It was a Saturday morning many moons ago and I had just finished reading the newspaper. In it was an article about the author taking a leave from writing her weekend column to spend time at a yoga ashram in British Columbia. I remember thinking what the hell is an ashram and why is she staying there for half a year?
Years later, I found myself following the footsteps of that author. It’s interesting how things seem to boomerang their way in life. It was a particularly challenging stage of my life – my personal life and career were both taking a beating and I didn’t have the stamina any longer to stay in the ring. Instead of booking a last minute vacation like I typically did to de-stress, I found myself searching for something different. The universe presented that “something” via a television program – there was a feature on the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas. Without hesitation I booked my trip shortly there after.
What is an ashram? An ashram is a place of spiritual retreat. Historically, an ashram was a secluded religious hermitage where Hindu Kings retreated to find solace and tranquility, as well as guidance from a “rajguru” or royal teacher. These days, you don’t have to be of royal descent to partake in ashram life. In fact, spiritual vacations are a growing trend in the tourism industry. Some may say that the growing interest is sparked by the book / film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, however, it is likely due to the increasing strain of every day life, in other words…stress. In addition, the economic crisis that decimated jobs, homes and lives, are making people seek deep reflection. And they’re finding solace in spiritual destinations like yoga ashrams.
Visiting an ashram, although more popular today than in years past, is not for everyone. If you’re contemplating on going to an ashram, one advice I would give is to keep an open mind. Ashrams have a different set of rules and etiquette. For example, most ashrams have compulsory daily schedules, which start before dawn. Ashrams require you to participate anywhere from two to four yoga classes and meditation sessions each day. In addition, participants often practice karma yoga or selfless service around the ashram such as washing dishes, cleaning, gardening, etc. Also, there are a few items that are not permitted on the premises, such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs, caffeine and meat. In other words, expect a clean and often vegetarian (or vegan) diet during your stay at the ashram. Your body will thank you for this!
In terms of the accommodations, think simple and bare. Most ashrams offer shared dormitories and washrooms, similar to a hostel environment. And some offer a handful of private rooms with en suite bathrooms for a few extra dollars. If you’re on the cheap, inquire if you can set up a tent on the ashram grounds – this is usually the most cost effective, especially, if you’re planning an extended stay.
Ready to visit an ashram? In part 2 of this post, I will share with you a list of ashrams around the world.
Have you ever stayed at an ashram? What was your experience like?