Solheimar, Iceland

Solheimar, Iceland
Solheimar Ecovillage in Iceland

Earthaven Ecovillage

Earthaven Ecovillage
Earthaven Ecovillage in Black Mountain, NC

Yogaville, Satchidananda Ashram

Yogaville, Satchidananda Ashram
Yogaville in Buckingham, Virginia

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


"We are birthed into sangha, into spiritual community.  It is called the world." 

I ventured to Satchidananda Ashram in search of an intentional community.  I saw one and experienced one, but heard no one speaking of it.  I barely even heard the word “community” uttered by anyone present there even though it exhibited all the traits of an intentional community: Support, Accountability, Shared Resources, Shared Intention, Self-Sufficiency, Food-Growing, Group Values, and Volunteering.  That was because my ears were tuned to the wrong language: English.  As a community whose teachings and values are sourced from India, the Ashram often uses the vibrational language of Sanskrit.  The word for community in Sanskrit is “Sangha”.  Once I learned this, I began to realize what I had been missing. 

The goals and end results of all intentional communities, whether secular or spiritual, are similar if not the same.  They both wish for a better future through co-existence and harmony with each other and the planet.  Although many secular intentional communities stray away from spirituality as a dimension to cohere their members, they still recognize at a basic level the sacredness of the planet and of each other based upon their efforts and lifestyle modifications toward sustainable existence.  Even if they leave out spiritual aspects from their visions and goals, they are still honoring the holiness of life enough to leave behind mainstream society and come closer to the Earth and one another.  On the other hand, spiritual intentional communities admit the sacredness of everything, which provides a different kind of fuel for harmonious co-existence.  There can be problems in both situations.  If an intentional community is too secular, there may end up being too much diversity and not enough similarity to bring everyone together in a way that even constitutes a community.  This lack of focus may prevent progress on a group level.  On the other end of the spectrum, if an intentional community is too spiritual, the issue of dogmatism arises, which also prevents progress on a group level.  If one single spiritual teaching is forced while others are excluded, this results in the narrowing of the mind, the stagnation of growth, and the constriction of experience.

Satchidananda Ashram has shown me a balance between the two sides of the spectrum.  In Yogaville, there is no single spiritual path embraced or forced upon anyone.  The cohesion of this Sangha is simply yoga… Integral Yoga, the foundation of all religion.  Integral Yoga integrates the six branches of yoga (Hatha, Bhakti, Japa, Jnana, Raja, and Karma) to create a healthy whole of a person.  Hatha Yoga is the physical path of asana postures and breathwork, Bhakti Yoga is the path of the heart and devotion, Japa Yoga is the path of chanting and mantra repitition, Jnana Yoga is the path of self-inquiry, Raja Yoga is the path of meditation and study of scriptural texts, and Karma Yoga is the path of selfless service without attachment to the fruits of ones labor.  Every single religion in the world exhibits yogic practices, whether it is praying, chanting, prostrations, self-reflection, or helping others.  All religions spread the message of love.  Everyone is free to believe whatever they wish.  It’s all good.  Truth is One, Paths are Many.  Unity between all people and all beings.  

The symbol, or Yantra in Sanskrit, of the Ashram is a twelve-petal lotus with a central point in the middle.  Each petal represents a different faith of the world:  Native American faiths, African faiths, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shinto, Taoism, All other known faiths, and unknown and yet to be determined faiths.  They all bloom out from the central design, which represents peace, love, light and truth, which represents the true nature of the inner Self.  This Yantra is a visual representation of the Ashram’s Mantra, “Truth is One, Paths are Many”.  All of the world’s faiths are rooted in truth.  No single one is better than the other; they are all accepted.  Once we realize the connection that ties us all together, fighting with ourselves will cease, and community will thrive.  The further you go from the center of the lotus flower (your true Self) in the direction of any one religion, the further you go from not only your true Self, but also from all the other people on different petals.  We can all come together in the center to celebrate the unity and underlying sameness in all beings.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yogaville Photo Essay

Welcome Home.

 Emily and I up at Kailash, the shrine overlooking the L.O.T.U.S. Temple

Inside Light Of Truth Universal Light Shrine, where we meditate every day at noon. 

The nice A-Frame we now call Home.

We're fully covered.

 Our neighbor's platform altar with a photo of Swami Satchidananda on the right.

 Yogaville: a place where fancy pants fit in.

 A house made of local tree slices and empty glass bottles in the Yogaville community.

Kailash Temple Overlook with Blue Ridge Mountains in the background.

 The Yogaville Yantra Mug.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Two Weeks in the Ashram

Emily and I arrived at Satchidananda Ashram Yogaville last two Sundays ago, both feeling under the weather.  I came down with strep throat two days before leaving for the journey and was very worried that I would get Emily sick and compromise the beginning of our Teacher Training.  However, I put my faith in the healing properties of Yogaville, which proved to be highly effective.  Before no time I was back on my feet and feeling better than ever.

We set up our campsite after orientation on the first day, putting up the tent on a wooden platform in the woods, tying a 20 foot string between two trees above the tent, draping a 20x30 foot tarp over it and staking down the corners.  We laid down our little rug and covered our big foam mattress pad with sheets, tapestries, comforters and quilts to prepare for the cold and strung battery-powered Christmas lights on the inside.  After stringing up some miniature prayer flags, we had a new home.

The teacher training program began the morning after we arrived, waking up at 5:30 am, meditating from 6:00 to 6:30 am, doing Integral Hatha Yoga from 6:40 to 8:20 am, eating delicious vegetarian breakfast then having a class until the daily noon meditation from 12:00 to 12:30 pm at the serene LOTUS shrine, followed by another delicious vegetarian lunch buffet in silence while a Swami, or monk, reads excerpts from Sri Swami Satchidananda's writings.  We get a nice break after lunch each day and then pick back up for more classes ranging from Hatha Yoga Theory, Anatomy & Physiology, discussing the Yoga Sutras, to presentations from monks and teachers about Meditation, Karma Yoga, Health & Diet, Pranayama Breath Control, etc.  The night begins with a vegetarian dinner followed by either another class or group exercise or a free evening for reading, studying, socializing and relaxing.  The food is so fresh, wholesome, delicious and nutritious.  There is a large salad bar with raw ingredients and a hot bar with different entrees every day.  Every Thursday is optional fasting day where we are provided with the Master Cleanse Lemon Juice.

I feel a large transformation occurring within.  This experience is establishing a regular yoga practice in my life that I wish to embrace and continue upon graduation from the teacher training program.  There are 10 trainees in total including myself and 6 support staff.  Everyone in my group is warm and loving and it has been a pleasure to meet lots of new people.  The other people in this community are just as open and caring, and I will write more again soon about the Yogaville Sangha.  Sangha is the sanksrit word for Community, which I will elaborate on this weekend in my next post.  What I did not know before I came here was that Yogaville is not just an Ashram, it is a town of about 285 people.  One side of the road is the Ashram with public buildings, halls for yoga, and dormitories and guesthouses for people coming through, and on the other side of the road is private houses.  Check back again soon when I add photographs that I have taken so far and more details about all the things I have been learning thus far.  Hari Om!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sixty Days Until Yogaville

"Truth is One, Paths are Many” – Sri Swami Satchidananda

In just less than 60 days, my girlfriend Emily and I will begin our one-month residential Yoga teacher training program at the Satchidananda Ashram (a.k.a. Yogaville) located at the foothills of the Appalachian mountains in Buckingham, Virginia. From October 16th until November 13th of 2011, she and I will be camping on the outskirts of this eco-spiritual community while learning to live the yogic lifestyle. Yoga is no longer just a hobby, it is a lifestyle; one that is all-encompassing, health-oriented, and sustainable.

1. Yoga is all-encompassing and touches every aspect of one’s life:

“Yoga” as it is known in the West, the physical movements and postures of the body, is only one aspect of the yogic lifestyle. This limb is called Asana and is merely one limb of the eight-limbed Path of Yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras, which were written over 2000 years ago. Life in the Ashram will not only expand our Asana practice, but will also explore the other seven limbs, which include concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), moral restraints toward others (Yama), moral restraints toward oneself (Niyama), breathing exercises (Pranayama), mastery of the senses (Pratyahara) and oneness or unity (Samadhi), by bringing them to the forefront of our consciousness. Days begin at 6:00 am and end at 9:00 pm 6 days a week with Sundays off.

Here is our daily schedule:

6:00 Meditation
7:00 Hatha Yoga
8:30 Breakfast
9:30-11:30 Morning Program

PM 12-12:30 Meditation at LOTUS shrine
12:45 Lunch
1:30-2:00 Free time
2:00-3:00 Study
3:00-6:00 Afternoon Program
6:00-6:30 Meditation or deep relaxation
6:30 Dinner
7:30-9:00 Evening Program
10:00 Lights out – Silence until after morning Hatha Yoga class

2. Yoga revolves around the physical, mental and spiritual health of an individual:

Not only does yoga help prevent disease, but it places the yogi on the other side of the spectrum, making them feel even better than healthy. The diet is all vegetarian, so I will remove meat, fish, eggs and dairy from my diet and consume three meals a day of fresh vegetables grown in the ten acre organic farm on the property. Our sleep cycles will be more tied to natural rythms of the sun and moon and passing of the season. Our exposure to technology and electromagnetic waves will be greatly reduced. Being surrounded by like-minded people all giving much attention to their own bodies and minds will cultivate creativity and contentment.

3. Yoga is a form of sustainability through voluntary simplicity:

Our existence will be simple, which already reminds me of a stay in a self-sustaining eco-village. Unlike some other eco-villages that are bound by the desire to simply co-exist harmoniously on the physical/material plane with the Earth, Ashrams and yoga communities are cohered on the spiritual plane based around the teachings or ideas of a guru/master/spiritual leader. In the case of Yogaville, this community revolves around Sri Swami Satchidananda, who founded the Integral Yoga Institute of Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville in 1980. Yogaville is an inter-faith institute, as evidenced by the diverse array of religious symbols displayed over the doors of the main temple shrine (Light of Truth Universal Shrine L.O.T.U.S.) Therefore, although this village has a spiritual cohesion, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or failures of intentional communities, it has no dogmatic requirements or prosthelytizing beyond the general guidelines of the ashram necessary for the national certification process to become a knowledgeable yoga instructor. This is not a religious community; it is a spiritual community. Some people confuse Yoga as a religion, however it is but one of the many paths to the inevitable realization of unity and bliss.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina

We want to "co-create with Spirit a wise, just, and sustainable culture, in balance with the natural world; and to be a living example, manifesting a spiritual ecology — a vision of our new reality — in our daily lives."

Right around the time of the Spring Equinox, about four months after returning from Solheimar Ecovillage in Iceland, and slowly letting modernity seep back into my life, I began to feel disillusioned by America/academia/unsustainability. So on my last Easter break of college, my girlfriend Emily and I took a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina in search for nature and people who respect it and coexist with it. We found just that after winding up and down misty mountain roads until the pavement ended and a sign that read “Earthaven Ecovillage”. Earthaven, located in Black Mountain, NC just outside of Asheville, is an aspiring
intentional community that was founded in 1994. At this point in its growth it only has about 60 community members, but is aiming for 150.

The further Emily and I drove down the dirt road, the more excited I got to experience my first American Ecovillage. Once we parked the car and turned it off, the peaceful silence settled in. We met up with some others, and were shown around by River Otter, a woman with a floppy red hat and a genuine permasmile. Our first stop was the community counsel hall, a circular cob & strawbale building framed with trees felled from the area.

Unlike Solheimar, where trees and natural building materials were nowhere to be found, Earthaven was in the middle of dense mountain hardwood forest, which significantly opens up the possibilities of ecological building. Most of the structures in Earthaven were cob/strawbale, made from clay sourced from the river that ran through the village and hay from neighboring farmers. “It’s an ongoing experiment,” River Otter said referring to both cob-house-building and the ecovillage as a whole, “and we keep getting better at it.”

Earthaven is divided into 14 ‘neighborhoods’ within the 320 acre forested land. Earthaven is self-governed through small committees that use consensus to make decisions. There is a fee to live in Earthaven and once you move in, everyone’s resources are pooled. Other than physical distance separating the neighborhoods of Earthaven, there are a few things that make each one unique. Some neighborhoods have communal kitchens and eating situations, while others are more private. The types of houses range from simple tents, to trailers, to geodesic domes, to ‘earthship’ homes made of recycled tires, to cob houses of all different shapes and sizes. The community strives to be as self-sufficient as possible in terms of energy, food and economy.

Earthaven is 100% off the grid, with the central village area operating on hydroelectric power, using gravity to run pipes of water from the river down through turbines, and the rest of the electricity coming from sun, evidenced by the dozens of large solar panels scattered about. Although they are not quite there yet, Earthaven is on their way to to food security and self-sufficiency. They certainly do harvest lots of organic fruits and veggies and raise some livestock, but they still make trips to the town of Black Mountain for food, which reminded me of the members of Solheimar driving to the nearby town of Selfoss to go to the giant grocery store to bring back to their ecovillage. Some members of Earthaven work outside the community, but a strong urge exists for people to make a living within the community. Some of the on-site businesses include ArtiSun Construction & Forestry, Red Moon Herbs, Useful Plants Nursery, and Yellowroot Farm, a biodynamic CSA farm.

Within the village live several progressive people who teach others how to create ecovillages, train people to employ permaculture, people who teach how to make buildings and plasters out of natural materials, those who facilitate the consensus process, how to make herbal medicines and tinctures, explorers of alternative energies, carpenters, chiropractors, hypnotherapists, artists, massage therapists, reiki practitioners, and many more.

The age range of residents varies much more than that of Solheimar, whose population was mainly adults and seniors. There are a handful of young children that live in Earthaven, who we saw running around and playing with kids from other ‘neighborhoods’. Beyond humans, many pigs, cows, chickens and goats call Earthaven home. Water is precious in these mountains, and they have several methods of water reclamation and conservancy.

The village uses waterless composting toilets and stores rainwater and spring-fed water in giant tanks for irrigation and for drinking. None of the homes have heating or air conditioning despite the snowy winters and steamy summers of the Appalacian mountains. Instead, they thought ahead with mother nature in mind by using passive solar heating in addition to natural building materials that trap heat when it’s cold.

While strolling around the pristine grounds of Earthaven, everyone looked busy, either finishing a cob wall, stirring compost piles, painting and plastering insides and outsides of houses, cooking healthy meals, or meeting up with fellow community members to discuss future growth and ways to become more self-sustainable.
My visit to Earthaven reminded me of the magic of intentional communal living and refreshed my desire to visit morep laces within the United States that are trekking down the same bravely humble path toward a healthier, happier, simpler future.

For more information, visit Earthaven's website: or their blog: and I would highly suggest watching these nice videos about two of Earthaven's residents: &