5:20 AM – Woken by very, very loud horn
5:30 AM – Chant mantras in sanskrit
6:00 AM – Meditation
8:00 AM – Breakfast (Rice, nuts, tea)
11:00 AM – Traditional kriya/hatha yoga
12:30 PM – Lunch (Dal, curried vegetables, chapati, rice)
4:00 PM – Pranayam (breathing exercises)
6:30 PM – Chant mantras in sanskrit
7:00 PM – Meditation
8:00 PM – Dinner (Dal, curried vegetables, chapati, rice)
9:30 PM – Ashram gates locked
This was our schedule for the time we spent in the Kriya Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh, India. Sex, alcohol, and garlic were strictly prohibited anywhere in the ashram facility, and quiet conversation was only allowed with members of same sex in private rooms, outside of mediation and mealtimes. Silence was to be observed at all other times. If you’re looking for an authentic spiritual experience, this is the place for you. We thought that was what we wanted, but the demanding schedule and rules wore on us pretty quickly. We lasted three days.
I think it was the repetitive food (so much rice!) and prohibition of conversation during meals that did us in. To be fair, we were warned that the food offered was “very simple,” and we could have eaten elsewhere (at additional cost of course). I found the yoga and breathing (pranayam) exercises to be accessible and useful, and the mediation challenging but relaxing. A certain amount of proficiency was expected in meditation, which we didn’t have, so some instruction in that regard would have been nice, but it was at least an opportunity to reflect and relax. I think I learned a few things about myself through the meditation and mantras.
My initial reaction to the mantra chanting was to retreat. I saw these as religious rituals that I had no interest in. So, just like my Catholic school days, I sulked awkwardly in the back. Eventually I realized that my presence was distracting others so I played along. I still think it’s silly to chant sounds to whose meaning I’m completely ignorant, so I stayed in the back, muttering “Brangelina, Yamaha, Shaquille O’Neal, kazaam!”
After day three, we’d had enough of quiet time and really missed coffee, so we high-tailed it to a more easy-going facility. At Shiva Yoga Peeth we’re allowed to come and go as we please and attendance is never required. We can mainline espresso and garlic bread (ew, not at the same time), and there’s twice daily ass-kicking yoga and significantly less ass-kicking but very nice meditation time. Oh, and we can actually talk about our day during dinner! What a revelation!
Your mileage may vary. I can see how the quiet life in a traditional ashram could be extremely beneficial. It wasn’t right for us, but I’m glad we gave it a whirl.