(Below is a photo of Yogaville Ashram located in the outskirts of Virginia, USA.)
My background in mental health and spirituality started a long time ago. Although, it’s been a bumpy road, to say the least. I grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Every year, I would travel with my family to an ashram in Buckingham County, Virginia, US called Yogaville. My parents were free-spirits, although I’m sure they’d hate that I’ve called them that, who followed two different gurus around India and then into the States. My mom followed a spiritual teacher named Osho to the US, where she lived and worked at his ranch in Ohio for a few years. My dad became a disciple of Swami Satchidananda who, in the 1970s, created the ashram Yogaville.
Although I grew up with a strong spiritual background, once I became an adult, that once-solid foundation didn’t seem to be a match for depression. Depression, for me, manifested as avoidance. It stemmed from a lack of self-awareness and overwhelming emotional triggers. Not to mention the old classic, “lack of serotonin production”.
In 2017, I was working three jobs; two as a bartender and one as a receptionist for a waxing place called The Pussy Shop. The name isn’t important to the story, but I enjoy its abrasive nature so I’m putting it in. At the time, I was feeling somewhat aimless in my life. I hadn’t practiced yoga or meditation in a few years and my anxiety was through the roof. I had all but completely lost touch with the spiritual part of myself, as well as with the Ashram and its teachings. As cliche as it sounds, this all turned around with a *dream*.
In this dream, I was inside a large room, where colourful cushions and cozy blankets lined the floors. The space felt warm and inviting, filled with a community of loving & accepting people. I spoke with them, laughed with them, and listened to music. It felt like home. When I awoke, I had an intense, physical reaction to feeling ripped out of this dream as I entered real life again. The loss of this place and feeling caused me to sob uncontrollably. My boyfriend at the time looked completely in shock while trying to get me to explain what was happening. In between short breaths, I explained the dream and the feeling of it being taken away from me as best I could. He then asked me if I recognized the place and I said it felt like the Ashram.
The first thing I did that morning was a google search to find the Ashram’s website. One of the first things I saw on there was an ad for a 200hr yoga teacher training program that began in three weeks' time. The course required a one-month commitment to live at the Ashram and train from 6 am-9 pm, Monday-Saturday. Yikes.
I called my Dad while looking at the website and explained everything I was feeling to him. I said I was interested in the teacher training program, but that I hadn’t practiced yoga in a few years and that I was unsure of how I could get the time off work (from all three jobs) with such short notice, let alone pay for the expense of the course. He told me to simplify things by reaching out and seeing if there was still room in the course before I worried about how to make it happen.
I spent the next week sending in forms and trying to figure out the logistics of attending this training. After a week of back and forths, I decided it was too short notice and that it would simply not work. That night, I went to sleep and had a very vivid dream. I dreamt that I was sitting in the backseat of a gorgeous, spacious car with a man I did not recognize at the time sitting next to me. In the front passenger seat was Swami Satchidananda (my dad’s guru). Even though we were driving, there was no one in the driver’s seat. We were travelling down a beautiful, open road somewhere in a desert with a blinding white light in front of us. This vision was so vivid that it feels more like a real memory in my head rather than a dream. The three of us had a discussion about what I was to do next, and when I woke up, I knew I was meant to take the Yoga Teacher training. That morning, I got a call from the Ashram saying I was in and that they would see me in a week and a half.
During my first few days at the Ashram, I noticed a photo of someone I distinctly recognized. It was hanging on the wall of the building we were eating lunch in. I pointed out the photo to someone eating next to me and told her I had just had a dream where this man had been sitting next to me in a car, giving me advice on my next moves. The person I was speaking with excitedly said “You don’t know who that is? That’s Yogananda, a Hindu Guru from India. He’s pretty famous, you know. He basically considered the father of meditation.” “I... I don’t think so”, I said, wracking my brain to see if figure out if this sounded familiar. It did not. “Oh wow. Well, he wrote a book called ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, it’s a classic. He was one of the first people to bring yogic teachings to the West, in the early 1900s.” I gazed up at the photo on the wall and said something along the lines of "Okay, Yogananda, I'm here. I'm paying attention now".
From then on, I started keeping Yogananda close to me. To this day, I still keep a picture of him above my desk and bring it with me to every workshop I teach.
At the time of my dream, I was so disconnected from myself that I could not hear my intuition. Looking back now, I feel grateful that I was given such an obvious sign to move forward because I don't think I would have made the leap without it. The entire trajectory of my life changed from that one moment.