While I was still living in Europe, about two years ago, and planning my journey to India to study and practice yoga and meditation my dear friend Virginie recommended me to spend some time at Shri Santosh Puri Ashram in Haridwar. She and my buddy Xavier (both French) had stayed at this ashram for a yoga therapy course and they both had very positive remarks about this place so I decided to include it in my plan.
I had already visited Rishikesh twice, somewhere mid 2011, but it was only till last February that I was able to visit Haridwar, which is only about one hour drive from Rishikesh. It was a quick decision and without much planning, I had a couple of places to visit before my Indian visa would expire and I still had a few extra days so I called Shri Santosh Puri Ashram early in the morning right from the night train that I took the previous night from Pushkar to Haridwar. Luckily they did have a room for me.
I would definitely recommend anybody to visit this ashram and stay there for a few days. There is a very special and powerful energy at this place though it is difficult to say what exactly it is. Perhaps it's a combination of the presence of Mataji and Babaji (the gurus of the ashram) plus the positive vibrations created by the daily rituals, or perhaps because of the cozy family type of atmosphere. Whatever it is I can only say that it just felt really good. Staying at this ashram was exactly what I needed at that moment, and I was very lucky to have arrived during Mataji's and Mandakani's birthday celebreation.
Shri Santosh Puri Ashram
The ashram is very beautiful. There a lot of flowers and trees and nice gardens. There is a yoga hall and another hall mainly used for Kirtans (chanting). There is also a rooftop where we would have breakfast facing the sunrise and if the weather was not that cold we would do our morning yoga practice on it. My favorite spot was the hall with the havan pit where we would do the morning and evening fire rituals.
|Altar in front of havan pit|
The holy river Ganges is just a couple of hundred meters from the ashram, just across a small forest, but I heard that during the monsoon season the river almost reaches the back gate of the ashram.
Shri Santosh Puri Ashram rules
There are no strict rules at the ashram. You are not forced to join any of the daily activities but since it is a small place with few visitors and everybody is so into it you feel motivated to be an active guest. You are supposed to do one hour of Karma Yoga (selfless service) but nobody is pushing you to do so, they are very flexible. This is probably an ideal place for anybody that is coming to India for the first time and is looking for a spiritual but also comfortable place to stay.
"Visitors are not expected to follow any strict program or specific teaching schedule. The best way to learn something is to follow the daily routine which naturally involves lots of pooja, chanting, asana, pranayama, meditation, talks, fun and nature" From the ashram website.
Shri Santosh Puri Ashram Schedule
Every day early in the morning the ashram activities start with a Havan (fire ceremony) and mantra chanting guided by Mataji and her son Ganga. After the havan was over we would all stay there sitting in silent for a few minutes enjoying the positive vibrations created by the ritual. That was the perfect time and place to do my morning meditation.
After the morning rituals there is a Hatha Yoga class. During my stay the class was guided by Mandakini, one of Mataji's daughter. It was a really nice yoga practice.
After the yoga class it was time for breakfast. The food was delicious and you can usually take as much as you want. The only problem was that the dinner was a bit late, around 8.00pm. That's late if you are living at an ashram and waking up around 4.30 am.
In the evenings before dinner there is another fire ceremony with chantings which concludes with a Ganga Arati next to Babaji's Samadhi temple. Right after it we would do a circumambulation around Babaji's statue inside the temple. At the end of the ceremony Mataji would distribute Prasad (offerings in the form of fruits or sweets) to each one of us and we would prostrate at her feet.
I loved prostrating and touching her feet. I did it every single day, she just inspired me to be humble and do it without any reservation, it was a great spiritual practice. Interestingly this is something that I had rarely done in India, prostrating at any saint feet, either because I didn't have the opportunity, it felt inappropriate or because I felt shy but in this ashram I just felt very comfortable and I really enjoyed it even though she is not a typical "Indian" saint.
Ashram daily Schedule
05:00 to 06:00 Arati
07:00 to 08:30 Hatha Yoga (asanas practice)
10:00 to 11:00 Karma Yoga (selfless service)
13:30 16:30 Free time
16:30 to 18:00 Course
18:15 to 19:00 Arati
21:00 to 21:30 Meditation
A sociable ashram
I met so many wonderful people at the ashram, it felt like if I was a very welcomed guest into a loving small family. Most of the people that I met were regular visitors and they were all foreigners. A very friendly American couple, Charlotte and Seth Powell, had even gotten married at the ashram back in 2011. You can read about their awesome wedding on their blog: Mindfulroots.com
I made a couple of great friends, Tonje from Norway and Catherine from France. We spend a lot of time talking and just hanging around. One of the activities that I enjoyed the most was going with my friends for a dip at the Holy River Ganges which is just a few hundred meters from the ashram.
|With my cool friends|
|Taking a dip in the Ganges|
Catherine had also done the 4 month yogic studies course at the Bihar School of yoga but a couple of years earlier, so we had a lot to talk about. It was great and healing sharing with her our experiences from those four months, we both had a tough and transformative experience at that ashram. Since two years had already passed after she did the course she had a lot more time to assimilate the experience so she was able to encourage me and reassure me that better days are soon to come. Her clarity and presence already made me feel more at peace and joyful.
Mataji and Babaji: the spiritual guides of the ashram
The spiritual guide of the ashram is Narvada Devi Puri Ma better known as Mataji (mother). Mataji is an old lady swami from Germany. In her youth, at 25, she left everything behind and traveled to India in a spiritual quest.
In India she met an Indian Yogi called Baba Santosh Puri (Babaji) and she became her disciple. Against his will she stayed with him and after eight years they got married an even formed a family, a family of Yogis! Her two daughters and her son teach yoga at Shri Santosh Puri Ashram.
Babaji abtain Mahasamadhi (conscious death) in the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad in 2001. His body was buried in the garden of the ashram and the Samadhi Temple was built on top of the place where his body was buried.
Mataji is a very loving, caring and wise lady and one of the things that I like the most about this ashram is that she is always available for anybody to have a talk. You can approach her and ask her any question and she will be very happy to share with you her wisdom and give you some guidance. I talked with her a couple of times and she listened to me very attentively and gave me some good advice. She also authored a book called Tears of Bliss (A Guru-Disciple Mystery).
Everybody respects her a lot and many of the visitors of the ashram consider her their guru or at least their spiritual guide. You can find more about Mataji and Babaji in these links:
Yoga Courses at Shri Santosh Puri Ashram
The ashram offers many different yoga courses during the year. While I was at the ashram there was a Patanjali Yoga Sutras course given by Ganga, Mataji's son. There is no extra charge for the courses so whenever you visit the ashram you can join whatever course is going on that moment. You can find the course schedules for 2012 and 2013 in the links below
Shri Santosh Puri Ashram Contact Information
Email: yogashram [@] gmail.com
Phone numbers: +91 1352485057, +91 9634008063, +91 133395835
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