Yogendra, Columbia

Blog and photos from Jada Smith
Greetings from Yogendra!

If someone told me a year ago I’d be living at a yoga ashram in the middle of Colombia at this time in my life, I’d probably brush them off as insane. Upon finishing my senior year of high school, I was committed to what I thought was the university of my dreams, despite having never visited it. It was a little expensive but I was told it would be worth it. I would figure out my career interest sooner or later, plus receiving a degree from this school would pay off the gargantuan loans in a mere 15 years time. Totally worth it, right? I had the next four years of my life planned out, and from the outside, everything appeared a strand short of perfection.

Truth is I had no idea what I was doing and really, no idea what I wanted like most 18 year olds right out of high school. But I was too proud to admit that maybe this path wasn’t the right one for me. It was about 3 weeks before I was set to move into my new dorm, I finally broke down and confessed to my mom and boyfriend that I just couldn’t do it. I had no business going to school with no money, no major, and no real purpose in life. I didn’t know what the hell to do. In response, my boyfriend suggested Carpe Diem, a gap year program. Instead of sitting in lecture halls and partying to the break of dawn, he’d planned on stepping into a bigger classroom; the world’s classroom, traveling around Central and South america for the next 6 months. Initially, I thought he’d lost his mind. Though I had secretly always fantasized about traveling, growing up with just enough money to get by, I never thought it’d be possible for me. Plus I was conditioned to believe that if I ever took a year off of school, I’d never end up going.

But with no other options I reluctantly took his advice into account and looked into Carpe Diem, with no real intention of pursuing such an unfathomable journey.

About 2 months later I found myself stepping out of a plane in Entebbe, Uganda with 11 other strangers that I’d eventually know as life long friends. At the time I was terrified and homesick already. Before this trip the longest time I’d spent away from home was 11 days, there was no way I’d spend the next 3 months traveling around East Africa with these people.

Well, I did.

As I lay in a hammock reflecting on the past 6 months of my life over a view of on one side the bustling city of Cali, Colombia- known to many as the Salsa [dancing] capital of the world- and the other the lush rolling hills of the valley, I can’t help but question how my life would be if I’d never boarded that flight to Africa. It’s a thought that scares me.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve grown tremendously as an individual and member of greater society beyond comprehension. In my group semester, I made the beautiful discovery of my own worth; that I, like everyone else on this planet, had a voice that deserved to be heard. But that was only the beginning.

Since my time here at Yogendra, I’ve been learning how to use that voice in a way I’d never before thought I could. I’ve explored the art of holistic living through the practice of Yoga, learning how it’s more than just a couple stretches here and there. I’ve learned extensively how our physical bodies are so much more connected to our mental/emotional state than imaginable,and that really, most of our problems are a result of our inability to breath properly. Who would’ve thought that my nagging neck injury was connected to an past hamstring strain that stemmed from my lack of confidence in my own voice? I know tt sounds crazy, but I can assure you it’s true. If you really don’t believe me I’d be more than happy to explain. The yoga philosophy has taught me not only how to deepen my relationship with my inner self and other people, but also how to cultivate and live in balance with our environment. Before Yogendra I only understood on a surface level the importance of taking care of the environment and being kind to our earth. Now it is something I’ve realized to be a crucial part of everyday life. The food that we put into our body’s comes from the roots of the very ground we stand on. If we continue to neglect these roots and take from them without care or respect, not only will our bodies be filled with this same disregard but soon enough there will be no ground left.

The holistic permaculture approach is one of many beautiful things about Yogendra. The atmosphere and community of people coming from a wide array of different backgrounds is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s hard to believe I’ll have to say goodbye in a month’s time, it feels like just yesterday I was arriving. So intend to make the most out of the rest of my time here, so that when I do leave, I’ll look back on this experience and smile, even more ready for whatever it is that life has to throw at me.

That moment of realization that I was indeed, in the middle of Africa with no phone, no substances, and just myself and my big backpack was exactly 6 months ago from this very day. And without a doubt, my decision to stay and experience some of the best and worst moments of my life was undoubtedly the best decision I have and ever will make in my life. If I left Africa, I would have never made it here to Yogendra. Without Yogendra, I would have never learned that chronic illnesses/injuries are at their core, a result of unbalanced emotional health. Without traveling, I would’ve never experienced life outside of the bubble, the reality of life for 70 percent of the world’s population. I would have never cultivated these profound memories and relationships that will last a lifetime. And thanks to Carpe Diem, I can with pride say that I’ve gone beyond acknowledging life beyond social media and technology- I say typing on my computer- For the first time in my life that I can remember, I’m actually living it.