Starting in July, ISKCON New Vrindaban (INV) has been offering summer weekend retreats and brunches that connect visitors with a spiritual path and give them a semblance of normality during the pandemic, all within a very safe environment with COVID-19 precautions in place.
Only a maximum of five to ten guests attend each retreat. Guests stay in their own separate rooms with attached bathrooms in the Palace Lodge, which receive deep cleaning and disinfection after every stay. Masks and social distancing are required, and prasadam meals are served outside with a number of safety protocols including gloves and masks.
“We have so much amazing talent in New Vrindaban, and we wanted to share that with people,” says Allegra Lovejoy, a board advisor for ECO-Vrindaban who co-organizes the weekends with INV communications director Anuradha Dasi. “We’re also lucky to have so much space, so we’re more easily able to accommodate guests at this time of social distancing.”
Guests, generally spiritual seekers interested in yoga, meditation and ecology, follow a similar schedule with each retreat. Saturday begins with a morning nature walk, followed by lunch, and an afternoon workshop. On Sunday, everyone is encouraged to attend the temple morning program, followed by a second workshop after breakfast.
Servers and guests wear masks while plates are served
The first retreat, on July 4th and 5th, saw yoga teacher Nikunja Vilasini Dasi teaching asana, pranayama and yoga nidra on Saturday, to promote health and alignment in the body and spiritual awakening in the mind and heart. On Sunday morning, meanwhile, meditation teacher Allegra took attendees through a guided meditation, preparing the heart to receive the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.
More recently on July 25th and 26th, Anuradha Dasi taught cooking techniques in “How to Make Healthy Taste Delicious,” introducing Hare Krishna cuisine and some basic Ayurvedic principles. Dishes included an Ayurvedic breakfast of stewed apples simmered with clove water, which encourages metabolism; a light yet filling kichari made with less rice and double the amount of dahl; gluten-free pancakes made with quinoa, buckwheat and legumes; and vegan pesto made with garden zucchinis. Anuradha also demonstrated how to prepare healthy yet tasty and attractively plated desserts with stewed fruit and fruit purees.
“We used a lot of of New Vrindaban local produce, and talked a lot about keeping the body healthy for Krishna consciousness,” she says. As usual masks, social distancing and increased hygiene were used during the course.
Parallel to the retreats, meanwhile, INV is also holding a Sunday Brunch program at 10:00am for paying visitors in the famous Prabhupada’s Palace Rose Garden, which features 100 varieties of roses. With people experiencing months of staying at home, and many restaurants closed, it’s an opportunity for an elegant, cosmopolitan meal out in a stunningly beautiful environment.
The Prabhupada's Palace Rose Garden
The idea was inspired by Srila Prabhupada, who predicted that the Potomac Temple in Maryland near Washington D.C. would be a place where “senators and their wives will stroll in the gardens and learn of Krishna consciousness.”
Guests wear masks while being served their prasadam brunch, then each family sits at a separate socially-distanced wrought iron picnic table amidst the fragrant pink, red and white roses.
The incredible menu includes a continental breakfast of croissants, biscuits, jams, breads, fruit, granola, yoghurt made with milk from New Vrindaban’s cows, almond milk, orange juice, lassis, and waters flavored with locally grown mint or cucumber.
In addition Indian street food is offered including idli, vada, sambar, uttapam, chutney, puri, subji, and pav bhaji (thick vegetable curry served with a soft bread roll).
The brunch honors Srila Prabhupada by using inspiration from his idea, and being set in his gardens, which New Vrindaban devotees have continued to maintain beautifully despite cutting back in other areas during this time. Tours of his Palace (with small numbers of guests at a time, wearing masks) add to this theme.
A family tucks into a prasadam brunch amid the gorgeous fragrant roses in Prabhupada's Palace Rose Garden
Anuradha explains that the brunch gives guests the feeling that they’re getting a small reprieve from the pandemic, while staying safe. “We want to make people feel really loved and taken care of,” she says.
Future summer weekend retreats include another yoga retreat on August 8th and 9th, and a sacred storytelling workshop with Sankirtan Das later in the month. There will also be a second cooking workshop on August 22nd and 23rd, which will focus on healthy eating and the physical and spiritual rejuvenative benefits of fasting during Vaishnava holy days.
Retreat organizers say that the small size of the retreats allows for personal connection during a time when people get very little, as well as for meaningful transformation.
One yoga workshop student looking to strengthen his health found new inspiration to become vegetarian, which he had been trying to do for some time. “We also talked about the basics of Krishna conscious philosophy, and directed him where to find audio lectures,” says Allegra.
Meanwhile a cooking student felt that a world of possibility had opened up to her, writing in a glowing letter to Anuradha, “It was a spiritual growth experience for me. I enjoyed and loved learning so much knowledge from you.”
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