I first heard the term ashram after watching the film Eat, Pray, Love. A film which inspired my journey to take 7 months out of my seemingly ordinary life and travel the world.
Finding the right ashram for you
I was drawn to India but felt terrified to go on my own as a solo woman. I had heard some horror stories of women travelling alone in India. For me though, I didn't want to let that stop me exploring a country so rich in culture, colours, and spiritual energy. So after much deliberation, I decided to stay in an ashram to get a feel for the country in a protective community with like-minded people.
After a lot of research, I decided Sivananda was the best for me, a rigid schedule starting at 5.20am, 4 hours of yoga a day, daily lectures, and sunrise and sunset meditation.
It was the best decision of my life.
For me, I was trying to heal from a broken ten-year relationship. Leaving the boy I had grown up loving and the familiar comforts of our flat in London was tough. Heart-wrenching and lonely, I stepped away from the life which no longer served either of our best interests.
Fast forward nine months and I was sat on a plane, on my own, terrified, flying to India with a one-way ticket.
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwatari Ashram, Kerala
My first impression of the Sivananda ashram in Kerala was total peace and tranquility. A sort of hippie university where spiritual yogis floated around the garden surroundings, barefoot and free-flowing. A sense of inner peace and serenity was prominent through the temples and yoga halls.
The first thing to take note about this ashram before you decide to go is that there is a strict schedule which must be adhered to. For me, this was perfect. The perfect way to heal and think only of my current activity and stopped me from being dragged back to past memories.
The day starts at 5.20am. Yes that is 5.20am. It is dark outside and the first few days I felt a bit sick getting up so early but grew quickly to love this sacred morning time.
The bells go off at 5.20am and then at 5.50am, calling you to the sunrise meditation. Here you sit in a large open hall where you will meditate from anything from 10 to 30 minutes. To start with it is tough sitting on the floor for long periods of time. Especially if you are used to the Western world of sitting on a comfy sofa! But your posture will dramatically improve and you discover inner strength.
After meditation, is chanting for another 30 minutes. This is basically singing and clapping (if you want) and is a lovely morning practice. I always felt like I was in one of the Pitch Perfect films!
Following this blissful morning routine, you will be read a passage from one of the founding guru's books. An inspirational message to think about during your stay.
After this, my favourite time of day! Chai tea and some snacks, usually nut or seed based. And then onto a 2-hour yoga class. Don't worry there is a lot of relaxation and breathing exercises included so it is not 2 hours of hardcore workout. Although you will notice how quickly your body tones up from this incredible workout (a bonus!).
Food at the ashram
Following yoga is a much-needed nutritious Indian meal. Now I'm not great with spicy food so was a bit apprehensive about the food. But Sivananda ashram does not use chilli in their meals so it is not spicy. When there is the occasional spicy dish, yoghurt is provided and there is always a non-spicy option.
The food is all home-cooked and deliciously nutritious. They only serve vegetarian food so good to take note if you are an avid meat eater. But it is different every day and is served with rice or bread, and on my favourite days, poppadoms!
When you arrive you are assigned a karma yoga duty which can range from sweeping the floors to helping out in the juice bar. There are a variety of chores you can help out with.
Free time is between breakfast and the 2pm lecture. You are allowed to leave the ashram at this time. You can find peace overlooking the lake, sit in the temple, or my favourite activity, enjoying the local tea shop with banana cake and a mug of chai tea!
Alternatively, there are yoga coaching and meditation sessions at this time. Here you can get some general advice, or perfect a pose you are working on.
Amenities at the ashram
Within the beautiful surroundings of the ashram, there is a little shop with anything you may need. Including toiletries, books, clothes, yoga mats, and other odds and ends.
There is also a juice bar which serves juices, fruit bowls, cereal, milkshakes, and toasties. And of course masala tea!
In the afternoon, after herbal tea and fruit, there is a 1-hour lecture where you learn about yoga philosophy. These sessions are very informative and the lady who teaches is a great inspiration and very knowledgeable. I loved these classes!
They are repeated every 2 weeks so if you stay longer than 2 weeks you are free to miss these and do your own thing.
Following your lecture is another 2 hours of yoga, followed by much-needed dinner. Another delicious home-cooked vegetarian meal where you can always ask for seconds or thirds.
After dinner, you have some free time and this is when the juice bar fills up with lively chatter! It is a great place to catch up with friends.
The internet is turned on also so you can catch up with loved ones back home. Or social media accounts if you prefer!
The day ends with meditation at 8pm, followed by more chanting and either a mini-lecture or if you are lucky, some entertainment! This ashram holds a talent show most Saturdays and sometimes invites local musicians. A lovely way to experience Indian culture.
After the closing prayer, you return to your dorm/room to sleep, ready for the day ahead.
Each week this day is repeated. Except for Fridays when you have the day off. You do still have to get up early and meditate but the yoga is optional.
They also organise day trips to see more of India which are great fun especially the beach trip!
All in all, I had the best time at Sivananda ashram in Kerala. I would highly recommend to anyone seeking enlightenment, spiritual healing, or the desire to learn more about yoga and oneself.
Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!