4 Tips for Yogic Living – Learned through Ashram Living

I always wondered what it would be like to live as a Yogi. Would I need to live in a cave in the Himalayas? Or wander the streets of India renouncing the world? Or live in an Ashram in India? Ironically, I discovered how to live like a Yogi right here in the United States at Yogaville* in Virginia.

I’d like to impart several basic concepts to help us all live in a more Yogic way no matter where we are.

1. Devotion to the Yoga Sutra Teachings

When you visit Yogaville you witness and live in the devotion of the Ashram yogis to Swami Satchidandna and the Yoga Sutra teachings that inform all of Yoga.

The teachings of the great masters are alive in all things that we participate in daily – meditation, asana classes, spiritual studies, prayers, readings during meals, puja ceremonies, kirtan and other practices.

If you don’t live in an Ashram

Pick up the Yoga Sutras and study these brilliant teachings. The Sutras are a time tested scientific approach to peace and long-term sustained happiness.Place the book on your bedside. Study and explore the reasons why we practice Yoga. You will understand that Asana, postures, is a very small part of the whole of Yoga and is often the first step for most Westerners. There is so much more to learn to glean the benefits of Yoga.

{*Yogaville is an ashram that was founded by Swami Satchidananda in 1980. His reputation stems from the opening of the Woodstock festival and his work in Interfaith peace. Here they call him Gurudev. Gurudev also wrote the most popular translation ever written of the Yoga Sutras, which is what most Yogis will study one day in their teacher trainings. }

2. Practice for a long time, with consistency and with all earnestness.

In the Sutras, Patanjali talks about Abyassa, or practice. It must be consistent, over a long period of time and practiced with zeal!

I have called myself a Yogi, being a practitioner of Yoga for almost 15 years and a teacher for almost 7 years now, but when I came here I recognized my practices had slipped. This urban city Yoga teacher teaches a ton, drives everywhere, eats in my car, is always on the go and barely finds time for my own practice. I was not slowing down to turn inward which is the true practice of yoga. My sadhana, or practice was suffering. I was not being a Yogi.

Practice is not just physical postures. Most of the Yogis that have lived here have been here 20 – 40 years! They practice physical postures daily, meditation multiple times a day, study the scriptures weekly and more. I’m not saying you have to do all these things, but pick something you love and do it a lot and with enthusiasm. Michael Jordan didn’t become the most famous basketball player because he practice every now and again.

If you don’t live in an Ashram

Pick a practice offered in the Sutras and find the ones that resonate with you. If you don’t know yet, experiment until you do. You must like the practices that you choose so that you can be dedicated to practicing them daily and with zeal. This is when the real benefits of Yoga are experienced.

3. Find your Sangha, or Community

When you are practicing Yoga you must understand the Yamas (abstinences) and Niyamas (observances). These are likened to the 10 commandments and give us a framework to understand how to conduct ourselves in community.

I have learned more in depth here at Yogaville the importance of intentional community and living with like-minded people who are considerate of the same fundamental principles of honoring Spirit in all things, sustainability, kindness, speaking truthfully, and respect for others.

When you follow the Yoga Sutras devotionally and practice them daily, life is conscious at so many more levels of our being. The more we help ourselves evolve the more the entire community vibrates at a higher level. But it takes support of the whole community to foster dedication, especially when you are getting purified and dealing with the monkey mind. When left to our own devices it is easy to get distracted.

If you don’t live in an Ashram

Find meet up groups for scripture study, hang out with your fellow yogi students, enlist the help of your yoga teachers, or find a mentor. Use the community to support your practices to keep you engaged and consistent.

4. Karma Yoga

In our society, we have become very conditioned to compete for our share of the pie. In the spirit of competition often we forget about partnerships, community and helping others. Things are expensive, we need money, we have bills to pay and we have to step over the next guy to ensure that we do.

In the Ashram, we exchange our time for room and board. There is a big difference when you start your shifts with OM’s and a prayer of gratitude for sharing what you can to make a spiritual center thrive. And as a result of your service you get these amazing teachers to learn from, practices to thrive from, blessed vegan food from the farm and lots of love.

When you place the intention and the focus of your work less on the rewards of the work, but on the act itself as a form of meditation and an opportunity to share something with people, you move the focus from the Ego (Selfish) to Universal (Selfless). Karma Yoga is Yoga in action or selfless service.

If you don’t live in an Ashram…

Devote some of your time to selfless acts. Exchange your gifts with others. See if you can take the focus off of yourself and train the monkey mind by devoting some actions to the larger whole. This is the practice of Yoga.

As you can see, living like a Yogi is more than attending the occasional yoga class. I would highly recommend an Ashram living experience. These and intentional communities exist all around the world. And if you don’t have the opportunity to spend some time in an Ashram, maybe visit one for a weekend retreat and a get a small taste of the community vibration. You don’t have to live in a cave, or walk the streets and renounce the world, but you can become more conscious of the way you live.


Clean Up The Body, Clear Out The Mind

By Nicole Doherty published by American Athlete Magazine

Becoming a great athlete takes a lot of work. It takes time, dedication, practice and commitment.

One of the first orders of business for a professional athlete is conditioning—cleaning up the body and priming it for optimal performance. The same is true about the practice of Yoga.

Our physical form, which is our body, is very much like a machine. Much like a car, we need to clean the outside, vacuum the inside and perform regular maintenance, like changing the oil, on schedule.

We need to do the same with our bodies; we need to maintain our personal vehicle.

Most athletes are great at what they do because they have detoxified their system and have become attuned to their bodies and its needs.

To continue using the car analogy: Detoxified your system and becoming attuned to your body makes it function at peak performance. This helps it operate well at high speeds, keeps it from breaking down over long distances, and helps keep the wheels on. Simply put, successful athletes learn how to maintain their bodies.

Most people come to Yoga with bodies like beat up Chevys.

And that’s OK because at least they are beginning the healing process. Think of Yoga teachers as mechanics who are prepared to make repairs using the right tools. In Yoga, we start to work the outer layers to move toward the inner layers using techniques to create body awareness. We peel away past injuries and the negative compensations that have developed over time as a result these injuries. We also peel away tension and stress. More importantly, we use the practice to prevent new injuries, open the body, and detoxify the system.

In Yoga, the outer layers of the practice address the functional anatomy—aligning the body, working isometrically, isolating muscles, strengthening, stabilizing and elongating them.

Part of the practice of releasing impurities is achieved utilizing postures like “seated forward folds” and “twists”, which help to stimulate and wring out the intestines, where most of our garbage resides. But even more important than these particular poses is the use of the breath. When we consciously breathe we generate heat in our system that burns off the pollutants found in our gut. There are many different breathing techniques that are part of the cleansing process, a common one found in classes today is called “Breath of Fire”.

Once we begin the purification process, we notice that it begins to take hold in other aspects of our being.

Ever notice the way you feel after you’ve cleaned your car? I have a Mini Cooper and when that little cutie is clean and sparkly, well, I just want to put the top down, blast the radio and drive all over LA!

My point is this: When we freshen up, we start to feel better. Our energy is cleaner. We present ourselves differently.

Our mind is serene when there is less clutter on the floor and the seats.  Detoxifying the body soothes the internal chatter of the mind.  The whole goal of Yoga is to still the fluctuations of the “mind stuff” or “citta” as the term is known in Sanskrit.

I began practicing yoga over ten years ago, and I really didn’t understand these concepts very well. Maybe I just chose to ignore what I needed to change about myself. I loved the way Yoga made me feel every time I walked into a class, but my lifestyle outside class was not supporting the practice. I worked really hard and partied even harder. I was stressed out. I never watched what I ate. I slept a little—mainly watched the clock. I drank caffeine to stay awake during the day and would take sleeping pills at night. Even worse, I actually thought this was pretty normal because it was behavior I learned was shared by friends and coworkers. I simply didn’t think change was needed.

Now that I have learned about the mind-body connection and how energy works, it seems so crazy that I couldn’t figure out why I still didn’t feel great. But I should have known. Gold Medalists don’t win those medals training every now and again while binging on cupcakes, donuts, caffeine and sleep aids. They talk the talk and they walk the walk.When I started practicing yoga regularly, 3 – 5 times per week, I really started to become aware of shifts in how I was feeling. Once I began to purify my body, my mind followed.

Every time I showed up on my mat, I was confronted with the thoughts that were feeding my addictions and patterns of behavior off the mat.

I learned that going inward into the highly individual practice of Yoga became a journey of realization, discovery, acceptance and awareness. Every time I released the tension and toxins of my body, a little more of my mind’s negativity went with them. I began to experience peace, joy and happiness. These came in bits and pieces at first but then became regular occurrences.

In Yoga, as with all athletic practices, dedication and consistency is encourages.

This is defined as “abyasa” in Sanskrit. Following this course, we can unravel the complications of the body and mini traumas (or big ones) that have occurred on our life path. We can use a practice of breath and movement to release resistance and move toward more spaciousness in our minds. With more space, we can develop a keener awareness and sharper focus. When we are ready, we can dive even deeper to discover more through yogic practices like meditation.nd Yoga has spilled into every crevice of my existence. I no longer succumb to any of the aforementioned behaviors. Interestingly enough, I’m now a sober, vegan Yoga teacher who also leads seasonal food cleanses. This certainly was not my intention 10 years ago when I walked into the Yoga studio. But my life has become amazing.

If you are resisting detoxification through a Yoga practice (or any training), it’s probably your Ego telling you to not change. But like any good coach, my suggestion is to just keep showing up to practice. Put in the time.

With consistency and dedication, you can make a real shift in your life. As Patabhi Jois, one of the founders of Western Yoga has famously said: “All is coming. Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.”  Yes, it’s really all about experiencing it first hand.Carve out some time, dedicate yourself to a practice and commit to real change.