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Cultivating Sacred Space Online

January 8, 2010 by Niall McKenna

Niall McKennaNiall Mckenna fills us in on an exciting and creative ‘man-ifestation’ of the Teachings: a group of Ashram-connected men have become ‘pioneers’ of sorts – meeting online to create a safe and supportive space in which to connect in the heart, communicate openly, and challenge and support one another in their continuing processes.

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How many dimensions can we traverse with yoga?  For several young Ashram men, including myself, the past year has been a journey to a brand new dimension of reflection – a virtual classroom on the Internet. It started almost 12 months ago, when a few young men had an all-too-familiar conversation one evening at the Ashram.

“We started talking about how great it was to be in a group of men and to be able to talk openly,” says Neil Dolan, who first came to the Ashram about six years ago and recently returned for an extended stay. “To speak and to be heard and be held by a group of people who genuinely cared.” Weekly reflection classes at the Ashram usually have us separated by gender. I’ve always appreciated that time to connect with other men on a heart level, where we can talk about things other than sports or women.

The men who gathered that night in Buddha Loka recalled how difficult it could be once leaving the Ashram. “I crave that [interaction] in my day-to-day life,” says Neil. “To be able to continue to grow.” A short time later, the Ashram community held its annual 108 Sun Salutations fundraiser. Another youth and I took part at our homes, linked in real time with the Ashram through the audio-video chatting service, Skype.

Kevin LennoxClearly, those 108 salutations to the sun led to a further flash of insight. A week later, an email was sent to myself and 15 other young men an e-mail entitled “Manposium” and the following pledge from that Buddha Loka meeting: All of us agreed that men relating to each other in a non-competitive, supportive way, where we are really cherishing each other and holding space for each other is something we all want more of in our lives.

But could it really work online? Would the Light be sustained? Or would the technology get in the way? Well, like Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, who once expressed his gratitude to the inventor of the magnetic tape recorder (“For it is he who enables this message to be conveyed to you all”), we found the technology can work with us not against us.

It wasn’t easy at first. Each class it took as much as 30 minutes to an hour to get everyone connected – attaching microphones, earphones, web cameras and uploading chakra plates.  “Can you hear me?!” “Stop. None of us can hear you.” “I can see you, but every second word is distorted.” It was an exercise in patience and acceptance. It was like, ‘Oh, this is the way class is?’ OK, great.  “It just is what is. I know I’m not at the ashram. This is a bonus.” “We’re able to virtually understand and make it work,” adds Andriko, chatting just 20 blocks from my house in Edmonton, his mala wrapped securely around his wrist.

Trial and error has helped us iron out those technical issues resulting in an enthusiastic and more-connected-than-ever community of Ashram men. Andriko says the class motivates him to continue his personal spiritual practices: “This is a space where people are of like mind.”

Andriko LozowyWhat have we talked about that has made this class so special for us? Relationships do feature, but so do family, time management, school and emotions. For Kevin Lennox, a recent move to Montreal to pursue his shiatsu business proved very hectic. A virtual class with men who understood his ways of thinking helped shift focus. “In that moment, I was feeling very stuck,” says Kevin. “And the class presented this great forum where someone was able to give me expert advice about organizing the specifics of my logistical issues and someone else coming in with a real heart, understanding about my ideals and how I want to live my life.” Kevin says having a group of men he trusts so close by is precious.

“We’re encouraging another way of being,” he says. “Not just through the practices but through the language that we use to talk to one another.” “I feel like a bit of a pioneer,” adds Neil, joining Kevin and me by audio chat from the Ashram.  “We’re trying to set something up and hopefully leave a legacy – for other men to hopefully challenge the status quo.”

It only took two classes for me to find out how important the class was for me. As the class approached, I knew a very serious choice was going to feature in my reflection. I made only a passing mention of it, but the three other men in the class seized the occasion, taking me to task on my unwillingness to make a clear decision. That is friendship. That is community. That is how men ought to be relating to one another.

Neil is right. We are pioneers. And we owe a debt of gratitude to Swami Radha and the Ashram for encouraging us to find that space, that new dimension. “It’s finding that balance,” Neil adds, “That natural feminine and masculine.”

For those interested in exploring Online Video Conferencing, the Radha men are currently using Tiny Chat. To find out more about Yasodhara Ashram and the Young Adult Program, you may visit us Online, call 1-800-661-8711 or email yashram@yasodhara.org. To join us on Facebook, click here.


  1. Namaste! I would be VERY MUCH interested in participating & contributing to these “Man-posiums.” I was at the Ashram this past end of November for only a little while, and perhaps one of the stronger highlights for me was the mens group indeed. Is anyone able to guide me into this process? I would be very grateful and appreciative. Om, Om

    Comment by Eli — January 11, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

  2. Great to hear about how well this is working. I’m currently doing an online masters program that includes lots of personal reflections and the level of trust and disclosure is remarkably high. I’m excited about the possibilities of social media in bringing people together in ways that are sustainable (don’t require travel), are time effective and wherever we are. Thanks for forging the way for Radha groups.

    Comment by Sharon Haave — January 13, 2010 @ 10:46 am

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