- Koh Samui
- Koh Tao
This year, Agama Yoga celebrates its 15th anniversary here on Koh Phangan, Thailand. Back then, where and when it all started, things were very different - from the size of the school to the state of the island and what it had to offer.
Lori, who has been one of Swami’s disciples since before that time, tells us that back in those days life was very rustic on our side of Koh Phangan, Srithanu (the ‘Yoga side’ of the island). There were no 7-11’s (the convenience stores which are now bubbling up around every corner) and no vegan restaurants. Not to mention no wifi, making it so that people had to visit Internet cafes to check their emails, at a 60 Baht rate per hour in Haad Chao Pao and half the price in Thong Sala.
Considering people didn’t have phones, and that there were only five restaurants in the area (Jungle Hut, Big Mountain - to which one of the Agama students by the way taught how to make vegetarian sushi and falafel!, Bovy Restaurant, Tantawan, and Fellini), it was much easier to stay focused on Yoga.
Agama was the only Yoga school on this side of the island.The most common evening activity was attending (and often re-attending) the Level 1 lectures, back when Swami Vivekananda Saraswati taught every single lecture of the program, all while doing Yoga practice in the back of the hall whilst listening to these lectures.
On other Tuesday and Thursday evenings, there were ‘Late Night Meetings’ on Bovy beach with Swami at Bovy (which are the precursor to today’s Q&As and satsangs).
On Sundays, everyone would attend to the Shakti and Vira Groups. There was a strong yogi-community feel to it all. Story goes that once a forest fire threatened Green Hall, and somehow everyone all managed to meet in the middle of the night under the moonlight to fireline sea water to the fire’s edge!
So, to rewind a little bit to the beginning of it all, why was Agama Yoga founded on Koh Phangan island in the first place?
Well, 15 years ago, one of Agama’s advanced teachers had studied a lot of massage here in Thailand and was familiar with this island. With it being a tourist circuit, she suggested it as a good place for the school to resettle. This was needed due to bribe expenses in Rishikesh reaching unreasonable heights for the school, where it had been settled up until then.
While at the time this seemed like somewhat of an issue, often such occurrences prove to be blessings in disguise. Agama would have probably never have flourished there the way it has done so here.
Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the founder and director of Agama Yoga, and today a beloved guru to many disciples and followers, arrived with a suitcase and two of his advanced students, who would help him teach the sun salutations and some other Yoga practices. The school started out in an old barn at Bovy Resort.
In the beginning, Swami asked the owners if he could rent the front half of the barn, because the back of it was being used for storing mattresses, old tools, and other materials which the owners had laying around. The students (some of which are still with the school today!) painted the concrete floor with a dark green color (which is why the hall resulted being called ‘Green Hall’). Within a year, students did a lot of Karma Yoga, and added also a mosquito net, a whiteboard, and a tiled bathroom (which there was only one of!)
There is a fantastic photo somewhere (which is at the moment unfortunately untraceable), which was given to Swami by the first student to graduate Level 1 on Koh Phangan. It is a photo of her sitting in front of Swami, who sat in a blue plastic chair, in that first incarnation of Green Hall. He showed up daily to teach the entire Level 1 to that one and only student, often traveling through heavy rains to reach the hall. Lori, who has given us most of the context of this history having been here then, and still being here now, says,
“To me, that photo represents the seed of the vision. Swami’s vision was always of a school that would grow and keep offering these incredible teachings. When we started over in Thailand, it seemed a very heroic idea to go from running a successful school in Rishikesh, where 100 students passed through every month, to … just one student. But Swami’s vision was unbreakable and resolute… and what we see today is the result.”
This vision was further publicly verbalized by Swami in 2004, when Agama Yoga was contacted by a Thai magazine to give an interview. Two of the most memorable parts of that interview were, first of all, that Swami wanted to see all of the teachings of Yoga applied to a Healing Center. Four years later – in 2008 – the Agama Healing Center opened just by the driveway to Bovy Resort. So this year, we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Healing Center, which is bringing so much to the world with our Therapeutic Yoga programs and the Yoga Therapist Training – quite rare and yet so urgently needed in today’s world!
The other very memorable thing he said in that interview was, “My dream is to see Koh Phangan one day famous not for full moon parties (happening every month in Haad Rin) but for Yoga – I want this to be known as a Yoga island.”
Today we can see how Swami’s dream has become fulfilled in many ways – Koh Phangan is now known as a Yoga hub in the world. Anno 2018, an average number of 30-80 students (depending on whether it’s low season or high season) enroll in the Hatha Yoga Retreat - Level 1 Course every month. In the meantime, six versions of the entire Yoga Program (curriculum) have been developed- constantly improving the quality of the courses; not to mention the variety of teacher training courses, workshops, and retreats that are offered by the school all year long, filling our beautiful Yoga halls.
The Koh Phangan of today is much more modern and vibrant, with wifi available almost everywhere and many vegan restaurants in the area. Although this is a great development from a ‘touristic’ point of view, it does mean that there is much more distraction around, with it being so easy to find other forms of entertainment in the free time available outside of the Yoga courses other than getting together with the yogi community to attend evening lectures. Nonetheless, the enthusiasm for the weekly free community events at Agama such as the Q&A’s and satsangs with Swami on Tuesday and Thursday evenings respectively, the Anahata meditations on Friday evenings led by an Agama teacher, the devotional Bhajans on Saturday evenings, and also the daily (Monday-Saturday) morning meditations led by Agama’s advanced teachers, is great and even growing.
This year, we celebrated Agama’s 15th Anniversary at the monthly final ceremony of March, happening every Saturday on the last week of the cycle, in which we traditionally celebrate the graduation of the Level 1 graduates, and other sash or course graduates as applicable (red, orange, yellow sash, also sometimes the occasional higher sashes such as the blue, purple and white being awarded to the more advanced students of the school; and Teacher Training Course graduates). Lori gave a beautiful speech, part of which we have used in this article, and there was also a massive and delicious chocolate cake from Art Cafe, along with some sweet sticky mango rice they gifted us, as a token of our 15-year friendship with them as well.
With the Grace of the Divine, the school will continue to change the lives of thousands of people and Agama will carry on its mission of bringing such a precious and authentic Yoga tradition to the world. We are grateful to meet so many aspiring souls everyday here on the Agama Yoga campus in Srithanu. Just as Swami dreamt, some 15 years ago, that this island would become known for Yoga; some 8 years ago, when I was 3 years into my Yoga practice, I dreamt of an island where I could learn and practice Yoga...the real Yoga which I felt I was not really learning in the city Yoga studios I used to attend, in search for something I finally came to find here some 5 years ago when I did the Level 1 Intensive Course (now titled ‘Hatha Yoga Retreat’).
I personally can for sure say it is an honor to be a part of this beautiful spiritual family who has not only taught me so much, but also supported me unconditionally whenever I needed without ever asking anything in return.
With much joy, and eternal gratitude to everything which Agama represents and the spiritual family that represents its soul to its very core, I thank you for tuning into this story about the wonderful celebration we are rejoicing in today!