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Point the car toward McMinnville, Tennessee, and you’ll soon find swaths of pasture connected by tiny towns whose antique treasures and reduced speed limits encourage a slower roll. Then, when you crest the Cumberland Plateau and turn down a meandering gravel drive, you’ll find another wonder tucked into the woods: a 39,000-square-foot, copper-domed yoga hall, giving anyone who gazes upon it no choice but to be in the present.
The hall, which is called Mahima (meaning grace), looks like it floated down to McMinnville from another galaxy, and it’s one of several structures at the Isha Institute of Inner-Sciences; others include a grand, art-filled meditation hall called Adiyogi (named for the first known yoga teacher), an open-air dining hall, cabins, and a welcome center, where you might meet Jordan Funk.
One of several full-time residents at Isha (the center is nonprofit, paid for in donations and all volunteer-run), Funk might take you for a yoga class in yet another building, a small cedar cabin with open windows that invite breezes and the rustle of leaves.
“People come here from all over the world,” Funk says. But, don’t expect to find yogis in lululemon spandex standing on their hands. Visitors here—usually 500 to 1,000 people per week on average—are more apt to be chilling in linen trousers and colorful scarves. The yoga and meditation here is less about physical fitness, after all, and more about inner growth and wellbeing, without attachment to an ideology or religion.
The Isha Institute was established by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a well-known Indian yogi, mystic, New York Times-bestselling author, and leader in several humanitarian initiatives. At 1,400 acres, Isha is Sadhguru’s Western hub. (The only other center is in Southern India.)
So, why McMinnville? California was too expensive, and the North too cold. Plus, nearby Nashville was one of the first places Sadhguru visited in the States, and he already had a base of volunteers here. Alison Murry was one of seven initial residents who arrived in 2005, having taught hatha yoga in Atlanta. “I moved here because I wanted to see a center like this come up,” she says. But, for most who visit, it’s not about living here. It’s about learning something to take home.
“We want people to take any one of the free, simple tools offered daily and empower their own lives and live a better life,” Funk says.
Visitors can come for the day (there’s a monthly free yoga day) or stay for various retreats in private suites or dorm-style residences; overnight visits start at $55. Vegetarian meals, live music, and 10 miles of hiking trails are often part of the experience.
“Everyone is here because they want to transform something in themselves,” Murry says. “They’re always willing to look at the other viewpoint because they want to expand their thinking.”
951 Isha Ln., McMinnville, 931-668-1900; ishafoundation.org