Yoga, Service and Community at Mount Madonna Center

YSC Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of community is Mount Madonna Center?

Mount Madonna Center (“MMC” or “the Center”) is a residential community founded on the principles and practices of Ashtanga Yoga (a classical system consisting of eight “limbs”). The Center offers conference and retreat facilities where various programs on self-development and spiritual practices are presented.

Although the Center has a foundation of spiritual life, the outer environment is like an intentional village or community setting. In this way, it is not strictly an “ashram”, but rather a center where people come to live and work in a spirit of selfless service or karma yoga.

Can you describe the residential community at Mount Madonna?

The Mount Madonna community consists of about 80-100 people. This number is made up of about 70 long-standing residents and around 20-30 people in rotating programs. Our residents include single people, couples, elders, monks, nuns, and families. A core staff provides continuity and guidance for the community, while YSC and other program participants continually bring fresh insights and enthusiasm.

In addition to the residential community, Mount Madonna houses a conference center and a private school. So, depending upon the number of program participants at any given time and the occasional school event, the Center may grow to over 300 people.

Is Mount Madonna Center a restful or healing environment?

Mt. Madonna Center is a rich and multifaceted place for learning about oneself within a community environment. However, the Center is not a place for rehabilitation or recovery and is not the right environment for those seeking a therapeutic or rehabilitative program.

The endeavors of our community keep us very busy, and they require enthusiasm and full participation from our resident staff. While both living and serving together offer many opportunities for personal growth and enrichment, the active life of our community can also be intense and challenging at times. For this reason, we ask that all YSC participants be able to meet the service requirement while creating a respectful and healthy connection with members of the community.

In what kinds of service areas are YSC participants placed? What skills are learned?

As much as possible, YSC participants are assigned to a variety of different areas in an effort to familiarize them with the broad range of the Centerís activities. However, service in the kitchen and on the housekeeping staff usually comprises the majority of service areas in YSC I. According to staffing needs and the skills of individual participants, one may also serve in maintenance, landscaping, flower arranging, or the garden.

YSC participants often learn a number of general, practical skills in the areas in which they participate. Participants also encounter many opportunities to improve interpersonal communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and their overall sense of self-awareness and well-being. More specialized training is available over time if and when participants accept leadership positions within our staff.

I’m curious about what living in a spiritual community will mean in practical terms. What type of yoga do residents practice, and do they practice together every day? What if I have no experience with yoga or am out of shape?

In the West, the term “yoga” has become almost synonymous with the practice of asana, or postures. In our community, we identify with Yoga in its original, broader sense, and understand it as a complete philosophy which informs our way of life. The community is based upon the classical system of Ashtanga yoga, and in this system, asana is just one of eight aspects, or “limbs”, of the practice. Yoga classes are offered at least once a day, and a more in-depth teaching module is offered twice a week, covering the foundations of Ashtanga yoga as taught by Baba Hari Dass. Because the YSC program is geared to teach the principles of yoga, there is no need for exceptional physical skill or prior knowledge of yoga. Nonetheless, those with more experience with yoga will have the opportunity to deepen their understanding and practice.

Visitors are sometimes surprised to find that the community does not practice Asana as a group daily. Traditionally, sadhana (spiritual practice) is considered a personal matter, and value is placed upon taking responsibility for one’s own practice. For this reason, everyday practice at the Center is more individual. After learning several methods, community members generally choose a sadhana that suits their own nature and practice privately. Group practice and study do, however, provide support for one’s personal path, and so there are opportunities for community members to come together to study spiritual teachings and practice as a group. (See “What are some of the ongoing weekly activities?”) These activities, as well as seasonal yoga retreats, special celebrations, and daily rituals are important times to reaffirm our common aim.

What can I expect the YSC program schedule to look like?

YSC participants commit to a weekly service schedule of 24 hours, plus 4 hours of group meetings, and 2 hours of instruction in yoga philosophy, pranayama and meditation, for a total of 30 hours per week. Daily schedules vary, but a typical day may look something like this:

Morning: Yoga sadhana class (breathing practices, meditation, and postures) offered each day before breakfast. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, all YSC I participants are asked to attend an introductory class from 7:30-8:30 am on some of the basic pranayama and meditation techniques that Baba Hari Dass has taught the community.

Morning and daytime: service shifts average 4-6 hours a day (with a break at lunchtime) and may include shifts in the following areas: recycling, kitchen, housekeeping, dish room, garden, dining room, and landscaping. YSC members also attend a check-in circle once a week.

Evening: Dinner, theme discussions, special events, or free time.

What about staying on after YSC I? How would one become a longer term resident of the community?

After the completion of YSC I, a person may apply to extend his or her commitment for another session, into the YSC II program. At the conclusion of these two sessions, a person may then apply to participate in the Yoga, Service, and Leadership (YSL) program. The YSL program covers the remainder of the first year of residency, and offers the opportunity for deeper engagement and greater responsibility within the community. During YSL, residency is discussed on an individual basis, with the consideration of various factors. Some relevant factors include: a desire to live with an aim of service and the values of the community, as well as the ability to interact positively with others and to take responsibility for the offerings of the Center. Other practical considerations include the ability to financially support oneself, and the availability of housing and service positions.

Can my skills and experience be applied to the projects at the Center?

Integrating the gifts and talents of individuals within the scope of the Center’s ongoing needs and responsibilities is a continuing exploration at MMC. Generally, YSC participants support the daily needs of the community and retreat facility. In the second segment of YSC and continued residency programs, participants may contribute in more diverse ways, in addition to the general needs.

Are there opportunities for earning money during YSC?

All participants in the YSC program should be prepared to cover their program fees, as well as any other incidentals or recreational spending during their two-month stay. It is possible to earn some pocket money during this time, usually by picking up a paid shift during busy programs or by covering a shift for another YSC participant. However, these opportunities are not guaranteed, nor are they consistent. These options are available only to those legally able to work in the U.S. and only if they do not conflict with the YSC program commitment.
If an individual is accepted for residency beyond the YSC program, the question of financial livelihood becomes very important. Due to the Center’s limited financial resources, there is no guarantee of financial support for residents. Therefore, it is often necessary to balance one’s needs with the very limited scope of income-earning at the Center, or to secure off-land employment during unscheduled time.

What are some of the ongoing weekly activities?

YSC participants are able to join in the following activities that do not overlap with scheduled duties or service:

Yoga Philosophy: Offered Tuesdays from 9:00am Ė 10:30 am; a class in various aspects of Yogic philosophy. The class is lead by Baba Hari Dassís senior students.

Bhagavad Gita: Offered Thursdays from 9:15-10:30 am; a class studying the ancient text with commentary by Baba Hari Dass. This class is lead by Baba Hari Dassís senior students.

Yoga Sadhana (spiritual practice): Daily classes are offered in the morning and some afternoons or evenings and include instruction on purifications, pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation and asana (postures). On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, YSC participants are asked to attend a one hour class on the basic practices of our tradition. Classes are taught by Center staff.

Arati: A devotional ritual offered daily at sunrise and sunset at our temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman Mandir.

Community Activities: YSC participants are encouraged to join our occasional fun nights, theme dinners, open mic nights, special meditation/discussion groups, or the weekly knitting circle. Although not weekly activities, YSC participants are also invited to participate in seasonal 4-day Yoga retreats as well as residentsí Community Retreats and projects. Creativity in organizing community events is welcomed.

I’ve heard you have a children’s school. What about working or doing service for the school?

Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a private, non-denominational, fully accredited school with an emphasis on college preparatory academics, creative self-expression and positive character development. Approximately 200 children from the greater Santa Cruz community attend the K-12 school. Although we share our property and some of the facilities, the school is run separately. Because the school hires its staff for a full school year, it is not possible for YSC to do their service for the school.

Can the workshops and seminars in the brochure be taken as part of the YSC program?

The workshops and seminars offered through the Center are not available as part of the YSC I and II programs. If a person is accepted to community residency beyond the YSC II program, some discounted workshops and programs may be available under certain circumstances.

Yoga, Service and Community is considered a Center program in its own right, and in this sense, we discourage YSC participants from simultaneously taking other programs. YSC has been designed to give many opportunities for self-development in a supportive environment. The weekly check-ins and theme discussions included as part of the YSC program offer chances to explore the spiritual aims of our community, as do interactions with other YSC participants and other community residents, many of whom are long-time students of yoga. In addition, YSC participants have the opportunity to learn pranayama, meditation, and asana practices in the classes offered daily by Center staff.

I have a young child. Can I participate in YSC with her?

Unfortunately, the YSC program cannot accommodate families or young children at this time, due mostly to a lack of appropriate family housing. Also, the Center cannot provide childcare while parents are engaged in the Service & Learning Program, making it very difficult for them to fulfill their basic program commitments.

What does a commitment to this program involve?

Those who have dedicated themselves to shaping and building this community care deeply about creating an environment of respect for spiritual disciplines and a commitment to the values of yoga. With this intention, Mt. Madonna Center has guidelines and rules based on maintaining a safe and healthy environment. These involve committing to complete one’s work service assignment; to refrain from any harmful behavior toward oneself or others; to observe a vegetarian diet while at the Center; to abstain from using alcohol or illegal substances on Center property; to strive to maintain a positive attitude; and to observe relationships based on mutual respect.

These guidelines support the community’s values of clarity, mindfulness, and non-harming, which provide the foundation of spiritual life here at the Center. Everyone living in this community is encouraged to look honestly at themselves—at both the positive gifts they have to share as well as the areas in which they still need to develop and become more conscious.

If you decide to apply to the Yoga, Service and Community program and are accepted, please come ready to commit yourself to these guidelines, the program, and the community.