Ever since I watched Swami Rama's lectures on the Patanjali's Yoga Sutras I felt connected with him. So much wisdom and with so much conviction. I felt like if he was indeed a great yogi and I got very interested in his teachings. I watched all his lectures and I read a couple of his books like "Living with the Himalayan Masters". But I still needed a more direct experience so I decided to visit the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama ashram, in Rishikesh founded by Swami Veda Bharati, one of Swami Rama's main disciples.
A yogi friend from Ecuador, Gustavo, also recommended me the ashram. He said "Swami Veda is probably one of the greatest yogis from the modern times." Soon I contacted the ashram and planned a visit by mid 2012. But guess what... I couldn't wait any longer so I decided to go earlier than I had originally planned. I felt like I needed to be in a place deeply involved in meditation where I can get the right guidance to continue with my own practice. This seemed to be the right place.
And luckily I was not mistaken. If you are serious about meditation and about all aspects of yoga philosophy then this is the place to be. They call it the "Himalayan Yoga Tradition" and their main goal is the practice of meditation. Every activity, every teaching, every practice that is carried on at this ashram is with one goal only, meditation within the Himalayan Tradition. And that's exactly what I love about this place. I've spend about three weeks at the ashram and I liked it so much that I have already planned another visit soon.
Though outside the ashram the area is not that nice as soon as you cross the main gate it feels like been transported to a totally different place. My first impression was that it looks like a resort. It is very green with grass, trees and flowers all around the place.
It is the most western friendly ashram that I have visited so far. The accommodation for the guests is incredible comfortable. There are 36 nice brick cottages with different capacities (single, twin and family size) including kitchen, living room, air conditioner, fan and hot water. What else do you need? I can certainly stay here for months and months without any problem.
Unfortunately there is plenty of pollution in the air, dust and smoke probably, but that's the same all around Rishikesh. You can notice the pollution by looking at the mounts nearby during the day. I heard that it depends on the season. When it rains, the rain water clears the sky and you can clearly see the mounts during the day and the stars during the night.
In the main building, besides several offices, there is one big hall called "Meditation Hall" which is used for the meditations, for the physical practices and for lectures. There is a bookstore that sells Swami Rama and Swami Veda's books but also books from other traditions like Sivananda's books and Bihar School of Yoga books; and there is the audio visual room where they play video recordings from Swami Rama or Swami Veda's lectures.
After crossing all the cottages for the guests you can find a small library which is mainly dedicated for the gurukulam students. Guests are not allowed to borrow books from the library though at the reception they have several books that can be borrowed by the guests. Next to the library there is the "Knowledge Center", a small hall that can be divided in two rooms for lectures, guided meditations or hatha yoga class. In front of the knowledge center is the dinning hall and behind this two buildings is the gurukulam building with accommodation for the gurukulam students.
Visitors that come and stay for a while at the ashram can join the spiritual retreats or guests program. That's the same program that I was following. This program include lectures, video visualization and the physical practices (joints and glands exercises and hatha yoga) as described in the schedule below. The lectures and video visualization will introduce the visitor to the Himalayan Yoga Tradition, to Swami Rama's life and to the basic practices.
The very first lecture was "breathing and meditation" (you can already see the emphasis that is made on meditation) and they even explained how to fold a blanket to be able sit comfortably for long periods of time. Other lectures cover subjects as pranayamas, dynamics of breathing and philosophy of hatha yoga.
The morning practice is mainly focused on the "Joints and glands exercises", usually known as Pawanmuktasana Series. These are very simple exercises, like neck rotations, which work on all joints from head to toes. But the main work is not on the physical level, rather on a subtle level so they are performed very slowly with full mindfulness, with awareness of the breath and of every single movement.
The afternoon class is mainly focused on the Asanas (physical yoga postures). It's a very gentle class, they are also performed slowly, with mindfulness and breath awareness and usually with a break "centering" between each asana. There is no emphasis at all in performing advance or complicated asanas. So if you are looking for an intense asana practice then this might not be the right place for you. The teachers usually quote one of Swami Veda's saying. "Touching your knees with your nose is not Hatha Yoga, even a clown can do that and backwards, but that doesn't make him a yogi".
There is a short book called "Philosophy of Hatha Yoga" written by Swami Veda. It's very interesting and goes very deep into the subject. It can give you an idea on how Hatha Yoga is seen from this tradition.
The guest program is not intense at all, and you might need to push a bit to make sure that you get the necessary classes for you. Some days I didn't have any lectures because there were no teachers available. But that was my experience during May which is actually the summer break so it might be different between October and April where there are more senior teachers and guests at the ashram.
One thing to keep in mind is that you'll need to discipline yourself. They don't force you to attend the lectures or practices. There is actually a lot of freedom which can be good or bad depending on how you see it. It is up to you to make the best of your stay at the ashram. I tried to stick to the program, read and also do my own practice but sometimes it felt a bit boring. Maybe because I was staying during the summer break and there were almost no other guests.
This is the basic schedule for all programs.
4:15 Bell Ring
05:00 to 05:15 Morning Prayers
05:15 to 07:00 Joints & Glands Exercises/Hatha Yoga
07:00 to 07:30 Pranayama (breathing practices)
07:30 to 08:30 Meditation
08:30 to 09:30 Breakfast
10:30 Gurukulam Student Classes and Guest Program
12:30 to 13:00 Pranayama (Breathing practices)
13:00 to 14:00 Lunch
14:00 to 14:30 Digestive Breathing
14:30 to 16:15 Free
16:15 to 17:30 Hatha Yoga Class
17:30 to 18:00 Guided Relaxation
18:00 to 19:00 Meditation
19:00 to 20:00 Dinner
20:00 to 21:00 Guest lecture, Satsanga or special program
Those who have already covered all the basic teachings and have develop their own meditation and yoga practice can request a silent retreat which is basically to dedicate yourself fully to your own practice for a period of 3 days, 7 days, 40 days or even three months.
Himalayan Yoga Tradition Teacher Training Program
Twice a year at the ashram, in October and in March, they offer the Himalayan Yoga Tradition Teacher Training Program (TTP). It is quite interesting actually. The program is divided in three different levels and each level represent a total of 200 hours. But to complete each level you need to complete a one year long distance assignments after participating in the first two weeks of residential training. After the first two residential weeks the rest of the program is continued online. You'll get access to their website where you will receive and submit the assignments and a mentor that will follow you up and monitor your progress so you can complete the program from wherever you are in the world.
Update 30/07/2012: I completed this training in March 2012 and I wrote an article about it. You can find more information here:Himalayan Yoga Tradition Teacher Training Program
And this one is for the very serious yogis that are really interested in their sadhana (spiritual practice) and it is the main program at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama ashram. The gurukulam program can be of three years, five years or even ten years! One of the main difference versus the TTP is that it is a fully residential program with a break between June till September where you can leave or stay at the ashram if you like to. The program starts in October and ends in May. The advantage here is that you are on-site and get constant support of senior teachers and other students plus the guidance of Swami Veda Bharati. The purpose of this program is to prepare teachers to guide people into meditation.
To know more about the Gurukulam program you can visit srdg.ahymsin.org
Internet: There is one computer at the reception with internet access. They also have wireless however due to frequent power cuts it usually stops working during the day. If you have a smart phone then I can recommend to get an Airtel sim card and use the mobile internet service. Airtel has a pretty good reception at the ashram.
Boutique: There is no shop at the ashram but there are a few small shops outside where you can get basic things like soap and washing powder.
About the food
Hmm this is always one of my favorite topics :-) But honestly I'm not that enthusiastic about food here, specially after staying at the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai. Over there lunch and dinner was one of my favorite times of the day but at the SRSG is not that special. I guess it is good way to practice sense pleasure control :-) But I do like that the fact that we have three meals a day. It is much better for my body weight and it is easier to avoid over eating.
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How to reach the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram
From Haridwar bus stand which is just 2 minutes walk from the Haridawar train station you can take a direct public bus to Rishikesh. When I called the ashram they told me to ask the driver to stop at the Koyal Grand Stop, a restaurant at the crossroad with Virbhadra road and from there take a Rikshak instead of going all the way to Rishikesh. This was not that easy cause nobody in the bus knew this place. But if not a big problem, the Rishikesh bus stand is not so far away from the Ashram.
After getting off the bus, either at Koyal Grand Stop or at the Rishikesh bus stand just take an auto rickshaw and ask for Seema Dental College. Every rickshaw no it. It should cost between 40 or 70 rupees. You can also take a shared rickshaw which would be 7 rupees.
Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama
Virpur Khurd, Virbhadra Road,
P.O. Pashulok, Via :Rishikesh
Uttarakhand, India - 249203
From the ashram to Rishikesh proper
To reach Ram Jhula or Laxman Jhula bridge you can take a shared auto just outside the ashram, on the left side, to market (7 rupees) and from there change to another share auto (these one are bigger and bluish) for 5 rupees. The total journey should be around 20 minutes.
Phone: +91 135 2450093, +91 135 2453030, +91 135 2450596
Fax: +91 135 2450831
Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram related websites
AHYMSIN: Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International
e-mail: ahymsin @ gmail.com