“The only way to experience true wellbeing is to turn inward. This is what yoga means — not up, not out, but in. The only way out is in.” — Sadhguru

Author of The New York Times best seller Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is a poet, accomplished chef, philanthropist and considered one of India’s most influential people. He has spoken at the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000 and several World Economic Forums among a host of other influential global events. This contemporary mystic founded the Isha Institute of Inner-Sciences in 1992 and recently founded his Western hub in McMinnville, Tennessee. Folks from around the globe flock to this idyllic Upper Cumberland retreat center on their personal journey’s toward peace.

Welcome to Isha Inner-Sciences in McMinnville, TN. Image: TN Tourism

Welcome to Isha Institute of Inner-Sciences in McMinnville, TN. Image: TN Tourism

My personal journey started years ago when I was in my 20s with a full-day yoga workshop. It wasn’t long until Urdhva Dhanurasana required reaching my navel to the sky, my head was practically between my legs in Paschimottanasana, and the occasional attempt at Tittibhasana? Well, let’s just say I’ve blackened a few body parts over the past couple of decades.

That was then, and this is now.

When I headed for free yoga day at the Isha Institute of Inner-Sciences, the notion of centeredness and inner well-being won over the perfect asana. In fact, my postures hardly earned even a mere mention that day.

Heading up Highway 55 through the town of McMinnville, the Cumberland Plateau offers respite from daily life. Off to the right, just shy of Van Buren County, the gates to Isha open to a whole new sense of peace.

The Cumberland Plateau offers some of the most peaceful views the South has to offer.

The Cumberland Plateau offers some of the most peaceful views the South has to offer.

There are several structures nestled in this 1000+ acre wooded Ashram. Full-time resident Jordan Funk explains that this consecrated space is run completely by volunteers and that Isha is a non-profit institute funded by donations. As we walk beyond the welcome center, he points to the large copper-domed building known as Mahima, meaning grace. A 39,000-square-foot, free-spanning space, it is the only one of its kind in the Western hemisphere, and it’s meant for self-transformation through its energy. It is here where I first learned to leave my preconceived notions of what yoga looks like at the door, along with my cell phone and any other distractions. “We want you to walk away from today’s sessions with tools for wellbeing to practice in your everyday life,” Jordan says in the most calming tone.

A 39,000-square-foot, free-spanning space, the Mahima is the only one of its kind in the Western hemisphere, and it's meant for self-transformation through its energy.

A 39,000-square-foot, free-spanning space, the Mahima is the only one of its kind in the Western hemisphere, and it’s meant for self-transformation through its energy.

I’m led through a series of breathing and other introductory yoga called UPA Yoga meant to relieve stress and boost energy. This wasn’t at all what I’m accustomed to from my studio classes. In fact, there were a few times where I found myself questioning the sequence. “When are we going to finally get into our first downward dog?” my inpatient mind wondered. The motions Jordan led our group through felt awkward and foreign, but soon calmed my restlessness, as I surrendered to the practice. (Go to isha.sadhguru.org/5-min-practices to access a video session and receive further information and guidance regarding this practice.)

Participants in Free Yoga Day enjoy the benefits of this ancient practice.

Participants in Free Yoga Day enjoy the benefits of this ancient practice.

Free yoga in the fall? There's perhaps nothing more cathartic.

Free yoga in the fall? There’s perhaps nothing more cathartic.

UPA class is recommended to be taken on an empty/light stomach. So, when Jordan suggested we head for the dining hall, I quickly slipped my shoes back on to join him. Aromatic spices and cooling herbs permeated the air as we approached the entrance. The sign on the door asked that we dine in silence. Luckily, this rule isn’t enforced on free yoga days, as I had plenty of questions. Devouring a well-balanced vegetarian meal of curry, rice, raw peanuts, raw beet salad and bananas, I also sipped on Isha’s house lemonade as Funk explained Sadhguru’s yogic way of eating for peak health and performance. He suggested I take the healthy cooking class later that afternoon that provided highly pranic (energy healing) recipes designed by Sadhguru to support liveliness of the body and an alert, peaceful mind.

SB TIP: Vegetarian lunch and dinner are offered seven days a week for anyone who wishes to dine at Isha, locals included. Cost is $10 per adult and $5 per child (age 7-13), payable at the Welcome Center desk when you check in.

Fresh flavors abound at Isha.

Fresh flavors abound at Isha.

How's that for dining with a view!

How’s that for dining with a view?!

After lunch, a guided meditation known as Isha Kriya intended as a “simple and powerful meditation for clarity, health and joy” is when I felt as though I was finding my groove. Still, it was the NADA Yoga: The Yoga of Sound where it all came together. Our hour of Om resonated throughout Mahima and presented a unifying feeling where a group of people from varying cultures and backgrounds begin to reside on the same note of clarity. “When practiced daily, this simple meditation can strengthen one’s physical and mental constitution and bring about tremendous balance and wellbeing,” notes Sadhguru during his video instruction. I have used this practice since my time at Mahima and can attest to the fact that this one simple act can sure “fix my wagon” in 11 minutes flat.

“When practiced daily, this simple meditation can strengthen one’s physical and mental constitution and bring about tremendous balance and wellbeing,” notes Sadhguru.

Sadhguru refers to trees as the “lungs of the earth” because they take CO2 out of the atmosphere and replace it with rejuvenating oxygen. So, with over 10 miles of wooded hiking at the institute, I was eager to apply the tools I had just learned. The soft forest floor gave way to a waterfall spilling out into a small swimming hole. As I stepped off onto a cliff’s perch overlooking the canyons of those Appalachian foothills, all seemed right with the world.

With 10 miles of wooded hiking trails waiting to be explored, there's no shortage of activities during a visit to Isha.

With 10 miles of wooded hiking trails waiting to be explored, there’s no shortage of activities during a visit to Isha.

The Rejuvenation Suite is one of the housing options available at Isha. Prices start at $55 per night.

The Rejuvenation Suite is one of the housing options available at Isha. Prices start at $55 per night.

There’s something to be said for a thankful heart. After a long day of  “turning inward” one last stop to ADIYOGI: The Abode Of Yoga completed my free day of yoga. Climbing the steep steps, I reached to ring hanging brass bells adorning The Abode’s entrance while heady notes of incense set the tone for my final meditation.

I will remember my day at Isha with gratitude, as it’s the day I learned that I never have to attempt Tittibhasana ever again to find my center. As it turns out, you can teach an old dog new tricks. But, I’ll always crave a few downward dogs on the mat.

Regardless of religion or ideology, Isha speaks to those who are open to listen.

Indeed, “the only way out is in.”

Isha Institute of Inner-Sciences offers a variety of classes and retreats. Book your overnight stay in one of the private suites or dorm-style residents starting at $55. Or check out yogaretreattn.org for more details and to reserve your spot at Isha’s monthly free yoga day. 

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SPECIAL WORLD PEACE DAY PLANS AT ISHA

Make special plans to visit Isha for World Peace Day on September 23, 2017, from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. The lineup for this free, family-friendly day filled with Yoga for Peace and Meditation for Peace programs takes place all day, and additional activities include outdoor games and nature hikes, as well as performances by the renowned Indian dance troupe, Spanda, and Nashville-based folksy rock band, Humming House. There will also be globally based vegetarian food and a thoughtfully creative juice bar.

Melissa Corbin is a Nashville-based freelance journalist telling the stories of folks who care about their world’s future. Published by the likes of Travel Channel, NPR, USA Today, she’s also the producer of Corbin In The Dell, a travel podcast about folks in food, farming and drink with a local music influence.