Life in the ashram
The word ashram means ‘making an effort towards liberation‘ and although once used to be a monastery far from big cities where pilgrims were staying and were being instructed, today is simply a place wih hindu cultural activities, such as yoga, music or the same religion itself.
The day begins in the ashram after 4 AM when you wake up, being out still dark, to be at 5am in the meditation hall. This takes a little more than one hour and it begins with a 45 minutes ceremony (in Hindi, of course) and about 15 minutes at the end, the lights turn off and you all meditate in group.
At 6:30 begins the first yoga class that extends until 8 AM, when you are free to have breakfast. Since then you have the rest of the morning free to do whatever you want, whether it is in your room, in the library, inside of the ashram or out exploring the region.
After eating, begins the second yoga class at 3 PM lasting until 4 and a half, giving you enough time to calmly get out of class and leave the ashram to witness the ceremony which takes place from 5 PM to 6 PM on the river Ganges.
By the time the ceremony has finished it’s already completely dark and you are free to do whatever you want, but at 9pm they close the doors of the ashram, so do not fiddle around too much if you don’t want to sleep in the street!
When starting the first yoga class the first day, the teacher saw so many new faces there that she asked if we had ever practiced yoga. With so many novices there she introduced us a bit into this new world starting with a ‘Well, if you think that yoga is just sitting on a mat, you have a lot to learn‘. And she was damn right… After the first class I went to the library (since there was no internet there) and I started looking for information.
The yoga, that the word means union, has many variants and all of them seek the same. Even if it’s still unknown when this practice began, it is known that was born in India at least 3.500 years ago. Almost nothing, huh? At the ashram we were taught Hatha yoga, which is the most widespread variant in the world, and consists of performing certain body positions, called asanas, just to leave the body in optimum condition for meditation.
Exploring the surrounding area
But not everything was going to be meditation and yoga these days, but also some exploring.
My ashram was in Ram Jhula, about 3 kilometers from the center of Rishikesh, which was great because it helped you stay out of the noise and general mess of any Indian city. Ram Jhula is delimited by the Ganges River on one side and on the other by lush mountains, and every step that you take, you get to find a lot of monkeys jumping, running and playing.
In the mountains we will find a Hindu temple, and a few kilometers away there is Baba cave, a small cave-temple where you can meditate. A few kilometers on the other direction, we will find Laxman Jhula and several smaller temples more.
And a little further, about 30 kilometers, there are waterfalls that people say they are very nice but I did not go in the end.
Finally, just say that I would totally recommend a stay like that, even if you’ve been some time practicing yoga already or you’ve never heard the term before.
One thing is clear after just five days there you will not have had an epiphany, or you will not have suddenly found yourself, or you’ll be a master of yoga, but as a experience is worth it.
Besides that when you have been traveling for some time, you feel constantly tired and I can not imagine a better break to relax and get energy than doing something like this. On top you get used to getting up just before sunrise, that traveling in winter is always good to take more advantage of the day!