What do you do on an uneventful Saturday morning in the last June before you go to college? You and your La Vidas v2.0 recruit a friend, get in the car, and drive the forty minutes from Charlottesville to Yogaville.
Yogaville is located just outside Scottsville (we Virginians do love our ‘ville’s, don’t we?). This tiny town—and I use the term loosely, as I believe only a hundred(-ish?) denizens live there full-time—is dedicated to the physical and spiritual practice of yoga. I had only a passing, borderline-morbid fascination with Yogaville—and yoga itself—as I threw together the plans for this journey, so I quite honestly had no idea what to expect as we traveled down the main road, almost imperceptibly gaining altitude as we hurtled along through the central Virginia countryside. We almost missed the turn through the sheets of dust billowing from under the car’s wheels—braking sharply, we turned and stared. After forty uninterrupted miles of alternating woods and fields punctuated only by small, unobtrusive churches and stores, we were confronted by an enormous, pastel-pink arch. I found myself reminded strongly of a Sleeping Beauty birthday candle stuck into a loaf of whole wheat bread.
As we passed, shaken but undaunted, through the arch, the speed limit ticked abruptly down: after the 55 mph-zone and bright sunshine of the main road, we found ourselves peering along a wooded, one-way and perfectly paved path. We were directed by various signage to “ENTER”, as well as to decrease our speed to 10 mph—and then, after a particularly sharp turn, to 5 mph. And now it was quite clear that we were climbing into the mountains.
A few more turns—a few more held-breath moments—and we came upon it at last: the LOTUS shrine. If the entrance arch’s appearance amid its surroundings was striking, the shrine’s was garish. An immense field, constrained at its 90-degree angle corners by a barbed wire fence, stretched to the edges of a lake of similarly perfect geometric proportions. The massive pink LOTUS shrine, situated just before the lake and shored up on three sides by the Blue Ridge Mountains, beamed at us across a parking lot of the kind typically found in front of a Kroger. With no desire to change our state of willful ignorance by paying homage to the visitor’s center, we plunged straight for the shrine, passing several fountains and pairs of stone elephants.
We removed our shoes. Upon entering the completely dark and dome-roofed room upstairs, we discovered three women sitting in silent meditation; not wanting to disturb them—or the silence of the room itself—we hastened downstairs. The first floor of the shrine was comprised of a series of brief displays summarizing the major religions of the world: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and others. Quite alarmingly, “African” religions were all lumped together indiscriminately, as were “American Indian” religions. I chose to interpret the display to mean that the shrine does not intend to provide a conclusive catalogue of all religions that may be worshipped within its walls, but rather gives a sample: I would like to think that Yogaville intends to say “here are just a few of the religions we appreciate” rather than “here are the only religions we appreciate”.
This is a place surrounded by a peaceful, silent, truly wild mountainous Scottsvillian backyard, simultaneously inundated with commonplace construction work and the ever-present swirling red Virginia clay dust, and all these impressions are broiled thoroughly together by a lancing summer sun. The effect on the unwary, dispassionate traveller is not entirely good and not entirely bad, but distinctly eerie. Yogaville, for better or worse, is a powerful place, and I, for one, was touched by it.
Besides, my mom did one of the first scientific studies of the effects of yoga–the activity itself– and found only positive results. It should come as no surprise that yoga is entirely healthy and beneficial!