In the mid-60s, there was a swami convention in the Bahamas attended
by swamis from all over the world. A wealthy
Bahamian mother begged Swami Vishnudevananda to help her addicted daughter get
off drugs and get her life back on track.
He agreed and took the daughter back to his yoga centre in Quebec to teach
her his yogic way of life. The following
year at the next convention, to thank Swami Vishnudevananda for taking her
daughter under his wing and successfully helping her return to a clean and
sober life, the mother offered the swami her parents’ abandoned property and
home for 100 years, rent free. Her wish
was that Swamiji build an ashram, teach his yoga and help others find their way.
Today fifty years later, the Sivananda Ashram
on Paradise Island is flourishing, growing, teaching and most importantly,
helping others find their way. Their
mission is to share peace, health, and joy through yoga. This particular location is the most traditionally
Indian of the nine Sivananda ashrams worldwide, with a tropical heaven-on-earth
setting. The yoga practice is based on
the Hindu faith teachings, a religion you are born to, not one you can convert
to. There is such an ease for all guests
around that, perhaps the only downside is that you may leave wishing that you
could convert. It certainly crossed my
By the time you step in the ashram water taxi to the island, you already
feel like you are on holidays. The warm,
dazzling sunlight bounces between the heavenly turquoise water of Nassau Bay
and the puff ball clouds floating in a sea of azure blue sky.
Six or seven enormous docked cruise ships
provide an imposing back drop to harbor life as they patiently wait for their
passengers to return. For those of us
vertically challenged folks, the step down to the bobbing taxi when the tide is
low can feel like quite a free fall, but rest assured there are helping hands
to make the journey safe.
After a two minute zoom across Nassau Bay, you are struck by two thoughts. First, you must have somehow proceeded to the
wrong gate at the airport and have landed in India. When your eyes take in the bright, vibrant
colours on the dock, the welcoming arch, and the waterfront yoga platform you know
you are far from home and indeed somewhere special.
The second thought is for the immediate feeling
of inclusiveness and welcome for all who come to this paradise. Both an
exquisite lotus-shaped sign and peaceful green-rimmed pond at the entrance to
the ashram are full of symbols or statues of gods and saints worshipped by many
world religions. For those of us on a
return trip to the ashram, it simply feels like coming home.
The ashram stretches its five and a half acres of lush tropical
gardens from Nassau Bay on one end and the Caribbean turquoise of the Atlantic
Ocean on the other. The soft pristine
white sandy beach beckons when you have a moment to dip your toes or take a
stroll down the beach. Worn foot paths
between buildings have been paved in recent years but they still retain their
lush dense charm.
Gardens appear wildly
full of native plants yet manicured at the same time. They edge every pathway, making you feel you
are always connected to this sanctuary of peace. While the original family home has been
renovated over the years to expand the kitchen and divide original quarters
into guest rooms, there has been an explosion of accommodation builds which
melt seamlessly into the tropical setting.
Accommodations are simple and clean, in
line with yogic living. The number of
choices has expanded over the years.
From an eight-foot square piece of ground to pitch your own tent to a
luxury beachfront suite with private bath, there is a room for every
budget. There are three two-floor tent
condos with 32 tents per condo. These
10-foot rooms are thoughtfully appointed but this author found the nocturnal noises
from other guests disturbed her piece of mind and a good night sleep. From tin cans being used as porta-potties,
tent zippers going up and down for bathroom visits, to departing guests packing
at all hours of the night, one thing was clear; next time, private room.
Indeed, the many private and semi-private
rooms are much quieter and warmer in the February chill with more comfortable
beds. Most accommodations include a
shared bath, either in a building or rows of outdoor shower and toilet stalls standing
back to back. Even for a particular
guest like myself, the setup somehow felt normal, they are decently clean, you
work out a low traffic time to suit you and have your flip flops available for
any shower visit.
The vegetarian meals are good and there’s plenty
of food to eat. Fresh homemade bread,
fresh herbal teas, homemade granola all made a great addition to the menu. Responding to feedback from their guests in
2015, the ashram tripled the food budget and hired new chefs. Now the food is absolutely fabulous! Tastier salad dressings, more creative main
dishes, a real treat for your taste buds, whether you’re a practicing
vegetarian or not.
The ashram provides a complete immersion into their classical yoga
tradition and yogic lifestyle, with a daily schedule that includes two
meditations (6am and 8pm), pranayama (yogic breathing practices), asana (yoga
postures), and education. They host
hundreds of courses, trainings, talks, performances, and special events each
year with teachers highly regarded within the Sivananda family, as well as
other guest teachers, presenters, and performers.
There is a Yoga Teachers Training Course at
the ashram which is an intense month long, offered eight to ten times a year
and to date has graduated more than 26,000 certified yoga teachers. The core staff is a group of residents,
swamis and swamis-in-training who have devoted themselves to a spiritual path,
living, practicing, and working together to run the ashram and promote peace in
the world through their philosophy and practice of yoga. It is so much more than a yoga centre.
you spend a few days, a week or more at the ashram, it is truly a vacation for
your soul. Some guests come by themselves,
some with a friend or partner. There are
those who come together with a group of friends. Many guests have made an ashram visit an
No matter the number of
people you travel with, everyone experiences their own unique spiritual journey. Often times you come away with knowledge or
enlightenment you didn’t even realize you were looking for…. the courage to
make a change in your life, an aspiration to take what you’ve learned and
create a more peaceful life back home, a vision to start something new.
There are plenty of spaces and places to be
alone and absorb the journey if needed. Having
a private room all to yourself is a welcome gift at the end of a long, full day
the courses or special events headline famous guests like Deepak Chopra or
Krishna Das, the ashram is fully booked and the energy goes from peaceful haven
to electric spiritual joy. Both energy
levels are equally fun to experience. Because
there are no restrictions to choosing the dates of your stay, you are free to choose
the exact number of days that completely suits your energetic needs. Some might prefer a quieter time in the
schedule to visit the ashram and some are keen to attend a big event, it’s up
Having visited the ashram two years in a row, I thought it was time
to give it a break and experience something new. I was wrong.
This year I’ve missed the peace, the me-time, the chanting, the food,
the yoga, the kindness of like-minded people, the walking sunrise beach
mediation that leaves you floating on air and the unique fragrance of the place,
a blend of incense, fresh sea air, tropical plants, sunshine and a blend of spices
you can’t put your finger on. Most of
all I missed the spiritual journey my soul would surely have been on. That enlightenment stays with you long after
you get the sand washed off your yoga mat.
Kyle Williams Gonsalves is a perky, bubbly, happy soul with a vision
to become a writer. She loves life after
50, is devoted to her spiritual path and embracing the wisdom of her years. Kyle lives in Burlington with her husband Mark and is
dedicated to her dream job of mom to their two entertaining, loveable
See Brian Henry’s schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.