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January 10, 2011

How to Pick an Ashram in India. ~Sonja Bjelland

Photo Courtsey Sonja Bjellan

Many times while in India I heard people say they would just go to Rishikesh and find an ashram.  Traveling on the subcontinent requires that attitude, but ashrams aren’t just any hotel with four walls and a shower over the toilet.  Some have a long list of rules but offer near silence (as close as one can find in India.) Others are more lax and social, but also more noisy.

It takes a bit of the self-knowledge that yoga brings to pick a yoga vacation or ashram that works for you.
After two weeks at Parmarth Niketan, I’m transitioning to yoga resort life at SwaSwara, south of Goa, India.
But before I left Rishikesh’s yoga hub, I checked out a few other ashrams in the area.

This isn’t about what’s better or what’s worse. It’s what type of experience you want.

It’s tough to find out what some of these places are really like, but I’ll do another post later about researching them and, quite frankly, that’s why I created this site.

For some people, Parmarth Niketan can be too loud, crowded and focused on Hinduism. Statues of gods and goddesses fill the property. Part of our classes included Hindu texts. Chants invoke Shiva and Vishnu. But that’s only in the yoga program. Otherwise, visitors can attend 6 a.m. yoga, 5 p.m. meditation, a service on the banks of the Ganges and meet with Swamiji afterward.

Photo Courtesy Sonja Bjelland

It worked for me because I wanted to be around people after traveling by myself for several weeks. I also found it interesting to learn about Hinduism from its core followers. The location allowed me to have outside food options, the Internet and contact with bits of India. But it was India-lite. I was only dodging cows and motorcycles intead of rickshaws and cars as well.  But that’s not everyone’s wish and other ashrams offer some variety.

The similarly named Yoga Niketan ashram, also in Rishikesh, rises above the busy main street with bucolic grassy lawns dotted by yoga students in white on their mats.

The staff did not speak English well so I could not get some questions answered, and one woman struggled to even check-in. For 600 rupees a night ($13 US) visitors receive three meals and a long daily schedule of meditation and yoga from 4:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Only for the serious yogi, they require a minimum two-week stay.  It’s farther from places to go outside the ashram and the afacing street is busy and leads straight to a rickshaw depot. But that makes it easy to reach. Well, until you have to climb the hill.

In its serious nature, Yoga Niketan also has a strict code that, again, will make some people cringe and some smile. Going back to the translation issues, guests are called “inmates” on the list of rules and regulations that includes a ban on electronics and musical instruments and latecomers are not allowed to enter classes. The rooms were cleaner but just as basic.

Only a short walk up the same road, the Omkarananda Ganga Sadan Yoga ashram overlooks the Ganges River. The security guard would not let me inside and said they were booked full so he could not show me a room.
From what I could see, the spotless lobby has seating that overlooks the river and a small store that sells various products so people do not have to venture into the hectic marketplace down the street. They require a 3-day minimum stay and rooms are 350 rupees without air conditioning and 1,000 rupees with it. They offer Iyengar yoga classes from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

Down closer to the footbridge sits the more well-known Sivananda/Divine Life Society ashram

For the full article, visit Bliss Passport

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For more than 10 years, Sonja Bjelland covered life’s underbelly for daily newspapers. She originally sought out yoga to change up her workout routine, but discovered that yoga helped her deal with the daily tasks of listening to tearful courtroom testimony or interviewing a mother who had lost a child. As the newspaper industry crumbled, she decided to give back to the yoga community for what it gave her. Blisspassport.com is dedicated to providing a forum for discussions about all types of yoga-related travel and strives to provide more information about yoga retreats, yoga spas and yoga resorts so readers can make educated decisions.

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