It’s 5 a.m. and a gong echoes across the moonless valley in Southern India.
The sun’s still snoozing. I’m struggling to be awake. Face washed and lycra-free yoga gear on, I’m soon hot-footing it to Satsang—a gathering of a few hundred novice tambourine-bangers and chanters welcoming the emerging day.
It’s peak yoga vacation o’clock at the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, India, and the main hall is packed to the concrete rafters with sleepy faced nomads from across the globe. After a few minutes of cultural confusion, I tune into the booming call and response being led by a pint-sized, microphone-loving guru.
Before I know it, my “what the hell am I doing here” facial expression morphs into a smile. I’m beaming from ear to ear. The reality is I have little grasp of what I’m chanting. For all I know I could be subliminally reprograming my core beliefs, or perhaps listing off the ingredients for a killer curry. Either way, it’s an oddly uplifting kick-start to the day.
Back home, my regular yoga practice demands the latest in radiant heating, sultry lighting, Savasana chill-out beats and over-sized rain showers. Here in yoga’s mother country, it’s back to basics. Think concrete-floored pavilions, militant yoga instruction, and a good half hour of lung flushing Pranayama (breathing exercises) before any kind of textbook asana (yoga pose) sequencing begins.
By 10 a.m. the tummy is on the hunt for the first of two daily vegetarian meals (weight loss is guaranteed). We shuffle in to find a cross-legged spot on the dining room floor, as cement mixer-sized vessels of curry, rice, papadums and unidentifiable fried things slam-dunk our plates. Flavours are basic. and after a few days they seem to merge. The gastronomic highlight is heading to the café for a chai cookie and cuppa after dinner.
A two-week yoga vacation at the Sivananda Ashram in modern day Kerala, India is very much like checking back into the womb. You’re yoga’d, fed, coached and lectured, sung and slept without having to plan any part of your day—thanks to a well-rehearsed, slightly militant 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. schedule. It’s this meticulous planning that makes the days fly by and the outside world start to quickly disappear.
Within a few days of Ashram life, we’re discovering groups of like minds. It’s incredible how in a short period of time such strong bonds can form within a new community. Having time to share stories of travel, soul searching and self-discovery is a wonderful, heart-opening experience.
Here’s a few “Ashram 101” tips to help you through the journey:
>> Book ahead—particularly during peak times—as the smaller, bunk-bed-free rooms disappear quickly.
>> Don’t demand luxury. It’s an Ashram, not a 5-star spa retreat. Rooms are functional without the fuss of air conditioning and hot water.
>> Leave the lycra at home. This is a Lululemon-free yoga zone. Loose-fitting long pants and shoulder covering t-shirts are the go.
>> Avoid the night eaters—bring mosquito repellent.
>> Bring tasty snacks. Your taste buds will be craving familiar flavours after seven plus days of curry.
>> Go with the flow. Yes, it will be different, but stick with it. This will be one of those journeys that makes its mark.
Thinking about diving into the cultural slam-dunk of India and heading to one of the many Ashrams throughout this hugely diverse country? Do it. There’ll be days you’ll thank me for the push, and others where you will absolutely loathe my existence for writing this article.
Either way, this is one of those unforgettable, life changing experiences that you’ll embrace and share for the rest of your life.
Author: Josh Murray
Images: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May