You think, “Ashram,” and you think, “Enlightenment! Learning! Meditation!” My ashram experience wasn’t exactly that.
My friend Barbara recommended Sivananda Ashram; she had visited another one years prior, and loved it. I went to a different branch than the one she had visited, and didn’t exactly have the same experience.
I started my first day by arriving before the morning satsang; I wanted the full experience. The days were full and I thought it might be best to integrate by arriving first thing.
Here’s what a sample day at the ashram was like (or any day of the Yoga Vacation):
6-7:30 a.m.: Morning satsang (meditation, chanting, listening to a reading from a spiritual text)
7:30-8 a.m.: Tea time
8-10 a.m.: Yoga
10-10:30: Brunch (though def not like in NYC!), served while sitting on the floor. South Indian sattvic food - no onion, no garlic, no spice, vegan. Served with herbal tea and buttermilk.
10:45-11:45: Karma Yoga. Basically, you clean as part of your selfless service.
11:45-1:00: Free time. I used this time to draft emails, read, shower, do laundry
1-1:30: Optional coaching. You could bring an asana you struggle with, or a question about yoga, and get one-on-one help, and watch others and practice asanas.
1:30-2:00: Tea time, again.
2-3: Lecture or movie. Geared for beginners, with a hint of brainwashing.
3-4: Free time. I used this time to shower (again, yes, again), do laundry, have a snack, or on one occasion, go for a run wearing pants.
6:30-7:30: One hour of wifi. Everyone would turn off and just focus on their computers, catching up nonstop over the hour and ignoring everyone and everything else.
7:30-8: Free time, used to shower, relax.
8-9:30: Evening satsang.
10:00pm: Lights out.
It sounded like an intense but awesome experience. I was excited to immerse myself, and couldn’t wait to focus JUST on yoga. How lucky was I?
Not very lucky, it seemed.
While some love this experience, I didn’t connect with the Sivananda Ashram. There was an energy I didn’t connect with, and I noticed it almost immediately. When you asked questions, like, “What does this chant mean?” You got vague or annoyed answers. Or the, “There’s a book on the bookstore on this.”
It was a sattvic living: sattvic food (We all complained about craving sugar, cheese, and alcohol!), wearing sattvic dress - you had to wear loose-fitting, well-covering clothes. So no yoga tights, no tank tops. It was boiling - days would get in the 90 F, and we were all sweaty in harem pants. (And - for those of you who know yoga, you kind of suffocate when you do asanas like plow when wearing these pants! Ugh, it’s like curtains over your face….) I would change my sports bra and clothes several times a day, hand-washing everything. (Luckily, it was so hot, things dried rather quickly.)
I went to one lecture on meditation that was so basic, but only focused on one way to do it. “You must meditate with your eyes closed.” While this is how I meditate, I know there are traditions that keep their eyes open. Everything was like, “This is how it is.” Even asanas were practiced in very different ways.
My yoga teacher, Hannah, from my YTT, told us that it is very dangerous to do backbends right into forward folds and vice versa. “It can disorganize your spine,” she told us. I’ve always noticed that yoga helps alleviate back pain, but here, possibly because we were constantly doing backbends into forward folds and vice versa, I was possessed with an achey back. Others in the program complained of the same issue. “I never have back pain back home…”
Another lecture I went to presented some basic yoga concepts and theories that I had recently studied in my YTT….but some of what she presented was just wrong. I began getting frustrated, and shut up.
And then I knew: I don’t belong here.
I had also gotten into an argument with the director about running; he refused to give me a pass to let me leave campus to run, and if I ran on campus, I needed to cover up. Pants while running in the heat? No way. I would get heatstroke. Then, the last straw was when he told me I had to pay for a single room for one night of my dormitory arrangement (I had paid up front for three nights of a single; after two nights, I moved to the dorm to save money. I asked if I could transfer the deposit to my dorm room and pay the dorm price; I was told yes. They refused and made me pay for the dorm bed at a single room price.). I just got so annoyed.
I got in a cab and went to Madurai. I felt a weird sense of relief, and I was sad. I had so looked forward to an ashram experience; I thought it would be peace, learning, yoga, meditation, and love. It was rules, acceptance without questioning, and a weird energy. I was glad to be gone.
Good for some people, but not for me.