Yoga practice has been a part of sadhana (spiritual practice) since Amritapuri Ashram began. Amma encourages all ages to stay healthy and active. In the early years especially during 90’s, Amma herself demonstrated and taught asanas for the ashram brahmacharinis and brahmacharis. Even now, one can watch Amma (Sri Mata Amritanandamayi), demonstrating a few asanas and movements during meditation days and darshans, sharing tips with people who come to her with health issues like neck pain, lower back pain, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, etc.
“Yoga Sadhana Retreats” at Amritapuri ashram will be taught by Bramhacharini Shobhana and assisted by resident staff from Amritapuri. Their unique perspective of living a life of constant practice will create a space where asana practice becomes a sadhana (spiritual practice).
Each retreat and workshop will not just focus on asanas and breathing techniques aimed at flexibility and strength but the focus will be on the core purpose: the holistic approach of how and why Yoga Sadhana (spiritual practice) is practiced at Amritapuri as an inward journey towards the essence and purpose of life.
In the spirit of devotional inquiry, the teacher will guide the student to find relationships between the external world of sounds, sights and movement to the internal world of symbols and deeper insights of our existence. Thus knowledge of the asana begins to transcend from the individual rational understanding of physical alignment into the realm of intuitive wisdom where the body begins to relax into asanas as natural expressions of the Universal Wisdom that directs all processes.
This is the state where the teacher can introduce the deeper language of mantras and mudras to penetrate the barriers of the intellect into the deeper layers of the mind and the being. In these states an open and receptive practitioner can imbibe the Vedic chants, slokas (hymns), and especially the Guru’s (master’s) words and the teachings. This approach to Yoga as Sadhana will gradually begin to clear away negative habits of the mind and, in turn, can permanently remove habitual tensions in the different layers of the body and the mind.
Yoga is a gradual process of replacing our unconscious patterns of thought and behavior with new, more benign patterns that are expressive of the higher powers and virtues of Self-realization. When this self effort is blessed by the presence, guidance and grace of the Satguru like Amma, it will eventually bloom into the lotus of Self Realization – the essence and purpose of Yoga. However, even beginners will benefit from the ‘effects’ of such practices that, by removing negative habits of thought, create more focus and clarity and bring more peace and bliss into our lives and relationships.
It is one of Yoga’s fundamental tenets that no effort is ever wasted; even the slightest attempt at transforming ourselves makes a difference. It is our patient cumulative effort that flowers into Self-realization sooner or later.
To have the opportunity to come to Amritapuri can be a catalyst for creating real change and transformation in our lives. Sadhana (spiritual practice) is built into the daily experiences in the ashram. Though we might come to a retreat or our yoga practice with certain goals in mind, Amma can help us to practice yoga both on and off the mat.
For example, Karma Yoga (selfless service) is required of all visitors—not to benefit the ashram as much as to introduce visitors to this highest form of yoga. Karma Yoga is the yoga that utilizes every situation encountered in life to develop awareness of the habitual reactions of our minds and then, through practice, become able to transcend them. Of course, Karma Yoga doesn’t end when we finish our seva and enter the yoga mandiram (yoga hall). All kinds of situations can arise, from loud noise and heat, to annoyances and insecurities, etc. All of this can be utilized to practice spirituality.
Through the unique tools and techniques, along with Amma’s teachings, the teacher will gently guide the students to find an inner peace that stays unaffected by any disturbance. First time visitors to Amritapuri often have expectations of a quiet peaceful ashram and instead are met with a cacophony of noises and many challenging situations, like queues and roommates! The purpose is not to insulate the seeker or practitioner from life but to provide an environment that is rich in experiences that can awaken us to the present state of our minds. With gentle guidance, the Yoga Sadhana teacher will give the students methods to deal with these challenges both on and off the mat.
Sometimes, the situations encountered require a different approach. When there is devotion to something higher than our own small individual efforts, we can tune into a bigger source for help via the path of Bhakti Yoga. This is why the presence of a Satguru is so useful. Devotion to a living Master can teach us what mastery over our problems looks like.
The Yoga Sadhana Retreats can show attendees how to turn their problems over to the Master, internally, through prayer and visualization, or externally, through the experience of chanting specific mantras during the asana practice. Such practices will be encouraged as part of the Yoga Sadhana Retreats.
Yet, the most immediate relief provided by Amma, the most compassionate and accessible living Master alive, is her Darshan or embrace. Amma’s darshan gives us a glimpse of the wonderful peace and bliss we have within waiting to become a permanent state. The meaning of Guru’s darshan and other themes will be explored through satsanga with senior swamis (monks), disciples and devotees. Their personal experiences combined with teachings from the ancient Vedic scriptures will illuminate the rich and ancient tradition of Sanatana Dharma (eternal code of conduct). The student will gain a better understanding of unfamiliar concepts, such as the need for a guru on the spiritual path, the role of dharma, the purpose of Sadhana (spiritual practice) and other themes.
In this way, Yoga Sadhana Retreats will be structured to complement all other spiritual activities at Amritapuri through immersion into the fundamentals of Yoga. Ashrams can be challenging places but with the understanding of the ancient traditions behind the structures and systems, one will begin to gradually appreciate and joyfully surrender to the present, and to all situations encountered at each moment. This is the essence of Yoga, and it is an invaluable tool for any spiritual aspirant.
As Amma says, “Surrender and living in the present are one and the same. Surrendering to a real Master is surrendering to the whole of Life-existence.”
We hope that “Yoga Sadhana Retreats” will help intensify and fulfill the intense longing of the participants to find meaning in their Sadhana (spiritual practice) and also create a sense of spontaneous wonder and joy that comes from allowing life to unfold in the presence of a Living Satguru such as Amma.
Author: Brahmacharini Shobhana