Thanksgiving Yoga and Vedanta Spiritual Retreat

 by Sharmila and Mahindra Bisram

At a time when most of us indulge in the bounty of the Thanksgiving feast and then get ourselves ready for the shopping frenzy, about 25 devotees of Shri Surya Narayan had something entirely different on their minds.   These dedicated individuals gorged themselves on the knowledge contained in the Taittiriya Upanishad, Yoga, Meditation, and Pranayam by attending the first Yoga and Vedanta Spiritual Retreat at Shri Surya Narayan Mandir held during the Thanksgiving weekend of November 25th – 27th, 2011.      

This retreat envisioned as a spa for the soul was unique in many ways, and it called for tremendous dedication from the attendees, as well as Guruji (Pt. Ram Hardowar) and Guruma (Radhaji Hardowar).  From the starting time of 5 AM each day, to the ending time of 7 PM, the days were filled with many activities to educate the attendees, provide them with knowledge, and ways to improve their lives.   

The retreat starts in the stillness of the early morning, at the most auspicious time of Brahma Muhurta. In absolute silence the devotees in attendance joined Guruji in performing a complete and detailed Abhishekam to Surya Bhagawan which was followed by Havan. After the Havan, the devotees would gather for an hour of calming and soothing meditation under the guidance of Guruma. The setting could not have been better.  It was just about dawn when the devotees closed their eyes and were lead into meditation by the soft soothing voice of Guruma.  At the end of this session the attendees all stood and faced the windows and performed Surya Namaskar as Surya Narayan Bhagwan himself rises above the horizon and showered them with his brilliant rays of sunshine.  It was a most beautiful experience and one must be present to understand the joy of it all.
After the early morning activities were completed, it was time for a light and healthy breakfast.  Following one of the themes of the spiritual retreat a healthy breakfast of fruits, cereals & milk, and fruit bars was served.  It was reiterated many times throughout the retreat that healthy and nourishing food should be eaten in moderation.
Following meditation and a healthy breakfast everyone was in a relaxed mood and ready to receive the teachings from the Taittiriya Upanishad.  This Upanishad was the first one that Shankaracharyaji commented on, and following this example Guruji decided to share the wisdom contained in it with those who attended the first spiritual retreat at Surya Mandir. In a detailed manner though out the three days Guruji read and chanted the mantras and verses contained in the Taittiriya Upanishad. The attendees would then repeat the verses which were followed by a detailed explanation by Guruji.
After indulging in 2 hours of much needed knowledge from the Taittiriya Upanishad the attendees were then introduced to the practice of yoga by Guruma. Starting with the origins of yoga and its benefits, the session moved on to a few asana. This revitalizing session was then followed with a satvik lunch and some personal time.   
After the break, the devotees gather for another session of valuable knowledge from the Upanishad.  Guruji utilized his vast knowledge of Hinduism and our Shastras to explain the teachings contained in this Upanishad. Guruji as always spent a great amount of time preparing for this retreat and did an excellent job bringing out the essence of the Upanishad in such a limited timeframe. In his usual manner he explained the material in a way that all the attendees were able to understand. These sessions were filled with information on how we should live our daily lives and it left everyone wanting to know and learn more.
The day moved along with a session on Pranayam or breathing techniques taught by Guruma.  Guruma, an expert yoga instructor exceeded all expectations with her vast knowledge of Yoga and Meditation.  She expertly demonstrated many asanas and breathing techniques along with their tremendous benefits. All attendees were encouraged to incorporate yoga and meditation in their daily lives. Following this session all the devotees join in a concluding evening aaratie.

The days usually end with a very delicious, catered dinner, consisting of a variety of Indian dishes and dessert.  Dinner was also a very satvik affair and all foods were prepared with no onion and garlic as prescribed in our Shastras. All attendees would gathered in the dining room and enjoy their sumptuous meal as they re-cap the day’s activities and have any of their questions answered by Pt. Ram and Radhaji Hardowar. Being at Mandir all day away from the daily hustle and bustle of their daily lives was a blessing to the attendees.  Being in this serene environment was very conducive to learning as well.

Everyone who attended the retreat said it was wonderful and the best way they could have spent the Thanksgiving weekend.  “It was a most beautiful and rejuvenating weekend, certainly the best vacation I’ve ever had. I can’t wait for the next one” said one attendee.  “It was awesome and spectacular and exceeded all expectations.  I never realized the vastness of Hinduism and Brahaman.   This retreat left me wanting to learn and know more” stated another.   One of the younger devotees stated that “Pt. Ram did an outstanding job in explaining the Taittiriya Upanishad.  He started off with a general overview of Hinduism and Vedanta. This really helped me to understand the material.”  

A week after the retreat I ask a few attendees if they are practicing anything taught to them at the retreat and many said that they started to eat healthier and smaller portion.  Some started doing daily Pranayam and early morning meditation.   The overwhelming response was that this retreat was so informative that it left them wanting to learn more about Hinduism and their culture. Many expressed the fact that they were doing more reading about Hinduism as well.  Everyone I spoke to is eagerly awaiting the next retreat.    

As you can see it really was ‘Thanksgiving’ at the first ever Yoga and Vedanta Spiritual Retreat at Shri Surya Narayan Mandir in the truest sense of the word.   All in attendance partake freely in the knowledge and wisdom of Pandit Ram and Radhaji Hardowar.    
Everyone who attended the retreat would sincerely like to thank our Spiritual leader Guruji, Pandit Ram Hardowar and Guruma, Radhaji Hardowar for giving up their holiday weekend and to share their knowledge so freely with them.