My first meeting with the adorable young woman saint called Amma, or Mother, totally transformed my life. To begin with, using the name ‘Mother’ seemed very strange to me. Mothers are normally older than their children, but in this case, there was quite a different meaning. Even if you were a hundred years old, Amma would still be your Mother. As I began to realize who she was, it became clear to me that we were indeed her children and had lots of learning and growth ahead of us.
Meeting Amma spun me around, brought me to my knees, and broke open my heart. Her blissful face and Presence as the arati (the ritual circling of the sacred flame) was performed before her were excruciatingly beautiful. Then she began receiving her children into her arms and heart. Her humility, her love, her tenderness, and her humor were entrancing. I had never before even imagined such total self-sacrifice.
In the ensuing years in Amma’s orbit and energy field I have watched and experienced this indescribable and endless river of Love; everyone so patiently and compassionately embraced – countless thousands – and still it is the same simple darshan that restores, heals, gives solace, and radically changes lives.
When Amma took up her abode in my heart, she was also preparing a future in Melbourne, Australia. First, she needed dedicated and sincere yogis, and come they did, from 1992 onwards. I named my studio the Dance of Life and placed a beautiful photo of Amma in her white sari smiling down upon us as we practiced our yoga and chanted the 108 Names of Devi and the Sri Lalita Sahasranamam.
We grew as a group, one by one dedicating ourselves to our yoga, our asanas, our pranayama, and our meditation. Afterwards we would share a brunch together, really an impromptu Satsang, with Amma watching and guiding us as we poured out our feelings, hopes, and fears. We were able to unburden ourselves, connect, and trust each other, with Amma as our firm foundation. This is the group that exists today as the teachers of Yoga Fest.
There was also a burgeoning group of Amma devotees attending Sunday Satsanga at the Dance of Life for many years. In 2006, it was Amma’s Melbourne Ashram that became their home for Sunday Satsanga, puja, homa, special rituals and ceremonies.
In 1992, Amma asked her Australian devotees to find a suitable venue for her first retreat in Australia. Incredibly, we were led to the perfect place in Somers on the Mornington Peninsula. The Children’s School Camp was available for over 700 folks to attend Amma’s first retreat in Australia. When the numbers outgrew Somers, another venue in Victoria was found.
In 2005, I suddenly had the idea, “Let’s have a Yoga retreat at the Lord Somers Camp!” Would there be enough attendees to cover the costs? With Amma fanning our faith, we booked the Camp and ran our first Yoga Fest Retreat. Amma had planted that seed way back in the early 90s, and now it sprouted and grew.
First it was just one Yoga Fest a year. Then it became biannual. All monies raised after costs go to Amma’s charitable works and her Melbourne Ashram Building Fund. All of us are volunteers. I call it ‘Amma’s Amazing Gig’. Yoga Fest draws like-minded folk, young and old. We provide delicious vegan/vegetarian meals, ashram style accommodation, and classes in all aspects of yoga. As the venue is right on the edge of the lapping waves of Westernport Bay, nature abounds. The dolphins never cease to excite and delight as they pop up and dance in the waters for all who wish to join them.
Last year, on the 24th Yoga Fest Retreat held on Melbourne Cup weekend, Amma kindly sent us Brahmachari Shraddhamrita to teach the Integrated Meditation Technique. And this year, she sent Brahmacharini Shobana to lead her marvelous Amrita Yoga classes – and Yoga Nidra like no other! Her popularity knew no bounds as we all swarmed to fill her classes! Hardened hatha yogis were won over by such spirit and power and found her sessions wonderfully challenging. She stole all hearts. We’re just hoping she can be a regular part of Yoga Fest in the future.