Creating an intentional community around yoga, meditation, and spiritual teaching is an undertaking that many have tried – to varying degrees of success. A few have managed to create sustainable and thriving endeavors, including Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in British Columbia, Canada. Being the sister center of Mount Madonna in California, USA, the center is organized around the teachings of Baba Hari Dass and has been growing slowly since 1981.
We spoke to Yogeshwar, who serves as a Board of Directors member, pujari, and yoga teacher at the center, to learn a little more about what makes Salt Spring thrive – and what brings people to live there.
For Yogeshwar, the path began in his early twenties. “One way I could look at it is being kind of from a sense of suffering, a sense of not pain or physical kind of things, I was in good health in that respect, but it really took that kind of dis-ease or the feeling of something not being quite right.”
His story is much like many others, who came upon meditation or yoga as part of a search for the elusive ‘something more’.
“I had done some traveling, and was exposed to some kind of philosophy – you know those heady college days in some ways. I had other experiences also, psychedelics were in the mix too. That kind of opened some things up and I think, first it kind of exacerbated that sense of ‘something isn’t quite right here’ glimpses of something else and a sense of the world I was in.”
After finding Mount Madonna and Salt Spring, Yogeshwar dove fully into the teachings of Baba Hari Dass and has become immersed in what it truly means to live in community. “From there it really opened up to the practice of yoga not just as asana, as posture, but as an all-encompassing path including meditation, self-inquiry, and it included service.”
Everyone who comes to stay at Salt Spring begins as a karma yogi – a way of immersing in the teachings and ethics of the community.
“That was one of the things I really appreciated about Baba Hari Dass or Babaji’s teachings, in that they were really opened the door to the complete transformation of identity. They offered something like awakening through opening, and yet at the same time, he was humble and not pushy, not asking me or anyone around him to turn into a monk right away, or give up all our possessions, or pledge undying loyalty to him.”
Still, the initial time as a volunteer serves as something of a screening process for those interested in becoming residents. This is an integral part of how Salt Spring has created an intentional pathway to residence – and theoretically at least, how they’ve cultivated a sustainable community. “Here, we are working with a graduated move into the community, for the folks who want to live here at least,” Yogeshwar shares
Understandably, they want to be sure people are committed to the core tenets of the community – and Babaji’s teachings.
“When you first show up, there is a certain amount of stuff that you are asked to make a commitment to. Everybody is going to flow with it in their own way, but to at least try out for a couple of months the pranayama meditation teachings that Babaji has given, to go to a couple of classes a week on theory and history and the guiding aims of the community, once a week to sit in circle together and talk about what’s up for us, maybe have a chance to dialogue about how it’s all going, what feels good, what is missing, etc.”
This creates a strong foundation and a shared sense of intentionality for all who come to live at Salt Spring.
“I think what the structure can be helpful for is giving people some sort of shared intention, some sense of ‘this is why we are all here’,” Yogeshwar reflects “Here's at least a few places where we can have agreements, we can all touch in on what we are doing and why and share those things. If there isn’t enough of that or if it gets too loose or is too open, I think what can often set in is a sense of purposelessness, why are we here? People lose the sense of why they are coming and taking part.”
At Salt Spring, in particular, the teachings at its center are a big reason why it's been thriving as long as it has. “Babaji never had as much of a utopian streak as maybe other teachers did, like Aurobindo or Yogananda, who put forth a more explosive vision for humankind. Babaji had often said when there is peace within there is harmony without.”
Put a big focus on doing the inner work, and the outer work of community will be much more harmonious.
“What I’ve seen, and others may see differences in his teachings, is that if people are doing the inner work, to a certain extent that helps to not necessarily give you all the answers per se, like ‘here is how we need to organize society and go forward’...or you know, this whole ideal vision of society. I think it does at least create the openness in the heart to hear other people, to have compassion, to approach life in the spirit of service and not just ‘what is in it for me’.”
Lay the groundwork of collective purpose and intention, do the inner work, let go of self-interest, and the rest, it seems, will follow.
Yogeshwar (Will) Humphrey served as the Operations Manager at the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga for two seasons (2017-2018), and he continues to teach and serve as a pujari there on a regular basis. He lives on Salt Spring Island with his wife Rebecca and teaches the practices and philosophy of yoga. Prior to coming to Salt Spring Island, Yogeshwar earned an MA in Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, with a thesis on Patañjali’s Yogasūtra. He also lived and worked at Mt. Madonna Center in California for about four years. Learn more about the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga.