We haven’t written a blog post for a while and have a lot to catch up on, the main reason being that we went to stay at an ashram for 4 nights and have since been busy hopping from city to city before ending up where we are now – on the East coast of India.
The birthplace of at least three religions, it’s very clear from just our short time here that spirituality runs through the veins of India and its people. The roots of yoga and meditation also stem from here and are a way of life for many.
Keen to learn more about all of these and to experience a different philosophy and way of life, we decided to take the plunge by living in an ashram – a ‘spiritual hermitage’ and place of communal living established around the philosophy of a guru (spiritual guide or teacher).
Just outside Madurai, we chose to stay at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Meenakshmi Ashram known for its hatha yoga courses and yoga teacher training.
In honesty, we were a little apprehensive approaching our arrival based on the strict schedule we would be following which had been emailed to us prior to arrival:
Meals were to be eaten in silence and each part of the day was signalled by a bell.
Rather than the dorms, we had our own room which was basic but clean. The ashram itself composed of a temple where we did our yoga classes and morning meditation, along with various huts where we ate our meals. It was also teaming with wildlife including monkeys, bison, a couple of dogs, chipmunks, butterflies and Lee’s favourites – lots of lizards!
The early starts weren’t really a challenge – there was something lovely about sitting in silence for 20 minutes each morning watching the sun rise and listening to the mewing of peacocks (I didn’t know peacocks made that noise, I thought it was kittens).
Following meditation in the morning and evening we learnt and took part in numerous hindu chants, accompanied by full on tambourine, drum playing and clapping! This part of the routine certainly wasn’t for everyone, including us really, but we went along with it and got involved nonetheless. Apparently they are very catchy too because after 4 days of singing these day and night we are now both still humming them now!
The main highlight of course was the yoga and getting taught this for 3 hours per day. Due to the number of guests being small the sessions were mixed ability, meaning we were doing classes with pretty advanced yogis who could twist in to all kinds of positions and stand on their head for ages. We, on the other hand, struggled even to sit upright for the required time..something we definitely need to still work on. However, we did make progress as the days went on and now we have a mat each, and know the routine well enough, will try to continue this as we travel onwards.
Other than sunrise our favourite time of the day were tea times when we were provided with a large metal vat of milk tea and sugar which we drank as we chatted with the rest of the group. I’d say one of the best things about visiting an ashram is getting to meet a variety of people of all ages and from across the world. We were there with people from France, the US, Germany, Finland, Australia, Dubai and parts of India too. I’d definitely recommend it for lone travellers in particular as it’s such a safe and friendly environment.
‘Karma yoga’was basically chores – keeping the ashram clean and tidy by sweeping and cleaning different areas each day, effectively warding off that bad Karma.
Meal times were pretty decent too, and despite Lee’s fears about the lack of food (we panic bought a lot of biscuits before we went just in case) we ate really well and were never hungry. We were sat in rows on the floor and provided with metal thali trays which they filled up with portions of rice and vegetables and sauce from large buckets. We’re still not a massive fan of using our hands to eat but the eating in silence was actually quite nice – no need to make awkward small talk with your floor neighbour!
All in all we had a really positive and enjoyable experience. It was especially nice to be cut off from the wider world for a bit, forcing us to take time each day to clear your mind and be at peace.
That’s not to say it wasn’t without its struggles: Lee was PERMANENTLY hot and sweating like a pig due to the temperature outside and inside. Bed times were particularly rough because of this and neither of us slept particularly well. Consequently air conditioning has risen on the list of room priorities for the rest of the trip.
My own personal struggle were mosquitos which were abundant…especially when we were essentially sitting ducks during 90 minutes of outside meditation and satsang at their prime times of day – dusk and dawn. Both our bite count took a massive jump from just 1 each to a lot more in a short space of time. Oh and I shouldn’t neglect to mention the rat, which decided to visit our bedroom at night having discovered Lee’s supply of biscuits!
Next up a post about the route travelled to the East coast – the cities of Trichy and Tanjore – in search of ancient temples and rooms with air conditioning 😃💚