Sharada’s September Update

Hello everyone,

Summer has sped by as it seems to do every year, and we’re now moving into the fall season. The Annual Community Yoga Retreat in early August was a wonderful, sweet gathering. Later in August twenty-eight YTT eager students graduated from our YTT program, and are now certified yoga teachers, trained in classical Ashtanga Yoga and Hatha Yoga.

Satsang in the pond dome during the retreat, Summer 2013

Satsang in the pond dome during the retreat, Summer 2013

We still have several Yoga Getaways coming up, so if you’re looking for a nourishing, relaxing weekend, do check our upcoming programs. You may also want to consider booking time for a personal retreat. Details are on the Centre’s website.

Centre residents and guests are being treated to meals that are freshly harvested and prepared. We’ve been enjoying just-picked tomatoes, zucchini, beans, corn and salad greens, chard, plus strawberries and blackberries.

Chard, fresh from the garden

Chard, fresh from the garden

A big thank you to the farm team and to all the fabulous cooks, as well as the rest of the karma yogis in housekeeping, maintenance, landscaping and office who support the functioning of the centre in a spirit of service.

Karma Yogis Jack, David, Georgia, Christine and Ben discussing an upcoming project

Karma Yogis Jack, David, Georgia, Christine and Ben discussing an upcoming project

Some of our karma yogis from the summer term of KYSS have moved on to the next adventures in their lives and others have just arrived to join our community. The Karma Yoga Service and Study program continues to contribute to transformation in people’s lives. In this month’s edition of Offerings we invite you to meet some of them and read about their experiences in the series of posts called Meet Our Karma Yogis.

Georgia, our new Karma Yoga Coordinator, has initiated ongoing discussions on the topic of community building. I’ve been delighted to note that the karma yogis who come here continue to feel inspired by the ideals and practice karma yoga. This month’s article on Living in Community continues the theme, with guidance from Babaji.

Utkatasana, chair pose

Utkatasana, chair pose

Other articles you may enjoy reading include this month’s Asana of the Month – Utkatasana (chair pose), contributed by Bryan Hill. It is a simple pose that works the whole body. Bryan has also contributed this month’s Meet our YTT Grads article. For anyone living in the Comox area on Vancouver Island, I recommend checking out his classes.

We are delighted to introduce a new feature this month – an article on health, following the principles of Ayurveda, shared with us by Pratibha, our satsang sister from the Mount Madonna community. This article, A Seasonal Cleanse, focuses on preparations for the changing season. Pratibha, a long-term member of Hanuman Fellowship and Mount Madonna Centre, is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner. She has been attending our summer yoga retreats since 1976, and is an important part of our family. We all wish she could be here more often.

As the Centre slows down somewhat in this season, life at the Centre School picks up. During the summer, the Salt Spring Centre School is used by the Centre, all the school’s furnishings and materials having been packed into one classroom (an annual event – probably the only school in BC that goes through the annual pack-up ritual). At the end of August, the school gets set up again in preparation for the new school year. Teachers and parents work together to transform the building back into a school. This follows an old tradition: In the early years, before the school building was here, programs and school co-existed in the satsang room; on Friday afternoons the school moved to the yurt for story-writing while the satsang room was transformed into a program space. On Sunday evenings it was turned back into a school.

A reminder from Babaji: Life is for learning and the world is our school. Doing your homework every day brings liberation. Wish you all happy and in peace.


Living in Community

Baba Hari Dass

Baba Hari Dass

As mentioned in this month’s Centre update, the subject of community is in the air. In the many years since Dharma Sara Satsang Society began forming as a community, we have learned a lot about what makes a community work and what doesn’t – often the hard way – and we continue learning. As the elders grow older and ponder questions of succession, we welcome continuing dialogue.

Those of us who’ve been around for many years – and who “grew up” with Babaji, having been in our twenties and thirties in those early years – had a different experience from those who have arrived since, yet the foundation is the same. Recent arrivals still hold the aim of karma yoga, selfless service. The goal for the elders is to keep the foundation strong while listening with open hearts and embracing the ideals and ideas others bring. Babaji’s oft-quoted teaching -Work honestly, meditate every day, meet people without fear and play – continues to guide us.

Here are a few things Babaji has said about community:

Human beings are tribal by nature. They know for their survival they have to be supported by each other. So, like-minded people get together and make their own tribe. The tribe creates rules and a community is formed.

In the community, the main rules are to establish a sense of family, partnership, support and selfless service. A sense of family is established by working, playing and eating together.

Each member of the community is supported by the community physically, psychologically and emotionally. Everyone works for the good of the community, and the community works for the good of everyone.

In this way, everyone shares an active, industrious and virtuous life, and lives a well-disciplined life, which brings every member of the community together with a spirit of love and cooperation.

Disciplined life, love, unity and cooperation bring success and remove all morbid feelings within an individual, as well as in the community.

This is all true, yet it’s not easy. It involves a process of wearing away all our prickly edges – our ideas about how things should be, from our particular viewpoint. The ideal of working together with a common aim helps keep the fabric of the community together, but the day-to-day practice of how we do that – how we make decisions, how we relate to each other, how we respond to difficult situations – is hard work, requiring self-awareness.

When we have difficulties with another person or situation, there is an opportunity to see where we’re stuck – but, as we all know, it’s so much easier for us to blame others – or ourselves. To live and work together, we have to open our hearts and our minds and become curious about what lies beneath our own opinions and those of others. It turns out the line “meet people without fear” is a big teaching for all of us.

In his book “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry”Jack Kornfield says, “If we go to spiritual community in search of perfect peace, we will inevitably meet failure. But if we understand community as a place to mature our practice of steadiness, patience and compassion, to become conscious together with others, then we have the fertile soil of awakening. One Korean Zen master told students that their communal practice was like putting potatoes in a pot and spinning them around together long enough to rub off all the peels.”

Communities come in many forms and sizes, but the same principles apply. To live a productive and nourishing life, we have to work together. We need each other; we learn from each other.

Selfless service is the best way to attain mental peace. Do your duty in the world and surrender to God – that’s all. Simply living in a community with an attitude of selfless service can, by itself, bring peace.

contributed by Sharada

A Seasonal Cleanse

As the summer season begins to merge into fall (cooler nights, shorter days, crops drying out), it’s time to consider a seasonal rebalancing program. The change of season is a traditional time in Ayurveda for a few days of resetting the bio-program for the coming change.

During the summer, with its long days of warm (even hot) weather, pitta dosha (the heat factor) accumulates in the body. When this excess is not released, it can cause flare-ups and heat-related disorders in the drier airs of fall. If we take a few days to rebalance the system with a modified diet, a cleansing routine and added quiet times, we can ensure that the body is ready for the seasonal changes to come.

community dinner

Base your daily diet solely on kitchari

Below are some suggestions for a seasonal cleanse that you can do in the privacy of your own home. Try for 3-4 days if you can arrange it; even 1-2 days on this regimen will allow your system a well-deserved rest after summer’s labors (or the excesses of vacation)!

  1. Drink 2-3 glasses of warm water as soon after rising as possible. This helps the urinary system flush accumulated toxins and aids in elimination. Blood cleanser herbs (such as burdock and dandelion roots) can be taken during the day.
  2. Practice the Four Purification breathing exercises as part of your morning routine. Based on the Shat Karma practices in the yoga system, this pranayama series help purify as well as strengthen the seats of all three doshas in the body: the lungs, the stomach & liver, and the intestines. (See the Ashtanga Yoga Primer, pp. 19-20 for details.)
  3. Before bathing and breakfast, give yourself a gentle massage with sesame oil (or sunflower/coconut if it’s especially hot). Use long smooth strokes (except for the joints which can be massage briskly in a circular fashion). Even if you can’t manage to massage the whole body, try for at least the face, arms and legs. This stimulates elimination through the skin, as well as nourishing the whole body with healthy oils.
  4. Base your daily diet solely on kitchari (a balanced rice & bean mixture cooked with digestive spices). Make a pot for the day, adding vegetables as desires. Recipes are available on the Salt Spring Centre blog, in the Salt Spring Island Cooking (p. 108) and in the Salt Spring Experience (p. 42). And be sure to drink plenty of warm water throughout the day.
  5. Exercise is essential to encourage the circulation and release of anything that no longer serves our higher self. Walking in nature with awareness and gentle restorative asana practice are appropriate forms of exercise during this time of rebalancing.
  6. During the day, take a break for at least an hour of quiet alone time for rest and relaxation. You may like to do some spiritual reading. Let all the day’s concerns drift away, allowing you to relax and renew as deeply as possible. Think positive thoughts and see the beauty within and without.
  7. About ½ hour before bed, mix ½ – 1 teaspoon of triphala in warm water, let stand for a few minutes and drink quickly. Triphala is a combination of three fruits, which acts as a tonic for the intestines, as well as an aid to elimination. If you find the stool too soft or loose next morning, cut back a bit on the amount for your next dose.

Focusing on a cleansing routine for a few days can help restore your mental and physical balance, bringing clarity to the mind and joy to the heart. Try it all, or only the parts that fit for you. And may your days be happy, healthy, and holy!

Pratibha at her 70th birthday celebration

Pratibha at her 70th birthday celebration

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice:

Asana of the Month: Utkatasana (chair or powerful pose)

Utkatasana, chair or powerful pose

Bryan demonstrates utkatasana

Bryan demonstrates utkatasana

I am always drawn to bring utkatasana into my classes – so much so that some of my students once gave me a thank you card with a stick figure in chair and plank pose (my other favorite posture). This posture is great for bringing more energy to a class. Flowing in and out of chair is very stimulating and strengthening. I find it an excellent way to prepare students for more challenging postures, such as eagle and revolved chair, that stem from utkatasana. I tend to introduce it early in the standing sequences of a class and use it like punctuation between flows that involve a single side of the body.

Chair pose works the whole body. There is an opening effect through the shoulders. The legs are strengthened from the ankle right to the hip. The abdominals and back are challenged to maintain correct alignment and simultaneously tone the internal organs. This posture also stimulates circulation and digestion.

Coming into the pose
Begin in tadasana, I like to cue my students to maintain the integrity of the core as they found it in mountain, and bring that into chair pose. With an inhalation bring the arms overhead, with an exhalation bend at the knees. While in the pose draw the shoulder blades down the back, root into the ground evenly with both feet, open the chest and breathe.

To make utkatasana more accessible, a wider stance may help. The degree of bend in the knees is also going to change the workload; the greater the bend at the knee the greater the effort to maintain the posture. The arm position can be changed to have the hands supporting on the knees or hips. The next intermediate arm position would be to have the arms parallel to the ground, straight out or perhaps bending at the elbows and placing each hand on the opposite elbow.

About the instructor: Bryan Eknath Hill

Bryan-Hill-thumbBryan has been practicing yoga since 2000. He completed his teacher training at the Saltspring Centre of Yoga in 2008. He leads a number of public and corporate yoga classes in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Some of his efforts in karma yoga bring him back to the centre to teach at retreats and assist with the yoga teacher training program. Bryan is a registered massage therapist and has a long history of teaching physical skills. He brings his knowledge of anatomy to the mat in order to help students understand their body. He emphasizes alignment of the body as well as thoughts, words and deeds. Om, shanti.

Read more about Bryan’s experience as a student of the Salt Spring Centre’s Yoga Teacher Training program.

Meet our YTT Grads – Bryan Eknath Hill

YTT Grad, Bryan Hill

YTT Grad, Bryan Hill

What motivated you to begin practicing yoga? How did yoga come to be a part of your life?
I was supporting someone I loved to find a way to heal. He didn’t care to return to the class but I just kept coming back. I think I really liked the way the class asked me to slow down, to let go of the hurry that I thought city life demanded.

What attracted you to the SSCY YTT program?
The condensed nature of it. I keep saying I’m never going to do another crash course but they are much easier to schedule for me than a number of weekends over a period of months.

What aspect of yoga has had the most transformative effect on your life? What surprised you the most about the practice of yoga? How has your understanding of yoga deepened?
The most transformative effect from my yoga practice has been the conscious connection I’ve developed with the divine. This is something that I was unaware prior to my training at the Salt Spring Centre. I had an idea that there was something greater but I actually got to experience the divine first hand through my yoga practice. This spiritual experience came as a complete surprise. Many of my fellow students said something about emotional release but that just doesn’t sum up the reality of this transformation. I have a visual arts background and I can verbally describe the imagery I experienced, but the mental, emotional and spiritual oneness I lived is beyond words.

Please share some memorable moments – or a favourite moment – from YTT.
I remember the opening circle when Divakar said to take in what you take in and not to worry about the rest; that it will come when you are ready. I remember how I took that to heart and felt free to enjoy the experience of YTT without expectations. I remember the energy of the final night when we danced under the full moon in the heat of a summer night – the glowing faces filled with love and optimism, the hearts filled with gratitude.

What can students expect from the yoga teacher training at the Centre?
I think that students can expect a change in their life. I don’t expect any two people have the same experience at the centre. I expect that each student will get exactly what they need for the evolution of their consciousness in that moment. That may be a huge life-altering flash or something a lot more subtle and enduring.

How has your practice evolved since completing the YTT program? Are you sharing yoga in your community? If so, what inspires you to share the practice?
My practice has become a lot more flexible. It shifts between asana, pranayama, meditation, shat karma and back again. It adapts to what is present in my life, bringing me more or less physical demand to balance the demands of my life. I’ve also learned to bring the power of the yamas (part of the ethical foudation of yoga) into my relationships more often. I share the teachings from the Salt Spring Centre in the Comox Valley through a number of public and private classes. My inspiration for teaching rests in many aspects of this practice: the memories of how much asana has done for me physically, the memory of my divine nature, the hope to touch that again, the knowledge that I can create a space for people to gain wisdom through body, breath and mind.

Do you have any favourite quotes?
I don’t really have a favorite quote to share but I offer one of my own thoughts instead, “Yoga students talk with their feet.” Your students may leave class without saying a word because they are at peace in their hearts at that moment and no words are necessary. When they come back to class I know they are speaking with their feet; they came back to reconnect with that centre, the one that the teacher made a space for so they could find it on their own.

Where do you live? What do you do in your life apart from yoga?
I live in Royston, a small town in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. I work as a massage therapist and lead fitness classes for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I like to make art; usually I paint with acrylics on canvas but I am thinking of branching out into wood carving and other 3D art. I pursue a number of physical activities including weight training, hiking, snowshoeing, running and swimming. I try to keep up with a few friends via facebook and social media games. I love to eat gourmet food and I enjoy cooking a fine meal, but I prefer eating.

Bryan Eknath Hill

Bryan has been practicing yoga since 2000. He completed his teacher training at the Saltspring Centre of Yoga in 2008. He leads a number of public and corporate yoga classes in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Some of his efforts in karma yoga bring him back to the centre to teach at retreats and assist with the yoga teacher training program. Bryan is a registered massage therapist and has a long history of teaching physical skills. He brings his knowledge of anatomy to the mat in order to help students understand their body. He emphasizes alignment of the body as well as thoughts, words and deeds. Bryan’s life has allowed him to live in Australia for 2.5 years, hike in the Bavarian Alps, be a firefighter for 4 years, climb numerous mountains and study fine art at a post secondary level.
Om, shanti.

Read Bryan’s contributions to our Asana of the Month series, utkatasana (chair or powerful pose).


Meet our Karma Yogis: Becca Chaster

Karma Yogi Becca, Summer 2013

Karma Yogi Becca, Summer 2013

I’ve worked on the housekeeping team for the past 6 weeks here at the Centre. Before coming to Salt Spring, I was working as an academic advisor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) – needless to say, cleaning showers and stripping beds has been quite the change from pre-Centre life!

I now realize (hindsight being, as ever, 20-20) that I was looking for a change from my Vancouver life and especially the chance to explore a more spiritual lifestyle, something I had never really allowed myself the time and space to do. I was also coming to a crossroads in my life with my recent decision to stop work and return to school to do a Master’s in Urban Planning at UBC, I wanted to “get out of” or “get beyond” myself in some way, as I had really struggled internally to finally arrive at the decision to go back to school. The Karma Yoga Service & Study program seemed the perfect fit.

Six weeks, when broken down into the number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds, relative to everything else we are fortunate enough to do in this life, didn’t seem to me that significant. I am amazed, however, at how much I have learned and benefited from my time as Karma Yogi here; “volunteering” seems hardly the right term, since I feel I got so much more than what I put into this experience.

Living and working in community is a bucketfull of life lessons in itself, and a spiritual community adds another rich, complex layer to the learning. There are so many wise and wonderful people living at the Centre, and the community is open, accepting, and caring. I have gained a deeper sense of myself (or Self with that capital “S”), one not defined as I would previously, by my name, age, gender, friends, family, demographics, or physical surrounds. I have adopted a gentler and more compassionate attitude towards this self and towards others. I have and, I hope, will continue to develop a daily Yoga practice — one that is not simply comprised of stretchy bendy sweaty poses as was my definition of Yoga before coming to the Centre. I have learned to listen to my body instead of exclusively my mind, and to understand that I do not have to let my thoughts and emotions define me. I have practised silence and have found it to be one of the most calming and centering experiences. I have also swum in freshwater lakes and the Pacific Ocean, and biked and hiked and meditated and yoga-ed and danced and sung and slept under the stars to my heart’s content. I have, in short, become a better human being during my brief time here and am truly blessed to have been able to share this time and space at the Centre.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Crystal DeShazo

Karma Yogi Crystal, Summer 2013

Karma Yogi Crystal, Summer 2013

I had just returned from an adventure in California, teaching yoga and soaking up the sun. In September I started driving up the coast to Canada to visit family, not knowing what I was going to do next. When I was visiting my family in Missouri, I got an email from a friend in Vancouver who wanted me to come back to Canada; she kept sending me links to job opportunities in Canada. The Centre’s KYSS program was one of them. I immediately knew this was more than a job posting, so I did a lot of research which solidified what my heart was telling me. I didn’t care what department I’d be in; I just wanted to be here.

When I first arrived in June I had some trouble finding a place in the community – an experience that was new to me. Once I realized it didn’t have to happen immediately, that it would happen in its own good time (or not), I surrendered and let the universe be in charge, and I felt right at home.

One sentence by Rumi sums up my experience: “I lost everything and I found myself.” This place has a way of mirroring your truth to you, whether you want to see it or not, and I chose to be awake.

I’m so grateful that I’m staying for the fall season. Putting the pieces of the puzzle may be a lifetime’s work, but I sense that I’m starting from a better place, learning to trust. I want to live my life from love rather than fear.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Geraldine Hutchings

Karma Yogi Geraldine, Summer 2013

Karma Yogi Geraldine, Summer 2013

I’m sixty-six years old, officially retired last year. I decided that I wanted to travel extensively while I’m still able to do it. I felt I was stagnating while living in Vancouver, following my routine but not meeting new new people. I’ve found that the best part of travelling is meeting new people. Everybody is interesting and has stories to tell. Seeing the sights is a bonus.

Due to my arthritis, I like to practice yoga to maintain flexibility and range of motion. I applied to come to the Centre shortly before leaving Canada for Europe. I gave up my apartment because I’m living on a fixed income and couldn’t afford to both travel and pay rent, and my priority was to travel.

In applying to come to the Centre, I wanted to be part of the community, to work, contribute to the community and meet new people. I’ve done volunteer work in the past, and have alway found I get more out of it than I put into it. The experience has always been positive.

In my time here at the Centre, I’ve gained an appreciation for the spirit of cooperation, and above all, the friendships I’ve made here – all the love I feel to and from others. Dealing with everyone’s personalities has been a struggle for me; I’ve learned that I have to develop more patience. I think I was closed when I first came here, and I’ve opened up. How can you relate to people in an honest way when you have a wall up? It feels so much better to be open with people. I was much more prickly when I came here, but my edges are beginning to wear away.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Annie Richard

Karma Yogi Annie, Summer 2013

Karma Yogi Annie, Summer 2013

Before coming here I was working as a technician in a community college, in a sustainable agriculture program in Peterborough, Ontario. I did administrative tasks on the computer, grew food on campus and took care of the greenhouse; I basically helped the program run smoothly.

I had never done yoga before, but felt the call for inner adventure. Remembering something a friend had said about her experience volunteering in a yoga community, I did a google search for volunteering or work exchange in a yoga community in Canada, and found this place. Julie’s response to my inquiry was so caring and sincere that I chose to apply here.

My experience of working in the kitchen at the centre has been wonderful – definitely one of the best kitchens I’ve ever worked in! Also, during my time here, I found and developed a personal spiritual practice. Discipline and commitment have become a big theme in my life and on my path. I’ve met people here who are living from the heart, not just talking about it, in a way I hadn’t experienced before.

I first came here to have space for myself and see what was next. I got my first sense of Home, the truth within myself. Now I’m returning, feeling inspired to keep the light burning, to take the teachings home and live them.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Jutta Marie Christensen from Copenhagen, Denmark

Jutta and Skootch, Summer 2013

Jutta and Scooch, Summer 2013

I woke up one morning; it was cold and snowing outside and I just knew that it was time.

I wanted to change something, wanted to find something. It wasn’t because I didn’t like my job or the way I was living. I just knew there was more to explore. I wanted to deepen my yoga practice, and I wanted karma yoga to help me find home, to find my Self.

I thought of going to Bali – or Nepal, Thailand, South America, India or the US. I had thought of going to Canada before, but not in a serious way. That changed during a conversation with a friend. Then I simply googled karma yoga and Canada. The Salt Spring Centre of Yoga came up right away. I was enchanted. I didn’t have any past experience living in a community and I didn’t have any expectations.

I had practiced many styles of yoga over the years. Then in 2012, I went to India to deepen my practice – and came home as a certified hatha yoga teacher with a huge passion for teaching yoga. I discovered that yoga is so much more than asanas and breathing techniques. I wanted to go deeper and this was the perfect time.

Living at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga has taught me so much more than I ever believed possible – a new world, energised by love and compassion. Everybody in the community makes space for each other so that everyone can grow and develop their spiritual path at their own pace, with one common interest – to make a home in a community where karma yoga is the essence of the spiritual growth. I found my way home, with help from mother nature and all the beautiful souls in this community. I found support, understanding and so much love, and I’m so grateful. I found it inside myself and I recognized it in everybody else, both inside and outside the community.

The hard thing about leaving this community is that I probably will be living too far away to come visit my “new” family for Sunday satsangs – but the beauty is that I’m able to tune into my heart and from that place in my heart, connect with everyone, wherever I am.

Suddenly Copenhagen doesn’t feel so far away!