Plus Anthony, my pro photographer and #1 blog fan (Fun fact, did you know that Anthony inspired me to start this blog nearly 5 years ago?)
Speaking of inspiring, that’s an adequate word to use when describing the Isha Institute. This wellness getaway/yogi retreat sits on a whopping FOURTEEN HUNDRED acres, much of which is dedicated to beautiful wildlife. When the institute purchased the land a decade ago, much of it had been damaged by the logging industry — and the Isha people have worked hard to restore the land to its natural state since then.
They also built a humungous yoga dome known as the Mahima. Can’t even capture this architectural feat without a super wide-angle lens, but here’s part of it from afar!
The Isha team did a fabulous job giving us a tour of the retreat for the day. First on the agenda: A yoga class, of course! Here’s a peek inside of the 39,000 square-foot dome, which again you’ll have to see for yourself in person to fully comprehend:
The class was actually guided by video, and was more instructional and educational rather than active and participatory. Not exactly what I was expecting, but still interesting! Knowing very little about Isha’s founder and mission, the video explained more about the visionary Sadghuru and the core values and accomplishments of the Isha foundation. Sadghuru and his foundation are known around the globe, and he’s even consulted the UN!
Like I said, the class was mostly instructional — not quite as much stretching and flowing as I’d hoped! We did go through a few movements toward the end, though, including some breathing techniques. Hoping these zen tricks help me out when baby Lambkin arrives?
When lunchtime rolled around, I learned that the Isha Institute team seems to take one thing just as seriously as they do yoga: FOOD. So many delicious, from-scratch vegetarian options — and a gorgeous open-air dining hall to sit in!
When I say “from scratch,” I’m not kidding. Between planning and leading yoga, meditation, hiking, and wellness activities, the 40-member staff (who is made up of 100% volunteers, mind you) also finds time to make their own yogurt, cheese, bread, pasta, and honey. We tasted some homemade honey in hot tea — yum!
Our al fresco lunch was full of flavor and a bit of an around-the-world experience. Because Isha draws in people from all different countries, the center’s rotating menu is as global as it gets. A few of my favorite things we sampled included this homemade pasta with a smoky tomato sauce:
And an Indian curry packed with tumeric and other delicious spices. Served with hearty brown rice and lots of fresh veggies. Apparently the center works closely with nearby Mennonite communities to source tons of farm-fresh produce.
Not only was it fun to see the institute in person, but I also had a wonderful time listening to the stories of the volunteers who live at the center and have helped it grow over the past ten years. They’ve definitely made a commitment to a mission-driven lifestyle and I can appreciate their desire to better the world through increased consciousness and acceptance of others. Also, fun fact, two of our main guides were former distance runners who discovered yoga as a great supplement to their training plans To be honest, I didn’t think I’d have much in common with people who live and work full-time on a secluded yoga retreat in rural Tennessee, but our guides were so friendly, practical, and down-to-earth. Loved chatting with them!
Next up was my favorite part of the trip: a hike! The Institute has thousands of acres that are completely untouched, but they have taken the time to carve out a few trails for guests to explore.
We headed out for an easy/moderate walk that was probably about two miles long. Baby bump in full force!
Because it’s been so dry in Tennessee lately, the waterfalls and streams were pretty much empty (bummer). But, there were still some amazing views and the fall leaves were lovely!
The turnaround point was a crazy steep and beautifully scenic bluff overlooking the hills.
After the hike, we sat in for a cooking presentation from an Isha volunteer.
Since the institute uses so many exotic herbs, spices, beans, grains, and peas (and sometimes hosts and feeds thousands of guests at once) they’ve actually started producing some of their own products. We got to sample and take home a few Isha spices and their famous Sanjeevini health mix.
After the cooking demo we tried out a guided meditation session. As a truly novice meditator and terribly inflexible runner, my main goal for the hour-long class was to be able to sit Indian-style the whole time! I had to take a few breaks to let my hips recover but did my best to stay focused and flexible during the session. Luckily about half of the class time was spent watching an educational video so I only had to sit cross-legged for about 30 minutes :). Oh, another cool thing about Isha is that they are totally open to all ages and skill levels — and include chairs in the Mahima room for those who are unable to sit on the floor. So if you’re a beginner like me and want to try it out, don’t be scared. Everyone’s welcome!
After meditation, we wrapped up our trip with a final tour of the facilities.
The institute offers a bunch of different options for people who want to visit — accommodation options range from simple shared dorm-style rooms ($55/night) to deluxe rooms ($300/night), both of which include meals. We saw a private studio (below) that was simple, clean, and inviting.
Alternatively, you can visit the intitute for the day ($10 for meals) OR buy and own one of the studios and visit whenever you like! A number of people own studios at the Isha Institute and come to unwind for a few months/weeks out of the year. How cool would that be?
Last stop on our Isha adventure: The newly constructed Adiyogi, aka the Abode of Yoga, that is quite an architectural feat. The Abode is open pretty much all day for anyone to come meditate, reflect, and re-energize. Inside there are a number of paintings and a HUGE statue dedicated to Adi Yogi, the first yogi ever. They actually had to build the statue first, and then build the building around it because the statue was so big. Crazy.
Similar to all of the other spaces we saw at the institute, every single detail of the Abode was carefully planned and purposeful. These bells at the front, for example, help purify the air and balance energy levels.
We couldn’t take photos inside, but take my word that it was an incredible space!
Thanks to the Isha Institute for the opportunity to review this amazing place, and educating us on all things meditation, yoga, and international cuisine. If you live in the area and are looking for a relaxing day trip, I’d recommend visiting this spot. Whether yoga and meditation are up your alley or not, the beautiful grounds, delicious food, and extremely friendly people at Isha might make it worth the trek. Glad to have found this hidden 14,000-acre gem only a couple of hours outside of the city!