With a new name on the way and a whole raft of new workshops and activities, Villa Vrindavana Yoga Center is providing yoga enthusiasts an authentic experience in a spiritual community, as well as a non-judgemental, pressure-free zone where they can decide how deep they want to dive.
One of ISKCON Europe’s most beautiful temples, Villa Vrindavana is located near Florence, the gorgeous capital of Italy’s Tuscanny region and birthplace of the Renaissance. Gopi Sundari Dasi, daughter of Villa Vrindavana temple president Parabhakti Das, began to gradually develop the Yoga Center there starting in 2016 after receiving her yoga diploma.
She now teaches yoga classes morning and evening every week from Tuesday to Saturday, attracting up to twenty local members of the general public per class. Drawing from her experience in hatha, astanga, and vinyasa yoga, she combines asana practice with Krishna conscious philosophy, japa, kirtan, and prasad.
“A typical class begins with breathing exercises, a mantra invocation, and warm-up,” she says. “Then we do yoga sequences based on the season, incorporating Ayurvedic principles. So if it’s winter, they’re more dynamic and fiery, and in summer they are more calming. Next, we do different asanas based on the aim of the class – such as upliftment, detoxification, or grounding. Finally, after a long relaxation, we end with chanting bhajan or kirtan. People love it!”
Once a week, the Yoga Center also hosts satsangs where those who want to explore bhakti-yoga in more depth gather to study Krishna conscious philosophy, do kirtan, and share a prasadam dinner together.
This exploration extends to the Center’s many upcoming weekend workshops and retreats – including a five-session kirtan course starting in March; a four-day Holy Name Retreat with Sacinandana Swami in May, which will focus on Japa; and a yoga teacher training in October next year.
“The training will be for those who are interested in deepening their yoga, and understanding more about where it comes from,” Sundari Gopi says. “Since teacher trainings are based on the tradition of the particular school, ours will be based on our Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, and Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita. My goal is to train teachers in the unique mood and philosophy of our Yoga Center, so that they can teach here, and we will be able to offer more to the public.”
The Yoga Center also offers broader activities accessible to everyone, including a kids yoga festival once a month, antigravity yoga (upside-down in hammocks!) twice a month, and yoga with gongs. Future plans for workshops include Tai Chi, astrology, Ayurveda and naturopathy.
“In years past, there was just the temple and the Sunday Feast at Villa Vrindavana,” Gopi says. “If people visisted and were not really interested in the philosophy or ready to become a devotee, they would just say, “Oh, wow, nice,” and wouldn’t come back. What I realized is that people need activities to keep coming back – general activities related to everyday things like wellness.”
Offering such relatable events is combined with a no-pressure, judgement-free mood. “We’re trying to create a space for people to come without pushing them to become something else,” Gopi Sundari continues. “My yoga classes also allow me to take care care of people, and show them that we are there for them. Then they feel like they are in a safe place, and they feel comfortable to come. There is no judgement, no pressure, but they know that we are devotees, and if they are interested in going deeper, we are here.”
This approach has yielded a very positive response from the public. “People are telling us, ‘Wow, Villa Vrindavana has changed – you are more open now, it feels like it is for everybody!’” says Gopi.
And some guests are, indeed, interested in going deeper. There are those who asked thoughtful questions and took Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is to read at home. Then there are others who enrolled in the Yoga Center’s recent yoga and philosophy retreat, studying the first two chapters of Bhagavad-gita under the knowledgeable guidance of Villa Vrindavana temple president Parabhakti Das.
“It was a two-day retreat, and it was full!” Gopi Sundari says.
Looking to the future, she hopes that the Yoga Center will help make the Villa Vrindavana temple a popular hub for locals to gather, drawn by its authentic spiritual atmosphere.
“Rather than meeting at a bar or pub, it would be really nice if this temple could become the place where people like to meet,” says Gopi Sundari. “Then who knows what could happen?”
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