Greetings from the Sivananda Ashram in France. Over the past two years, it has been a blessing to stay at an abbey with Trappist Monks, a convent with the Sisters of Saint Benedict, hike close to two hundred miles on a pilgrimage, and participate in seven international yoga retreats. Now I am enjoying the simplicity and spirituality of this beautiful ashram in the Loire Valley of France. I love it here! The serenity that has been created in the heart of the French countryside feeds the soul.
Here are 10 reasons you might consider joining us on a trip like this in the future.
1. Unplug: Disconnect from your day-to-day routine (especially technology) and enter into a deep experience of being present on many levels— with nature, with others, and with yourself.
2. Go back to the basics and become independent from regular habits, patterns and indulgences
3. Enjoy a great cultural and life-changing experience
4. Increase your energy, physical strength and mindfulness
5. Let go of anything that no longer serves you
6. Be part of history: the Camino de Santiago itself is officially a pilgrimage that is over 1,200 years old
7. Enjoy solitude
8. Experience camaraderie and traveling with like-minded individuals
9. Tune in more deeply with life and yourself
10. Connect to God or your Higher Source
An Ashram is a very spiritual environment away from the noise and disturbances of daily life. This week is all about embracing a yogic lifestyle that includes asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra chanting, and service to others. The theme for our retreat is “Soothing the Body and Mind” and the natural setting of the Ashram has been very conducive to such contemplation and rejuvenation. The Ashram is situated near the village of Neuville-aux-Bois and close to the beautiful Orleans forest in the famous Loire Valley. It is just a little over an hour from Paris by train!
Even though this trip might not be for everyone, it can be an incredible life-changing experience for those who say YES. And, you do not need to be a seasoned yogi to feel comfortable joining this yoga retreat. It is amazing how much your flexibility and strength increases with two beautiful yoga classes a day. You just have to come with an open mind and a desire to de-stress or whatever you need to find more peace in your daily life when you return home.
The day begins and ends with Satsang. Satsang is a time of prayer, meditation, and chanting, as well as a brief lecture on a spiritual reflection. The word means “being together with the truth” and it truly creates energy and positivity.
The ultimate goal of yoga is to find oneness with God. As you know, yoga is not a religion, but includes all religions. There are four paths to achieve this goal, and all are offered here at the Ashram. Raga Yoga, the "Eight Limb Path" that includes asana, pranayama, and meditation, is offered twice a day. Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge, is pursued through the different lectures on yoga philosophy. Bhakti Yoga, the practice of recognizing the joy and divine in everything, is practiced through the beautiful chanting. Karma Yoga, a path of selfless service, is where each person serves one hour a day to keep the ashram pristine and manageable. My preference has been working in the “chopping kitchen” preparing for the two delicious vegetarian meals that are served daily. It has also been a great way to practice my French with the volunteer staff, especially after months on Duolingo.
The days are busy if you add walking the paths in the forest or hiking to Neuville- aux-Bois, just about a mile and a half down a country road. This small quaint village includes a church, a few shops and the famous 1927 Chocolatier. Another special aspect was realizing how close we were to Orleans where my favorite heroine, Joan of Arc, defended the French nation in 1429 at the age of 17 years old! Every church in the area celebrates this patron saint of France, as do most around the country.
Of course, it is also important to find quiet time by the little waterfall or in your room overlooking the trees and gardens to journal or read. The rooms are small but new and clean with a single bed, desk and bathroom. Some people share a bathroom at a lower price, like most ashrams. It is such a joy to sit here writing at my desk with the beautiful light and sounds, including the trees gently swaying and a rooster off in the distance. I was thrilled
to “push” the button on my computer earlier this week to send my final edits to the publisher on my new book that will be published this fall called “Spiritual Transformational Yoga”. With the small group of yoginis on our retreat this week, it has given me a change to share part of my book as we explore the Eight Limbs of Yoga a little deeper.
This retreat has reinforced how much I love teaching and practicing yoga. It was also a reminder how important and beneficial 20-30 minutes of daily meditation can be (twice a day even better). It was an honor to explore all aspects of yoga with the extraordinary teachers at the Ashram. Being on the mat is like a laboratory where you experiment. You can go from feeling empowered to being humbled in a short period. That is why we call it a "yoga practice" as it is a life-long endeavor.
The late Swami Sivananda, one of the greatest sages of modern yoga, once said, “We are the master of our own destiny”. I hope by sharing this experience you will consider joining Peace through Yoga Foundation on our retreat here next September. We will also be offering another Ashram experience to India during the International Yoga Festival for the fifth time late February/early March 2025. Stay-tune for a detailed itinerary soon.
Hope to see you on the mat soon!