Thursday, January 24, 2008

Real Life: Mount Madonna Center

"There's this place..."

That's how I always start my description of Mount Madonna Center. If it sounds mysterious, it is...and it isn't.

Almost 30 years ago, a small group of hippies wanted to start a commune together so they could "escape" normal American life. They lived in Santa Cruz and had started learning about Yoga. Their teacher was a small Indian man with fire in his eyes and dreadlocks down to his toes. His name was Baba Hari Dass and he came from Northern India. There was one very distinctive thing about this man...he didn't speak...ever! He had taken a vow of silence in 1952 and had not spoken since. He used a small chalkboard hung around his neck to communicate. Babaji also showed them amazing asanas & breathing exercises, shared Yoga philosophy and traditional stories - the Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, etc., and taught them about Karma Yoga - union through action...or selfless service.

So, these hippies had been learning about Yoga from this man and they decided they wanted to hide out in the forest and practice Yoga all the time. The teacher encouraged them to find land to build this commune, and they did. They bought a 355 acre parcel with one tiny building on it and moved in. Now, the teacher had different plans for them...they were not to hide out from the world on the mountaintop. Rather, they would invite people from all walks of life to come to the land and learn Yoga too! Oh hiding? no escape? What had they gotten themselves into?

Nearly 30 years later, those same hippies are still there - inviting people from all walks of life to come to the land and learn about Yoga. Sure, most of them have cut their hair, donned American clothes, and some have TVs prominently displayed in their living room, but they are still the same Yoga-loving hippies at heart. The "land" has become a busy place - with over 100 year-round residents, plus about 50 visitors a day, plus between 20 and 400 retreat guests a day, plus 5 dogs, 10 cats, and 2 sheep...there's a lot going on here! There is also a private school, Mount Madonna School, for K - 12 grade that is renowned for it's unique curriculum, successful students, and beautiful campus nestled in the redwoods. The purpose of the land is to "live Yoga". To take it from theory - words on a page, postures, philosophies, ancient stories - to practice - serving healthy food, sweeping the sidewalks, doing the dishes (again!) for thousands of guests, and genuinely caring for each other and every person who visits...this is Real Life Real Yoga.

Whenever I return, I see faces that are like family to me. Hugs and smiles all around. Though I haven't lived there in 3 years, I feel that I've never's like returning home.

There's this place...

...where people are friendly, caring, honest, and very busy holding a peaceful space in this hectic world. Next time you need a little rejuvenation or a reminder of how Yoga translates into real life, head on up to the land - they'll be glad to see you.

1 comment:

eganvay said...


I often hear from students looking to "escape" normal American life.

I think our practice can begin like this, but eventually we have to take our yoga out there, out of the ashram and share it with others as Seva.

I'm trying... it's so nice to live in peace at Ashram, takes much more practice to live in peace "out there"

thanks for your beautiful website.