Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Ultimate Guide for Your Yoga Journey to India

Meditatioin and Hatha Yoga Ashrams in IndiaHow should I prepare for my yoga journey to India? Where in India should I go? Which ashram should I visit in India? Which Yoga Teachers Training Course should I do in India? How much money will I need? I get these kind questions all the time so I decided to write this Ultimate Guide for Your Yoga Journey to India to try to answer these and some other questions.

Of course I don't have all the answers, I don't know every place, every ashram or every yoga teacher around India, my experience is still very limited but I'll do my best to share with you whatever I know to help you get started on your journey. Once you are in India, wherever you decide to go, you'll meet other pilgrims just like you. Talk with them and you'll find out about many other places that I probably haven't even heard of.

Keep also in mind that the spiritual journey is a personal journey, its unique for each one of us. We need to discover our own path so although I'm sharing a lot of practical information with you the most important thing, I believe, is to listen to your heart.

If you have any more questions please ask them in the comment section below so others can benefit from the same information, and to give the opportunity to other travelers/seekers to share their own experience. If you have any additional advice please don't hesitate to share it in the comments as well.


How Should I Prepare for My Yoga Journey to India?


Know What You Want

The most important thing in the spiritual path is to know yourself, that's what yoga is all about, and knowing what you want is an important part of getting to know yourself. It involves learning to talk with and listening to yourself. Go within and with complete honesty find out what it is that you really want, what kind of experience are you looking for, what do you want to learn. You might find some of these readings helpful:


But the truth is that you will not always know what it is that you want, at least not at a conscious level. Sometimes you just feel like you should go in one direction but without having any clear idea of why. When you Follow The Path of The Heart you will face many times this situation, it's part of it. You need to think with your heart and, although the messages might be not that clear, trust it cause it can lead you to places that you've never even dream of.

Listen to the Omens

Listen to the omens, there are no accidents. I remember when I was a kid playing around the house, before I even knew there was a country named India, many times I would stumble upon one of my father's books. It would always call my attention but I never really bother to read it, except for looking at the pictures. I asked my father "What is this book about?" and he said, "Yoga." This was the Sivananda Companion to Yoga. Little I knew at that time that many years later I would do a Yoga Teachers Training Course at the Sivananda Ashram in India.

In one of the first lectures during this teachers training course the teacher said something like
"You think you have come here because you have decided to come here, but it is not because you have decided to come here that you are here. It is the gurus who have being guiding you all the way till this very moment, they have brought you here." Swami Mahadevananda
I couldn't agree more.

Have a Flexible Plan

I think the most important thing is to know what you want, to set your intentions to allow life to lead you in the right direction. But sometimes for practical reasons it's necessary to have a plan. If you arrive in India at the wrong time and at the wrong place you might find that there are no teachers around and no ashrams open to receive guests. If you are staying for a long time that's not a problem but if you are traveling for one or three months it might not be a nice experience to have.

My advice is to have a plan, but a completely flexible plan, just to have an idea of what you might decide to do, one that you can change at any time as you go on discovering your own journey to allow yourself to be open to possibilities that you didn't even know existed.

You might find these questions useful to prepare your plan:
  • What do you want to do?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • When do you want to go?
  • For how long you want to stay?

What Should I Consider to Make The Best of This Experience?


Be Open to Enjoy and Learn From Every Experience

There are always things that you'll find disturbing, irritating, frustrating or just not interesting enough for whatever reasons. Just be aware that later on, at another point in time, in another place and under different circumstances something might trigger those memories back and then you might realize how beautiful those experiences actually were.

One of the first ashrams that I visited was the Atma Darshan Yoga Ashram in Bangalore, a small and beautiful ashram in the city. I was surprised at the beginning because of the emphasis on kirtan (chanting) and the recitations of mantras. Later on I visited the Sivananda Ashram and even later the Bihar School of Yoga. The emphasis on kirtan and on mantras recitation was even stronger, specially at the Sivananda Ashram.

I didn't hate all this chanting but it was a bit overwhelming at that time. Now, after a bit of traveling and being in other places I have learned to really appreciate the kirtan at these ashrams to the point that I miss it and I feel like going back, and whenever I hear again one of those songs or mantras that I heard back them they just bring back some beautiful memories.

Consider Doing a Teachers Training Course

I think the best way to learn something is to fully immerse yourself in whichever activity you want to learn. That's why I decided to quite my job and travel to India, and that's why right from the beginning I decided to do a yoga teachers training course. I was not thinking about teaching at that time, I just wanted to learn deeply about everything related to yoga; the philosophy, the science and the practice.

I thought that by doing a teachers training course I would get to practice and study with intensity for a short period of time, and that's exactly what I got. The experience was intense and rewarding at the same time. I learned so much and it did made a big impact in my life, although it has taken me while to realize that. So if you want to immerse yourself in the experience I think a teachers training might be a good starting point.

Be Willing to Pay the Price

Doing a teachers training program or following any kind of course will cost some money, in some places a lot more than in others. We could put our negative hats on and think that people are just trying to make money out of us, exploiting yoga as a business. Like I always say, listen to your inner voice, your intuition, don't let your fears guide your decision. If you've been thinking for a long time in doing a training in one particular place but all of a sudden you feel put off because of the price, think about it twice. There might be a very good reason why you've always been attracted to that place.

I have invested a lot of money in different courses in different ashrams or with local teachers and I can tell you, without a doubt, that I don't regret it at all. I have learned a lot from each one of them and at any moment I have felt that I have become poorer after spending that money. Of course I don't consider it and expense but an investment, and investment in myself and an investment to do what I love. What can be more valuable? There is a philosophy behind this attitude towards money. What I can say at this point is that if you believe that you can't afford it then that's exactly what you'll manifest in your life. Think in abundance.

Surely you'll need to pay attention to your budget, the more you spend on a training the less time you'll be able to stay in India, but at the same time that training might be exactly what you need and you might even find that you have used your time better than if you would have been wondering around India for months.


When is The Best Time to Visit India?


I think you can always find something to do all year round, but in general I would say avoid May till September, specially June, July and August. This is the monsoon season when the North can get extremely hot and the South will get pouring rain but I've heard this is usually the best time to travel higher up north, to places like Ladakh, where it is usually way to cold at other times. Many yoga teachers will travel abroad at this time because of the heat and some ashrams might have very limited programs, so you should consider this in your planning.

I traveled all around Goa during April and I think it was perfect. There were not many tourist, easy to find accommodation, great discounts and the weather was perfect. You can read about my favorite beaches in Goa here Top 3 beach destinations in Goa. I have also stayed in Kovalam Beach, South India, between September and October. It was also perfect, not many tourist and great discounts. There were some heavy rains but not every single day.

You can find some additional information in these other blogs:



Is it Safe for a Woman to Travel Alone in India?


Indian culture is very welcoming to westerners, they are very friendly and they love to meet western people. Non violence is part of their culture and I can tell you that I have always felt safer traveling in India than in my own country, Ecuador. But unfortunately sexual suppression and a lack of respect towards western woman can be a dangerous combination. That doesn't mean that if you are a woman you can't travel alone, I've met many girls traveling by themselves with no problem at all, but you'll need to use some common sense to avoid risky situations.

If you have to travel alone in an overnight train just look around for a group of westerners or a local family and sit close to them, even if that means to leave your own sit or bed. You should definitely avoid traveling in a compartment with only men around. If you find any local family they will take care of you and will make you feel safe. You could also pay a bit more and travel in AC class.

Be respectful of the culture and try to dress accordingly, that means to keep your shoulders covered and to wear no tight pants to walk on the streets, even better if you go shopping and get some traditional clothing. This might not be a problem in very touristy places. In Goa you can even bath completely naked at the beach! But in smaller towns, and while you're traveling, is good to keep this in mind.

Latin American woman, you'll be safe, you are self confident, you know how to take care of yourself and how to handle men, slap and shout at them if you must, but do cover your breast and don't pack your miniskirt. A little advice from a Latin American man.

To deal with the staring is good to wear sunglasses, the darker and bigger the better. It's like creating your own quiet and private space to ignore that constant staring that you wish to escape. But know that the staring doesn't necessarily means that people have a sexual interest in you, they might be just curious. Even I get stared at many times and when I loose it and ask in fury "What are you looking at?!" they would reply with the calmest voice "Where are you from?" You might find this article from huffingtonpost.in interesting: Why Do Indian Men Stare At Women.

You can find here a lot more information from other blogs about safe traveling in India for women, written by women:



How Much Money Will I Need?


Just to give you an idea you might need something between 300 or 500 Euros a month. It all depends on where you stay, how much you travel, how you travel, what you do and what kind of food you eat. I'm usually on the top of that range, I like to treat myself well.

Accommodation in Mysore can be somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 rupees a month. The local yoga teachers charge about 8,000 or 12,000 a month. You can spend about 500 rupees in food per day. That's roughly about 35,000 rupees (500 EUR) per month. Of course you can always spend more or less. I think Rishikesh can be a bit cheaper than Mysore.

An ashram will charge you about anything between 500 or 750 rupees per day, all included. That's like 18,000 rupees (250 EUR) in a month. You can always find cheaper or more expensive ashrams.


I Don't Have Any Experience With Yoga, Where Should I Go?


I remember I visited the Pattabi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, for only two weeks, when I didn't know anything at all about Ashtanga Yoga. All those advanced yogis were kind of levitating around me throwing steam out of their bodies. It was a bit intimidating but I survived.

So, it doesn't matter what your level is, you will learn whatever you need to learn wherever you decide to go. Just listen to your heart and listen to your body to know that you are doing what's right for you. But if you still feel very shy and want to take it easy on the physical practice or if you are looking for a very gentle form of hatha yoga then you can try the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. It doesn't get any more gentle than that. This is a great place for beginners but also a great place for meditation and for serious sadhakas (spiritual aspirant).

The 4 Months Yoga Course at The Bihar School of Yoga is also a great place for complete beginners and to have a real ashram life experience, but be aware that "real ashram life" can be quite a challenging experience. Their hatha yoga is very similar to the hatha yoga at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama.

For an introduction to yoga science you can read What is Yoga? Practical Philosophy and Science of Self-Realization


Can I Volunteer to Stay in an Ashram in India for Free?


Some ashrams can give you the possibility to do some karma yoga or seva (selfless service) as a volunteer staff in exchange of a deduction in the price or in exchange of free food and accommodation. You'll need to contact the ashram that you want to visit to know if they can give you this option. Usually they give this option to people that they know, who are sincere seekers and who are not just trying to save money. I stayed as a staff at the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai for one month after completing my teachers training course with them.

If you are truly interested in doing seva as part of your spiritual development then you might like to join the The Bihar School of Yoga 4 Months Yoga Course which focus mainly on seva. They also have six months and one year ashram life programs. You can read about their special program in Rikhia in Yoga and volunteer work in India: a rewarding experience

If you are interested in doing some volunteering work outside of an ashram environment then you might like to check the Mother's Teresa Mission in Calcuta. According to a friend of mine that volunteered there you don't need to plan anything in advance, you just go to the mission and they will allocate you to one of their projects. You'll also need to find and pay for your food an accommodation. You can find all the information that you might need in their website www.motherteresa.org


How Can I Stay in India for a Long Time?


If you are American then you are lucky, you can get a five years or a ten years tourist visa! The rest of us are not that lucky. The maximum length of a tourist visa is normally six months, but it all depends on what's your nationality and on which country you are making the application. If you want to stay longer than six months then the best option that I can think of is to get a student visa.

The Indian Embassy will only grant a student visa if you are admitted in an institution recognized by the Government of India and they will only give you a visa for the exact period of the course, so if your admission letter says three months then you'll get only three months. If the visa is longer than six months you will have to register in the local Foreign Registration Office and you'll be expected to reside in that area. The college or teacher will only give you an admission letter if you are committed to study with them for the full term of the course.

If this is a good option for you then you should contact the ashram/college/institution that you want to visit or the teacher that you want to practice with to find out if they will accept you for their course. Many ashrams in India have long term courses and are registered as recognized institutions by the Government of India. If you have any other questions related to the visa you'll need to check the Indian Embassy website of the city where you want to apply for the visa.


Should I Go to an Ashram or Should I Practice With a Teacher?


I have tried both and I can say that they are both good options, it just depends on what you need or what you want at any given time.

If you want to focus on the yoga asanas or pranayama then finding a local yoga teacher who can give you some good personal attention might be a good idea. In this case you'll probably need to find your own accommodation in whichever city you choose to go. Normally you'll practice with your teacher once or twice a day and then you'll be free to do whatever you want the rest of the day. Mysore and Rishikesh are excellent places to find good teachers.

If you are more interested in having a transformative spiritual experience then an ashram can be a good option. An ashram is not a holiday destination, is a place for discipline and spiritual practice, and although they can be very different compared to each other they offer the right environment for your spiritual search, in their own unique way. Normally you'll need to stick to their strict routines.

From the ashrams that I've visited, in my opinion, the Sivananda Ashram offers the best balance between the spiritual aspects and the physical aspects of yoga. Although the meditation is a bit weak their hatha yoga can be strong, their bhakti overwhelming and their discipline challenging, everything that you need on your spiritual journey.


With Which Yoga Teacher Should I Practice in India?


If you are interested in an intense yoga practice like Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga then the best place to go is Mysore. There are many great teachers around, you just need to find the one that clicks with you. You can also find some traditional hatha yoga teachers.

For Ashtanga Yoga you could go to the Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, the "main shala," to practice with Sharath or with Saraswati, or you can practice with some other of the local teachers. The teachers that I have practiced with and that I can recommend are Vijay Kumar and Ajay Kumar. They have completely different styles. For a more dynamic person I would recommend Ajay and for a more meditative person I would recommend Vijay.

Another great teacher is Vinay Kumar. He teaches his own style of yoga called Prana Vashya which I've heard is a very intense practice. I practiced with him pranayama for one month and can't wait to be back. Many of my friends practiced Prana Vashya with him and they just love it.

I wrote more in detail about these and other teachers in Mysore in The Best Ashtanga Yoga Teachers in Mysore, India

If you are planning to go to Rishikesh, North India, then I can recommend Surinder Singh. He is an excellent hatha yoga teacher and to whomever I've recommended him, he/she always feel satisfied with his class.


Which Ashram Should I Visit in India?


These are the ashrams that I usually recommend. I wrote a more detailed description of these, and other ashrams, in Guide to Ashrams in India: Yoga Retreats in India and More. If you read it carefully you'll find everything that you need to know but I'm including here some additional information to make it easier for you.

Please note that you'll need to contact directly whichever ashram you want to visit so they can give you all the information about ongoing programs, accommodation and best time to visit. Of course there are many other ashrams around India but you can take these as a starting point on your search

  • The Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam or the Sivananda Ashram in Madurai. For an intense hatha yoga practice and an integral approach to yoga involving all paths (Bhakti yoga, J├▒ana Yoga, Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga). These are western friendly ashrams but still very authentic. Great place to meet new friends, ideal for solo travellers. They have lots of kirtan (chanting) and beautiful pujas (rituals). +/- 750 Indian Rupees (10 Euros), all included.
  • Swami Dayananda's Ashram in Rishikesh or his other ashram Arsha Vidya Gurukulam in Coimbature, South India. To learn Sanskrit and to study Advaita Vedanta philosophy which teaches us the meaning of TAT TVAM ASI, "That You Are". They have special courses (vedanta camps) every year around March, for one or two weeks each, and they also offer a three years program for serious students. Classes are usually on donation basis.
  • The Ramana Maharshi Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. There are no classes or any special programs at this ashram, you just go there and enjoy the positive vibrations while you contemplate on the nature of the Self. Believe me, that's more than enough, it's a very powerful place. You can stay at the ashram for max three days but then you can find accommodation nearby.
  • Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Rishikesh. Probably the best place to learn and practice superconscious meditation according to the Himalayan Tradition. It's a very comfortable and beautiful ashram where they will make you feel at home. Ideal for a first time visit to India, travelers with children or complete beginners, if you have the budget for it. +/- 25 US$/day.
  • Sadhana Mandir, Rishikesh. A very peaceful and quiet ashram right next to the holy river Ganges. Ideal place to do some reading or to do your own silent retreat. It's walking distance from Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. +/- 750 Indian Rupees/day (10 Euros) all included.


Which Yoga Teachers Training Course Should I do in India?


I can only talk about the teachers training that I have done but this doesn't mean that these are the best trainings available or the ones that you should do. I'm sure there are many other great Yoga Teachers Training Courses all around India. Some have an integral approach to yoga, others focus on asanas and others focus mainly on meditation. They can all provide something valuable to your yoga path, you just need to find the one that suits your needs best.

I can definitely recommend the Sivananda Teachers Training Courses. Although at the beginning I was a bit judgmental about it and complain about a few things, over the years I have learned to appreciate it even more. It has made a deep impact in my practice and in my life and, compared to other teachers training that I have heard about, I think this one offers the most complete program. It definitely goes way beyond asanas, there is a guru lineage behind it that is undoubtedly alive and present in their programs, if you are willing to be open to it. You can watch this testimony from David Frawley. The Importance of Sivananda Yoga with David Frawley

The Sivananda Teachers Training Program are quite expensive though, about 2,000 USD for the month, but you can also find cheaper trainings. I think all the local yoga teachers in Mysore offer a Teachers Training Program. I did a Teacher Training with Vijay Kumar which was 90% focused on asanas. That's exactly what I needed at that time, I couldn't be happier. I've also heard very positive comments about Surinder Singh's teacher program in Rishikesh. I like his teaching style so I think his teacher training must be quite good. I've heard also good comments about Rishikesh Yog Peeth Teachers Training Program

For a meditation teachers training program I can recommend the Himalayan Yoga Tradition Teacher Training Program at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama in Rishikesh. Their training includes asanas, pranayama and philosophy but the main emphasis at this ashram is meditation. This Teachers Training Program is a long term program divided in three levels. It takes one year to complete each level.


Some Additional Tips


A few other articles that you might find interesting


I hope this post will answer at least some of your questions and help you to prepare for your yoga journey to India. I would appreciate if you show your support by liking and sharing this page with your friends, and by clicking here to subscribe by mail so you'll never miss a blog update. No worries, no spam guaranteed

If you have any other question you can add them in the comment section below. I might not have the answer but maybe somebody else will.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Marco,
    your blog is incredible, gives me the responses before that I do the questions. Thank you so much, your work is very helpfull

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your positive feedback and for reading my blog to Matteo, I'm glad to know that you have found it helpful

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