Vail Living with Vitality column: Consciousness-based education, from Iowa to Vail |

Vail Living with Vitality column: Consciousness-based education, from Iowa to Vail

Julia Clarke
Living with Vitality

Yoga is everywhere, and I am thrilled. From festivals to cutesy Facebook memes, you can’t turn around without bumping into the sexy promise of yoga and meditation for a better you. The benefits are increasingly well researched, and yet it’s easy to think that yoga is only skin deep. I am on a mission to keep the healing intention of yoga and meditation alive and kicking.

I recently traveled to Fairfield, Iowa, where I’m studying for my master’s degree in ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, at Maharishi University of Management. I came to America in 2001 to study in a similar small, Midwestern town, so the drive felt familiar: infinite corn fields briefly interrupted by a business loop with staples such as McDonald’s and Applebee’s; wide, empty streets and giant houses with immaculate lawns. But as you get closer to campus, a different picture emerges.

First, a group of prairie-style homes feature golden onion domes like the Taj Mahal and street names like Heavenly Lane. Then downtown, surrounding the predictably quaint square park with gazebo, are health food shops and Indian restaurants advertising organic cuisine. In the cafe, snippets of locals’ conversations contain phrases such as “unity consciousness.” On campus, students hurry across the quad on their way to the meditation dome. The cafeteria serves strictly organic, vegetarian food.

You might have heard of Fairfield on the Travel Channel, Oprah Winfrey Network or even watched graduate Jim Carrey’s recent commencement speech. The short story is that in 1971, a man from India named Maharishi Mahesh Yogi pioneered the university based on the belief that each country should have an institution for consciousness-based education at its center so that knowledge and consciousness can radiate out in every direction. Maharishi was the founder of Transcendental Meditation and is perhaps best known for teaching The Beatles. Today, you can still run into Prudence Farrow here, for whom the Beatles penned a song after traveling to India with her and Maharishi in the late ’60s.

The thousand or so residential students can earn degrees in business, art and computer science, but every student and faculty member learns and practices meditation. The core value of consciousness-based education is that students enliven their inner awareness first and then are able to connect what they are learning to their own personal growth. I learned and grew more in my week there than I have in the past year.


Elsewhere in America, the concepts of yoga and meditation are thriving just as conspicuously but with more gloss. Though I generally view the rapid expansion with excitement, there are moments when I wonder if, in the rush to dive headlong into the shallow pool of leggings and yoga selfies, we are missing this crucial core value of self-awareness. Are we cheating ourselves of the richness of yoga?

There is a yogic concept of “soma,” a rejuvenating essence that we can generate within ourselves through practices such as yoga and meditation. More than a fun, sweaty workout that wears off as soon as you’re fighting for the only shower at the studio, the concept of soma suggests that through meditation, we can achieve health, longevity and spiritual satisfaction.

It was with an aim to highlight this teaching that I helped create a unique yoga festival this fall named The Zen Project. Friday through Sunday in Eagle, we will gather for yoga practices that focus exclusively on healing. Our programming features guided meditation, Thai massage, yin yoga, restorative yoga and more, with local, regional and national teachers coming to share their wisdom.

The invitation to you is not to ascend to new heights of geometric bodily shapes but to dive deeper into consciousness and subtle energy, applying the original intention of yoga to your life today. The Zen Project is open to everyone, and you can learn more at

Julia Clarke’s weaves together her connection with nature and her love of ayurveda through vinyasa flow, yin yoga and restorative yoga. She is a RYT 500 yoga teacher and Maharishi Ayurvedic wellness consultant who hails from Scotland.

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