Yogi brings life lessons back home

In the late 1970s, a 17-year-old disillusioned with his family's fundamentalist Christianity walked into a yoga class at Aiken Technical College.

 

Thus began a journey that led Michael Carroll to Pennsylvania, the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, an Indian monastery and, finally, back home, where he's the highest-level yoga teacher in the Augusta area.

"I left a rebellious teenager, and now I'm a contributing member of society," Mr. Carroll joked.

The owner and operator of Radiant Well-being Yoga Studio in North Augusta, Mr. Carroll is a master-level yogi, registered with the national Yoga Alliance as an E-RYT500, the highest designation. There are only 34 instructors at that level in the Southeast and 991 nationwide.

The ancient Hindu spiritual path has become a mere fitness regimen for many Americans, but yoga has been a way of life for Mr. Carroll for almost three decades, evidenced by his chiseled physique, rubber-band flexibility and gentle manner. In most circles he goes by Yoganand ("one who aspires to the bliss of yoga"), the name given to him when he became a monk at Kripalu Ashram in Stockbridge, Mass.

The yoga teacher at Aiken Tech told him about the ashram, a hermitage for practitioners, then located in Pennsylvania. Mr. Carroll visited and was enthralled.

Whereas his parents went to church on Sunday and spent the rest of the week living as they pleased, Kripalu's residents immersed themselves in yoga, giving all their time to God, he said.

"Here was a level of absorption, a level of integrity that I had never seen," Mr. Carroll said. "Find me a church where the pastor will say, as Jesus did, sell all of your possessions, give your money to the poor, and come follow me."

He took up residence there at age 21 and moved with Kripalu to its current location in a former Jesuit seminary in Stockbridge. He lived a communal lifestyle, practicing yoga -- coordinated breath, movement, meditation and poses -- for 10 hours a day and studying with masters in the United States and India.

But after the death of guru Swami Kripalu, his successor, Amrit Desai, resigned amid a sex scandal in the mid-1990s. Kripalu was restructured into a secular retreat and training center, and Mr. Carroll renounced his monastic vows.

He and more than 100 other former residents organized to file a class-action lawsuit, but the center negotiated a settlement.

Disillusioned once more, Mr. Carroll found work as a print shop worker and part-time yoga instructor in nearby Northampton, Mass.

He learned another lesson: he could make a living by teaching.

He met his wife, Amy, in a ballroom dancing class. She told him she'd move to the South with him if she could have a dog.

So they bought Bina, a long-haired German shepherd, and moved to Edgefield County in 2004.

One of the reasons he wanted to set up shop in his hometown was that, unlike Atlanta and Columbia, yoga hasn't quite caught on yet in conservative Augusta, Mr. Carroll said.

"It's changing, and it's changing fast," he said, "and I love being on that wave."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

"YOGANAND" MICHAEL CARROLL

Occupation: Owner/operator of Radiant Well-being Yoga Studio & Training Center, 501 West Ave., North Augusta; phone: (803) 613-0684; www.radiantwellbeing.com

FAMILY: Wife, Amy Carroll; two cats and one dog

QUOTE: "Yoga will help you clear your glasses, but it won't tell you what you'll see when they're clean."