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Why You Should Visit a Yoga Ashram in India

My foot is asleep. No, I take that back. My entire leg is asleep. A numb tingling sensation that reminds me of childhood gymnastics shoots upwards through my body. I’ve been sitting cross-legged in silent meditation, wrapped in the darkness of early morning forsatsang (sanskrit for in the company of the “highest truth”) since 6:00AM. Given my current inability to feel my legs, I’m not sure things are quite so enlightening right now.

Dawn is breaking, cool and pastel blue. Somewhere in the distance across the jungle valley, a relentless tonal recording has been echoing through the treetops for at least an hour. Blaring horns blend with unfamiliar tropical bird squawks and what sounds like a harrumphing call of a hippo, although I’m fairly certain there are no such creatures here. I’m in the middle of nowhere tropical India, at Sivananda yoga ashram, nestled beneath peaceful lush green palms in the Communist state of Kerala.

I feel like a statue in the stillness, a living pillar of non-movement. And it is painful. I wonder if the other 100 or so sitting yogis in the meditation hall feel the same.

Eyes closed, observing my own discomfort, I watch my mind react to the creeping physical numbness that can accompany extended periods of non-movement. Why is it always such a battle to make the unconscious conscious? It is the unconscious that tells me to take immediate action––change position! But it is the conscious––feeble and weak––that is attempting to cultivate the awareness that wills my body to remain immobile in meditation. I try to observe, to ignore my screaming mind, to stay still and wait it out.

Alas, the mind wins this time. I unfurl my legs and stretch.

Our teacher’s chosen topic of discussion today is what he refers to as one of the biggest challenges in life: the mind. Remember, you are not your mind, he says.

The mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

It is the mind that tells us never ending stories. It is the mind that expertly weaves a web of judgements, prejudices, and preconceived notions until we’re so wrapped up in the rambling narrative echo in our head that we can’t help but believe it as truth.

Our teacher says that the practice of yoga polishes our inner mirror allowing us to see the reflection of our true self. In this way, we can better understand the stories of the mind.

This is why yoga is useful: it is a systematized way to “control” the mind through awareness, to find the truth of who you really are by quieting the mind’s ceaseless chatter and by finding physical and mental harmony between body and soul. It is an ongoing practice, a constant search to touch what is true.

***
“An ashram is a Hindu spiritual hermitage, a place of religious retreat that typically focuses on Indian cultural activities including yoga and meditation.”

This is how each day begins at the Sivananda yoga ashram:

A wake-up bell at 5:30AM before dawn, then almost two hours of required satsang, which includes silent sitting meditation, chanting, and a brief lecture on philosophical topics. Once the sun has risen, we roll up our mats and head to the jungle garden for steaming hot chai tea.
Next, it’s time for two hours of yoga. All this before eating any sort of meal.

This pattern repeats itself in reverse in the afternoon and onward into the evening. In between, after lunch, we are obligated to do an hour or two of seva, or volunteer work. It’s a good reminder that we are a living part of a larger community.

***

Ashram life isn’t for everyone, but maybe that’s the appeal.

While I feel physically energized after four hours of daily yoga, I admit that at first it’s not easy. Sleep deprivation catches up with me quickly, and the sparse meals trigger a persistent craving for an Indian thali and steaming fresh naan.

Spending time at an Indian ashram require you to adapt to less. It’s part of the reason so many people come; it’s a complete meditation. The ashram environment offers space and time to unplug entirely, and unravel mentally and physically.

One of the benefits of all this is that I begin to see things from another perspective. It’s amazing how much easier it is to appreciate the basics only after they are taken away. Hot water showers, toilet paper, spoons––in my normal life these things are hardly even noticed. In ashram life, they are greatly missed.

At the ashram I’m reminded: nothing can exist without its opposite.

Dedicating time for peace and reflection by visiting an Indian yoga ashram is well worth it. Of course, the challenge upon leaving is learning how to integrate all that is gained from ashram life back into your real-world life.

Jessica Yurasek is a San Francisco-based global storyteller and social media strategist. She has traveled to over 40 countries on six continents and blogs about finding your heart and soul around the world on missjessrose.com. Follow her on Facebook here and on Twitter and Instagram @missjessrose.

6 Responses to Why You Should Visit a Yoga Ashram in India

  1. Kate Newman October 11, 2016 at 4:55 AM #

    India is the most inspiring, influential and heart warming country I have ever visited. Your beautiful post has made me more excited than ever to re-visit in a couple of months 🌾

    • missjessroseJessica October 11, 2016 at 12:27 PM #

      Kate, yes indeed it is! Glad my post inspired you a little more. Have fun travels!

  2. durhamslovelifetravel October 11, 2016 at 12:31 PM #

    Ever since I read Eat, Love, Pray I have always wanted to visit and Ashram in India for the sheer experience of enlightenment and personal growth. Your story is truly inspiring! I can relate to toes and legs tingling for sure and that’s only after a 45 minute class at a yoga studio! I think the India experience would force me to push myself! Love it, great article!

  3. Sarah Bence October 11, 2016 at 2:32 PM #

    I would love to do this someday. How did you choose which ashram to go to? And how did you find it?

  4. Denis October 12, 2016 at 3:36 PM #

    This looks to be a trully unique experience, master level =)) Yoga is indeed such a powerful practice both for the body and for the spirit. Thanks for the article, very inspiring)

  5. Neha Chaitali November 12, 2016 at 6:52 AM #

    Yes Ashram is the perfect location in India for yogic work and wisdom.

    Thanks for sharing

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