Nestled in the foothills of the mountains in Lonavala, India, sits Kaivalyadham Yoga Ashram. One hundred seventy acres of land are covered by lush green trees, sweet melodies from birds in conversation, and energy so pure that you can feel it seeping into the pores of your skin.
I spent every summer of my childhood (and more) here, soaking up positive vibrations that nourished every atom of my soul. When many people hear the word “ashram,” I often get starry-eyed glares of curiosity. “Is it anything like Julia Roberts’ experience in Eat, Pray, Love?!” they ask with excitement. I often have to break people’s hearts and tell them that in reality the ashram life is nothing of the sort. But, for me, this reality never fell short of the overly esoteric depictions of what they showed in the movies. In fact, it was better.
Spending countless summers in Kaivalyadhama was like spending time in a sanctuary—it was a place where people came for reflection, education, and healing. Unlike many ashrams in the world, Kaivalyadhama is unique in that it is a hodgepodge of interconnected departments that fuel its internal spirit. Okay, so pause. What does this mean in normal parlance exactly? Imagine a yoga village—a village equipped with everything you’d need to survive here while getting your yoga fix: multiple asana halls, dining halls, residential quarters, a library of over 35,000 books on yoga, a cold-pressed juice bar, a yoga science research center, a yoga college, medical yoga staff, ayurvedic massage therapy, oh, and forty-eight cows that provide the ashram with fresh, non-homogenized milk. While, on a daily basis, you can never count all the activities that go into making the place run, there are three main components of the ashram that make it, well, “it”: its yoga therapy center, its yoga college, and its scientific research department.
No doubt, yoga has been considered one of the best forms of alternative therapy, but what does this really mean? When people hear the word “therapy” they are often inclined to think of physical therapy or even the kind of therapy where you see a shrink. But the yoga therapy offered at the ashram is beyond such a categorization. Instead, it is an integrative therapy that involves physical and mental therapeutic factors. One needn’t think of it as a therapy to correct some sort of physical or mental ailment but rather a form of therapy to bring a person back in touch with the peace inside themselves. Each week, floods of visitors, everywhere from Mumbai to Moscow, take residence at the ashram for its special therapy program. This involves not only asanas for focusing on the body, but also breathing techniques for the mind, a farm fresh yogic diet, meditation sessions, and detoxification through massage therapy. What’s more, visitors are situated in a completely organic environment, surrounded by the stillness of the mountains, and free from the disturbances of Wi-Fi and cellular service. As I reminisce about all my experiences there, I can’t help but recall the bliss that exudes from the faces of the visitors I have seen time and time again.
The ashram also has a vibrant, youthful energy that beams through every corridor of its college building. The first college of yoga in the world, Kaivalyadhama offers specialized courses for up and coming generations to pursue a degree in yoga. These eager students add an unparalleled warmth to the campus, so much so that you can’t walk the entire campus without someone flashing a smile at you or a fresh young face quizzing you on what it’s like to live abroad. They are eager and engaging, but more importantly are a big part of the family that you have when you visit here—not just with their presence but also with their vitality.
The curiosity that lives in the hearts of the students is also found in one of the most interesting parts of the ashram—it’s scientific research center. Yoga and science you ask? Yes, it’s a thing!
The scientific research center deals with actual fundamental and applied aspects of research in yoga. In other words, we’re talking about a fully operational research facility that’s monitoring how things like your heart rate, blood pressure, memory, and perception are changing when you do certain postures and breathing practices. Real life subjects are tested over a series of weeks and months to see what sort of tangible effects yoga has on the mind and body. When you see ornate claims like “yoga is great for weight management!,” or “reduce your stress levels through yogic breathing,” it is claims like these that make their way into the department to test their veracity or prove that they’re simply just bologna marketing ploys to steal a hot buck or two.
To say the ashram is a place where people come simply to practice asanas would do it little justice as this is just one small piece of its pie. Rather, Kaivalyadhama is a place of holistic healing, where there is an emphasis on the scientific aspect of yoga and the power of education. But if the ashram is such a grand web of all these different interconnected parts, then what’s the best part? What’s the cherry on top? There’s gotta be one thing that’s better than the rest. I mean, no cake is really that great without icing, right? For me, this has never been, nor will it ever be, an actual thing. Rather, it is witnessing the internal transformation of each experiencer who has placed their foot here. To say you can be a part of someone’s effort to introspect, even as an observer, is like saying you’ve had your cake and you can eat it too.