Sivananda Ashram Val-Morin, Quebec
In my travels through Central America as a yoga teacher, I meet many many yogini’s along the way. There’s more new teachers here than anywhere else in the world it seems (although clearly there is a very solid case to be made for India). Costa Rica is churning them out like Big Macs these days. But I’m often surprised that so few are aware of traditional forms of yoga, as in the Four Paths: Jhana, Karma, Bhakti, and Raja. Sure, most people have heard of Ashtanga (Raja) but so few have even heard of Sivananda, let alone that there are ashrams ALL OVER the world, even in the northiest or North America.
Swami Sivananda was a physician and an author (over 200 books) but mostly he was the creator of a style of Karma Yoga. Yoga being the union of mind body and soul, Sivananda’s series is more than just postures, but also a lifestyle of health and well being of both the self and the world at large. The five principles are: Proper Exercise (Asana), Proper breathing (Pranayama), Proper Relaxation, Proper Diet (simple vegetarian food), and Positive Thinking.
That’s it. That’s the whole program. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. There are only 13 postures in a 90 minute Sivananda class and Savasana (corpse pose) is done between most. A class will typically start with a chant, then you lie on the floor and focus on your breath and center yourself. Once you are properly relaxed and focused, the first posture is Headstand. From there you are lead through a series of postures and breath work until more chanting at the close and poof! Done.
Part of Sivananda’s life work and then his disciples’ after his death in 1963 was to open centres around the world along with ashrams. There are 9 ashrams in the world, 4 of which are in North America. In Canada there is only one ashram, although there are several centres.
The Sivananda Yoga Camp Ashram in Val Morin, Quebec is gorgeous. Set in the foothills of the Laurentian mountains in Quebec, it’s just under an hour drive from Montreal. The Ashram schedule is pretty simple and standard as far as ashrams go:
- 5:30 am: Wake up
- 6:00 am: Satsang (singing mantra together in a temple)
- 8:00 am: Yoga class
- 10:00 am: Brunch
- 10:45 am: Karma Yoga (selfless service-this generally means helping around the ashram)
- 12:00 pm-2:00 pm: optional classes, lectures, or free time (I am prone to booking an aruyvedic massage in this time)
- 4:00 pm: Yoga class
- 6:00 pm: Dinner
- 7:30 pm/8:00 pm in summer: Satsang
- 10:00 pm: Lights off
The practice is designed to work through the chakra system starting with Headstand, then Shoulder Stand and working through 12 basic postures till finally a long Savasana. There is a lot of breath work in the beginning, lying in Savasana, so that when you are ready for sun salutations then headstand, you are already pretty focused. Satsang also includes meditation, along with chanting and community building, so there is opportunity to build positive thoughts and stillness as well as using your main power chakra-Visshudha (throat) in signing and getting the blood moving from top of your head to your rooted feet in Asana. The best part is that there is no sweating, just none at all. You can do the whole day in pants and a turtleneck, which a lot of the dedicated yogis do.
They have a great weekend set up where you get picked up from the Sivananda Centre in Montreal on Friday and taken to the ashram, then you stay Friday and Saturday evening and come back in the shuttle Sunday. The cost per day is $80 and includes shared accommodations (separated by sex with no special couples or private rooms), meals, satsang and yoga and the shuttle is $25 return.
There are tons of programs offered at the centres and ashrams all over the world from vegetarian cooking to intro to meditation and yoga. This particular ashram also offers a kids summer camp, and they have a pool.
My two cents: Sivananda is the only place I can nail a headstand every time without fail even if it is the first posture; their programs are so good for the money, much much cheaper than bougie Vinayassa Flow at pseudo yoga gyms, and at the end of the day, the Sivananda centre in Toronto is the ONLY yoga space I’ve ever seen Indian people practicing at, so that’s gotta count for something. And my final gold star goes to this practice as the only yoga practice that really clears my mind, makes me feel positive about myself and humanity and is spreading real, unadulterated joy through the world.
There’s links throughout this post, click some.