Swami Umapuri tours Australia – Mparntwe | Alice Springs
ALICE SPRINGS | MPARNTWE
After visiting Sydney, Swami Umapuri flew to Alice Springs, also known as Mparntwe – the land of the traditional owners, the Arrernte people – arriving on International Women’s Day, 8th March 2023 for a two-day visit to this remote town, in the middle of the desert, in the heart of Australia.
The 2-day program consisted of three organised events, discussions about the town and how it became what it is today, and soaking up Swami Umapuri’s wisdom and teaching. Right at the beginning, she reminded us that Vishwaguruji, founder of Yoga in Daily Life, calls this place “the navel of the Earth”.
Event at the MacDonnell Regional Council
Alice Springs hosts head offices of various councils in the region. The MacDonnell Regional Council covers the southern part of Northern Territory and includes mostly traditional land with Indigenous Australian Aboriginal communities. Its size is 268,329 square kilometres, an area larger than Austria, Czechia and Hungary combined, about the size of the US state of Texas.
Mr Manoj Syam, the Work Health & Safety Coordinator at the MacDonnell Regional Council arranged this visit, inviting Swami Umapuri to address staff and other guests. The theme was self-care in their understaffed, stressful and challenging environment.
Realising that Manoj is originally from Nepal, Swami Umapuri started asking where everyone was from and discovered people were from India, the Philippines, Germany, the UK, Switzerland and USA, as well as numerous Australians from across the country, including a local Arrente woman.
The program consisted of a talk about self-care from a Yoga perspective, a guided relaxation, gentle exercises beneficial to those who sit at a desk for much of their day, and some vigorous practice of the Kapala Bhati Pranayama breath technique.
Walk through the Town Centre
Swami Umapuri expressed the wish to understand this place: the situation of the first nation people, who lives here now, and why the colonists settled here. The Mall was deserted, as many shops have closed and are now shuttered. We met some local Indigenous Australians who were selling their artwork to tourists, from whom Swami Umapuri bought a painting. Alice Springs is both an amazing and challenged place. Problems such as poverty, disempowerment, alcohol dependency and lack of parental care, often lead to domestic violence, property theft and youth crime. And yet the Ancient Land is immensely powerful and capable of supporting great healing.
Gathering at the Bodhi Tree
As part of his World Peace Tour in 2011, Vishwaguruji planted a tree in the Community Garden. Unfortunately, that tree did not survive in the harsh desert environment and was replaced with the current bodhi tree, a direct descendant of the tree Buddha sat under in Bodh Gaya, India.
One of the guests in the gathering was Kay, a follower of Theravada Buddhism, and a member of the Community Garden, who had spotted the overgrown tree and plaque honouring Vishwaguruji. She has subsequently spent the last ten years caring for the tree and protecting it through cold winter frosts.
Swami Umapuri again asked the group where everyone was from and how long they had been there. Some had lived in the area for more than 30 years. She further inquired about the spiritual paths being pursued by attendees and stated her view that there is no right or wrong spiritual path but that it is better to commit to only one.
Mahadeva, a Satyananda devotee who attended the gathering, shared his thoughts:
“I enjoyed Swami Umapuri’s guru presence. Apart from that, my enjoyment was in the bodhi tree, the setting and the time of day, as much as the talk. I found her warm and approachable. I was interested in her answer to Jeff when he asked what kind of meditation your Guruji recommended and she said, Self-Inquiry. Ending with the relaxation was lovely.”
Evening prayer at sunset
To complete the day, Sami Umapuri was taken up to the top of Anzac Hill to enjoy the view of Alice Springs and the hills of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
Walking in the desert and waterholes
The next day, 9 March, involved a visit to Alice Springs Telegraph Station Historical Reserve, north of the current town centre and site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. It was originally established in 1871 to relay the overland telegraph line that connected communications between Adelaide in the south with Darwin in the north, and then out to the rest of the world.
Later, in the 1930's, the site was converted to become 'The Bungalow Children's Home', and used as an institution for the 'Stolen Generation' (children of 'mixed' descent, who were forcibly taken away from their Indigenous Aboriginal mothers).
Swami Umapuri marvelled at the vastness of the landscape and after the heat of the open desert, enjoyed the cool oasis-like atmosphere of the waterhole at Simpsons Gap, about 18km west of Alice Springs.
Yoga workshop for a Healthy Back and Neck
At this public yoga workshop held at the Corkwood Collective, Swami Umapuri helped everyone feel included. She listened and acknowledged, sometimes giving specific guidance, such as only following one yoga system for daily practice. Being a native of Austria, she particularly enjoyed that there were several German-speaking participants.
Sita and Jason, founders of the Corkwood Collective, wrote a letter of thanks for the event at their popular community venue:
“Swami Umapuri's yoga workshop was a very positive experience. We got great feedback. She was very present, good at reading body posture and analysing injuries at a glance. She was aware of the whole group, correcting postures for those who needed assistance. When Sita was in a stretch for her disabled shoulder, and felt grateful for the sensation of it, Swami Umapuri must have picked up on that and said to the group: ‘This is a very good posture for you Sita to stretch your shoulder!’ A very impressive moment. It was a great and gentle class. Thanks a lot for making it possible for Swami Umapuri to come to Alice Springs. She is certainly most welcome to run a class again at the Corkwood Collective.”
Evening prayer at the fire
The second day was completed with a fire in the backyard, under the vast desert sky displaying the Milky Way.
Guidance on the last day
All too soon, the departure day came. However, even on the last morning, before heading to Melbourne, Swami Umapuri continued to give teachings. This time it was on how to do one's own practice and hold classes – and the reminder to ‘practise, practise, practise’.
It was a joy to host Swami Umapuriji in the ancient traditional land of Central Australia, cooking and eating together, learning and sharing, and we feel very grateful.