Finally, after such a long wait my wish became true and I had the opportunity to join last October the 4 months Yogic Studies Course at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger, India. I had wished to visit this ashram for such a long time. I actually sent my application with two years in advance! Not surprisingly they were not able to process it then, I'm sure they never received such an early application.
For many years I had thought about visiting the Bihar School of Yoga. I came to know about this ashram thanks to some of the yoga books that they have published like "Steps to Yoga" and "Taming the Kundalini". I learned a lot from these books and they gave me plenty of inspiration to follow this path.
I couldn't find much information on the Internet about the course and none of my yogi friends had any idea about how the course would be. They had only heard about it from other people. It seemed that this ashram was mainly focused on Karma Yoga or Seva (selfless service). That means doing activities like cleaning toilets, serving food, cutting vegetables, carrying boxes and the like, just work.
A couple of good friends insisted me not to go there because it would be a waste of time, I wouldn't learn anything and I would be only doing karma yoga. Well, they are actually very good friends and they were just trying to convince me to join them and visit another ashram.
But I was determined, I couldn't believe that I wouldn't be able to learn anything. There most have been a good reason beyond my own understanding of why I had been drawn to this ashram for such a long time, so even if I didn't like the idea of doing only seva I thought that this was something that I was supposed to do. And anyway the only way to find out how the course really was, was by going there and just do it. That's exactly what I did and I had a really amazing experience. It was the most difficult, challenging and painful experience that I've had so far. I was definitely meant to be there, I loved it!
I can definitely recommend this 4 Month Yogic Studies Course to anybody, even if you are a complete beginner or a very advance yogi. I wouldn't recommend it if you are mainly interested in learning hatha yoga or improving your asana practice or if you want to go deeply into pranayama or meditation but if you actually want to get to know yourself, to face all your demons and to purify your mind then this is the right place for you. From my point of view that's what this ashram is all about. It was all about mental purification through seva, mantra chanting and tapas (austerity). I can also recommend this course if you are interested in having plenty of time to study by yourself the Bihar School of Yoga books.
During the daily schedule we did have a one hour and a half of hatha yoga which they call APMB (asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha) but to me the class felt a bit superficial and extremely slow. Of course you do learn something but whatever you learn in those four months you could easily learn in a couple of weeks and even better with a more detailed instruction. There is no meditation practice during the course or as part of the ashram schedule. We had a daily 45 minutes Yoga Nidra practice (a deep relaxation technique) and some times as part of the Yoga Nidra we would do a short meditation, but for maybe just 15 minutes. So there is not much emphasis on Raja Yoga or Gnana Yoga. Although they call it Integral Yoga the main emphasis in this course and at the ashram is on Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and tapas.
But this doesn't mean that this is not a good course. Don't let your preconceived ideas of what a yoga course or an ashram should be impede you from having this experience, which might open the doors for a real transformation. If you were thinking about doing this course stay open and take your time to decide if this is the right place for you or not. Who knows, maybe this could be your path. Some people decided to do the 3 Years Sannyasi Course right after this course! amazing. And even if this is not your path you can still make some great yogi friends. To me that's already something to be grateful for.
If you want to know more about about the challenges that I faced at the ashram you can read the next post Yoga Sadhana: overcoming negative emotions.
For more information about the course you can continue reading below
The 4 Month Yogic Studies Course
Seva, seva and more seva
Seva means selfless service, performing ones duty without any desire for a reward or recognition but with the main interest in serving others. Swami Satyananda teachings make great emphasis in practicing seva because he considered that this is the most important preliminary practice to purify the mind before engaging in more advance practices like meditation. No wonder this ashram makes so much emphasis on seva.
"You should not allow the mind to sit idle even for a minute. The first step to spiritual life is to keep the mind ever busy. Every work is sadhana if done with concentration... Become the master of your mind by applying it to various jobs from morning till night. Do your work efficiently and with full concentration." Swami Satyananda, Steps to Yoga
The daily schedule included 4 hours a day of seva. During the interview at my arrival they asked me if I was able to accept that. Of course I said yes but within me I was a bit hesitant. They also told me that although the schedule showed 4 hours of seva per day it could actually be more. And that was definitely the case. Whenever there was a change in the schedule and we wouldn't have class we would always have more seva. Also in a few occasions where there was no evening program we actually had evening seva for one hour and half.
But don't let this discourage you, it was not that bad, some times it's actually fun. There is indeed a lot to learn from just doing seva, things happen in a very subtle level. When you do a duty that you like the mind immediately starts to become attached to it and feels proud. If you do a very good job at cleaning an ornament for instance you almost feel like putting your name on it so every body can see it, but of course that's completely the opposite to the actual spirit of seva. I used to laugh with my friends from the course at our own behavior.
Having seva was also very useful to deal with the many overwhelming thoughts and emotions that can appear while staying in an ashram. Sometimes I felt very grateful to have some duty to keep my mind very busy so I could stop thinking. But yes, on other days I didn't feel like doing anything at all.
I really like the emphasis that they put on doing things at perfection. When I was doing seva in accommodation, cleaning and arranging rooms for guests, I was very impressed by the focus on details. It was like cleaning a room in a 5 stars hotel. We tried our best to clean every single spot, every single corner and every single item in the room. Every object like dustbins, glasses or jars were carefully placed on an specific spot and we made the beds with the bedsheets folded in a very precise way. It really felt like mental training, like if I was being trained as a samurai... hmm or maybe just like Karate Kit. Everything had to be perfect. And this was the same approach for all duties at the ashram, including cleaning toilets.
APMB Class (asana, pranayama, mudra and bhanda)
From Monday to Friday the daily schedule would start at 5am wih the APMB Class to learn hatha yoga. The first month we focused mainly on the Pawanmuktasana Series. These are very basic joints and gland exercises that anybody can do regardless of the level of experience, gender or age. I normally love this series, they are performed very slowly and with full awareness. However I was very disappointed by the way they were taught to us. The exercises are slow but it doesn't mean that you need to learn them at such a slow pace. Everything that we learned in one month I had already learned in a Bihar School of Yoga center in Bangalore, in just a couple of days and with a much better instruction. During the course they were not making any corrections and there was not much emphasis in performing them with full awareness. I found this disconcerting, perhaps just another way to push your buttons and make you aware of your unconscious reactions. Later on we also learned a few very basic asanas.
By the third month we started to practice pranayamas (breathing excercises) like Anuloma Viloma and Bhastrika. We also practiced some mudras and bhandas. There was no theory covered and not much instruction.
We also learned some of the shatkarmas like Jala Neti, a nasal cleansing technique to eliminate all sorts of impurities from the nostrils and nasal passages using lukewarm saline water. This was another disconcerting thing. During the 4 months we were able to do this practice only three times. The other two occasions we did it because when we were learning Dhauti or Kunjal to clean the digestive track and a special practice called Laghoo Shankaprakshalana to clean the whole digestive system we also had to use lukewarm saline water.
There is no hot water available at the ashram so you can normally not do these practices anymore except during those three classes. I had asked at the reception right at the beginning of the course if I could get hot water to practice neti on my own. They told me that this was not possible so I asked them how does everybody in the ashram practice neti and they told me that nobody practice it!
Another interesting thing is that there is no meditation or asana practice in the regular ashram schedule except for the 4 month course schedule and I never saw any special hall for the residents to practice asanas. Perhaps if they practice they must do it in their own rooms. But anyway this made me think that all that knowledge that you can find in the BSY books stays just in the books. Well, that's just my personal opinion, it doesn't necessarily means that's the case.
Three times a week we had tutorials for one hour. One of the assigned swami teacher would give us then a one hour lecture. I didn't consider this an actual class. I think they were not trying to teach us but rather just share some information and give us the main study points on each topic covered so we could go later and deepen into it in our own study time.
During the course we covered the four main yogas: Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Gnana Yoga and Raja Yoga.
One of my favorite things from the course was the study time. Everyday we would get about one hour and half of study time. This was actually self study time were we would have to go to the library and study on our own. The main idea was to read more about what was discussed during the tutorials but we could actually decide to study any of the Bihar School of Yoga books available.
We also had an additional one hour twice a week for combined study. We could then choose either to study in the library alone or in a group.
The evening program
Everyday at 6pm, right after dinner, we would have the evening program that lasted for about one hour and half. The program consisted mainly in doing mantra chanting followed by a few kirtans (devotional chants). I really enjoyed the evening programs but I didn't assisted to all of them. Some kirtan's are really beautiful and when the energy goes up everybody starts dancing.
This is another very important practice at the Bihar School of Yoga. Mantra chanting and kirtan are part of one of the four yogas called Bhakti Yoga, the devotional yoga or the yoga of transmuting and channeling the emotions. Not only during the evening programs but also at the beginning of the APMB class we also dedicated plenty of time to mantra chanting.
I think all the students at the course were very open to this practice, nobody really understand how it works but we all believe that there is an invisible transformation that takes place while chanting all these mantras. At the beginning of my journey in India I had a bit of resistance to all this mantra chanting but a year and half later I feel more open to it and just let it happen. Perhaps I've been brainwashed!
One very special event was the Ekadashi day which happens twice a month. On this day the residents chant the whole Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit in about two hours and half. That was amazing but I didn't always manage to stay for the whole program. Two hours and half sitting crossed leg in the floor listening to Sanskrit chanting can be quite intense.
Some days we wouldn't have any evening program so the buildings would locked at 6.30pm! or sometimes instead of evening program we had evening seva, but this happened on very few occasions.
As soon as the course started we were all divided in two groups, group A and B, and we stayed in these groups for the whole duration of the course. During the first week the group A would have Study time in the morning and seva in the afternoon and Group B would have seva in the afternoon but study time in the morning. This would alternate each week.
During the course we had a schedule for weekdays and a slightly different schedule for Saturdays and Sundays. But the schedule changes every time that there is a special event (quite frequently) and specially after mid November when the program in Rikhia starts. After Rikhia comes the Satsang Week, Christmas and New Year which involves many different changes in the daily schedule. There was hardly any classes then, we were mostly doing seva.
05:00 to 06:20 APMB (Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha)
06:30 to 07:00 Breakfast
07:00 to 07:50 Cleaning Seva
08:00 to 09:45 Group A: Study; Group B: Seva
10:00 to 10:50 Yoga Nidra
13:00 to 13:30 Tea
13:30 to 14:30 Tutorials (Monday, Wednesday, Friday); Combined Study (Tuesday and Thursday)
14:45 to 16:45 Group A: Seva; Group B: Study
17:00 to 17:45 Dinner
18:00 to 19:00 Evening program
06:00 to 06:30 Breakfast
06:30 to 07:45 Cleaning Seva
08:00 to 10:45 Assignment
11:00 to 12:00 Lunch
13:00 to 13:30 Tea
14:45 to 16:45 Combined Seva
17:00 to 17:45 Dinner
18:00 to 19:00 Evening program
06:00 to 06:30 Breakfast
06:30 to 07:45 Cleaning Seva
08:00 to 10:45 Combined Seva
11:00 to 12:00 Lunch
13:00 to 13:30 Tea
17:00 to 17:45 Dinner
18:00 to 19:00 Evening program
The Rikhia Program
The 4 Months Yogic Studies Course included in mid November a two weeks visit to Rikhiapeeth, another ashram founded by Swami Satyananda in Rikhia to join the Sat Chandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima. We would be basically doing seva all day long.
I was in group A. We went to Rikhia for one week around the 14 of November, then we returned to the ashram in Munger for two weeks and then we went back to Rikhia for one more week during the Yoga Poornima. The students in group B went to Rikhia during the two weeks that group A had returned to the ashram in Munger, and they joined the Sat Chandi Mahayajna.
I was a bit nervous at the beginning, I didn't know how I would take doing seva all day long but it actually was a beautiful and rewarding experience. To me this was actually one of the highlights of the course. It was not mandatory to join this program, we could choose not to go and stay at the ashram following the normal course schedule. There were a few people who didn't join the first week but after listening to the comments of the first group everybody decided to join the second week. To know more about the program in Rikhia you can read Yoga and volunteer work in India: a rewarding experience
Ashram rules - pushing your buttons
So far this is the ashram with the most strict rules that I have been into. I believe this is all part of the purification process, they don't want to make things easy for you but rather difficult to push your buttons and bring subconscious negative patterns to the surface. And this happens even right from the application process, they ask for so many papers and since they don't use e-mail communication some times it can be quite frustrating. "Send us a fax", I hated every time they told me that on the phone.
Upon my arrival I had an interview with one of the swamis. She told me that winter would get quite cold and that there is no heater system or hot water. She asked me if I was ok with that. I told her that if I would be able to use my portable water heater (which I had bought specifically to come to this ashram) to drink some hot water I would be just fine but she told me right away that it was not allowed to use water heaters or any other electrical device whatsoever, and specially mobile phones. There are actually no electrical connections in the buildings so this was not really possible.
Like in many ashrams woman and men are allocated in separate buildings but on top of that in this ashram each building was actually locked after the evening program. The building would remained locked from 7.30pm until the next day at 4.00am (please don't ask me what would happen in case of fire). The buildings were also locked during the evening program so you either join the program or you just stay at your room counting your toes. And if there was no evening program then the buildings would be locked at 6.30pm. It was like being in a prison, and all windows were protected with metal bars. The funny thing is that we did not only give up our freedom voluntarily but we even paid for this!
The cold water shower was a big challenge for me even though I've been trying to train with cold water for a while. In October when the weather was extremely hot and you feel like taking 10 showers a day I would still feel that the water was too cold for me. December and January was a real pain. But don't worry, we all survived.
And there were many other random things to challenge you day by day: having your room in the second floor while the bathrooms where on the ground floor (that's annoying when you feel like going to the toilet in the middle of the night, specially if you have diarrhea!). Some times you would plan to do something on your free time after lunch but then all of a sudden somebody would give you a note to go to the reception at 12.00. Sometimes you were really looking forward for your study time but then without any previous notification we would have a random meeting and the study time would be cancelled. Or some times you would be relaxing during a day off and then somebody would ask you to help with some seva. I really hated that one!
Oh and seva... it is said that seva is also efficiency in action, but I guess in an ashram this is not really applicable because their purpose is not to make profits but to create an environment for self transformation. So if you find yourself doing some duty that doesn't make any sense at all it is there perhaps to create a mental reaction in you and bring to the surface unconscious negative patterns.
Staying in an ashram requires some sacrifices, giving up many of the things that makes us feel comfortable. This is called tapas (austerity), and 4 months can feel like a very long time. But it is rewarding to know that you can indeed live without all that comfort that we are so use to in the western world. Well... at least for a while. It's a real mental training.
About the Ashram
The Bihar School of Yoga was founded in 1964 by Paramahamsa Satyananda Saraswati. The current spiritual director and guru of the ashram is Swami Niranjanananda, a disciple trained by Swami Satyananda for this purpose.
Swami Niranjanananda founded in 1994 Bihar Yoga Bharati , an Institute for Advanced Studies in Yogic Sciences. Bihar Yoga Bharati is dedicated to the study of yoga in a gurukul environment. It is actually through this institution that the 4 Month Yogic Studies Course is offered to students. The physical location is the same as the Bihar School of Yoga.
Follow this link to know more about Bihar Yoga Bharati.
There are a lot of trees and flowers around the ashram which creates a really nice and pure atmosphere. But you should never get attached to any of the nice trees. During my stay they were constantly cutting and planting new trees. I don't know the real reason but it seemed to me that they try to make sure that there are no "hiding" places around.
One of my favorite spots was the garden just behind the peacock cage. In the days that I would be struggling hard with my emotions I would sit there and just practice being present, being aware of everything. When you sit still and quiet everything becomes alive, the animals forget that you are there. It's very easy to see lots of beautiful exotic birds flying around, squirrels smelling your feet and even huge lizards walking on the grass.
Some of the accommodation buildings are pretty new and decent. I was lucky to be in one of them. All rooms are twin rooms so you normally need to share your room with only one person. It is all very basic, two beds, a small closet, four walls and a window. There is a fan with only one speed, two lights and no electrical connections.
|Bihar School of Yoga dormitory buildings|
About the food
Lunch and dinner were usually pretty good, healthy Indian vegetarian food, and it was not difficult at all to tolerate it for 4 months. Actually, since leaving the ashram I have had a very hard time trying to adjust back to eating regular Indian restaurant food, I'm missing the ashram food!
At the ashram I was eating a lot and after just half an hour I would feel empty but now that I'm back outside into the real world, free to eat whatever I want, I can barely eat two meals a day anymore!
The breakfast was rather disappointing and it was actually the same menu every week. My favorite days were when we would get porridge (I think that was Thursday) or when there would be some left overs from the last dinner.
One important thing to be aware of is that you don't get fruits at all during meals. Luckily there were two men (the medicine man or the market man) visiting the ashram everyday so you can order anything that you might need from the market like medicines or fruits.
|More than just a window|
Top Bihar School of Yoga books in Amazon.com
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Bihar School of Yoga,
Phone: +916344222430 +919304799615
Lunch time between 11 am till 1.30 pm
- The 4 Months Yogic Studies Course: Yoga Vision website information
- The 4 Months Yogic Studies Course: Yoga Magazine website information
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Application package: Application forms, questionnaire, admission requirements.
- Application submission: deadlines
- Information for students
Related blog posts
- Yoga and volunteer work in India: a rewarding experience: about Satchandi Mahayajna and Yoga Poornima in Rikhia.
- Yoga Sadhana: overcoming negative emotions About the challenges that I faced during the 4 months course.
- Guide to Ashrams in India: Yoga Retreats in India and More
- What to Pack for Your Next Travel and Yoga Adventure to India: Everything you need to pack to visit an ashram in India.
- The Ultimate Guide for Your Yoga Journey to India
If you have followed the 4 Month Yogic Studies Course before or if you have been at the Bihar School of Yoga please don't hesitate to write your opinion or thoughts in the comments form below.