Earlier this year I spent some time at an ashram in Kerala, India. I signed up for a two-week yoga vacation at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in Kerala, India.
One of the most appealing aspects of Sivananda is that it’s open to anyone who happens past and would like to visit. You don’t need an existing relationship with a guru and don’t need to align with rigidly scheduled visitor programs. Yoga vacations are run continuously, beginning on the 1st and the 16th of each month. The closer you time your visit to one of those dates, the better. But if you can’t, you’ll be okay.
The mission at the core of the Sivanada Yoga Vedanta centres is to spread peace, health and joy through yoga. The founder of the ashram, Swami Vishnudevananda visited the West in the 1950s with the aim of spreading the teachings of yoga throughout the world.
This ashram is all about yoga (how about fours hours of yoga per day) and open to beginners and advanced yogis alike. The ashram’s language of instruction is English and therefore is very popular with foreigners.
On entering the ashram you agree to follow the rules of the ashram, which includes participating in the ashram’s daily schedule:
Basic Ashram Schedule
0520 hrs WAKE UP BELL
0600 hrs SATSANG (meditation, chanting)
0730 hrs TEA TIME (lovely warm chai)
0800 hrs ASANA CLASS (Yoga)
1000 hrs BRUNCH (typical southern Indian food, minus the meat, fish, eggs, garlic and onion)
1100 hrs KARMA YOGA (selfless service)
1230 hrs COACHING CLASS (optional)
1330 hrs TEA TIME (more lovely warm chai)
1400 hrs LECTURE (on the five points of yoga – see below)
1600 hrs ASANA CLASS (more yoga)
1800 hrs DINNER (more typical southern Indian food, eaten in silence)
2000 hrs SATSANG (more meditation and chanting)
2200 hrs LIGHTS OUT
Other rules include (from the Sivananda website):
- Karma yoga (selfless service) is an integral part of the daily schedule and provides an opportunity for guests to participate in the upkeep of the ashram. Guests are required to offer up to one hour of karma yoga per day, this helps in tuning to the energy of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda.
- Guests may leave the ashram on the weekly day off. Guests should return in time for evening satsang. There are no lectures and coaching classes on the day off.
- Smoking, alcohol, drugs, meat, fish, eggs, garlic or onions are not allowed. Pets are not allowed.
- Mobile phones are not allowed and should be handed into reception upon arrival.
- Photography, video, audio recording during classes and ceremonies is only permitted with the permission of the ashram director.
- To respect the local culture and the monastic tradition, kindly restrain expressions of affection such as hugging or kissing in public. Guests are advised to observe celibacy (brahmacharya) as part of the spiritual discipline.
- Male and female dormitories are separate. Men are not allowed in the ladies’ dormitory and vice versa.
- Couples are not allowed to share rooms during Teachers Training Courses, Advanced Teacher Training Course, and Sadhana Intensive.
- Guests are requested to observe silence during meals and between 10.30pm and 7.30am daily. Lights out after 10.30pm daily.
- Guests behaviour and dress code should be respectful of Indian culture and enhance the spiritual atmosphere of the ashram. Observance of the ashram dress code should be maintained at all times including during asana classes or swimming in the nearby lake, pond or river. Nudity is forbidden. Men and women should cover the shoulders, midriff and legs. Tight fitting, transparent and revealing clothing is not permitted in the ashram.
The Sivananda ashram follows the five points of yoga, as described by Swami Vishnudevananda (the founder of the ashram):
- Proper Exercise (Asanas),
- Proper Breathing (Pranayama),
- Proper Relaxation (Savasana),
- Proper Diet (vegetarian),
- Positive Thinking (Vedanta) and Meditation (Dhyana).
The days at Sivananda are long, but the schedule is full so you don’t have enough time to get bored. At the same time, the schedule is relaxed enough that you don’t feel overwhelmed by it. One of the great joys for me in the ashram was to wake up in the morning and step calmly into the day – turning up where I was expected to turn up (it’s time for yoga, it’s time for a meal), until it was time for bed. There was no internal dialogue about what do to next, no weighing up the merits of different food or entertainment options, no frittering away time on twitter or watching TV. I just did what the schedule said to do and after two weeks I felt calmer, happier, stronger and healthier.
Although visiting an ashram is undoubtably a spiritual experience, and therefore not for everyone, I would feel comfortable recommending it many. There is no expectation within the ashram that you will adopt Hinduism or commit to a belief system. It is only expected that you will respect the religious practices that do go on there and follow the rules of the ashram that are designed to maintain a ‘spiritual atmosphere’.