Daily Dose — Yasodhara Ashram Celebrates 60 Years
Yasodhara Ashram, nestled on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake, turns 60 this year. Since its inception, the Ashram has been transforming lives and is one of the longest running yoga centers in North America.
“We have had sixty years in one place, a beautiful place,” says Yasodhara Ashram President Swami Lalitananda, who explains the Ashram is about fostering a “sustainable, compassionate way of life.
“Its purpose is to pass on spiritual teachings and create a refuge for people to find the divine in themselves.”
Ashram founder Swami Radha was one of the first Western women ever to become a Swami, and the Ashram continues to be women-led to this day.
After becoming a Swami in India and building followers in Vancouver, Swami Radha set out to find a home for an Ashram in Banff, but instead, stumbled upon an ad in a Calgary newspaper for property for sale in Crawford Bay. With no initial money and few resources, she built the Ashram over many years.
“She found this property that was abandoned for seven years, so it was in disrepair. She walked down to the beach and said she felt like she was returning to her homeland,” says Swami Lalitananda.
Current Ashram members value the contributions of their founder, says Swami Lalitananda.
“It was built on the dedication of Swami Radha and the few people around her. It’s created a good foundation for continuity for people to be here for 60 years.”
Swami Lalitananda started coming to the Ashram in 1980 and has been going back and forth since. She had a personal connection with Swami Radha and was her assistant and editor for the last seven years of the founder’s life.
The early years of the Ashram were about clearing land for a garden, building dwellings and trying to get people to start visiting, which, back then, was even harder to reach.
The Ashram is also unique in its lineage.
“We are a spiritual lineage that is passed through women. This is a bit unusual. We respect the divine feminine, including nature and the world,” says Swami Lalitananda.
Six decades after Swami Radha started the Ashram, hundreds of people continue to experience well-being and transformation every year from its on-site and online programs.
They are open to the public every Saturday until October at 2 pm for guided tours of the Ashram grounds, Temple, and gift store, often led by Dave Sullivan, 6-year Ashram team member and Ashram’s communications consultant. The suggested contribution for the tour is $10.
“We welcome people from the Nelson area to come to see us,” says Sullivan.
The Ashram is not currently open to the public at other times.
The Ashram offers a wide range of programming, from a no-fee karma yoga (work-study program), individual restorative retreats of 1-3 weeks, guided retreats, a 3-month yoga development course, and teacher certification programs. There is truly something for everyone.
The Ashram’s philosophy is embodied by the majestic Temple of Light, an award-winning
architectural wonder witnessed from the ferry crossing Kootenay Lake.
“This stunning piece of architecture will be inspiring to future generations. The temple has eight (8) doors, and I love how they symbolize welcoming people from all backgrounds and walks of life,” says Sullivan.
The Ashram’s original Temple, built by Swami Radha, burned down in 2014.
“Since then, we rebuilt. It has the same basic shape and ideas, but it’s the next evolution. It’s special because it’s so full of movement and light, it has a joyous feel. It represents that we’re inwardly focused but really care about the state of the world,” says Swami Lalitananda.
The Ashram is open to people eighteen and older, but they especially welcome young people.
“One of the most beautiful things about this community is it’s intergenerational,” says Sullivan. “We always love it when the younger generations can join us for our two-month karma yoga program. Young people learn how to work and give selflessly and learn about our programs through workshops. It can help shape the direction of young people’s lives.”
Accessibility is a key guiding value at the Ashram, and connecting with the community outside has been an important focus over the last several decades.
“We wanted to open it up to the local community so they feel at home here,” says Swami Lalitananda.
The pandemic seriously affected the Ashram.
“The pandemic shut us down; for the last three years, it’s been quiet. We had to revise how we do things. We’re just reopening fully now,” says Swami Lalitananda.
The Ashram is engaging in ongoing reconciliation work, says Swami Lalitananda.
“We advocate and stand with the Indigenous people and nations of our area, and so we’ve started an Indigenous bursary program where our guided retreats and longer courses are offered.”
They also have a Reconciliation Fund, so every guest that arrives at the Ashram contributes $25 in recognition of being on unceded territory. These funds are donated to three Indigenous organizations.
The Ashram extends gratitude to the broader community.
“The Kootenay community is such a wonderful place for us to have landed. Many people who have come settle down in the area, and we appreciate the support we get from people here,” says Swami Lalitananda.
The Ashram is just a five-minute drive from the Kootenay Bay ferry landing.
The Yasodhara Ashram is located at 527 Walker’s Landing Road, Kootenay Bay, B.C.