Laura Vanags is a commercial photographer originally from Canada who currently resides in South Australia. She completed the Yoga Development Course for the second time in 2015 and shares how her time at the Ashram has helped her develop the confidence and courage needed to make positive changes in her life.
How did you first hear about the Ashram?
I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to go to India for an “authentic” yoga teacher training experience. He told me I didn’t need to go to India, that there was an ashram in BC. I wasn’t convinced until he handed me the brochure and when I looked at it, I felt a strong heartfelt desire to go. Having recently graduated from university, I thought taking some downtime and reflecting on the next phase of my life seemed like the right thing to do, so I applied to the three-month Yoga Development Course (YDC).
What was your experience of the YDC?
At the time I took the first YDC I was uncertain about how I was going to create a career I love. I really wanted to be a conceptual photo artist but I didn’t know how that was going to be possible. The path was unclear. Could I do it? During the course the residents at the Ashram learned I was a photographer and they asked me to take pictures. On one particular day out shooting, I silently prayed for divine guidance, that if this is really my path, please give me a clear sign. A few moments later, a bald eagle high up in the sky circled directly overhead for several minutes.
I interpreted that coincidence as a ‘thumbs up’ from Divine Mother. I was supported and encouraged spiritually to pursue my passion. At the Ashram I learned to spiritualize my work and see myself as a channel working for the Divine. My intention is to capture the essence of my subject, and when I connect with the timeless part of myself, I can capture it in others. I would often, and still do, ask for Her to work through me, to be my eyes, my hands and feet. It’s truly been a wonderful and fulfilling way to approach my career.
What did you encounter when you left the Ashram? Were there challenges, victories?
When I left the first time I was challenged to maintain my spiritual life. I moved to Banff to pursue a photography career, but I couldn’t maintain regular practice on my own. I was determined to hold on to what I had learned but the contrast between spiritual life and living in party central was too much for me to manage at the time.
In 2011 I moved to Australia. Adapting in another country was a tremendous challenge. The yogic tools I’d gained in the YDC helped but I found myself relying heavily on my partner for emotional support, which put a strain on him. Although he endured that period like a champion lending his love and support, it was not sustainable and I knew it. I needed to interrupt the pattern and re-center myself so that I could contribute to our relationship and budding life together in a powerful way.
What led to your decision to return to the Ashram?
Three months after getting married, I decided to go back to the Ashram for the YDC. I knew if I went back to the Ashram I would be able to reconnect to the teachings, to my inner guidance, my self-confidence. Everyone thought I was crazy to leave my husband so soon after marriage but I knew it would be the best move for myself and my relationship in the long term.
I was worried that it would take some time to reconnect once I was back at the Ashram, but it didn’t. In class on the first day we did a simple breathing exercise and I rediscovered my soul and my inner peace. The following four months initiated a process of elevating my consciousness, reconnecting to the practices and cultivating devotion.
I also discovered that I could easily connect to the Divine within through music. I chanted every day in the Beach Prayer Room and afterwards I would walk around and take pictures of tiny details in nature. Through devotional music I reconnected to my ability to see.
Did you see changes in yourself, in your life, in your world, since doing the YDC for the second time?
Yes! When I returned to Australia I came back with renewed inner spiritual strength, confidence and courage. I was ready and eager for my husband and I to start our newlywed life together. Our time apart showed both of us how precious our time together is and it’s been a powerful way to start a marriage! My husband and I now attend meditation classes twice per week and we are growing our spiritual life together, something he didn’t know he wanted until I returned from the Ashram.
During the course I realized that I have always wanted my own photography studio. In January 2016 that became a reality. I have more clients than ever and continue to grow my business every week. This week I’m working for the government photographing wetlands, wildlife and nature, next week I’m off to Melbourne to shoot a conference.
If someone were thinking about coming to the Ashram, what would you say to them?
Taking time for yourself is an excellent investment. What I have personally received from the Ashram over the years is priceless.
“Three months after getting married, I decided to go back to the Ashram for the YDC. I knew if I went back to the Ashram I would be able to reconnect to the teachings, to my inner guidance, my self-confidence. Everyone thought I was crazy to leave my husband so soon after marriage but I knew it would be the best move for myself and my relationship in the long term.”
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