As you may already know, I decided to take time out and live in an ashram in India for 3 months. Let’s just say I watched the film, ‘Eat Pray Love’ and felt inspired to go on my own journey around the world!
It was the most incredible and life-changing experience I have ever been through. I cannot recommend it enough. But how do you find the right ashram for you?
Personally, I was so keen to see India that I started looking only at ashrams in India. But of course you can use these same criteria for choosing the right ashram for you anywhere in the world.
So here it is, my complete guide to finding your perfect ashram in India:
Finding the right schedule for you is a great starting point. Think about how much freedom you like. Do you want a flexible schedule where you pick and choose the activities you want to do? Or do you prefer a more rigid schedule, giving you the discipline of committing to daily classes.
I had just come out of an 8-year relationship and was really struggling with all aspects of my life. So for me, a rigid schedule that would take my mind off my problems back home was exactly what I was looking for.
Think Kate Winslet in 'The Holiday'! Yes, I am that dramatic.
The other great thing about having a rigid schedule is that you get to spend a lot of time with the same people. Although that might be a reason for a flexible schedule for some of you! But for me, it was incredible to meet some lovely, like-minded people and get to hang out with them every day!
I actually met my boyfriend in an ashram in India. We hung out together so much as friends that we grew a really strong connection.
Living in an ashram in India can be tough. You are away from loved ones, there usually isn’t that much internet or ways to connect with people back home.
So for me, creating my own little community within the ashram (through a more structured schedule) was ideal.
Flexibility vs Structure
Now there are lots of differences in the flexibility of schedules. So you can go somewhere in the middle with some structure and some flexibility. It is truly up to you and your preferences! Just remember to check the schedule and any information about how compulsory it is.
I loved the Sivananda ashram in India, but they have a very strict schedule. Yes, someone will wake you up every day at 5.20am for meditation!
They take their schedule very seriously so if you like your independence and flexibility, this ashram in India probably isn’t for you.
On the plus side, you will notice your life shift from doing 4 hours of yoga a day, and morning and evening meditation. We got so much fitter from these daily nourishing practices.
2. Yoga vs. Meditation
Another important factor to consider when choosing the right ashram in India for you is whether you want to focus more on yoga, or meditation.
For me, I was looking for an ashram where I could work on both my yoga practice and meditation which is why I chose Sivananda ashram in Kerala. They do a really great split between yoga and meditation.
You practice meditation first thing every morning and last thing at night before sleep. After morning meditation, you then practice 2 hours of yoga and then have breakfast. In the afternoon you practice another 2 hours of yoga before dinner.
It’s a really great mix of the two practices and you will become better each day from these daily practices.
Now some ashrams in India focus more heavily on one. There was one ashram in India I found that was pretty much all meditation. Other ashrams I found focused more on the yoga practice so think about what you personally are looking for.
Some of my friends at Sivananda ashram had just come from a different ashram in India where they did silent meditation retreats. Here they would sit for hours in meditation each day. No speaking or even writing was allowed.
It sounds quite intense but my friends swore by how transformational this had been in changing their thoughts and life.
Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced
Think about what sort of level you are in yoga and meditation.
The thing I like best about Sivananda ashram is that it caters to beginners. They taught me the foundation of both practices. I was very new to both practices when I started.
You can choose between Beginner and Intermediate yoga classes. So you can choose the best class for you.
My friends who were yoga teachers took the Intermediate class, while I took the Beginner classes.
If you are very advanced in yoga or meditation, maybe consider a more advanced ashram. Yoga Barn in Bali is an incredible place to progress your yoga and meditation practice if you are at an advanced level.
3. Group or solo travel
When choosing the right ashram in India for you, it is also important to think about if you would like to travel solo or as a group.
There are travel agencies that organise tour groups so you can travel with a group to India. Obviously you won’t know who you are travelling with but you will be in a group which could be deemed safer.
Or you may have a group of friends who all want to go to India with you.
I didn’t know anyone who wanted to travel to India, or who could get that much time off work. I was the only one mad enough to leave my job and my home!
But I had the strongest impulse to go to India. So for me staying in an ashram was a safer way of exploring India. I was planning to make friends in the ashram and then I could always travel with them.
From my experience, the Sivananda ashram in India is the perfect place to make friends. It’s quite a small ashram and you all have the same schedule so you see the same people again and again.
I made the best frends out there, and even was lucky enough to meet my boyfriend, although we were just friends in the ashram.
It’s pretty strict on male and female relationships at Sivananda, and probably most ashrams in India. So don’t go to an ashram expecting to meet Mr Right!
Another factor to consider when choosing the right ashram in India for you is accommodation. This choice may depend on whether you wish to travel as a group or as a solo traveller.
There are many different accommodation options to choose from. Not only depending on the ashram you choose, but also within the ashram itself.
At Sivananda ashram in Kerala, there are single-sex dorms, and smaller houses where you get your own private bedroom and bathroom.
These are ideal for couples who want to travel together. Although do remember that life in the ashram is strict. You will be expected to abstain from any sexual activity while you are in the ashram.
I picked the female dorms at Sivananda. These are basically long corridors with beds. They also have toilets and showers at each end. The showers are separate cubicles so you do get your own space.
The beds are grouped in pairs so you will have someone sharing opposite your bed. You each have a shelf and a locker for your belongings.
Once you put your mosquito net up, you can actually get some privacy.
Sivananda ashram in India is great for enforcing the rules so lights out at 10pm and they will check. It is good if you want to get a good night's sleep. The dorms at Sivananda ashram are also pretty clean as people are assigned to clean the dorms daily for their Karma yoga (more on that later).
Your sleep routine
Just have a think about your budget (private rooms are pricier), and what works best for your sleep routine. Personally, I like to get a good night's sleep and am definitely an early bird. So for me, going to bed early and getting up early is perfect!
Some ashrams like Amma's ashram in India, don’t have a strict schedule so you can go to bed and get up whenever you like.
When I visited, I shared a room with 3 other women in twin bunk-style beds.
Personally, I didn’t feel very safe as you are in big tower blocks, this ashram is massive! You can't lock your door until everyone has gone to bed.
Often I went to bed first, and so had to sleep with the door unlocked. So it wasn't for me but if you love your independence, this might be the ashram for you!
Another factor to consider when choosing the right ashram for you is the food! Have a think about what food you like to eat. Do you like to be able to eat whenever you want? Or are you trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle? Do you have any dietary requirements like vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free?
Ashram food can be very varied, even within India so think about what's important to you.
At Sivananda ashram, you are given two meals a day and small snacks during the day. There is actually an amazing chai tea and banana cake shop just down the road from this ashram. You will often see the seasoned yogis hanging out here!
But in essence, you get two main meals at Sivananda: breakfast and dinner. These are traditional South Indian meals. Food is eaten with your hands (always use your right hand to eat). You sit on a mat on the floor, and silence is observed.
As with most of the rules at Sivananda ashram, these rules are pretty strict. They will tell you off for talking.
The same procedure happens at dinner, after the last yoga class. You do have a range of different veggies and carbohydrates (rice or bread). You can have as many helpings as you like. They continue to serve as you sit and eat.
All the food at Sivananda is vegetarian however most of the dishes include ghee (clarified butter) so not always suitable for vegans.
Choice of food
There is very little choice of food at Sivananada ashram in Kerala, India. But the food is really good, I loved it! Usually, it’s not spicy, but if the curry is hotter, they will give you another curry as well.
If you are concerned about spice levels, this food is definitely safe!
You also get snacks at Sivananda like fruit and nuts twice per day. Once after morning Satsang. And again around lunchtime, just before your yoga lecture.
There is a small shop in the ashram too where you can buy snacks. As well as a juice bar where you can buy freshly squeezed juices, milkshakes, toasties, and a few other light bites. And of course, the banana cake shop down the road is very popular with hungry yogis!
The food at Sivananda ashram is good, just not as varied as some other ashrams.
At Amma’s ashram, for example, they have lots of different food options.
Choose the free, very spicy traditional Indian food. Or the amazing vegan cafe, with all the best food you could dream of, and mostly vegan. You pay for this food but it is very affordable. My friends were often found in this cafe!
There are other food options at Amma’s ashram in India too, which are more mid-priced and more basic, but still really yummy! Plus Amma’s ashram is very laid back, so you can eat whenever or as often as you like.
6. Karma Yoga or Seva
Now an important aspect when choosing an ashram in India is the amount of Karma yoga or Seva you would like to do. In my research, it seems that most ashrams offer some sort of Seva but it varies in terms of the amount and type.
Karma yoga or Seva is translated as selfless service. It’s the act of giving without expecting anything back. Think of it as volunteering.
Now, this can vary a lot depending on the ashram you choose.
Some ashrams are very dependent on Seva. It will be mandatory to do a good few hours of Seva every day. Whereas others, it will just be a small part of your day. This is why it is good to check the daily schedule so you can see in advance how much Seva is expected from you.
Seva at Sivananda
This is another reason I love the Sivananda ashram in India so much! Seva was performed daily (except on Fridays which is your day off). But Seva is only around 45mins to an hour max each day. Some people, like my boyfriend, only had to do about 10mins! It depends on which task you are given.
There are some cleaning tasks such as cleaning the dorms (which means the dorms are really clean!). Or you can do smaller jobs such as helping at break times to serve the snacks and tea.
If you are staying for a longer period of time you can do the most fun job which is helping in the juice bar!
It’s really fun, and you get to learn how to make all the teas, juices, and toasties from the lovely Indian women who work there.
When I stayed at Amma’s ashram the Seva was more intense. You have the freedom to choose your Seva which is good but they can be quite long, around 2 hours a day. I worked in the garden which was much harder than I thought! In the middle of a hot day, gardening is not the best activity.
Before that, I did washing up within a team which was a really lovely way to meet other people at the ashram and find out more about their journey.
Seva may be more intense at Amma’s ashram but it’s much easier to escape!
There are no rigid schedules and the ashram is so big that no-one would notice if you did not do your Seva.
But to be honest, performing Seva daily is a really great aspect of living in an ashram. You get to meet new people and it feels very rewarding doing some work each day.
Another factor to consider before choosing an ashram in India is the dress code or uniform. Some ashrams in India have uniforms that you are required to buy when you get there.
Sivananda ashram only has a uniform for their Teaching Training Programme (TTC) and their other programs. If you join on a Yoga Vacation, no uniform is required. Just remember that there are some rules for dressing within the ashram that need to be abided by.
I have seen individuals called out during yoga class for not dressing appropriately so to avoid humiliation, stick to the dress code.
For example, you are not allowed to wear tight-fitting clothes like leggings at Sivananda ashram in India. I know, I live in leggings at home in the UK but to be fair in India I would not advise wearing tight-fitting clothes at all. It is just not their culture.
You also don’t want to wear any low or sleeveless tops (like tank tops). Check out my guide to Living in an Ashram and Staying Safe in India as a Solo Female Traveller for all my tips on what to wear in India.
So make sure to check the dress code/uniform requirements when choosing your ashram in India.
A pair of wide-legged white trousers or bright harem pants are great for yoga and keeping cool in the hot seasons of India.
Another important factor to consider when choosing the right ashram for you is to consider the price.
Now, most ashrams will refer to the price as a donation. It is a small sum of money (usually a daily rate) that covers your expenses including accommodation, food, etc.
Every ashram in India is different so check before you go what the daily rate includes. These may change seasonally. For example at Sivananda ashram, they have two seasons with different rates, almost like peak and off-peak times.
The donation fee usually includes food but again check carefully what it includes.
At Amma’s ashram, the daily rate is very cheap but it only includes accommodation. There is some basic Indian food which is included in the price but it’s pretty spicy and quite basic. You need to pay separately for the really nice food in Amma’s ashram. Still, overall I would say it is really good value!
People often ask me questions about the cost of staying in an ashram in India.
To be honest, compared to paying for a hostel, I feel the cost of staying in an ashram is really great value.
Pricing at Sivananda
Sivananda is more pricey than other ashrams in India but you get a lot included in the price.
Accommodation, breakfast, dinner, plus snacks throughout the day. You also get 4 hours of yoga practice, Satsang, Meditation, and weekly meditation walks outside the ashram. Plus there are facilities to wash your clothes (by hand) and dry them for free on the rooftop washing lines provided.
You can pay extra for a laundry service, but personally, I liked to save that money for banana cake and chai tea at the local teashop!
With pricing, just check before you go and think about how long you would like to stay.
I always would recommend a good buffer of money in your account which is over your budget just in case you go over. Possibly a buffer of £500-£1000 but it’s completely up to you! As a newbie traveller, I needed to make sure I had plenty to get back home if necessary.
Check out my blog on How to Save Money Whilst Travelling.
9. Where in India
Another factor to consider when choosing the right ashram in India for you is whereabouts in India. This does depend on whether you are travelling in a group or as a solo traveller.
One of my friends who had travelled to India many times, recommended Kerala as a great place to start. Especially as a solo woman traveller who had not been to India before.
I was also recommended whilst I was in India to stay in the south by one of the Indian women who worked at the ashram.
She suggested travelling in a group if we wanted to venture to North India. But of course, you know best where you feel most comfortable depending on your own experience.
As a newbie traveller, Kerala was the perfect place for me to start my travels within India.
Personally, I loved Kerala, there definitely seems to be more equality between men and women. You often see Indian women bossing the men around!
It was refreshing to see such empowerment from a country that can be seen as quite male-dominant.
Both Sivananda and Amma’s ashram are in Kerala, it’s a very large state. And there are beaches there too. We stayed at Amma’s ashram for a bit which is actually right next to the beach, a great reason to go visit!
Or you can stay in Varkala, which is very westernised. It's a small town overlooking the sea, very close to the Sivananda ashram. You can get there by train from the ashram. Check out my blog on the Best Vegetarian places to eat in Varkala.
When I was choosing the right ashram for me, I was considering Rishikesh which is known for it’s number of ashrams thanks to The Beatles!
Other ashrams in India
I did a lot of research on the Anand Prakash Ashram and it looked really good as well. In the end, I emailed both ashrams, this one and the Sivananda ashram in Kerala to get more information.
After receiving lovely emails back from both, I personally felt drawn to the Sivananda ashram in Kerala so decided to go there. But a friend I made in the Sivananda ashram told me she had been to Anand Prakash and it is really lovely.
You can always go to multiple ashrams. I went to Sivananda in Kerala first as a solo traveller, and then as a group of friends, we went to Amma’s ashram. It’s nice to experience different ashrams in India and do not be afraid to go elsewhere if you realise that ashram isn’t for you.
10. Where in the world
This blog has focussed on ashrams in India as that is where I went, and India is pretty famous for its number of ashrams. However, there are other ashrams in other countries too.
Especially the big names like Sivananda. They have centres all over the world including California, Vietnam, New York, and even The Bahamas!
If you are not sure about staying in an ashram, perhaps see if there is a yoga centre such as Sivananda near you. Or you could look up Satsang groups close to where you live.
Here you will get a sense of the type of atmosphere and people you will probably meet in an ashram before you go all the way to India!
For me, staying in an ashram in India was a life-changing and incredible experience. I learned so much, not just about yoga and meditation practices but also about myself. I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to explore India but feeling apprehensive. Especially any solo female travellers.
Hope you enjoyed my blog on Finding your Perfect Ashram in India. If you have any questions, just write them in the comments below. I love hearing from you!
Have you stayed in an ashram in India before? What did you think? Which ashrams would you recommend?
As always, happy travelling my friends 🙂
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