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Eat, Pray, Love… 10 Things to Know about Staying at an Indian ashram?

staying at an indian ashram, eating with your fingers in india

Eat, Pray, Love… 10 Things to know about staying at an Indian ashram

At 6 AM. the morning fog was lifting off the lake. Devotional music poured joyously over the loudspeaker of a neighboring temple and echoed eerily, as fly by birds bore life to the serene setting. Sitting in silence I felt the sun spreading its rays across my body with an exquisite orange and gold. I inhaled.  OM.

Kerala was a perfect escape from the heat, haggling, piss-perfumed stains and madness I know as India. Lush green foliage and forest, the Keralan coast was degrees cooler and more welcoming. Still, an epiphany was coming through– that there were spots in India which could be peaceful, clean, beautiful and serene!

Universities, nice roads, lush forestry, posh and brightly colored mansions backed by Saudi money . Yes, “God’s own country” (as the saying goes) was truly rich.

An example of some of the more well-to-do houses in Kerala.

Each day at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Kerala (Neyyar Dam) I awoke to the early morning practice of satsang (aka “devotional chanting“) and meditation. At first I did this with fervor, but by the end of the week, I started tiring of it and realized, chanting for a half hour really isn’t my thing.

But in an Indian ashram, you don’t question things; you simply follow.

Sunrise devotion and song felt right today, though. I had found an idyllic haven complete with new yogi friends, where I could live my passion for yoga and meditation in a stress-free environment away from daily chaotic life. I didn’t want to have to leave the ashram. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

What is a yoga ashram like?

The Sivananda Trivandrum ashram was a gem of a campus, secluded in the 12-acre fold of a tropical wildlife preserve. At night, I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of crickets, weird night animals and the husky deep heaves of tigers in mating-heat (not kidding).

The ashram offered an all-inclusive stay with two daily yoga sessions, clean dorm accommodations, exquisite meditation halls dressed in Hindu mythology, two vegetarian meals a day and unlimited filtered drinking water. It also has a Ayurvedic doctor and massage room, where a lady rubs warm oil over your body as Ayurvedic treatment. You have to wash it off with chickpea mix. It’s a little grease but an interesting new experience.

The campus had awesome facilities that were geared a little more towards western travelers. Most people know Sivananda as a yoga teacher training center (Read How to Choose a School in India for your Yoga Teacher Training) and they offer that too. But if you’d like to experience yoga in India, learn about Ayurveda or experience a deeper spiritual practice, then Sivananda ashrams offer a lot.  Check out some of my photos below.

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Every need was conveniently provided for.

This makes a monumental difference when you’re in India.  The rigors of travel are often rife with the obstacles of food/water safety and sanitation. Ease is a luxury that’s hard to come by here.


10 Things you should know about staying at an Indian ashram

Like many yoga enthusiasts or travelers, I’ve seen the film, Eat, Pray, Love… But each ashram is different, varying in rules and codes of conduct. Here’s a peek inside my ashram experience and 10 things you should know about staying at an Indian ashram, you can expect.

1. Following the schedule is compulsory.

Staying in an ashram is not a “vacation”, but a retreat into deeper practice and focused discipline; thus, strict attendance to the schedule is required. While I may not care for or agree with everything on the menu, I’m here to immerse myself in a new learning environment and it’s teaching me it’s lifestyle.

My schedule was intense– from 5:30AM and driving until 10 PM.

6:00 AM Satsang

7:30 AM Tea time

8:00 AM Asana Class (Beginners & Intermediate)

10:00 AM Breakfast (Vegetarian)

11:00 AM Karma Yoga

12:30 PM Coaching Class (Optional)

1:30 PM Tea Time

2:00 PM Lecture

3:30 PM Asana Class

6:00 PM Dinner (Vegetarian)

8:00 PM Satsang (group meditation, changing, talk)

10:30 PM Lights out



2. Engaging in spiritual practice

You don’t have to be “religious” to stay at an ashram, but understand the term “ashram” is synonymous with “spirituality”. It’s foolish to think of divorcing the two. Duh.

Whether you are or are not a spiritual/religious person, know you’ll be expected to practice open-mindedness and respect the ashram’s key spiritual beliefs, which is predominantly Hindu. Or else, why are you there?

You will see depictions of Hindu deities, devote an enormous time to chanting devotional songs in honor of these gods (and your ashram’s guru), meditating and taking part in spiritual ceremonies.

If you’re not ready to do this, then you’re not ready for an ashram.

Video of satsang (if you’re unable to see the video, click here).



3. The Bare Foot Etiquette

Some practices may test your comfort level. In Indian temples, you remove your shoes before entering; thus in an ashram, you remove footwear when entering buildings. For some, not wearing footwear can spell liberation; for me, I don’t like baring my feet on walkways, even if they’re paved! For me, walking into communal restrooms takes open-mindedness and cupped feet!



4. Observing silence and eating with your hands

Staying in an ashram gives you the excuse to wear the cultural suit. Observing silence during meals and eating with your hands is a practice you’ll learn to enjoy.  While the meal time hush is a rule at Sivananda, eating with your hands isn’t compulsory. Though you’re not supplied with utensils, you can bring them with you.

But before you reach for the silver spoon, give your hand a try first. As one Mumbaiknar told me– “I normally use utensils when I eat, but if I eat with my hands, the food tastes better!”

I’ll tell you a secret– it does.



5.  No  Internet?

An ashram’s focus is on spiritual development not your Facebook profile; thus,  accommodating your internet needs aren’t a high priority.

At the ashram, the internet hours were limited. During those hours, you could use the internet and hook your laptop up to the Wi-Fi.  However, the Wi-Fi, but it was very spotty and three PC computers  they had at the internet room always had a long sign-up.  I’m glad I bought a USB internet hub with me (Read 5 Travel Must Haves for India) !

Generally, many spiritual centers and ashrams have some form of connection with outside technology. Gurus and administration offices have to have  some internet access.

If all options fail, they can direct you to a location in town, where there is an internet cafe.

 


6.   Vegetarian Food Only

Meat eaters may have difficulty surviving on a meatless diet, missing the feeling of gnawing into something of substance. For me, the ashram was a vegetarian dream. The food was tasty, Ayurvedic, healthy and best of all, safe for my western stomach. I could eat to my heart’s content without worrying about how it was prepared or how the dishes were washed .



7. Performing karma yoga

Cleaning the kitchen, serving food, cleaning the dorm floors, taking out the garbage, working in the store, taking out the trash…

The ashrams generally support the idea that their attendees help maintain the ashram grounds. This is fair, as ashrams don’t always make or charge a lot for their room, board and classes. Thus, one hour each day is required of each attendee to spend in performing selfless service. This is called Karma Yoga. For guests, it’s a chance to burn off some of your karma  by doing good deeds.  My job was to mop the hallway of my dorm I stayed in.


8. Basic dorm facilities

Ashrams may have double and single guest rooms available, but the standard is most likely, dorm style living quarters. Many don’t offer lockers for security, however. If you have any valuables, you might ask to store them at the front desk. But this is at your discretion.



9. Making friends

Making friends with travelers and locals, who share your passion is another perk. Engaging in ashram activities and sharing a relaxed downtime makes your time lively and enriching.

In lieu of Holi festival (and the fact we couldn’t leave campus for it) the ashram prepared their own celebration for us.


10. Participating in spiritual ceremonies and rituals

We all want to know why certain cultures worship the way they do. Ceremonial rituals take place and it’s nice not have to press our nose to a glass pane to look in.

An ashram is a bit like a homestay. You get to experience local customs and spiritual practices as if you are an insider.  Unless you have good English translations, you may not completely understand what everything is about; yet it’s wicked to experience a ceremony, nonetheless.

Priest performs a puja ceremony for initiating Yoga TTC students.

Receiving tikka (3 types- ash, red, yellow) and prassad (an edible blessing) after the puja.

Getting There to Trivandrum

By Train:  Trivandrum Central Station is connected by rail to all main cities in India. When you reach Trivandrum, the bus station is situated across the street, where there is regular service to Kattakada/Neyyar Dam.  The Ashram is about one hour drive from Trivandrum (28km). Prepaid taxi is available at the airport, and prepaid auto rickshaw and taxi outside the train station. They give government rates, approximately Rs 350 for an auto rickshaw and Rs 800 for a taxi.

Accommodations in Thiruvananthapuram

Where I stayed: Hotel RegencyMajalikulam Cross Road, Thampanoor, Thiruvananthapuram, Tel: 2330377
484 Rs/Night== $10

Other Hotels located near this ashram

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Recommended Essentials for India . Click to Shop.

Information:

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram 
Neyyar Dam, Kerala, India
Website: www.sivananda.org/neyyardam
E-mail: [email protected]
Getting There: http://www.sivananda.org/neyyardam/travel.html

The ashram offers drop-in classes, as well as courses in yoga and meditation. The beginner’s yoga and meditation courses are very popular. Yoga Vacations and Teacher Training, staying at the ashram, are also offered.
Course Duration:
Ranges from two to three weeks, or more.
Cost:
Yoga vacations from 350 rupees ($8) per night.

 

Have an ashram or retreat experience abroad? What do you think are some things one should know about staying at an Indian Ashram?

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Budget Accommodations in India

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How to Choose a School in India for your Yoga Teacher Training (Part II)

Study Abroad: What is it like to study Yoga in India? (Part 1)

44 Comments

  1. Pushpa says:

    Hey., I worked as a teacher and now I’m a housewife.. I’m 58 years old..I want to spend rest of my life in good ashram ( especially in north india)., I want to do some social services till my last breathe… Will you please suggest me about any good ashram connected with social services…

  2. Nareshkumar says:

    Hi my name is Nareshkumar iam 33years old iam interested pray God and devotion life plz give me suggestions plz…

  3. Sam says:

    Wow, that was a nice read and beautiful with all the photos! I had a bit a different experience, as I stayed at a non-religious, small Ashram in Vrindavan, which is family-run and doesn’t ask visitors for participation in ceremonies etc. The beauty of that was that you could go out, take part in chanting etc. in local temples but return and have your own mind/peace/space. Also, there were single and double rooms available – which I will always prefer!
    I love your Holi photo though 😀

  4. Vimala says:

    Great post, I would love if guys come over Kerala, to enjoy experience awesomeness of Ayurveda massage 🙂

  5. nanda samanta says:

    i want to quit my bank manger job and to pray the god for making this unique universe, can you help me

  6. Nick says:

    How much have you to pay for staying in ashram?

  7. lalit kumar yadav says:

    I am lalit.Iam 24 years old i want to became a sanyasi so plzzz tell how to approach for that.call me 8796387876

    Reply

  8. vijay wankhade says:

    i am vijay wankhade 23 years old form mumbai , I want to spend rest of my life in an ashram plz suggest me . call me 8652652544 .

  9. vidya says:

    I am vidya.Iam 24 years old i want to became a sanyasi so plzzz tell how to approach for that

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @vidya: I haven’t experienced that so I couldn’t inform you on that.

  10. Enter your comment here…super good job

  11. Lilje says:

    A nice post, thanks! I’m heading to india in a few weeks myself, so it’s nice to soak up other people’s ashram experiences. Good luck on your travels <3

  12. stina says:

    Hi. I can’t let go of the idea of going to india to find something within me. I am thinking about staying at an ashram. I would consider myself as an spiritual person, and I have been traveling a lot, and been doing some yoga, not a lot. But I really like it. But my worry is that I haven’t been practicing yoga enough for staying at an ashram. Would you say that its necessary to have been practicing yoga for a long time before you go to an ashram?
    Thanks

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      @Stina: There’s no way of gauging one’s practice and ashrams aren’t selective to those who have reached a certain skill, so I’d say ashrams are open. There are different types of ashrams too, from yoga to meditation or just following a certain guru. The only thing you will be required to do is to follow the guidelines and schedule of the ashram.

  13. As much asI hate to say it, I’m spoild and need aircon 🙂

  14. marca bowser says:

    ive always been fascinating with the idea of traveling to India and stay at an Ashram.Ive believed it was out of my reach financially but my spirit is so definately in need.How do i afford this?i live in Virginia.Anyone close to buddy up with me?

    • Christine Kaaloa says:

      Hi Marca! I’d start with checking out the rates on the website and then flight costs from where you’re at. India is a developing country. An ashram in Virginia or U.S. will certainly be much more expensive. As for buddies- find the ashram you want to be at and see if there’s a FB page as a meeting ground to meet others.

  15. makkles says:

    Excellent post – very inspiring. I was just wondering roughly how much it costs to stay at this ashram in Kerala per day/week? I would love to go! Thanks 😉

  16. Dario EG says:

    Hi, i don’t know how to say it, but the thing is that I’m really really excited by the idea of traveling to India and visiting an Ashram. It’s something new I come up with a little while when reading Eat, Pray, Love and also doing a lot of yoga…anyway what I want it to ask you about is for any recommendation; like where should I start?, do Ashrams charge you for something?, how did you plan your trip to India?

    I have quite a lot of time, I’m planing to go next summer, so it would be amazing if you give me some feed back, it would mean a lot for me:)

    Thank you very much, I like your blog, and of course your post. Please reply

  17. Charu says:

    What a lovely post! Growing up in India I experienced so many aspects of an ashram visit myself, and love the peaceful systematic traditions. You look so happy!

    • @Charu: Thanks- it was an invaluable experience I’ll always hold close to me and hope to experience more. I can only imagine your childhood must’ve been filled with much of that richness. I love your traditions in India; they’re just so gorgeous.

  18. Pierrine says:

    Based on the photos above, I’ve noticed that we have different cultures that needs to be respected. Like the Indian culture, they also celebrate many occasions that will made their traditions more valuable.

  19. Jenna says:

    No, I haven’t. But just the name … hmmm. 😉

  20. Jenna says:

    I completely relate to the discomforts of shoeless holy places. I was fortunate enough to visit several ashrams in India, but when I got to the Sri Ramana Maharshi ashram in Tiruvannamalai I was reaching the culture shock breaking point (you know, where frustrations build until you have a mini meltdown, and after that you’re just fine with everything).

    Around the lovely grounds there are several gorgeous peacocks that really add to the serenity of the environment . . . until you look down and realize you’ve stepped barefoot in peacock poo! I almost lost it. Luckily, I became pretty unaffected after that (except for bathrooms, there’s no getting over that one!).

    • @Jenna: Ha ha… peacock poo! I wonder if Hindus would consider that holy? It’s Lord Krishnas animal. 😉 Haven’t heard of your ashram– that must’ve been a grand experience, aside from the little minefields. Have you been to the Rat Temple ? That one left my feet feeling defiled.

  21. riitaa says:

    Thanks for sharing such a nice post India is a hub of spiritual activities. I am from India (Rishkesh) that also known as a divine city and popular destination for yoga and meditation.

    • @Riitaa: I appreciate your comment. Yes, Rishikesh. I really wanted to get out there but heard the summer heat might be brutal. I saved it for another trip. 😉 Heard good things about it, but also that it’s becoming more commercial. Guess it’s inevitable anywhere.

  22. Megan says:

    I was only there for three days – I would have stayed a few days longer but I had some friends waiting for me in Pokhara town so we could cross the border together. I don’t think you’d stay there for more than a week – it’s beautiful and chill, the food is amazing and the owners are incredibly friendly, but the yoga isn’t very structured, since there are people arriving and departing every day. The chanting is lots of fun!

  23. Very interesting post, I’ve always wondered what it would be like. I would love to try it some time. How long do you normally stay at an Ashram?

  24. Megan says:

    I went to one in Pokhara – http://www.sadhana-asanga-yoga.com/ Was a lot of fun!

  25. Shelyn says:

    It sounds exactly like the scenes in Eat Pray Love. How long were you there for your Yoga practice. It’s an amazing experience you have there and I would really like to know what had the Yoga practice changed you or what have you learned from it?

    Great post and thanks for sharing!

    • @Shelyn: I was there for a week, although I did initially think I’d return for additional days. I think the ashram helped inform my practice more, culturally but it also enlightened me about what I liked and what made me uncomfortable with following in yoga styles. I like Hatha & Ashtanga/Vinyasa flow; it gives me a chance to listen to my body and understand myself better. Sivananda was a difficult teacher for me– different asanas, rhythm, etc… When you can’t connect to something or are outside your comfort zone, you look for new approaches into yourself… to connect. You try to let go of what you know, seek out different channels to get you in and let flow your mind. It’s working with the present. For me yoga is like life– every obstacle presents an opportunity to learn a new approach, challenge yourself. Everyone’s a teacher– even difficulty.

  26. Laura in Cancun says:

    Oh my gosh, this post is fascinating! I love all your photos. That truly is a beautiful place, and the food looks delicious.

  27. Oh you are a brave soul! I am not for walking into a bathroom with no shoes on wouldn’t happen. Everything else looks like an amazing experience though!

  28. Megan says:

    It looks way more intense than the yoga retreat I did in Nepal. The schedule was fairly similar (less yoga, though) but it was all optional. I did enjoy the chanting though, once I got over the initial self conciousness!

    I was actually considering going to the ashram you mention here but my time in India was cut short for various reasons so I didn’t make it! Have to leave something for next time 🙂

  29. Great post! Gives a really good insight into visiting an Ashram. ^_^

    • @Pentina: Hope you get out there to do one sometime! 😉
      @Megan: Well, the schedule was a bit more intense than the yoga, actually. LOL. Sivananda has a lot of sivasanas! BTW- what yoga retreat did you do in Nepal?

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