Yoga Retreat April 2008 Sample Activities and Testimonial

I arrived at the Vivekananda Retreat Center on Friday afternoon. The monastery is located in the green countryside near Lake Michigan. The air was fresh and pure. Before dinner, myself and the other students practiced Yogic sleep-relaxation following Ema Stefanova's (the Yoga teacher) detailed instructions. Afterwards, we had an Indian vegetarian dinner. Then, we went to a sandy Lake Michigan beach. Walking on the beach, we saw a beautiful sunset over the Lake. It was cold; we did not go into the water.

Saturday morning At 7am, we practiced gentle Hatha Yoga postures and breath control (pranayama) in the main shrine room of the monastery. Ema gave detailed instructions and skillful corrections to the postures and breath-work. While it was easy to do most of the postures, we also practiced a few challenging postures. We then had breakfast. One could choose between a western breakfast and an Indian breakfast. Afterwards, we tried to clean the dishes as mindfully as possible. At this time, my mind and body were becoming very peaceful and relaxed.

For the rest of the day, we practiced more Hatha Yoga, Yogic sleep-relaxation, and meditation. Saturday evening, we practiced Sacred Chanting (Kirtan). Kirtan consists of chanting or singing songs of divine words and stories accompanied by drums, bells, and guitars. Someone sings a verse like "OM SHANTI OM" or "KYRIE ELEISON", and then the group sings the verse back. We did Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Folk chants and songs. One need not be a professional musician to take part-- simply sing from the heart. The setting is informal and intimate; improvisation is encouraged. The Kirtan bought me joy. Early Sunday morning, we again practiced Hatha Yoga, Yogic sleep-relaxation, and meditation.

After breakfast, we again went to the beach; it was deserted. This time, we practiced mindful walking on the beach. Each time my foot touched the sand, I mentally repeated the mantra (sacred sound) "SO HUM". I felt the sand on my feet, the wind on my skin, the roar of the lake in my ear, and the sound of the mantra in my mind. I was a conscious witness, but there was no "ME" experiencing this-- only the silent witnessing of the beach and mantra.

The final event was a teaching on the Saint Shri Ramakrishna by Swami Chidananda. Swami Chidananda talked about how to see God (The Great Spirit) within one's own heart and within the heart of each and every person and each and every creature. The Great Spirit alone is real and everlasting, it supports everything in the cosmos, and it is always present. Every single material object in the Universe is subject to change and is unreal. It is the task of the spiritual seeker to find the real Great Spirit amidst the ever changing unreal objects of life.

We concluded with a wonderful Indian lunch, and then packed up for home. From the retreat, I brought great peace and great joy into my everyday life and a desire to realize the Great Spirit in my daily activities.

Ram Das of Okemos (Eric Ederer)

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