Wellness in the Rockies: Transitional travel experiences on the rise
Kootenay Lake appears to be a glacier-fed river on the map. But, its impressive length (104 kilometres) makes it the fifth largest lake in British Columbia (BC). Protected by the Purcell and Selkirk Mountain ranges, and bordering with Montana, Idaho and Washington states, many communities around Kootenay Lake became respite for American draft dodgers and counter-culture hippies in the 60s and 70s. As a result, a distinctive lifestyle arose – one that focused on personal development, simplicity and wellness.
Today, in addition to the recreational opportunities in the area, visitors are drawn to the locally sourced food, art studios and experiential healing options, which include Nelson’s Himalaya Salt Caves and Ainsworth’s natural, mineral-rich hot springs. The Yashodhara Ashram (Ya-show-dara), and its infamous Temple of Light atop a cliff on the east shore of Kootenay Bay, continues to offer respite for anyone who’s looking for it.
What is an Ashram?
By traditional standards, an Ashram is a monastery for East Indian religions. They’re typically secluded, allowing for proper attention to spiritual instruction, yogic activity and meditation. In the book Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author stops off at a more-traditional Ashram in India on her personal pilgrimage.
At Yasodhara Ashram, near Nelson, BC, they work to demystify the experience for westerners through practical, spiritual teachings, and an openness to all who come.
Yasodhara’s early beginnings
Swami Radha (formerly Sylvia Hellman) was a German-Canadian woman who had recently returned from extensive training in India. She had been tasked with bringing Eastern learning to Western ways of thinking. In 1963, Swami Radha stumbled upon the property known as Yasodhara Estates. Despite the original land owner having no clear connection to Eastern tradition, its title (akin to names of notable female characters from both Buddhist and Hindu scripture) was fortuitous – a sign for the Swami (spiritual teacher) to honour the divine feminine.
Since the beginning, the centre has been entirely lead by women. There was something special about this land – which inspired a very different type of Ashram.
A nurturing approach
Many residents of the Ashram participate in Karma Yoga (selfless service), by helping in the kitchen, tending to the acres of orchards and gardens, in addition to mending structures and other chores. The Ashram prides itself on its contribution to ecological sustainability. It’s been widely recognized for its efforts in bringing innovative, energy efficient technologies, and solutions, to its operations.
A generation of change
The use of the word ‘spirituality’ is intentional. Though many of the practices here have their origins, the Ashram honours all religions and spiritual beliefs throughout the centre. Classes and workshops encourage self-reflection.
Given the progressiveness of their philosophies, and a response to a cultural shift, this Ashram hosts visitors and residents from all walks of life, no matter their sex, faith, culture or orientation. Mature adults, particularly, are drawn to the opportunity to rediscover themselves. Life is defined by transition. You may have experienced the separation from (or the passing of) a spouse or a loved one. Perhaps you’ve recently retired, or you find that your role as a parent or a grandparent has been redefined. Adapting to a new reality that’s not centred around work or family may feel like a leap into the unknown.
What to expect
Yasodhara Ashram offers weekend retreats, as well as ten-day immersion programs – each is focused on a unique aspect of growth and discovery. Workshops and yoga classes are suitable for all levels.
Expect plenty of quiet reflection, and meals are eaten in silence. You’ll gain an understanding of the energetic chakra system, as well as tools to help transform pre-conceived attitudes, and deepen your relationships with yourself, and with others. Optional participation in the nightly satsang, which is an honourable gathering in the Temple of Light, includes songs, mantras and prayer.
Finally, expect to be captivated by the picturesque setting of the Yasodhara Ashram. It will definitely provide you with a renewed appreciation as it relates to your connection with the universe.