Stretching boundaries 

On a weekend getaway to a mountain ashram, you can lose and find yourself

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So this is what it feels like to dance clockwise around a fire that you've just finished throwing rice into, one mindful pinch at a time, for half an hour, twirling a red umbrella that you've reluctantly accepted from a smiling aspiring yogi.

Just go with it.

My feet, trying to match the beat of the guitars, bongos and harmonium, touch cold concrete inside a square, wooden fire temple with an open apex. I haven't danced like this since ... well, ever. Then again, I've never been on a weekend yoga retreat.

Courage, man. None of your friends or co-workers are here to point and laugh. And your girlfriend's the one who planned this trip. She can't jeer. Besides, she's stuck prancing around with a peacock-feathered hand fan. Who's laughing now?

The music fades out and we return to seated, cross-legged positions for a brief silent meditation. In my active mind, one thought remains in the forefront:

Next time, we're going backpacking.

Show me Shoshoni

The Shoshoni Yoga Retreat center lies in Rollinsville, about a half-hour west of Boulder. It's off Colorado Highway 119, and best accessed from the south by a scenic drive via Colorado Highways 93 and 72 out of Golden. Once a children's camp, the site became a residential ashram 20 years ago under the guidance of Sri Shambhavananda, offering Hatha yoga, Pranayama (breath work) and meditation instruction along with a few body treatments massage and the like.

A jolly, orange-clad version of Lord of the Rings' Gandalf, Shambhavananda occasionally appears, with a large grey beard and walking staff, at meals or meditations. But mostly, a small, friendly and multitalented staff of yoga practitioners handles the programming. Most teach yoga and meditation classes and play instruments during chanting while also cooking and laboring on the grounds.

Outside, acres of pine and aspen sprawl and climb. Wildflowers grow abundantly, hummingbirds zoom about unremittingly, and dense foliage creates cool shade spots. One gentle and one demanding hiking trail lead to different, dramatic overlooks, and a small pond offers canoeing that's slightly better than trying to swim in your own bathtub. (You end up paddling tight circles so as not to ping-pong from edge to edge; it's fun, but a tease for open waters.)

Accommodations range from private cabins, shared cabins and dorms to a stretch of forest ground for tent camping. The $60 to $180 per night includes three vegetarian meals, two yoga classes and two meditation classes all optional. The food is good, the ground solid (we camped), the yoga instruction proficient, and the meditation ... well, let's say it requires a lack of self-consciousness and dropping of ego. Though it includes recitation of the Guru Gita (a 182-verse Hindu scripture) as well as some Buddhist touches, it's ultimately aimed at self-realization, which makes it feel more like general spiritual practice than specific religious worship.

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Eight is great

On our second day at Shoshoni, a Sunday, I spent as much time between meals practicing yoga and doing physical activities as I usually spend behind my computer on an average work day: eight sweet hours.

By sundown, I counted two and a half hours of meditation, two hours of hiking, three hours of yoga and a half-hour of canoeing.

Having practiced mostly Iyengar yoga, on and off, for roughly eight years, I'm surely no beginner, but neither am I an expert. Shoshoni's Hatha classes cater to all levels, and on the whole are quite gentle, with poses held longer than the gym-style-workout flow yoga. The mandir (practice space) is unheated (as in, not Bikram style), plenty large and left me with only one grievance: trailer carpet.

Rather than the nice hardwood floors featured in both the dining hall and main temple, the mandir is carpeted with what feels like cheap material to which I discovered a strong personal aversion. (Likely from growing up with shag carpeting my least-favorite invention behind those clapper things that people bring to sporting events.)

When stretching a limb off to the side or dragging my nose down my mat, the last thing I want on my skin is bristly carpet. Given the grandiose, gorgeous temple and large Shiva, Ganesh, Brahma, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Krishna and Buddha statues (at least, I think that's the Who's Who) at Shoshoni, I can only imagine the carpet was a purposeful choice rather than a miser's touch. Like the red umbrella dance moment, it was just something I had to make peace with and incorporate into my "practice."

Rice burner

As for that fire ceremony that brought me out of my shell our first evening at Shoshoni, I later learned it's called yajna. One of the teachers told me that the ritual sacrifice is thousands of years old. The basic premise is to bring an offering (rice, in this case) to your heart while chanting repetitively and let it imbibe your baggage (karma, if you prefer) before tossing it in the fire.

That part, prior to the dancing, I rather enjoyed, though the blasphemer in me wanted to wisecrack about starving children in some country whose potential meal we were burning at the rate of a pinch every five seconds.

By departure time, Monday afternoon, I had reached no grand center of enlightenment. Nor had I naively expected to. The one thing I'd hoped to get out of Shoshoni, I did, which was simple escape and stress decompression. The weekend's constant activity had stripped away trivialities and left me focused in the moment, whether in a challenging Hatha pose or prancing about like a lost cast member from Singin' in the Rain.

At just more than two hours from Colorado Springs, Shoshoni makes a great destination for anyone who likes to spend $40 for a Prana T-shirt and use Sanskrit terms whenever possible. But it's also an enjoyable stopover for a fair-weather devotee like me.

In truth, I was glad to be on retreat rather than backpacking. Besides, just chucking rice into the fire sure beats waiting for water to boil at altitude to cook it.


Shoshoni Yoga Retreat
1400 Shoshoni Road,
303/642-0116, shoshoni.org


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