Visiting an ashram, a traditional way to learn about yoga’s teachings and practices, is more than just a workshop or retreat. Ashrams, similar to monasteries (spiritual hermitage that provides spiritual instruction under the guidance of a particular teacher or lineage), focus solely on yoga and its philosophy. A visit to an Ashram can be a unique and authentic experience in yoga, but it can also feel strange and uncomfortable to Westerners and the uninitiated. While at my last ashram stay, I wrote down nine things you should know before visiting your first ashram.
Respect the rules
Ashrams have different rules depending on their teachings. Most centers insist on a strict vegetarian diet and do not allow the consumption of alcohol, caffeine, or drugs. Some centers may have strict rules about celibacy or the separation of genders. Attending certain classes and following the ashram schedule is often required or strongly encouraged. In some cases, modest clothing is required. The temples have the strictest dress code. As in a yoga class, you should enter temples and practice areas barefoot. If an ashram has a more traditional feel, they are more likely to enforce their rules. They may even ask you to leave if you don’t follow them.
Know the Gurus
Gurus establish ashrams to serve as spirituality centers for themselves and their students. You are not obliged to accept the teacher as your guru, but most ashram visitors and residents will be devout followers. You can expect a reverence towards the living guru and an atmosphere of pious devotion. This may seem strange and cultish for newbies. Some ashrams will continue to exist even after the gurus are dead. They may have a memorial temple to honor their deceased guru and to perform ceremonies and worship. You should visit a guru’s ashrams when he is there. It is essential to research the guru’s life, teachings, and temperament before you visit.
Prepare for practice
You can practice all forms of yoga at an ashram, so you should be prepared to do yoga on and off your mat. Many ashrams have morning and afternoon classes and evening workshops and programs. You can expect more meditation and Pranayama to be integrated into yoga classes or offered separately. Ashrams provide a minimum of two satsangs per day, which include chanting and lectures.
Many ashrams have seva programs (selfless service), which can be of different lengths. They allow guests to immerse themselves in the community more significantly and stay at the ashram. Seva participants can receive a discounted rate or even a free stay if they volunteer to work for 30-40 hours a week. Some ashrams ask all visitors to do some seva, which is a great way to meet the staff and long-term volunteers.
Food will be prepared in a sattvic style, which is vegetarian, simple, and healthy. Sample menus are available for those with solid food preferences or sensitive stomachs. Most ashrams offer meals in a buffet style at regular meal times. Take small portions and return for more. Having snacks in a small cafe or store between meals is okay. However, it’s best not to overeat, as this can make you uncomfortable while practicing yoga.
Connect with the community
As ashrams attract people from around the globe, you can expect to meet some fascinating individuals. You can expect to meet a lot of young adults if the ashram offers a robust seva program. It is worth seeking out “old-timers” at the ashram, as they share many stories and wisdom. At every ashram I have visited, I found people to be amiable and open to conversation.
Accommodations that are a bit more austere
You can expect to have a rough time during your stay. Most ashrams offer tiny rooms with small beds and bathrooms that are shared. Some ashrams offer affordable dormitory accommodation, while others provide tent camping. Some ashrams have expensive rooms that offer fancier amenities and private bathrooms. You won’t be spending much time in your bedroom, but you will probably want to sleep comfortably at the end of your day.
Self-service is more convenient than full-service
As an ashram isn’t a resort, hotel, or spa, its amenities, and accommodations are much simpler and rustic. Don’t expect to receive five-star service or be coddled. Check the online reviews of an ashram to find out what amenities and linens are available.
Most ashrams have beautiful, spacious grounds and are often located in remote areas (some are even a pilgrimage). You will find plenty of time for solitude and reflection, which can be a welcome respite from the busy atmosphere. You will find many exciting places to explore and walk. However, it would help if you respected that some areas may be closed to visitors.
If you want to immerse yourself in the teachings and practices of yoga, then visit a traditional Yoga Ashram. You will be more comfortable during your stay if you have done some research and prepared for your trip. It would help if you arrived at your ashram with an open-minded attitude and a sense of adventure.