Kashi Atlanta: Urban Yoga Ashram
Many Ways To Go Deeperby Diane Eaton
Nestled in the heart of Atlanta’s bustling cityscape resides an oasis of calm, a resource for spiritual nourishment, and something of a mecca for all things yoga.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Kashi Atlanta is an interfaith spiritual community that attracts people of all beliefs to its extensive array of yoga classes, events and opportunities to serve the greater community. It is open for meditation throughout the day and has something for virtually everyone, from yoga newbies to well-seasoned practitioners and teachers.
The ashram’s founder and spiritual director, Swami Jaya Devi Bhagavati, E-RYT 500, is an award-winning yoga instructor, an author and a sannyasin—a monk committed to a life of service—in the lineage of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati and Baba Neem Karoli. She leads immersion classes, meets with individuals and is the heart and soul of the ashram.
“When you’re with her, you feel her love and it ignites something within yourself,” says Jaya Das, executive director of the ashram. “And that starts to free everyone around her to be themselves, to love and to be loved.”
At the core of the lineage teachings is the message to “feed everyone;” The principle manifests itself quite profoundly through the members’ unceasing efforts to practice seva, or selfless service, through their public programs and community-service activities.
The urban ashram’s ever-evolving array of yoga classes and culturally relevant workshops and events are well attended by the community.
For the advanced set, the ashram offers ongoing teacher-training courses that have graduated more than 150 Yoga Alliance-registered teachers at the 200-hour level.
For those who want to immerse themselves more fully into a yogic lifestyle, Kashi provides guest housing for stays from two days to two months. It also houses 14 full-time residents—men, women and children—who live within walking distance of the ashram. Residents, or “monks,” strive to follow yogic ethical guidelines, engage in conscious conflict resolution and live with a focus on devotion and surrender.
A core group of devoted members and residents manage the ashram organization and produce the programs it offers to the public and its members. They form the foundation of the intentional community of people seeking healing, balance and spiritual awakening through a conscious lifestyle. Working and often living together as a community of spiritual seekers, they study closely with Swami Jaya Devi.
“We’re interacting in a namaste fashion,” says Jaya Das. “It almost becomes automatic after a while to see people and instantly connect with the soul in them that is one with the soul in you. We’re all committed to our spiritual growth.”
For many, the feeling of community is tangible. “Even for those people who come once a week, there’s a feeling you get here, a feeling of connection. You know you're in a place where it’s safe enough to relax, be yourself and look at yourself.”
Kashi organizers insist on providing offerings that are relevant to people of all walks of life and that fit the current mood of our culture.
“Today’s social anxiety makes people really hungry for learning and healing,” says Agni Ma, director of yoga programs for the ashram. “As the chaos gets greater, people’s yearning for depth, peace and love get stronger.” Class offerings extend far beyond classic yoga and meditation classes to include problem-specific courses such as Yoga for Addictions, Yoga for Caregivers, Mindful Eating, Mantra Group, Yoga Boot Camp and more.
On the lighter side, a Movie Night is offered every month for people to enjoy connections, community and entertainment.
Inspired by their guru’s directive of selfless service, it’s no surprise that Kashi’s community-service activities reach far and wide into the Atlanta community. Its KidsArt program brings volunteers to work with kids at local hospitals. The Ma’s Street Meals program sets up community members to prepare and serve lunch to the homeless, delivering love and kindness as they do.
There’s more. The Kashi Care Team helps the catastrophically ill by running errands, preparing and serving meals, and providing all sorts of support. The ashram’s Jail Yoga program brings yoga instruction to women, men and even youths in juvenile detention centers. Most recently, a few ashram members began teaching yoga and meditation to firefighters and employees of the city of Atlanta.
In fact, the center’s very presence in the center of Atlanta’s sprawling urban metropolis fits right into its ethos of service.
“It’s important in terms of the service work we do to have that kind of a presence,” says Agni Ma. “People living an urban lifestyle can feel the peace, calmness and wholeness and take it with them and feel it in their lives, doing what they do, even driving in traffic. It’s not a vacation here. It’s better.”
Service, of course, is also a benefit to the one giving it.
“When you help someone, it is literally not about you at all. The ‘me-me-me’ mind, which is typically the unworthy mind, is put on hold for a little bit, and all of a sudden you find yourself freed up, happier and lighter.”
Image: Kashi Atlanta