Having just completed the Amrita Yoga Retreat yesterday, I woke up with a sense of grief that I would not be joining my brothers and sisters this morning in our little hall by the sea. The Amrita Yoga Retreat was an extraordinary experience for me—someone who has lived in the ashram for almost twenty-two years and has a daily asana practice. Already on the second day of the retreat, I noticed a change in my breathing throughout the day; it was deeper and full. By the third day, I noticed a decrease in the usual tension I experience in my neck and shoulders. I looked forward to returning every morning and afternoon.
Our instructor arrived at each class well prepared, with a clear outline of yogasanas as well as spiritual themes for us to keep in mind. This was strengthened by meditation and a short satsanga, at the beginning and end of each class, made up of personal anecdotes and quotes from various spiritual masters from all traditions. Our asana practice was always new and fresh— sometimes more of a flow with original sequences and sometimes we held the poses for longer periods of time, exploring the spiritual qualities of patience and ‘staying put.’
If one asks yoga instructors around the world to try to bring bhakti (devotion) to their classes, I think they would be very hard pressed to do so. Yet our instructor was able to do so based on his obvious love and devotion to his guru (master), Amma—Sri Mata Amritanandamayi—and his earnestness towards the spiritual path.
Usually, chanting OM in the beginning of a yoga class is the only spiritual element present. What makes Amrita Yoga unique is that Amma’s teachings were threaded throughout each asana, weaving a calm and peaceful texture to the entire atmosphere.
One main attitude that I noticed was that we were not instructed to focus on pushing and achieving but rather on non-doing and being. Although the course was technically for intermediate students, many of us fell more in the beginner category. This was not an issue. Our instructor and his assistant easily assessed our abilities, providing alternative asanas or some slight variations. Unlike so many other yoga schools, this was not an athletic competition but a group spiritual practice. Although it was obvious that our instructor was very knowledgeable and experienced in yoga, I never felt a sense of superiority coming from him. We were all just children together in the lap of the Divine Mother.
The Amrita Yoga Retreats are for everyone. For people newly getting into the spiritual life and visiting India for a Yoga Intensive Retreat, it offers a structure for the day, a way to focus one’s energy and mind in the midst of the many different activities that our Amritapuri ashram offers. For old timers, it offers a chance to recharge their batteries and to rekindle the ever-important quality of enthusiasm that Amma talks about so often. For some, it might be a wake-up call speaking to the need for more physical discipline. Wherever you are on the path, Amrita Yoga is a hidden jewel in Amritapuri available to all.
Amrita Yoga is truly a boon. It is prasad (blessing) offered by our beloved Amma to help us move forward on our path with devotion, gratitude, discipline and patience. It is there for all to benefit from.