The United Nations announced June 21 as “International Yoga Day” 11 years ago today.
Now one of the oldest ashrams in the United States – the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm – celebrates half a century of retreat and radical living between Grass Valley and Auburn.
“We have been in this country for 50 years,” said Swami Sitaramananda, the farm’s manager for 27 years. “It is one of the first serious ashrams in this country and we are very proud of it.”
Swami Dharmananda, who has lived on the farm since 2007, said “ashram” means retreat or place of retreat.
Guests participate in the integrated movement from the moment the morning bell rings at 5:30 a.m., Dharmananda said, adding that the bicentennial celebration includes a Labor Day program in the fall, an interfaith Thanksgiving retreat and a program holiday planned for this winter.
“We don’t just teach exercise, it’s a way of life,” Sitaramananda said, adding that by integrating other dimensions of health, it helps yoga practice work as self-therapy. .
Sitaramananda said her community — made up of 10 to 15 full-timers — participates in an intentional lifestyle meant to relieve them of superficial pressures. Although the way of life requires that certain guidelines be followed, it is not necessarily isolated from the way that some religions require of their followers.
Swami Sitaramananda (left) rides a boat in Yoga Retreat Farm’s Vrindavan Pong, surrounded by weeping willows.
Since the establishment of the retreat center half a century ago, numerous temples dedicated to Hindi deities, a permaculture garden, a lavender hill, an alpaca farm and numerous facilities for retreat participants have been erected.
Along with frequenting BriarPatch Food Co-op and Hills Flat Lumber to find resources for cooking and building, Swami Dharma said his community maintains ties with the school of Ayurveda.
“People are moving to Nevada County because of us,” Sitaramananda said.
Sitaramananda moved to Canada from Vietnam during the 1970s war. After graduating from college, Sitaramananda turned to yoga as a meditative practice due to the exhaustion she experienced as a social worker. . Since then, she has been addressing the needs of her community by contributing to a change in culture, as opposed to government awareness.
“You go inward to solve problems,” Sitaramananda said.
The yogi’s lifestyle is not necessarily “strict”, Sitaramananda said.
“It follows the law of nature,” Sitaramananda said, adding that avoiding certain substances like tobacco helps people lead a more balanced and harmonious life.
A regulated life requires self-discipline, Sitaramananda said.
Sitaramananda became the farm’s main teacher in 1995, shortly after serving in a similar leadership position at the organization’s San Francisco site, a site she decided to drop during the pandemic.
Sitaramananda said the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers is a non-profit organization named after one of the most influential spiritual teachers of the 20th century and founded by his disciple Swami Vishnudevananda. There are over 50 Sivananda locations – ashrams, yoga centers and affiliates – around the world.
Sitaramananda took over the organization’s area in Nevada County shortly after the retirement space’s founder, Vishnudevananda, passed away in 1993.
Vishnudevananda discovered the 80 acres in 1971 and chose to create a home of sorts because of its natural beauty, Sitaramananda said, adding that Vishnudevananda’s original idea was to provide a convenient resting place between the two regions that Vishnu associated with work and leisure – San Francisco and Reno.
According to the farm’s head teacher, Sitaramananda or more simply known as Swami “Sita”, the need for wholesome practices to balance and center the self in the fast-paced modern world has only grown since the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing mental health issues.
The ashram, located between Grass Valley and Auburn, closed to the public during COVID-19 and offered online classes — even yoga teacher trainings — a whole new form of outreach.
Sitaramananda said the ashram is maintaining its online options, but noted it was born out of need in a time of required isolation.
Sitaramananda said the ashram looks forward to connecting in person with people whose desire to explore alternative lifestyles has only increased during the pandemic.
“California is forward-thinking,” Sitaramananda said. “We just want to remind people that we’re proud to be here.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer for The Union. She can be reached at [email protected]