An ashram is a place to practice yoga, meditation, and spirituality, an oasis of serenity and calmness. Typically set outside a village or town, in a quiet and peaceful location, they offer basic facilities such as accommodation, dining hall, yoga hall, library, and gardens. In a yoga ashram, one should not expect conventional luxury. Afterall, the purpose is to go back to the basics and become independent from your habits, patterns, and indulgences.
Traditionally, an ashram is the home of a spiritual master or teacher who lives there with his family. People visit it for a shorter or longer duration and seek the help of the teacher, who then guides them on their spiritual path. Visitors that stay at an ashram become a part of the teacher's family, following the daily routine of the ashram and helping with chores while pursuing their spiritual goals.
Where did ashrams come from?
Ashrams originally were and still are Indian hermitages. Over the last few decades, however, the concept of an ashram has spread around the world and ashrams have become more accessible to tourists and visitors from abroad. Nevertheless, ashrams still play a very important role in traditional Indian culture.
Until 80 to 100 years ago, when there were still no schools, ashrams also served as the place to provide basic education for the children. As spirituality is an integrated part of the Indian culture, so are regular visits to temples and ashrams.
In India it is an inherent belief that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience rather, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. People in India grow up with the ideas of self-awareness and self-development, with the concepts of spiritual evolvement and enlightenment, and are aware of the difference between reality and the illusion of this world, even from an early age.
A yoga session at Arhanta. Image credit: Arhanta Yoga Ashram
Who is an ashram for?
An ashram is usually compared to a monastery, but the comparison falls short as ashrams are not only the residing place of monks, saints, and spiritual teachers—they are also open and accessible to anyone and everyone.
People from all backgrounds and ages can visit and stay at an ashram for any period of time. The teacher helps and welcomes them regardless of their beliefs and faith. Many people want to grow and live spiritually but they do not want to become a monk and leave everything and everyone in their life.
Ashrams provide a middle way: they give you the chance to take time off from the daily routine, to give up regular dependencies and addictions for a certain period of time. In this period, balance can be brought back to your life and you can learn and strive to keep the balance when you return to your daily life.
Image credit: Arhanta Yoga Ashram
Why should I spend time at an ashram?
There are different reasons to visit an ashram. Some people seek guidance and spiritual wisdom; others seek a quiet place to find more peace and clarity of mind. Sometimes people also come to get rid of negative patterns and develop discipline and good habits.
The lifestyle at an ashram is usually very different from the one you are used to back at home. You wake up early with the rising sun, practice breathing exercises to fill fresh oxygen in the lungs, meditate to go deeper into your mind, sing chants to release emotions, eat simple food, practice yoga asanas to improve the condition of the body, discuss philosophies to open the mind.
Throughout the whole day, we follow a strict routine set within basic facilities without any luxury. This simplicity, however, helps us to understand the importance of the things in life we generally take for granted. It also helps us to reflect on our mental conditioning, habits, and addictions, which we sometimes confuse with our necessities.
Yoga class at Arhanta. Image: Arhanta Yoga Ashram
The ashram experience can be intimidating but down the path, it may give you a clear sense of priority and importance of things in your life. Most sufferings in the present Western and Westernized civilizations are connected to stress, imbalance of emotion and logic, and lack of discipline.
Yoga ashrams provide a safe space, free from distractions and the routines of daily life, and the chance to get rid of excess emotional and material baggage. It invites you to come back to yourself and reflect on the true purpose and meaning of your life. The ashram's stress-free and healthy lifestyle can bring back mental and physical balance in a short period of time.
Be careful when choosing an ashram, however. An authentic yoga ashram is non-sectarian in nature. It does not teach or preach any particular religion, faith, or guru. A true ashram only promotes healthy lifestyle and self-awareness through self-discipline and reflection.
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