After backpacking around chaotic India solo for a month, I ended my trip at a stay at an ashram in Rishikesh. Getting there was quite the endeavor on its own, but once I made it, I knew it was the perfect place to spend a week recharging.
“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” ~ Rumi
Ashrams are places of spiritual retreat, places to escape from worldly pursuits. They are perfect to focus on connecting to the more important aspects of life. There are countless ashrams scattered around India, but I chose Rishikesh for a variety of reasons. First, The Beatles practiced there and I thought it would be cool to follow in their footsteps. Secondly, I wanted to visit the Ganges before I left India, and Varanasi was just too much of a trip to make in such a short time span.
Getting My Namaste On
Mahatma Yoga Ashram offers 200 hour yoga teacher training, as well as week-long retreats. The day begins with cleansing and meditation, and the ashram offers yoga in the mornings and evenings. Meditation is offered nightly, as well as lectures on the practice of yoga.
How I Spent My Days In The Ashram
5:00 Wake Up
At 5 in the morning, fog rises over the Ganges amidst the sounds of devotional chants blaring across the river on loudspeakers. Sitting in silence, I meditated on the banks of the holy Ganges, totally at peace.
Well, kind of.
I have to say, meditation is not my jam. I find it very, very hard to sit in silence and just be. That being said, I loved starting off every morning by stepping onto my balcony and soaking up the energy from the mountains and the river. There is something almost unreal about the Ganges. I can see why it is considered to be such a holy place.
After meditation, there is optional cleansing and purification. This consists of using a neti pot to drain ones body of any toxins. It was my second time doing this, as I had attended a yoga retreat in Thailand previously. That being said, it never gets any less funny to sit around with a bunch of strangers and pour water into your nostrils.
7am Yoga and Pranayama
Yoga in the morning was hatha yoga, and was very much focused on breath work and slow, subtle movements. At the ashram, there were both beginners and people who have been practicing for years. The teachers are excellent, and they made the class work for everyone.
The breakfast at the ashram was simple and ayuverdic based. The cooks at the ashram were lovely, and will make special food if your stomach is upset, which happened to quite a few people.
About halfway into my stay, I woke up with a huge spider bite on my leg. Being my hypochondriac self, I walked solemnly to the kitchen, assured that I was going to die. One of the cooks kindly gave me a ride on his motorbike to the doctor. The doctor assured me I wasn’t dying, gave some cream, and sent me on my way. I also taught funny English phrases to the receptionist, who now knows what ‘wtf‘, ‘lol’ and ‘xx‘ means when a girl texts him.
Just doing my part, ya know?
1:00 Lunch and Free Time
By lunchtime, the weather was quite hot, and most of us ate outside the ashram, soaking up the rays of the sun. After lunch, we were free to spend our days how we wanted.
Reiki and massage were offered, but I preferred to spend my days exploring Rishikesh. One of my free afternoons was spent visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga Ashram, where The Beatles stayed to practice in the 60s. Check out ‘The Beatles in Rishikesh‘ to learn more, it is a fascinating read.
I really recommend walking around Rishikesh and getting to know the locals. Although it is a semi-touristy place, it was off-season when I went. Everyone was very curious and friendly, and so many people came up and introduced themselves. I spent the day with one woman, who painted henna on my hand and made me chai. Her brother, a sadhu, then came by and blessed me.
Our second yoga class was a bit faster paced and really more of an Ashtanga flow. I prefer this, and feel I got a great workout from it. We also did quite a lot of headstand practice, and I was able to (kind of!) get into my first headstand.
After our second yoga class, it was straight to meditation. Sometimes we meditated on the beach, and other times we used the meditation room upstairs.
8:00 Dinner and Bedtime
After dinner, most of us were exhausted and headed straight to bed, ready to wake up for our next day of practice.
On my last night the Ashram, we skipped meditation and went to a beautiful ceremony down on the river. Led by monks chanting and clapping, we released our offerings onto the River Ganges and watched them float away. That was truly one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
The week I spent at Mahatma Ashram was short, but well worth it. Yoga has been one of the few things in my life that makes me feel truly at peace. Attending a retreat with other like-minded people is such a way to grow your practice, and grow as a person.