Co-creators Kelli Cotner and Susan Fitz-Simon started Dharma Ranch together, the 10 acre retreat is located just outside San Marcos. Daily Record photos by Denise Cathey
Dharma Ranch: Opening hearts & minds
On a Wednesday morning, a group of women with yoga mats make the trek up a wooded trail to a 30-foot-tall yurt located in a small clearing. Inside, yoga instructor Cindy von Miller helps her students get set up with blankets and blocks and sets up her own space with speakers and a singing bowl as she does every week for her Gentle Therapeutic Yoga class.
This class is one of many events that make up the rich offerings of classes, workshops and retreats that call Dharma Ranch home.
“It’s a beautiful place. Kelli and Susan are just wonderful and I feel blessed to be in this space,” von Miller said.
A Buddhist-inspired retreat center, Dharma Ranch is the brainchild of co-creators and partners Kelli Cotner and Susan Fitz-Simon.
The couple, who met in Los Angeles, started the center three years ago as part of a bucket list they put together when they moved to Austin in 2007. “One of them was to buy land outside of Austin and build a day-long retreat center,” Fitz-Simon said.
The couple eventually purchased 10 acres on Valley View West Road to build their home and construct their retreat center. For Cotner the center filled a need she saw in San Marcos for space away from the stresses of daily life.
“There’s nothing like this out in San Marcos,” Cotner said.
Cotner had often frequented meditation retreat centers on the East Coast and in California and wanted to recreate that experience for others.
“It’s just had a profound impact on my life personally,” she said. “So that was my motivation, just to create something small. To create a place where people can come and really learn how to open their hearts and minds.”
Over time the couple created their ideal space, with nearly a mile of walking paths through their and neighbors’ properties, a yurt for classes and workshops and a walking labyrinth.
Instructor Cindy von Miller (far left) leads students through gentle stretches during the Wednesday morning Gentle Therapeutic Yoga session.
The trails and wooded surroundings were an important aspect of the center that the couple knew could help visitors in their own journeys through their own experiences.
For Fitz-Simon, her sense of peace is cultivated through exploration of nature. “I’m very, very drawn to being outside and being in the dirt and with the earth and that kind of thing brings me more peace than anything,” she said.
Neighbor Mary Hinson, who often attends the daily 7:30 a.m. meditation, in addition to the Wednesday yoga class, enjoys the peace the center offers her. “I like to walk around and just enjoy the quiet, the peace and the labyrinth. It has a certain feeling,” Hinson said.
For those who enjoy teaching or want a space to share knowledge, Dharma Ranch offers a convenient space for gathering.
“If you are a teacher or if you are part of a group that wants to offer programs of any kind, it’s just a great place to come and bring your group and share what it is that you are especially called and gifted to provide for the community,” von Miller said.
A winding stone labyrinth encircles a statue of Guanyin, the Buddhist bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, which serves as a form of walking meditation for visitors.
Whether you are looking to get away from the world for a little while, attend a workshop or hold a retreat, Dharma Ranch offers a relaxing experience just a short drive away from downtown San Marcos.
Currently, Dharma Ranch offers a morning community meditation, therapeutic yoga class on Wednesday mornings with guided meditation offered in the evening and a full moon yoga class once a month. In addition to workshops, the center holds a Gathering the Women Circle on the second Tuesday of each month. For more information about upcoming workshops and classes go to Dharma Ranch's website.