Updated: 2 days ago
As we are currently grounded from travel, now is a good time to re-evaluate old fripperies, gewgaw goals, silly intentions and flippant attitudes toward proper travel planning. It is also a good time to look back at old posts; improve, edit, re-write and apply techniques learned from my recent blogging course. In review, I found an old post that I started, but like most of the books on my shelf, never deemed to finish.
The Art of Living Foundation is an international non-profit humanitarian project. Guruder Sri Sri Ravi Shanker is the founder and spiritual leader of Art of Living. He espouses a stress-free, violence-free world achievable through meditation and human kindness.
Stress Free? Does he also espouse over-priced breakfast foods and canned spinach?
Our week at the Art of Living Centre was not stress-free, though we managed to keep ourselves non-violent. This was a while ago, and I am sure that a lot of outside factors contributed to our lack of enthusiasm about our first trip to an ashram or wellness retreat centre. As my memory is muddled, Phyl and I are writing this post together. My recollections are written in standard print, while Phyl's riposte is italicised.
*In August, 2017, Phyl, sister and food editor, suggested we meet up at the Art of Living Centre in Boone, North Carolina. We were both interested in an ashram-type experience, though neither of us was interested enough to do this in India. Phyl had read an article in her local paper about the centre and thought it might be a good first experience for us both.
The Art of Living Centre in beautiful Boone, North Carolina is set on 380 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A more beautiful location would be hard-pressed to find except that I had assumed that we would be in the middle of nowhere, and this is not the case.
There are a lot of private homes, farms and businesses encroaching the property, and town is a mere five minute drive away. While initially disapointed, this proved to us a benefit.
The campus is an odd mixture of Indian architecture combined with remnants of an old ski lodge. They advertise different standards of accommodation including villas and rooms at the spa. Though our room was a comfort en-suite and we did have a TV we swore to never watch, 'freshman dorm' could still be an adequate description of our room. Saying that, the room was clean and comfortable. The service providers, extremely friendly. There was a tea and water bar in the lobby of our building, and a kettle in the room. As far as ashrams go, I'm sure this is five-star.
Guests can book into the Art of Living for one of their events, retreats or for individual stays. Our visit with them landed between two events, leaving the property rather empty of guests.
This definitely impacted our stay as we often found ourselves alone. I imagine that the centre comes to life when there is an event on, and I would fully recommend booking a visit for a specific event. The classes on offer were sparse and lightly attended.
For me that was a bit of a plus.
The dining hall was largely empty when we attended meals and the food was not as fresh as we were expecting. It smacked a bit of a ghost town.
Thats it? That is all you are going to say about the food? Or, should I say, the mush.
We wanted the spiritual uplift of an ashram agreed, but we were both really interested in a total vegetarian diet as all previous attempts had failed. We thought this would be a great opportunity to get more diverse and interesting recipes, accepting that curry might be the main fare. Hey! I like curry! OMG....it was shite. Nothing was fresh, everything looked like freezer spinach and the only recourse was to load up on carbs. We did not buy the breakfast plan which was $20 a meal consisting of Cheerios, granola and yogurt. Im not a big breakfast eater but I know Im not paying $20 for cereal. Remember we headed down the mountain and stocked up on fruit and energy bars, resisting the urge to buy wine and chips. That is saying a lot about our character!
We participated in meditation sessions, yoga, and spent time at the pottery studio. We wandered the labyrinth but did not experience a fire circle or a Kirtan (chanting) session. I do not remember if these were not available during our visit, or we were to afraid to participate. Either could have been true.
No way! If they were available, we would have done it because you insist on doing every bloody thing on an activity menu. If they had walking on hot embers we would have done it and I would still be bitching.
We spent a lot of our time on dead-end hiking trails, mulling over the spa menu, reading classic novellas (PG Wodehouse, Poe, Fitzgerald ect. ), hiding from Lyme Disease-infested deer and self congratulating our TV abstinence. Mostly we spent a lot of time talking in whispers as we were never sure if this was actually a silent retreat. It was pretty quiet.
I enjoyed the meditation sessions we attended because I actually learned tricks to meditate instead of making grocery lists . The pottery was fun because I’m a beginning potter so it felt good to get dirty. The yoga classes worked well for me as they were small and the teacher wasn’t a stickler for form so I basically laid there and hummed.
The Shankara Ayurveda Spa provides Ayurveda retreats to bring people closer to an Ayurvedic lifestyle. They dive deep into the experience of Ayurveda through hands-on methods, Ayurveda treatments and personal consultations.
The spa facilities were clean and comfortable but not plush. I enjoyed the Shirodhara Relaxation Therapy. Because of the profound effects this treatment has upon the consciousness, it is often called 'Bliss Therapy'.
Shirodhara is the continuous pouring of warm oil in a slow steady stream on the forehead. This helps pacify the subtle aspects of the doshas: it nourishes the nervous system, promotes relaxation and tranquility, and improves mental clarity.
The spa was the second best thing of the week, after time spent with you. We had both been into reading about the practice of an Ayurveda lifestyle. Well, we bought a lot of books anyway. I enjoyed a Shankara Signature massage and the Abhyanga Detox Warm Oil massage. The warm oil massage is bliss! This is a constant pouring of the oil over the muscles with a medium pressure massage. So wonderful. Clean up was rough as you end up slippery, but well worth it.
Looking at the Shankara Ayurveda Spa section of the website, and their menu now, it looks very different than when we were there. In hind site, I wish that we had stayed at and focused on the Spa at the Art of Living. It would have been very interesting to learn about and enjoy the Ayurvedic process.
In 2017, I avoided the American South as much as possible and I judged the entire state of NC based on their restroom policy alone (The 'Bathroom Bill' preventing transgender people from using the bathroom of their gender identity was repealed in 2019). Plus I really enjoy annoying my sister. If I was going to spend my holiday at an Indian ashram in the middle of North Carolina, I was most definitely going to see how far I could push her nerves with a faux-southern accent. We needed to find a 'swimming hole'.
In fairness I thought this was a chemically induced speech impediment.
North Carolina is well known for it's natural beauty. Mountains feed lakes that feed rivers that are perfect, colloquially named, 'swimming holes'. And it was my Boone goal to find these holes, and jump off of rocks. At first opportunity we left our hill-top retreat and drove to the town's information centre to secure a map and locate the best local hole. Un-expectantly, we failed to secure swimming hole information at the information centre. It seemed no one in Boone knew Boone was famous for 'swimming holes'!
After a few more attempts, we finally found a tourist map. Phyl located the only main road out of Boone (rendering the map immediately redundant) and in the direction of Bass Lake.
Phyl and I managed to find zero of said lakes. Of course, we are the traveling pair that went to hike Mount Snowden in Wales and could not find the mountain.
Beth, we barely found Wales. Cache tarw.
With 45 minutes until our booked pottery class we finally found a small stream. It was clean and beautiful so we donned our swim suits.
We hurtled ourselves off the riverbank and crashed into 32F rapidly trickling water. Only two inches deep, the gurgling water barely covered the jagged rocks of the river bed. Anti-climatic? Even our shins didn't get wet.
The river was too shallow to swim, too jagged to walk, cold and swiftly moving. The rushing water reminded me why I don't travel too far from home without a bathroom backup plan. Phyl is much cooler than I.
Yes, actually, I am much cooler.
After two hours spent searching for a swimming hole, we managed five minutes in the water. And I really needed a pee.
This would be a good place to end this post, but the best part of this vacation was leaving! We checked out as early as we could rouse ourselves, leaving the car running as we grabbed some trinkets and paid the bill. The winding road with hairpin turns did not deter us from racing away from the mountain and straight into the drive thru at McDonald’s. STARVING! I'm not the biggest McDuck fan, but never ever has an egg McMuffin tasted so good. It was hot, fresh, and most importantly for me, not curry. I've never drank a cup of steaming hot coffee so fast. I laugh at the 'I'm Hot' warning! Dim cache (more Welsh)!
You certainly have learned how to use Google Translate! I also remember Flaming Hot Cheeto-coated mozzarella balls and extra large root beers from Burger King. Perhaps this was not the same breakfast. Perhaps it was.
To be honest, we may have expected too much from the Art of Living Centre.
It is an ashram after all, and in reality (the only ashram reality I know is Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love), it was a very nice experience (Not once were we required to clean the floor, as her character was in Eat Pray Love).
*Looking at the Art of Living website now, they have far more on offer than when we went. I would suggest joining a specific event or retreat. I think the place would hum a little sweeter with more people in attendance. One thing learned from quarantine; even if you are searching for self-reflection, alone-time, silence or quiet meditation, it far nicer to do it with other people around.
The best part of this trip was Phyl and I spending time together. No wait, the best part of the trip was listening to Phyl bitch about the curry.
As I recall, you weren’t much of a fan of the curry either. Off the high horse and into the trough...
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