What to Expect at an Ashram
An Ashram is a place for practicing Yoga, Meditation and other spiritual practices to evolve and grow spiritually. Ashrams are typically set outside a village or town in a quiet and peaceful area. They consist of only basic facilities with living quarters, dining hall, Yoga hall, library and gardens. An Ashram is an oasis of serenity and calmness. There is no place or need for luxury in an Ashram. The purpose is to go back to the basics and become independent from regular habits, patterns and indulgences.
Traditionally an Ashram is the home of a spiritual master or teacher who lives there with his family. People visit the Ashram to seek guidance and spiritual wisdom. Visitors that stay at an Ashram become a part of the teacher’s family. They follow the daily routine of the Ashram and help with chores while pursuing their spiritual goals.
Ashrams were originally founded as Indian hermitages or places of seclusion, and remain so today. Ashrams still play a very important role in the traditional Indian culture. Up until about 100 years ago, Ashrams also served as the place to provide basic education for children. In recent years, and especially over the past few decades, the concept of an Ashram has spread across the world, and Ashrams have become more accessible to tourists and visitors from abroad.
Spirituality is an integrated part of the Indian culture, and so too are regular visits to temples and Ashrams. In India it is an inherent belief and a deeply internalized concept that,
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Spirituality is an essential part of the daily life in India. People in India grow up with the ideas of self-awareness and self-development. The concepts of spiritual evolvement and enlightenment are taught from an early age.
The concept of an Ashram is in fact quite special. It can be compared to a monastery, but the comparison falls short as Ashrams are not only the residing place of monks, saints and spiritual teachers, but are also open and accessible to anyone and everyone. People from all backgrounds, ages and beliefs can visit and stay at an Ashram for any period of time. The teacher helps and welcomes them regardless of their beliefs and faith.
Many people want to grow and live spiritually, but they do not want to become a monk and leave everything and everyone in their lives. Ashrams provide a middleground, giving people the opportunity to escape their daily routines and temporarily relinquish regular dependencies and addictions. During this pause, balance can be brought back to one’s life and one can learn and strive to maintain that balance upon return to daily ‘normal’ life.
The lifestyle at an Ashram is for the most part very different from the one you are used to back home. You wake up early with the rising sun, practice breathing exercises, meditate, sing chants to release emotions, eat simple food, practice Yoga Asanas to improve the condition of the body, and discuss philosophies to open the mind. Throughout the day, you follow a strict routine in a basic setting without any distractions. This simplicity helps us understand the importance of the things in life we generally take for granted. It also helps us reflect on our mental conditioning, our habits and our addictions, which we sometimes confuse for necessities.
Most suffering in the present Western and Westernized civilizations are connected to stress, an imbalance between emotion and logic, and an overall lack of discipline.
Yoga Ashrams provide a safe space, free from distractions and routines of daily life, and the chance to get rid of excess emotional and material baggage. Visitors come back to themselves and reflect on the true purpose and meaning of their life.
One must be careful when choosing an Ashram. An authentic Ashram is non-sectarian in nature. An Ashram does not teach or preach any particular religion, faith or guru. A true Ashram only promotes a healthy lifestyle and self-awareness through self-discipline and reflection.
The Ashram experience can be intimidating, but ultimately, it will give you a clear sense of priority and importance of things in your life. For those seeking peace, personal insight, and a break from routine, finding an Ashram may be precisely what the doctor ordered. 😉