Teens Who Live At Yogaville Say They're Not So Different  

The Richmond Times Dispatch/May 31, 1996
By Will McLendon

Imagine spending your teenage years living with lots of other families, immersed in the study of the world's cultures and religions.

For two Virginia teen-agers, this idea isn't a figment of the imagination. It's a way of life.

Yogaville, a thousand-acre ecumenical community that borders the James River in Buckingham County, is composed of a diverse population representing countries around the globe. At least 13 languages are spoken among the 250 residents. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people trek there to find peace or to marvel at the environment.

Each resident, no matter what age or gender, is searching for spiritual harmony. The techniques of yoga, based primarily on breathing and stretching the body, are used to help create peace of mind and enlightenment.

Sri Swami Satchidanada, a Hindu monk who founded the ashram in 1979, teaches his followers to know and respect the world's religions. He says this is the path to God.

Ahalya Emenogu and Bharati Shapero say growing up in Yogaville has taught them many things.

''You get to meet so many people from all over the world and also learn about different cultures and their ways of life,'' says Ahalya, 17, a resident of Yogaville for nine years.

''However,'' Bharati, 16, added, ''that only fills up part of your life.''

Ahalya, whose given Sanskrit name means ''Beauty Personified,'' moved to Yogaville from Nigeria. Her father had known of the community and wanted his daughter to grow up there. Because of Nigeria's curb on extradition, her father is rarely allowed to leave the country. Ahalya last saw him in 1991, but has kept in touch with him through letters and the occasional telephone call.

Growing up, she has lived with families in the Yogaville community, changing homes about once a year. Recently she was allowed to live by herself in a dorm. She has more freedom now, she says, but still has to do chores such as vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms.

Bharati, or ''Wisdom and Learning,'' was born into the community and lives with her family in a private home nearby. Her father has been a part of Yogaville since he was 18 years old.

Yogaville's school, the Vidyalayan, teaches children only through sixth grade, so both girls now attend Fuqua School in Farmville, where they are at the top of their class.

Like other teen-agers, Ahalya and Bharati find solace in things other than their day-to-day life. On weekends they enjoy visiting Charlottesville. Since neither has a car, transportation is provided for them. They spend time with friends who visit them, or swim and hike the acres of forest and fields at Yogaville.

Life in Yogaville does have its restrictions. Besides the expected rules -teenage celibacy, no drinking, no smoking and no drugs -- each member must be a vegetarian. Dating is not allowed until teens have graduated from high school unless parents allow an exception. Despite community rules, the girls say parents call the shots.

The girls say they have had to deal with misperceptions about Yogavilla, and the occasional rumor.

''If they say rumors about us, then they should come to (Yogaville) and see what it really is,'' Ahalya says. ''We're all normal people.''

Bharati admits that her dedication to things held dear in youth has been tested by being a teen.

''When I was younger, I did everything associated with the yoga and religion. Now my attention span is less,'' she said. ''Most teen-agers aren't focused on religion, and this is the same with me. But when I'm older I'll get back into it.''

Both girls are uncertain what lies ahead. They want to go to college and are considering majoring in art.


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