DESTINATION: SOUL SEARCH

With spring, it is the perfect time to take stock, take hold, forgive and then, plan ahead, all the while still being the moment. Tough task? You bet and Austinite Lynn Miller decided to do just that at The Ashram, near Los Angeles. What she learned, and learned about herself, will amaze you. 

BY LYNN MILLER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LYNN MILLER

Remember the old Whitney Houston song Where Do Broken Hearts Go? The song in which she ends up back in the arms of her lover?  My heart was breaking and the arms of my lover had gone far, far away.  So where, you ask, did I decide to take my broken heart? I took it to the Ashram for some New Age healing. And, none too soon.

I think of the Ashram and visions of Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love come to mind. The days of silence in the presence of your guru guiding you to inner peace.  And, in a short time I might feel at one with the Universe and before I know it, it is time to pop off to Bali and fall in love again. As if.

Goodbye, Julia Roberts. Hello, West-Coast style boot camp known as the Ashram near Calabasas, north of Los Angeles.  Established in 1974 by Catharina Hedberg and Anne-Marie Bennstrom, The Ashram has grown into one of the world’s most famous New Age boot camps. The likes of Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Dan Aykroyd and Amber Valleta are among the alumni of guests that return year after year to have their butts gently kicked. With good reason.  They go to grow like I did.

FORWARD MOTION

The Ashram is located in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu and the program consists mainly of daily hikes and healthy vegetarian meals. Getting back to the land. Every week 14 guests show up to go through the life-changing program that begins daily at 5:30 AM. Monday is aptly named Mellow Monday, although I’m not sure what is mellow about being awaked that early and then embarking upon a 10 mile (mostly up hill) hike. Even with the huffing and puffing, I can’t help but smile in the midst of this beautiful landscape and the sweeping views of the ocean. Two and a half hours in, we stop for a bathroom break at the only portable facility we will see all week; it is strictly bushes from here onward.  Then it is off for another half-hour climb, straight up hill before we get to stop for a snack that consists of coconut water, sliced apple dipped in sea salt and slices of banana.

At the end of the hike we are cold, sore and famished. The van climbs the winding road back to the Ashram where we are met with lunch at the communal table. It is a salad topped with beet and sunflower pate’. I am guessing if it is called pate’, it must be good and so, I dive in. All of the flavors seem to explode in my mouth and I cannot seem to get enough of this salad. The reds and greens and yellows of it looks as good as it tastes. All the food here is vegetarian and most comes from the organic garden on the property. Portions are small, yet somehow it is enough to sustain you and give you the energy needed for the next days 10 mile hike and classes that follow.

After lunch there is a bit of free time. Our group consists of two best friends from Connecticut. A wealthy businessman from Miami. An enthusiastic young man from Texas that was sent by his parents. Another wealthy businessman from Dallas and two athletic divorcees from Northern California. Along with several returning clients who would count this visit as number 12 or 13; they can’t seem to get enough of this place and the wonderful staff who run it.  Add to the list me and my broken heart and you’ve got 14 people sharing eight rooms and four bathrooms. This is like camp for grown-ups. Most people share the minimal, clean and comfortable rooms (there’s nothing spa-like or posh about this place) although, there are a few single rooms and they are handed out on a first come, first serve basis.

Some of the guests will relax their weary muscles in the hot tub on the patio, or perhaps, opt for a shower and a power nap before the first class of the afternoon begins. There is yoga, a barre class, TRX and strength training as well as a much-needed afternoon massage. It is the massages, along with the classes, that put my body back together each afternoon and readied me for the next day’s big hike.

UNPLUGGED PARADISE

The rules clearly state there are no cell phones, computers or electronics to be used in the common areas and most of the guests seem to respect this rule and find a quiet place outside with reception to connect to the outside world from time to time. For me, it is a blessing that reception is limited and the use of electronics is discouraged. I came to get away from the buzz of the outside world and focus on healing my broken heart and finding a much-needed new perspective on life.  I needed to look inward and quiet my mind and the Ashram provided just that.

The Ashram offers a fresh perspective on healthy living, good clean food and exercise, but it also inspires a new perspective mentally. They hug me when needed and pamper my soul in a way that will allow me to reach out to the Universe with what I really want from life.

The staff at the Ashram is encouraging and this is not just a job for them, it is a way of life. They care about the guests and want to see us succeed. Cat, the founder, in particular, is incredible. She really cares and gives everyone her attention. She is filled with positive energy and insight and makes each person feel special and at home.

What I lost in one week at the Ashram, was 17 inches and 2lbs. Others lost as much as 12 lbs. and 24 inches. What I gained, which was much more valuable, was a clearer perspective on eating healthy and taking care of myself. That I am actually capable of hiking 10 miles a day and that it is ok to be in the back sometimes. The view is wonderful, I still get where I am going, and I truly had time to spend with myself along the way. I have learned that my heart may get broken again, yet in order to find true love we all have to be willing to put ourselves out there in the first place, sometimes again and again and again.

While I may not be back in the arms of my lover, like Houston ended up in her song, I have found my way home and I am looking forward to the journey ahead, thanks to a new found perspective at the Ashram.

The Basics: A week at the Ashram costs $4,800 and includes all meals, activities and massages. Single rooms can be requested, but most share accommodations. The Ashram typically books six months in advance but it’s worth putting yourself on the waitlist, in case of a cancellation.

When to Go: Spring or fall is best, considering the long daily hikes in the Santa Monica Mountains.  Avoiding the hot summer months is advisable.

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