My Experiences Staying in an Ashram in Rishikesh
Although very stereotypical, I knew I wanted to stay in an ashram during my time in Rishikesh to have a different experience than the hostels I have stayed in thus far. Made popular by the Beatles, Rishikesh is now a tourist mecca for Indians and foreigners. Some come for spiritual enlightenment and to “find themselves”, while others come for yoga teacher training or to simply see what all of the fuss is about. I like to think that I belong in the third category, but I did thoroughly enjoy the five days I spent here.
Rishikesh is filled with ashrams, and just like anything in life, the more options available, the harder it is to choose between them. Being a novice to both yoga and ashram life, I asked the workers at the hostel I stayed at if they had any suggestions. He gave me a few options, and I set off the following morning to scope them out. The first one I checked out was Anand Prakash, and I knew that I didn’t have to look any further. It fit my basic criteria: yoga classes and other activities, none of which were required, as well as freedom to leave the ashram to do other things around town (provided you returned before 9:30 pm when the gates closed). One could participate in as much or as little as one wished without feeling pressured to do anything or having to join a cult-like environment. Costing 800 rupees a night, but including accommodation in a shared room, three meals a day, two yoga classes, and unlimited filtered water for drinking, I felt like it was a great value. As such, it was fairly popular, and they had no vacancies for that evening. I promptly booked for the following three nights before returning back to my hostel.
The daily schedule was as follows
5 am: Wake-up call and personal meditation
6-7:45 am: Morning yoga on the rooftop
8 am: Puja ceremony (Hindu religious offering)
8:30 am: Breakfast
12:30 pm: Lunch
4-5:45 pm: Afternoon yoga in the basement
6 pm: Dinner
7 pm: Kirtan Chanting
9 pm: Silence until 9 am the following day
9:30 pm: Gates to the ashram are closed for the night
Unfortunately, the yogi was currently in Canada and was not in residence in the ashram. The yoga classes were run by two different teachers-one in the mornings and the other in the evenings. Having previously only participated in shorter yoga sessions, I worried a bit that the two hour sessions would be tiresome and long. However, it proved to be the opposite case and I enjoyed the longer length of the classes. The teachers also did not pressure you to do anything your body couldn’t do or that made you feel uncomfortable, and it was a stress-free environment. There is something peaceful about spending time on the roof prior to the sunrise and savoring the only cool period of the day. The basement also provided a good refuge for the afternoon sessions conducted during the hottest part of the day.
Meals were conducted in the dining hall where everybody sat on the floor in front of a personal table situated a few inches off of the ground. Volunteers would offer to serve the food and would go around the room serving the different types of food to the others. Lunches and dinners consisted of rice, chappati, daal (lentils), and some sort of vegetable. Breakfast consisted of fruit, porridge, and paranthas (dough-type food often with potatoes inside). Breakfast was conducted in silence, but we were allowed to talk and get to know the others during the other meals.
My room consisted of two beds, small table, fan, and attached bathroom. The first night I had the room to myself and the last two nights I shared with an Israeli man. He was a bit difficult to get along with, but that happens sometimes with some of the travelers who choose to come to India. India attracts some of the hippie/spiritual types that can be obnoxious about their beliefs and opinions.
I chose not to attend the Puja ceremonies or the chanting that was held in the evenings so I do not have an opinion on either of those.
Overall it was a good experience and I felt that three days was a sufficient amount of time before I would begin to get bored of the routine. I do see the benefits of the simple living and schedule, and it would be a good break or respite if someone was feeling stressed out from their current daily life. I would entertain the idea of staying in an ashram again if the opportunity ever arises.