Ever considered going to paradise for a vacation?
The Sivananda Ashram located on Paradise Island, Bahamas, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2018. I would dare to suggest there must be a reason for its longevity.
First, you must fly to Nassau, capital of the Bahamas. To get to Paradise Island, you must delve into the heart of Nassau and make your way to the end of Elizabeth Street. It’s a noisy part of town, what with two busy hospitals in the vicinity.
In this cacophony of noise, the landing to the ashram’s boat is easy to miss, but when we saw Krishna, a yogi from the ashram dressed in yellow—including a yellow baseball cap to protect his head from the searing sun—we knew we were one step closer to paradise.
In a jiffy, we crossed the water between Nassau and Paradise Island and were transported to another reality. Here we were, in a functioning ashram, much like in India, with Hindu temples, shrines, and areas for devotion and for yoga. The huge Royal Towers of Atlantis, a sprawling resort on the island, disappeared from view as we entered into the seclusion of the ashram grounds.
Oddly enough, Krishna asked us if we were “ready for our vacation,” which I thought was some kind of trick question. Within moments after our arrival, I understood.
Participants were on cellphones and many non-ashram attendees worked on the grounds. This is in stark contradiction to other ashrams where devotion to “living in the now” is stressed and where all manual work is done by ashram attendees.
Also unlike other ashrams, there’s a most beautiful, perfect beach that looks out into the endless Atlantic Ocean. When we found time to visit Paradise Beach, we were seduced time and time again by the genuine quietness of the area.
The ashram is “all-inclusive,” but with a difference. Yes, meals are included, but you clean off your own plate in pails near the kitchen. And no one cleans your room for you—that’s what the broom and dustpan in your room are for! Attendees can do volunteer work (referred to as “karma yoga”) in exchange for accommodation and meals.
Of course, the entire purpose of the ashram is to offer activities that will encourage your spiritual journey, and you should take that seriously—after all, you’ve come a long way just to be here.
Relaxed ashram routine
Sivananda Ashram offers a strict regime of satang and yoga lessons, starting at 6 a.m.
Two two-hour yoga classes take place daily with extremely qualified teachers who go out of their way to instruct you. The yoga platforms face the busy port of Nassau, but we were so concentrated on postures and breathing that these temporal distractions were barely noticed.
There are also new programs throughout the day. During our stay, Erin from Ottawa gave talks dealing with yoga and the nervous system. In her words, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” Even Deepak Chopra makes appearances here!
The atmosphere is very laissez-faire, very tolerant. I think the ashram has, as a result, strayed from its original purpose. Or perhaps it’s the stunning beach location—it’s hard to impose too many rules on a beach named Paradise! Heck, even our instructor forgot to show up for our last lesson.
On our final morning, all of the attendees went on a silent meditation walk along the beach. Just before sunrise, we walked mindfully toward the imposing monster of Atlantis, trying to ignore it and concentrate on nature, our breath, and our mantra.
Atlantis’s guests probably didn’t notice us, given the early hour. If they did, they might have been shocked, even frightened, by the mass of 100 attendees and yogic training teachers in yellow shirts led by a guru in a flowing yellow suit.
Meanwhile, we chanted as the sun rose, illuminating our faces. We contemplated what was real beauty in this most incongruous setting.
We were like an army of invading spiritual seekers, reminding ourselves and all who observed us that nothing was permanent, neither pain nor joy. Would Atlantis last forever? Are we not to avoid building castles on the sand?
Should you wish to return to reality, there are other all-inclusive resorts on Paradise Island. The Warwick Hotel has an excellent location near Cabbage Beach, fronting on Nassau harbour.
If you want to see how the wealthy vacationer spent time in the 1920s, head back to Nassau and visit the Graycliff Hotel, a colonial mansion built in 1740. Set in lush tropical gardens, the hotel has played host to luminaries like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Sir Winston Churchill, Aristotle Onassis, and The Beatles. The wine cellar, the third largest in the world, is where $100,000 bottles lie hidden, and upstairs, expert Cuban cigar rollers craft some of the best cigars in the world.
Sivananda Ashram: https://www.sivanandabahamas.org
Warwick Hotel: https://warwickhotels.com/paradise-island-bahamas/
Graycliff Hotel: http://www.graycliff.com
Islands of the Bahamas: https://www.bahamas.com/
Bruce Sach is a veteran travel writer based in Ottawa.