Meet our Karma Yogis – Mark

Karma Yogi Mark

Karma Yogi Mark

I first came to the Centre in the mid 80s for a weekend yoga workshop. My friend and I left the program for an evening to see Valdy in Fulford. We got chastised for leaving, but it was worth it. More recently I heard about this place from my roommate, Johanna. I came here about a year ago on a bike trip in the winter and stayed with Daniel and Cristina whom I met through Johanna. That’s when I found out about the maintenance opening and I was interviewed for the position.

I had been working in Vancouver as a long-distance truck driver, driving from Vancouver to Alberta and back. The job appealed to me because it enabled me to work five days a week and have more time for yoga. But driving long distances can be lonely work, and that’s certainly one of the things that drew me here.

I enjoy working with my hands; even as a child I made go karts out of golf caddies. I collected a lot of tools over the years, which languished in a storage trailer for a long time, and I finally brought them here. I yearned to work with my hands in a meaningful way which to me meant community. I enjoy problem solving, working with recycled materials, solving challenges that arise.

My other passion is music. I got into music because my brothers all played guitar and I really wanted to be like them; I thought they were cool. I was the youngest of six children, the next youngest being 8 years older – and my sister was 20 years older. I grew up in a world of big people.

I went to music school in Nelson for three years and was hoping to connect with other musicians, but I didn’t have the confidence. I love call and response kirtan, the shared journey. I sing the Hanuman Chalisa every morning with Christine, a practice I started since coming here. Because Hanuman is the embodiment of selfless service, it is the perfect way to set up one’s day and get into the right spirit.

Once a week I return to Vancouver to visit my soon-to-be 108 year old friend, Gordon. He was my brother’s roommate, and when my brother passed away a couple of years ago, I continued to visit Gordon. He is completely blind and confined to a wheelchair but his mind is brilliantly clear, and I happily spend hours listening to his stories. I’m genuinely interested in the stories he tells, full of Vancouver’s history. When he forgets some of the characters I’m able to fill in the blanks, and he always compliments me on what a good memory I have. I help him at mealtime, getting to the toilet, whatever is called for.

Each time I come back from the city, I’m always warmly greeted. I love the variety of people who come here. I seem to be able to make a connection with everyone and I get into some interesting conversations. The Centre attracts people who are a bit off the beaten path, which I find fascinating and engaging. I like the aspect of teamwork in the community, helping each other with firewood, coordinating the use of the truck, the little ways we interact with each other that scratch beneath the surface, building connection, the medicine of community.

Meet our Karma Yogis – Marianne


Karma Yogi Marianne

I applied for the Yoga Service and Study Immersion program last year knowing it would be good for me to be in community, to be around people who lived yoga. I had been working non-stop for a long time, spending most of my life alone, and found myself starved of human connection. I also wanted to study: immersion was what I was looking for. I sought the opportunity to practice – really practice – to be forced to face people day after day, and to grow.

It was a great choice! I love the beauty and peace of the Centre, and I’m always happy to wake up here. My work assignment during YSSI was in the office, as receptionist/registrar. Though this would never have been my choice of activity, I’m easy going and was happy to be placed where I was most useful. Had I not been placed in the office, I don’t think I ever would’ve thought to apply for the programs coordinator position which I’m in now. My background in graphic design and programming affords me ease in the numerous technical aspects of my duties, and I’m blessed by the many other quirks and challenges which come with coordinating programs and rentals.

During YSSI I appreciated the regularity of sadhana classes; I believe it’s easier if you practice every day. I am grateful to have the inspiration of people in the community who live a disciplined life and have a committed, long-standing dedicated practice. My favourite thing about being in this community is that we hold each other accountable for living with integrity, for our own practice – with acceptance and encouragement rather than judgement.

My favourite practice is meditation. I’ve practiced asana for a longer period of time and continue to find it enriching, but I find these days that what I can’t do without is meditation. It is grounding. Allowing the mind to settle on the breath is so simple, yet endlessly challenging. No matter how calm or turbulent, I always feel better at the end of the hour; some kind of transformation takes place. Another grounding practice for me is drawing. I’m inspired by visual beauty, but the drawing practice is one of centering and focus; making art is a by-product.

The Centre and its community are so dear to me now. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to live and practice here for a whole season and am excited to see how the year unfolds.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Christine

Karma Yogi Christine

Karma Yogi Christine

My background is in child protection social work, which I did for 4 years in Vancouver. An accumulation of physical and emotional suffering propelled me to take a break from the work and listen closer to my body and heart. My instincts told me to get involved in natural building with the Mud Girls on Salt Spring Island and so I did just that. The experience connected me more with the natural cycles of the earth, and with people who were using resourcefulness and creativity to build their own homes. It was very inspiring.

This joy of connecting with the earth and people led me to study permaculture and with that an intention to live more mindfully. I then saw that the foundation of this journey was to be a spiritual one. This led me to ashtanga yoga, first at Mount Madonna Center and then to the Salt Spring Centre. I was looking to be of service and learn in community with a spiritual intention. I’d had experience with yoga previously, but at this point I wanted to be steeped in it.

At MMC I was really drawn to the temple and found myself there, whenever my karma yoga schedule allowed, singing to Hanuman and Ganesha. I was finding a sense of peace while in ceremony. I was also more deeply seeing the value of friendship with the understanding that relating to one another with kindness and compassion is important in building sustainable and loving communities.

Here at SSC I have been enjoyoing satsang, study of the Bhagavad Gita and the temple. My interest in ceremony has led me to practicing arati and being more immersed in the teachings of Babaji. Honestly, I do want to learn how to farm, but farming is secondary to me; the spiritual teachings are what I’m drawn to. I’d like to be of service to spiritual community in any capacity I’m capable of. I do love being outdoors in the dirt with the birds and plants though.

As I reflect on this journey, I see that in being open to the divine plan, something I can’t even imagine comes onto my path holding all the teachings I need for my growth. It’s not comfortable or easy, but it helps me to awaken, to be present for all that comes.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Ryan

Karma Yogi Ryan

Karma Yogi Ryan

I first heard about the Centre about six or so years ago, initially from a fellow karma yogi at Yashodhara Ashram. I checked the Centre’s website frequently, but the timing never worked out. I was doing forest fire fighting, which filled spring and summer. The best time for me was winter, but the Centre wasn’t open then.

I had been travelling for a year and a half, seeking out communities in Asia. Coming back to Canada, I still had the intention of coming to this community. I finally arrived at the Centre in the KYSS program on August 27, 2012 and enjoyed six weeks of permanent sun. I immediately fell in love with the island and knew I wanted to stay. After the Centre’s program season ended, I did a work exchange for a really nice family on the island, knowing I’d been accepted to come back to the Centre for the full 2013 season.

I’ve been working as assistant maintenance manager and landscaper. I enjoyed the variety of the work – trails, campground, flower beds. The temple committee has now tackled the terraces in the garden, beautifying them.

I love living in community. I love that the conch blows and there’s a perfect, warm meal provided and I only have to do dishes once a week. It’s incredible! I found a great connection to the other karma yogis, who have lots of fun at the centre – going for a hike, to the beach, to dances. I really enjoy teaching Friday morning asana classes, learning Qi Gong and deepening my appreciation for kirtan.

When the season ends I’m going to travel back to Saskatchewan to visit my family, and from there I’ll head off to Hawaii to work in a yoga community called Polestar.

I’m inspired by sustainable lifestyle, enjoying the moment, feeling happy and free and co-creating community. There are challenges living in community, but I don’t find it that difficult; working together feels great!

Meet our Karma Yogis: Sherri

Karma Yogi Sherri

Karma Yogi Sherri

I am a seeker of new experiences, and community has been a big focal point in that search. My interest in farming and working with the land was what drew me here initially. In a sense I was a bit unprepared for how spiritual this community is. It has been eye-opening to learn about different teachings. Kirtan has now been incorporated into my life; I’ve been a regular at both Sunday satsang and Wednesday evening kirtan, pretty much every week. I’ve learned how spirituality can bring people together, and I appreciate the gathering of people for a collective purpose and common theme. I was looking for a safe and loving place to be, and I found it at the Centre. Community comes with its challenges, but those challenges have led to growth.

I had been involved in growing vegetables before, but wanted to experience a full season, seeing all the nuances of the seasons – planting, growing food and eating fresh and seasonally. Even if it means eating zucchini for a month, so be it.

How I spend my time is really important to me; I love to move my body physically and immerse myself in my work. Growing food, eating healthy food and living simply, with awareness of relationships – with the earth and the people I surround myself with – are a lifestyle, not a hobby. Living this way, I feel fulfilled and truly happy. Community is a big part of this: the support and love, both receiving and giving, and sharing experiences with people.

I’m now stepping into a new phase of my life, taking some of these teachings and the learning I’ve gained from the wonderful people who pass through here, with me. I hope to take some of this light and spread it out into the greater picture.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Sue Ann Leavy

Karma Yogi Sue Ann, Fall 2013

Karma Yogi Sue Ann, Fall 2013

Before I came to the Centre I was living in San Francisco, getting my Masters degree in Public Health, having previously gotten a teaching degree and spent time teaching kindergarten and fourth grade. I was working at a yoga studio, doing a bit of work exchange for classes. That was my first real experience of yoga. The studio’s focus included spiritual, physical and community experiences.

My first experience of community came earlier, from the age of 5 when I began spending 10 weeks every summer living on a ranch, which I did till the age of 20. On the ranch we all lived and worked together to keep the ranch running and keep the animals healthy. I ended up teaching horse riding and vaulting (like circus riding). Because of that experience, I came to know I wanted to live with other people in community – and it worked out perfectly that this opportunity became available just when I was ready to leave my city life.

The first part of my stay here was more challenging than I had anticipated; I wasn’t expecting the impact that changing everything in my life all at once would have – leaving the city, living in a tent, going from university to housekeeping. Also, I’ve spent so many years with my best friends, many of whom I’ve known since kindergarten, and this was the first time I’d gone somewhere where I had to find my place without them close by. I came here with Jeff, my partner, but I didn’t know anyone else. Having to listen to myself and find my comfort in myself has been the biggest growth. It took longer than I expected, but I’m learning to trust my own wisdom.

Life at the Centre has opened my eyes to what’s possible. Now I really want to do a Yoga Teacher Training, and I’ve been introduced to meditation, which I had never done before. I’m also learning I don’t have to be perfect at everything and can relax into myself. Jeff and I have been here since June, and I’m thankful we are able to stay till the end of the season in November.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Ben Poulton

Karma Yogi Ben, Fall 2013

Karma Yogi Ben, Fall 2013

Physical sports injuries drew me to yoga because I had heard it could help with past injuries. In the fall of 2009 I started practicing with a teacher in Whistler, BC, who played the harmonium and opened her classes with a prayer and shared a spiritual reading. Earlier, I had explored various spiritual paths, but not for years. Once I started to feel the depth of the classes I was now taking, devotion arose; it was touching something deep inside me.

In the winter of 2010 I started thinking I needed to learn how to grow my own food, so I went online and found the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga’s posting for a farm yogi. I wasn’t accepted because I lacked experience, but I was still really drawn to the Centre, so I looked through the website again to see if there was another way I could be here. There was a posting for a skilled carpenter, and I was accepted for a month long period. After a couple of weeks, one of the farm yogis cancelled and I was asked if I’d like to work on the farm. Unfortunately I had already committed to work for the summer. After my one month stay, I was asked if I could stay on as a carpenter, so I stayed for the next two weeks till it was time to go to work elsewhere. I kept coming back and in 2011 ended up staying till the end of October.

In the winter of 2013 I came to the Centre as a KYSS participant for the first time, working in the kitchen. As it happened, I’ve been able to stay, working in the kitchen and maintenance, and now I have the good fortune to be able to stay till the end of the season, November 15. During the first KYSS term I felt an opening in my heart that I hadn’t felt for a long time; that’s why I had kept coming back. During the time I was away, a yearning started to develop for depth of devotion, practice and service to others.

Last winter, having worked hard to earn money, I was able to commit to my life as a snowboarder; that was the focus of my devotion. As soon as I quit drinking and doing drugs when I was 28. I started devoting myself to a mountain lifestyle and to take my snowboarding more seriously. Seven years of that didn’t fulfill me. Last winter, I was in the best physical shape I’d ever been in and I had the financial resources to pursue snowboarding, but somehow that wasn’t enough. Continually pursuing desires just led to more desires.

I had a little personal check-in with myself and I realized that I wanted the openness of heart I had experienced here, and that’s when I applied to come back one more time. I wanted to serve in whatever capacity was needed; my focus was to be of service. Out of that arose devotion. Bhakti has blossomed in my heart. Having a daily practice is changing patterns I never thought could change – but something is changing. There are moments of relaxation and peace when everything flows easily.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Leah Hughes

Karma yogi Leah, Fall 2013

Karma yogi Leah, Fall 2013

In 2010 I lived and travelled in Mexico for 10 months, as a volunteer teaching basic literacy and math skills to kids. During that time I learned Spanish. In the spring of 2012 I graduated from UVic with a major in Anthropology and a minor in Hispanic Studies.

After graduation I walked the Camino – 820 km across northern Spain – with my mom, something she had wanted to do for a long time. We met people from all over the world. I love to travel, so when I got back from that trip I went to Peru for six months, where I volunteered with indigenous weaving communities to revitalize the textile tradition, using all natural dyes and hand woven alpaca wool. Although I’m fluent in Spanish, I travelled with a translator since the weavers are mainly women who speak only Quechua.

In the summer of 2012 I met someone who had spent time at the Centre, and this remained at the back of my mind. During the winter I applied to come here because I’d been wanting to deepen my yoga practice after having done a work exchange at a yoga studio in Victoria. I also wanted to be back on the coast, on an island and on a farm.

I am in the KYSS program, with the good fortune of being in the only summer farm position at the Centre. I will become an official farm yogi for the month of October. I didn’t have much farm experience when I arrived, so every day was a new learning opportunity. I find it very satisfying working on a farm in a community where the food we grow is prepared and served to the community every day, and to see the complete cycle of the food, knowing the labour that went into growing it. It gives us a sense of connectedness to the food we’re eating, and an appreciation for the abundance of the land; Harvest days are very exciting – and fun!

Part of what drew me here was to be able to explore yoga off the mat, from people with a lot of wisdom and a lot to teach, in classes and in daily interactions. I’ve gained so much from my time here.

Meet our Karma Yogis: Zoe Lee

Karma Yogi Zoe, Fall 2013

Karma Yogi Zoe, Fall 2013

Prior to coming to the centre I lived in Victoria where I received my Diploma in Indigenous Studies from Camosun College. This is the second time I’ve participated in the Karma Yoga Service & Study Program. One of the reasons I feel I’m so drawn to the Centre stems from my deep appreciation for yoga philosophy, which coincides with much of the knowledge I gained in my studies at Camosun, such as our inherent interconnectedness with others, the importance of respecting the land and its resources, practicing non-violence, and so much more.

It is difficult to pinpoint the most meaningful experience I’ve had at the Centre because so many moments are enriched with joy, creativity and contentment. There have been many pivotal realizations I’ve come to, thanks to inspiring discussions on spiritual philosophy; those moments when everything just seems to make sense leave my soul feeling deeply fulfilled and at ease. I have had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the most open-hearted people I’ve ever known, and with whom I’ve shared many beautiful moments.

I have learnt many lessons by living in community, especially about interacting harmoniously with people from all walks of life. By practicing yoga I’ve come to feel more in touch with my higher self; I’ve cultivated a stronger sense of self-worth, and each day that I practice I feel more in tune and at ease with the world around me. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have given me a richly holistic understanding of yoga that I trust will positively influence my practice for many years to come.

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.