with this ;) But you can create a peaceful atmosphere at home by playing music, keeping a clean table & inviting in some nature with fresh flowers. Have you noticed that your digestion improves depending on the mood you are in when consuming your food?

5) Tears are also medicine

Have you ever found yourself tearing up in a yoga class? This trip was especially tender for me in that I was moving through grief, but in general, one of the bonus benefits of yoga that isn't talked about as much is the release of emotion. Whenever we are moving through a more challenging time in life, at times when the emotion is too much to feel, we push it away (meaning it gets stored in the body). Finding a practice, such as yoga, to strecth and move our bodies allows the stored emotions to come to the surface to be felt and released. EMBRACE YOUR TEARS. And when the do arise, as best you can, give yourself the time and space to be with them, and let the feeling be felt.