Many people often dream of staying in an Indian Ashram, but what exactly is an ashram, and what can you expect when staying in an ashram?
The thing is, there are people who will tell you an ashram is this, or it’s that, but during my time in India, I came to find out, that ashrams can take many forms. There are so many ashrams in India, most running independent of the others, but some larger and branching. Some you will find commercially advertised, some you can only find if someone brings you there, some near or in major cities, some deep in nature with no internet or cell connection. Some ashrams have strict structured schedules, while others have no structure at all.
While traveling in India I stayed in 3 ashrams, each one revealing a different expression of yogic practice.
Officially, Ashrams are monastic communities, or religious retreat centers generally for the practice of Hinduism, in India and Southeast Asia.
With this definition in mind, I noticed a few similarities between the ashrams:
Precepts, like no alcohol, no tobacco, no meat, etc.
Yoga, lifestyle and physical asana practice
Modest dress code for men and women
Sivananda Ashram, Neyyar Dam, Kerala
This ashram was my first home in India, where I did my yoga teacher training. At Sivananda, we followed a strict schedule that began at 6:00 and concluded around 21:30. We meditated together, did yoga, volunteered around the ashram, attended lectures, and meditated some more. Ashram activities are mandatory here and there is not much chance to leave the ashram for personal activities. It is a great place to refresh, detox, and have a structured experience.
There are a few Sivananda Ashrams in various locations around the world, and each one follows the same daily structure and yoga series as taught by Swami Sivananda and passed down through Swami Vishnudevananda.
This is a large, and well known ashram which can host a few hundred people. It is well established and well funded.
Ma Sharanam Ashram, Narmada River
I learned about this ashram thanks to my yoga teacher from home in USA. Her Swami resides here, so we came here for a few weeks to learn from him. To get to this place, we had to travel an hour by car from the nearest airport, and take a boat across to the island.
This ashram is also a gurukul, which is a place where children are trained in the traditional monastic and priestly traditions of the Hindu faith. The children that lived in the ashram were kind, helpful, generous, and very talented musicians. It was a blessing to be around children raised in such a structured, yet compassionate environment.
This is a much smaller ashram, where the schedule is flexible. This place felt like a family, if there was work to be done, we all helped, and otherwise we were left to enjoy the space and work on personal practice in whatever way we pleased, or to join in with the ceremonies and activities at the ashram. And by the way, the food here is awesome. Staying at the ashram is donation based.
Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh
This is one of the bigger, if not biggest ashram in Rishikesh. To me, this ashram was more of a guesthouse in many senses. There was a schedule, but it was not mandatory, about there were so many people staying at this ashram, you could come and go as you pleased.
Every evening, Parmarth does a Ganges river puja, ceremony, which is nice to see while you are there. When I stayed at Parmarth, meals were included in the price of the stay, but I have heard this changes. Also, there are two yoga classes included in the stay, but I was already attending other classes around Rishikesh, and found the classes at Parmarth very basic, which would be great for those who have never done any yoga.
Parmarth is well known, and host to the yearly international yoga festival in March. Book ahead if you plan to stay here around February-March because it gets full. I came after the festival, and I couldn’t get into Parmarth for 3 weeks! Prices vary based on room type and occupancy.
Have you ever stayed in an ashram? Which one? How was your experience?