So… What is an ashram?
Ashrams essentially provide ‘me time’ at its best and most affordable: lots of yoga, lots of meditation and lots of self-reflection in tranquil, rural settings. They have existed in slightly different forms for thousands of years, mostly in India, where many still operate in their traditional sense with a guru providing highly disciplined, spiritual direction.
Who’s it for, anyway?
Anyone. The past century has seen ashrams sprout up across the Western world. Originally guests were mostly Buddhists or yogis, but in the past couple of decades an increasing number of non-believers have turned to them for a dose of uncomplicated, stress-free living. “Often people come to our ashram because they’re burnt out,” says Swami Chintanshuddhi from NSW’s Mangrove Ashram. “So we get all types. Most are relieved to switch off the phone and slow down.”
What happens during a typical stay, exactly?
The day starts early, be that for a yoga class, meditation or an activity like bushwalking. Some ashrams are stricter about the itinerary than others, but generally there’s a timetable that might include meals, meditation, creative activities and free time. Another big part of ashram life is work practice, which aims to encourage selfless giving through small chores like raking leaves or washing dishes. “The word ashram means ‘labour,’” says Swami. “Not in the mundane sense of the word, but a more awakened, aware way of working together as a community and not being attached to the fruits of our actions.”
What about food and accommodation?
Meals are mostly vegetarian, and accommodation varies from dormitories to private rooms. Everything is included in the cost, which can sometimes be as low as $40 a night. Note: you will have to leave the booze at home.
Why should I choose an ashram over a hotel in Paris?
It’s a lot cheaper for one. But also, ashrams are about retreating from the noise of the world and exploring deeper aspects of the self, which can’t always be done on a holiday – especially with mobile phones connecting us to every one and every thing. “We go to an ashram to relax,” says Swami. “But in a different way to how we might on a holiday. We’re not necessarily distracted by the environment. We face ourselves. We learn how to slowly calm down the senses instead of constantly gratifying them.”
Which one should I go to?
Rishikesh on the Himalayan foothills is often regarded as the ashram capital of the world after the Beatles visited in 1968 and shared their profound experience with the West. Most are found in India, but there are some great organisations running out of the US and Australia too.
Here’s our top six:
Founded in 1982, this volunteer-run ashram focuses on stress elimination through breathing techniques, meditation and yoga.
Where: Bangalore, India
The biggest ashram in Rishikesh, perched on the banks of the Ganges. It runs an extensive program of beginner yoga and Vedic Heritage.
Where: Rishikesh, India
160km from Manhattan, this ashram is part of a worldwide organisation. It practices sustainable living, Hatha yoga and juice fasting.
Where: Woodbourne, New York
Meditation is the focus of this Australian bush ashram, which is less structured and also acts as a retreat centre with a range of wellbeing activities.
Where: Rosebank, New South Wales
The largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, offering structured retreats and lifestyle stays.
Where: Mangrove Mountain, New South Wales
All major branches of yoga are practiced at this ashram in the forest, which is suitable for day trips or longer stays.
Where: Daylesford, Victoria