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The ashram sits on the edge of Kootenay Lake (image via Yasodhara Ashram Facebook page)

Sustainability is a big deal at Yasodhara Ashram. The community has made great efforts to be sustainable: recycling programs, building upgrades, solar power and geothermal heating, as well as making a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2013. As the ashram leadership ages and the swamis are approaching retirement age, the community is also looking at how it will sustain itself. Where do swamis go to retire? What does a retired swami do?

I had a visit with the ashram’s spiritual director, Swami Radhananda, in her lovely dining room overlooking the lake. We talked about the questions that the ashram is asking and the changes in the air.

What is happening at the ashram right now? It’s in a place of transition, what’s happening?

Well, all of a sudden we realized we’re getting old. We wanted the ashram to consciously go through the transition of us knowing that we can’t keep doing the same thing forever. For me, the turning point really was the release of my book [Carried By A Promise, timeless books, 2011].

You’re realizing that the leadership here is aging, so the question is “What next? Who will lead next?”

We want to do the best we can to have things moving, and at the same time, the core stable and the foundation really solid. I am 70 years old, I know there’s only a certain amount of time. How am I going to use that time? But we’re all in our 60s and 70s now, so something has to form. It may be different but the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Swami Sivananda, contemplating the future (image via lightwaves.cc)

While visiting Yasodhara Ashram, a spiritual community on 120 acres of woodland resting on the shores of Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC, I had the opportunity to sit down with some of the leaders in the community and talk about transition, sustainability and renewal. What I’ve learned from my own yoga practice (on the mat, off the mat and through this blog) is that it’s a constant inquiry. At the root of my practice is the question, Who am I? The desire to find the answer to this question is what keeps me going, especially during times when I feel disconnected and alone.

So what does it mean when a whole community based on yogic principles and practices engages in a process of inquiry? I explored this with Swami Sivananda, a long-time ashram resident and teacher.

Let’s start with the basics. What happens in this community?

Our main idea is to provide a safe environment for people to get their foundation back under them, so they can start looking at things more deeply. There’s no dogma here. There’s an emphasis on spiritual values but not in a dogmatic way. But even if you don’t have that tradition within yourself, there has to be that respect for other people.

People come here and get themselves sorted out emotionally, drop emotional burdens from the past, memories, that kind of patterning that frustrates us. Then they just bloom on their own.

Yet we’re not a social service agency; we’re a spiritual community. We have a tradition, a body of teachings, and those teachings came from our guru. But we’ve broken the mold on the old guru-based community. It doesn’t need to be that stuffy and stiff as a lot of people think. Or as blindly surrendering. Surrender is a very important thing to learn, but it isn’t what most people think. The thing is, it requires super highly developed discrimination. Read the rest of this entry »

Mandala House, the ashram's main building (image via yasodhara.org)

Hola from western Canada! I fled Montreal just before the heat wave hit and have been enjoying the cooler climate of British Columbia (where it’s unseasonably cool and rainy). I just spent a few days at the beautiful Yasodhara Ashram, where I had the full intention of blogging and taking pics. However, I had limited wifi access and a full schedule of karma yoga (selfless service in action), enjoying nature, thinking about my life and reconnecting with old friends. My photography ambitions were thwarted when my camera battery died and I realized that I’d forgotten my charger.

Yasodhara Ashram is a spiritual community on 120 acres of woodland resting on the shores of Kootenay Lake in southeastern BC. Founded by Swami Sivananda Radha (a disciple of Swami Sivananda and one of the first western women to be initiated in the yoga tradition) in 1963, the community continues to uphold her teachings while staying relevant to modern life. The ashram is run by initiates, but these are swamis who wear cardigans and khakis and pack around laptops. Rooted in tradition and simple living, the community also thrives on innovation and progressive ideas ~ collaborative working styles, sustainable building design, integrated food systems, new business models. The ashram has won provincial sustainability awards and aspires to be carbon neutral by 2013, when it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to part two of my conversation with Frank Jude Boccio – the dharma teacher who is so punk rock, he doesn’t even need to call himself punk rock! In the second half of our chat, Frank Jude graciously answered my pesky questions about some of my pet interests, including personal branding and making a living. This is stuff I’m trying to figure out for myself, so I find it fascinating and refreshing that Frank Jude is able to get his work out to the world without feeling the need to trademark his ideas or even have a functional website.

What does it mean to be independent and yet connected? How does personal branding contradict the “radical identity politics” of buddhadharma? How does trademarking and branding foster a “cult of personality” among some yoga and dharma teachers? Do business models and corporate structures takes away the intimacy of practice? And what about the environmental impact of the travel schedules of high profile teachers?

All this and more, in the second half of this feature conversation! And if you haven’t already, be sure to read part one of the conversation with Frank Jude Boccio.

Welcome to a new experiment on it’s all yoga, baby: feature video conversations with awesome figures in the yoga community! And first up is one of my favourite dharma and yoga teachers, Frank Jude Boccio, who graciously accepted my invitation for a Skype call. Basically, he was my guinea pig as I figure out how to ask questions, be on camera and edit video.

Frank Jude Boccio lives with his wife and baby daughter in Tucson, Arizona, where he teaches yoga, works on building sangha and is writing his next book. He is an ordained Zen Buddhist teacher, Interfaith Minister and a lay brother in the Tiep Hien Order established by Thich Nhat Hanh. While rooted in the Tucson community, he also teaches retreats and workshops around North America and is faculty on the Moksha Yoga teacher training program. His first book, Mindfulness Yoga, is considered essential reading for aspiring yoga practitioners.

I appreciate Frank Jude’s integrity, breadth of knowledge and ability to keep it real. Also, he’s so punk rock that he doesn’t even need to call himself punk rock. In this two-part conversation, we discussed the trials and joys of building community, the unifying threads in his eclectic background, a secular approach to zen practice, resisting the uniform of personal branding and making conscious choices.

The whole interview is almost half an hour long, so here is part one. The second part will be up on Monday!

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