I’ve been traveling to certain places around the world for about two years now. Mostly because of yoga. I’ve been in many ashrams and lived in four of them; once in America, twice in India, and now in the Bahamas … I have experienced ashram life. So the question may come up; what is an ashram? What is the purpose of an ashram? I will try to tell within one post. Are you ready?
The Hosts of Spiritual Journey | What Is an Ashram?
I had written an article about ashrams before to my former blog, saying that Ashram life is like the movie “Groundog Day”.
“Groundhog Day is a fantasy comedy movie in 1993. I don’t know if you’ve watched the movie, but Bill Murray has the leading role as Phil. Phil goes to a place that he doesn’t like, and stays for a night over and the next morning he wakes up to the same day as the day before. So, he is stuck in a specific time and a place that he doesn’t like. He does the same things with the same order every single day. SO EVERY DAY IS THE SAME DAY (I gave a spoiler but there is no chance to tell this in a different way).
Why am I telling this movie? Cause, I’ve felt that I’ve felt like the movie “Groundhog Day” many times when I was in the ashram”.
According to Wikipedia, an ashram is a spiritual hermitage or monastery in Indian religions. These places are used for retreats as well as trainings.
Yes, as you may understand, spiritual seekers come to the ashram. Ashram is the space shuttle of the spiritual journey. Sometimes they take you quickly and put them in the void of space, you become independent of space and time, you become dimensionless. Sometimes that space shuttle explodes and you find yourself dependent on material world as never before.
Each ashram has its own culture. In the light of a spiritual teaching, the guru and the students live together in this order which is called “gurukula system”. Classical ashrams are monastic places. Some are much more strict. However, as I said, each one has a different order according to its own culture and teaching.
As I’ve mentioned, I lived in the ashrams in India, in America and now in the Bahamas, worked voluntarily. However, apart from those four, I have also been to many different ones in India. I’m not going to be able to give information about differences so much. Because I’ve always lived in Sivananda ashrams. Now I’m aiming to give chapter and verse about how life is going on in Sivananda ashrams and how one day passes:
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers
As I wrote about it before on my “Yoga Teacher Training Course in The Heart of Yoga Land; India” post that, you can come to the ashram to take teachers training course or stay as a guest or whether you are a graduate or not you can volunteer and experience the ashram life.
Ashram rules are so strict at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and absolute compliance is expected. But even the ashrams of the same organization differ. Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm, California is different than Sivananda Kutir Ashram, India as it’s different than Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat, Bahamas according to my observations. And yet, the culture of the ashram generally depending on the director of the ashram.
The daily schedule of Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers are as below:
In addition to this schedule, between 12.00 and 2.00pm most probably there is a workshop or course goes on. So when you take a teachers training course or when you volunteer, you don’t have much time for yourself. You only have to focus your mind to what you’re working on. Mind first may want to resist, it doesn’t want to give up its habits. But in the end you will see, leaving everything aside for a while and just surrendering to your inner world will shine your face …
Now, I would like to mention a little bit about how voluntary work in Sivananda ashrams.
Voluntary Work in an Ashram?!
There is a question mark and an exclamation at the end of the title. What could that mean?
Either there is an uncertainty or a tension … So in fact there is something unexpected. You might think it would be very peaceful to stay in an ashram. Yeah, it is. But to come here for your spiritual journey means you need to be free from the impurities you have acquired outside. And this process may not be as peaceful as you think …
In one of my Yoga articles I mentioned Karma Yoga meaning that selfless service. You’ll enter the ashram and you’ll be assigned to a Karma Yoga which can be according to your background or based on the needs of the ashram. I don’t know if “Karma” Yoga is associated with karma philosophy anyway, I guess it is… Cause you have to work without being tired of it 7 days a week. And believe me, there is an explosion, a break out happening at some point and after a purification.
The Place Where Karma Spins Round; Ashram
For example, the first Karma yoga that assigned to me was Housekeeping. Having a background of working as a white collar and having a fency life and then cleaning the toilets…Did I feel humiliated? Not really, nope … Cause I already smooth ruffled feathers of my ego in this sense during my first teachers training course I took in Turkey. But put yourself in this place. You’re a new born, you have no idea about ashram life and maybe have a bunch of prejudices, you’re full of expectations. You have many titles. Will it be easy to put these titles aside?
You’ll see the moment when you get to the stage, how the karma works. Maybe there’s a sudden push. Maybe you feel so peaceful as soon as you enter. No feeling will be permanent as nothing is permanent. Because everything passes.
Waking up before the sun rises for the meditation, then kirtan aka the divine music, hearing these teachings, practicing hatha yoga, eating sattvic food, living in a beautiful environment in the nature, before going to bed again meditating, participating satsang and kirtan… Which mind could resist? At some point the mind breaks out, and the Self remains only. Do not take the work as a work given to you in the ashram. Ashram does everything necessary for your purification and for smoothing your ego. While you are just comply that schedule, it gives you the ancient teachings of yoga philosophy that you have never heard before. And when you leave the ashram, you become full. Your heart becomes filled with love and faith.
In the beginning you get tired physically. The legs are not used to sit on the ground, your back will hurt. Gradually, you will learn how to keep your spine straight. You will learn to stop evaluating people according what they do. You will notice how simple life is … You will learn the importance of breathing. The embracing beauty of Mother Nature.
In return for all this, it is the inner peace that comes as a result of all the hardships that make you want to do Karma Yoga. You actually realize that you are here for all this teachings that you are not working here in return of food and accommodation indeed. At first, maybe you feel that you feel like a creditor, but then you will realize how much you owe actually… This debt can only be paid with selfless service and love… Of course, you can sustain this selfless service outside of the ashram. You don’t have to show or reveal it. There are things that you feel like you have a duty, you can only serve wholeheartedly to the Guru, to the teaching; so that others can discover this beauty and awaken.
Yes, Ashram is quite different from the life we know. The rules you have to follow (yama & niyama) won’t make your life easy. It is forbidden to consume meat, fish, eggs, onions and garlic as well as cigarettes, alcohol or drugs at the ashram. And unless you are a senior staff, you don’t have a space of your own, you live in a community. Not easy … On the other hand, when you get used to, ashram will become your house. You feel as satisfied as you’ve never tasted before.
I hadn’t even heard the word ashram until the age of 31. And I’ve already now had the chance to live for a long time. Isn’t that weird ?!
While I close my article here, I’ll update it if something new comes to my mind. I hope everyone’s path who reads my post happen to pass an ashram in their life. If it passes, don’t forget to share your experiences with me as a comment. And remember that I’m open to your questions.
For travel related posts, please visit http://www.journalofayogini.com/kategori/travel-with-me.