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

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

 

10 Things to know about staying at an Indian ashram is everything you need to know about ashrams in India. It is based on my experiences of my yoga ashram in Kerala followed by practicing yoga in India through a month-long 200 hour yoga teacher training program in Dharamsala.

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.

Sunrise group meditation at my yoga ashram in India

 

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.

 

My first experience staying at an Indian Ashram

Finding a yoga ashram in India felt like a blessing. 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 when staying at 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 leave the ashram. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

Hanuman statue (Hindu monkey diety) presiding at the entrance of a my Sivananda yoga ashram studio

Staying at yoga ashrams in India: What is ashram life?

There are many types of ashrams in India, with spiritual gurus who are well-known or said to be mystical healers. The Sivananda Trivandrum ashram was a gem of a yoga retreat in Kerala, 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).

This yoga ashram in India 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).

Most people know Sivananda as a yoga teacher training center (Read How to Choose a School in India for your YTTC) . But if you’d just like to further your yoga practice , learn about Ayurvedic practices or experience a deeper spiritual cleansing, then Sivananda yoga ashrams offer a lot.

The campus bore amazing facilities that were geared towards western travelers. My every western 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.

yoga teacher certification

10 Things to know about staying at an Indian ashram

Like many yoga enthusiasts looking to practice yoga in India, I was inspired by the film, Eat, Pray, Love… But each ashram is different, varying in rules and codes of conduct.

Here’s a peek into ashrams in India and 10 things you should know when staying at an Indian ashram.

1. Following a yoga ashram schedule is compulsory

Staying in an ashram in India 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 studying yoga in India to immerse myself in the yoga ashram environment. In return it is teaching me the rhythm of ashram lifestyle and yoga methodology.

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. Indian ashrams engage in spiritual practice

You don’t have to be “religious” to stay at an ashram, but understand that in India, the term “ashram” is synonymous with Indian philosophy and spirituality. It’s foolish to think of divorcing the two.  Stilly, many western yoga practitioners may be thrown off by how much spiritual teaching there is in physical yoga. It is especially hard for orthodox Christians, who do believe in the singularity of God or for those who see yoga as a gym workout.

Read what yoga in India is and is not.

Whether you are or are not a spiritual/religious person or Hindu, you will be expected to participate in key spiritual beliefs, inspired by Hinduism. You will see depictions of Hindu deities in the artwork and statues, devote an enormous time to chanting devotional songs in honor of these dieties (and your ashram’s guru), meditating and taking part in spiritual ceremonies.

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

indian guru teaching yoga to student

A mural of Krishna guiding the yoga practice between guru and student

 

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

3. Remove your shoes

Understanding Indian etiquette is helpful as it can feel different than western ways. Some aspects may test your comfort level. For instance, Indian temples, you remove your shoes before entering to show respect and cleanly attitude; 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!

Read Things you MUST know about Indian Etiquette

Basic ashram practice: Leave your footwear outside the studio

Toilets at an Indian ashram

Toilets at an Indian ashram



4. Ashram rules of silence (and eating with your hands)

Staying in an ashram in India gives you the excuse okay,… eat with your hands. 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 always 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!

Eating meals in silence

Eating our meals in silence

Eating with hands in India

Eating with hands in India



5.  Do ashrams have internet?

An ashram’s focus is on spiritual development not your Facebook profile; thus,  accommodating your internet needs aren’t a high priority. Internet hours are limited. During those hours, you could use the internet and hook your laptop up to the Wi-Fi.  However, the Wi-Fi was very spotty and the only three computers in the ashram’s computer room, always had a long sign-up queue.  I’m glad I bought an Indian SIM card and a USB internet hub with me (Read 5 Musts for your India trip) and an India SIM card ! You can also turn your smartphone into a mobile hotspot.


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 . Read Food Safety Tips for Eating Street Food 

Vegetarian food at Indian ashrams

Vegetarian food is served at Indian ashrams


7. What is Karma Yoga: How much of it is part of the ashram experience?

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

One hour each day is required of each ashram 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.

Indian ashrams in general, 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. But it is more than economy.The practice of karma yoga  breeds mindful care and a self-less consciousness working towards the greater good.

If Indians honor the god in every guest, that guest is also a god capable of cleaning up after themselves.

8. Yoga ashrams in India have basic accommodations

Ashrams in India may have double and single guest rooms available, but the standard is most likely, dorm style living quarters. Many ashrams do not 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 at an ashram in India

Making friends with fellow ashram guests invites meeting travelers and locals, who share your yogic, meditation and spiritual passions. Sometimes, the ashram will have planned activities to enjoy. For instance, my yoga ashram organized a Holi celebration on their grounds to keep practitioners safe during their time in India. Engaging in ashram activities and sharing a relaxed downtime makes your time lively and enriching.

Note: Celebrating Holi in public can be cautioned against for women as there are a lot of drunken men who have been known to use that time to grope females. Read my India Travel Tips (YOU NEED TO KNOW Before your trip to India!)

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

10. Inside the yoga ashram experience and Indian culture

An ashram is a bit like a homestay. You get to experience local customs and spiritual practices as if you are an insider. You will be guided and some religious etiquette will be explained.

We all want to know why Indian culture worships the way they do and as foreigners, we want to feel like we can participate in it to take our experience deeper. Indian ceremonial rituals take place – it’s nice not have to press our nose to a glass pane to look in.

Priest performs a puja ceremony for initiating Yoga teacher training students at Sivananda yoga ashram.

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

Best Ashrams in India : Are they for you?

There are many types of ashrams in India as there are gurus and false gurus everywhere. How do you find the best ashrams in India?

I went with Sivananda yoga ashram because they have a world re-known reputation for yoga in the West, but their yoga did not inspire me as much. Traveling India you’ll find a wealth of ashrams revolving around spiritual interests such as yoga and meditation practices. It’s best to find an ashram which aligns with your current spiritual and yoga practice . There is Amma, the Huggging Saint, who has her ashram in Kerala. Osho is a famous tantric yoga and meditational guru and his main ashram is in Pune. Then if you enjoy meditation and want to learn raja yoga at an ashram at Mount Abu, there is my long-time practice at Brahma Kumaris meditation 

Is the ashram experience safe for female travelers?

Ashrams are known for their inclusivity and safety. I certainly experienced this at my ashram. However, it is important to always question the safety of any ashram you are visiting. The reason I say this is that there is a level of surrender and vulnerability you have to practice at an ashram. Unlike western tradition, there is little “questioning” of ashram practices and there have been news of spiritual gurus in India who have abused their authority with female guests and devotees. It happens. Gurus are often seen as spiritual teachers and masters but they are human and quite often, male. Know yourself and what feels right for you. If anything feels sketchy or wrong, avoid it. You may feel it in your gut when you see a photo or a website– trust your intuition.

Always seek out reputable ashrams. I would start with well-known ashrams until you gain more experience and confidence.

Some ashrams offer comfortable and hygienic accommodations, while others offer less. Do your research first, ask questions, check the ashram website and try to find photos taken by visitors or guests. If it is available, email past guests or read reviews to get an idea of what you should expect and how to prepare.

Where to find yoga retreats in India?

If after reading this post you get to wondering if an ashram is really up your alley. For some, it isn’t and that’s okay. Many western travelers confuse Indian ashrams with yoga retreats in India. A retreat may allow a different experience of practicing yoga, while also having personal time for sightseeing India.

Staying at an ashram, I initially thought it would be a flexible yoga vacation and it was not that. While I did not regret my experience and would highly recommend it, an ashram is not for everyone.

Maybe you’re uncertain if you want to commit to a long duration at an ashram or maybe you’d like to explore something a little alternative like Tantra Kundalini yoga. Maybe you’re looking for a yoga schools in India, with teacher certification programs or a yoga vacation retreatIf so, click on those links!

yoga teacher certification

Best travel insurance for traveling India

When traveling India, getting travel insurance is highly recommended. Some yoga teacher certification schools in India make travel insurance compulsory, whereas ashrams can be laid back.

Traveling in India has obvious risks–  it is not only about getting a bout of Delhi belly. Yoga enthusiasts get hurt and some India yoga training programs can feel like training for a mini yoga olympics. Although there are medical facilities on the ashram premises, it’s impossible to know if they are equipped to support whatever accident or ailment you come up with.

I went with World Nomads to cover my India trip; as an American traveling India, it was the cheapest I found.

 

Recommended Essentials for India . Click to Shop.

How much does it cost to stay at a yoga ashram in India?

The cost of staying at a yoga ashrams in India varies with the length of your stay.  Costs can range from drop-in classes on yoga and meditation to full board and housing with full ashram schedule of programs. Yoga ashrams in India typically cost less than the cost of a western weekend retreat. Meditation ashrams can cost less than yoga ashrams.

At Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Trivandrum , I paid 50 rupees ($8) per night. There was a one week minimum stay required so you can get into the rhythm of the program, but you can stay up to two to three weeks or longer to study yoga in India. The beginner’s yoga and meditation courses are very popular. Yoga vacations and yoga teacher training certifications, were also offered at this ashram.

Getting 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.

Getting to Sivananda yoga ashram Neyyardam:

http://www.sivananda.org/neyyardam/travel.html

Hotels in Thiruvananthapuram

Where I stayed:Hotel RegencyMajalikulam Cross Road, Thampanoor, Thiruvananthapuram, Tel: 2330377,

Other Hotels located near this ashram

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As a female solo traveler traveling India,  I take you inside India travel: navigating Indian trains, transportation, eating Indian food,  Indian etiquette and planning your first India trip.  My videos are filmed as I travel India alone.  

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65 Comments. Leave new

  • I want to learn meditation yoga and ayurveda therapy in some good ashrams in India. How to know the details of cost and booking to join the courses.

    Reply
  • I don’t normally comment but I gotta say thankyou for the post on this one : D.

    Reply
  • Hi Christine,
    Would you happen to know of some ashrams in Northern India that you would recommend which offer more meditation practice than yoga practice, as I meditate but don’t practice yoga? Also, since internet at ashrams is spotty, how do we correspond with them to make reservations? Thanks

    Reply
  • Wonderful information. Moved me to consider something I hadn’t valued before. Grateful

    Reply
  • Oh, missed that! Heading to apply for Indian visa tomorrow.

    Reply
  • Christine Kaaloa I never knew you visited Kerala. Kerala has lot to offer and it’s a perfect destination along with other South Indian state.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      GRRRL TRAVELER
      June 11, 2019 1:44 pm

      Yup @Nigel, Goa down to Kanyakumari! =D Kerala is beautiful and well maintained compared to maaaany other parts of india.

      Reply
    • GRRRL TRAVELER nice. Remember I mentioned to you about Chikmangalur in Karnataka State. If you like coffee and rain, Chikmangalur is the right place.

      Reply

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