Monday, March 9, 2020

Aurovalley Ashram: a Beautiful and Quiet Ashram for Meditation

Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar

Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar, founded by Swami Brahmdev, is a peaceful ashram near Rishikesh. It's a great place to spend time in silence, reading or focusing on meditation.

I could easily stay several months at this ashram but at the same time, for one particular reason, I wouldn't. Let me explain.


Discovering a new ashram in India


While I was teaching hatha yoga and meditation at Blue Indigo, the yoga retreat in Cambodia I mentioned in my previous blog, I heard about a special ashram in India.

A lovely couple from Mexico told me about it.

They were very enthusiastic and positive about their stay at this ashram and they really like the swami who founded it. They showed me his books and insisted that I should visit it one day.

I'm always eager to discover new and authentic ashrams in India, so I decided to follow their advice.


The journey


On the 3rd of February, after completing almost four months teaching yoga at Blue Indigo, I took a flight back to India.

This was the perfect opportunity to visit this ashram.

First I met my friend Aly in Jaipur and we traveled together through Jaipur, Pushkar, Jodhpur, Agra, and Varanasi (more about that will come later).

Then, on the 23rd of Feb, after five days in Varanasi, we took a night train to Delhi.

We arrived in Delhi the next day around 10 am and after a few hours we took another train to Haridwar. Then from Haridwar, we took an Ola cab to finally reach the ashram.

Yeah, that was a long journey. In total, about 25 hours traveling.

We arrived at the ashram on the 24th of February, around 9 pm, and stayed there for six days.


My experience at Aurovalley Ashram


The last time I stayed at an ashram in India was in 2016 when I visited Yogoda Math, Paramahansa Yogananda's ashram in Kolkata.  That was for only one night though.

So it felt so good to once more experience the ashram life, surrounded by a community of spiritual seekers.

The ashram is quiet, comfortable, clean and easy going with an amazing meditation hall and library. You naturally feel inclined to spend some time in contemplation and meditation.

Yes, I really enjoyed my stay at the ashram.

A part of me wishes I could have spent more time there to focus on my meditation practice, and to do some reading. But at the same time, those six days were enough.

I might visit it in the future again, but I'm not so sure about that because of one reason, which I will explain further below.


Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar


Aurovalley ashram was founded by Swami Brahmdev, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

The ashram is located at the edge of Raiwala, a small and remote village, somewhere between Rishikesh and Haridwar.

They like to call the ashram Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar because it is located between Rishikesh and Haridwar, but I think that's not a real location, although it is a catchy name. Easy to remember.

I wouldn't be surprised if in the future they change the name of the village to Rishidwar. Lol.

There is not much to see around, and that's a good thing. It is very quiet and the air is very clean compared to Rishikesh.

People of all ages and all backgrounds visit this ashram, even families with children.

For some reason, the ashram is very popular in Latin America.

I was surprised to see so many Spanish speaking people at the ashram, mainly from Colombia. You can see signs all over the ashram in English, Spanish and also Russian.

Above all, the philosophy at this ashram is to be all-inclusive creating union among all.

“Surrounded by the sound of birds, people of any spiritual background or creed can find the ideal atmosphere to contact their own divinity. All ages, all levels of education, different languages, different habits, different attitudes, different believes, all beings are welcome.” Aurovalley Ashram

Swami Brahmdev


Books by Swami Brahmdev

Swami Brahmdev started his journey after completing his degrees in Law and Economics. He traveled all over India in searching for answers but found his path in the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

He seems humble and unpretentious, with his mind focused on his work.

When we walked into the reception to do the check-in, we found him just sitting on a sofa wearing a plain white t-shirt and a pair of sweatpants.

I knew he was Swami Brahmdev cause I had seen him in pictures but otherwise you couldn't tell he was the founder of the ashram.

He started talking to us, asking the typical questions, “Where are you from? What do you do?” and so on.

He asked us to follow him for a small walk. We talked for a little bit and then he stopped by a building in construction to continue with his work.


Sri Aurobindo and the Mother


Sri Aurobindo and the Mother

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother were two very influential gurus from India. They lived in Pondicherry at what it is now known as the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

I actually visited Pondicherry in 2010. You can read about that experience here: Discovering Pondicherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, and Auroville.

Swami Vishnudevananda writes in his book Meditation and Mantras:

“Even when the kundalini is raised to the ajna chakra, it is difficult to keep it there. Only great yogis such as Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo and Swami Sivananda were able to keep it there for any length of time.”

Sri Aurobindo, born in Kolkata, was a yogi, a philosopher, a poet, and a political activist, among many other things. He wrote voluminous books on yoga, integral yoga, essays on the Gita and more.

The Mother (Mirra Alfassa) originally from Paris, was Aurbindo's spiritual collaborator.

Sri Aurobindo considered her his spiritual equal. She ran the ashram after Sri Aurobindo's passing and founded the experimental town called Auroville.

“Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”


Integral Yoga


Sri Aurobindo and the Mother's work focused on developing what they called Integral Yoga. This is the same practice adopted at Aurovalley Ashram.

According to Aurovalley Ashram's website:

“Rather than advocating one of the classical paths of yoga, it takes up the essence of the older Yoga traditions and integrates them into the Integral Yoga (i.e. the Yoga of Works (Karma Yoga), the Yoga of Knowledge (Jnana Yoga), the Yoga of Love (Bhakti Yoga), etc.). It is no longer necessary to have an isolated and ascetic life in order to progress, as was common in ancient times. Now, All Life is Yoga, integrated into the ordinary life.”

Perhaps Sri Aurobindo's approach was different, but in my experience, this integral approach to yoga is not unique to Sri Aurobindo's teachings.

Integral yoga was also taught by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh and by his disciples Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Swami Vishnudevananda and Swami Satchidananda.

Actually, right from the beginning of my journey, the yoga I learned and the only form of yoga I know is integral yoga, although it might not be called that.


The Mother's presence in the ashram


Portrait of The Mother

Although the ashram is inspired by the teachings of both, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, you will mainly see pictures and quotes of the Mother all around the ashram.

Quote by the Mother

I asked Swamiji why is the Mother more present in the ashram. He had a very interesting answer. You will hear about it in my next blog where I share an interview with Swamiji.


Aurovalley Ashram facilities


The ashram is quite large and beautiful.  There are a lot of trees around, and it is very clean compared to other ashrams I have visited in India before.

Aurovalley Ashram Facilities

It reminds me of the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, an ashram in Rishikesh that I have visited multiple times and which I always recommend.

Aurovalley Ashram Buildings

There is a beautiful meditation hall, a large yoga hall, a beautiful library, another meditation hall above the library and several other buildings around.

Meditation hall
The meditation hall

The library is amazing. It is packed with yoga books.

You can find all the books published by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, including some copies in Spanish, French, and Russian. So if you like to spend some time reading you will love this ashram for sure.

Library

They even have a small workout area. That's the first time I see that in any ashram. I used it a couple of times and if I would have stayed longer I would have used it more often, for sure.

The ashram is walking distance from the river Ganges, so you can take a nice ten minutes walk to the river anytime.

There are several accommodation buildings but the most impressive one is this large circular building with two floors and a terrace. The rooms are spacious and clean. You pretty much have everything you might need for a comfortable stay.

Main Accomodation Building


Ashram daily schedule


I think is pretty smart how they inserted the ashram daily schedule in the key holder of each room. That's so convenient.

Ashram Daily Schedule


So this is what the daily schedule looks like.

06:00 Meditation
07:00 Asanas
08:00 Breakfast
09:00 Karma Yoga
11:30 Satsang
13:00 Lunch
15:30 Tea time
16:00 Study/Karma Yoga
16:30 Asanas (optional)
18:00 Meditation/Kirtan
19:00 Dinner
20:00 Cultural program

Meditation

Meditation Hall
The meditation hall

The ashram daily schedule starts with a one-hour silent meditation session at 6 am. I'm a morning person and meditation is my main practice so I absolutely loved that.

But don't worry. They are not strict with the schedule. If you can't make it to the meditation session that's fine. You are pretty much free to follow your own routine.

It's also not a strict one-hour session. Some people leave earlier and some people stay longer. There is not even a bell indicating that the session is over. You just follow your own rhythm, I guess.

There is a second meditation session at 6 pm before dinner time. Sometimes there might be somebody playing soft Indian music or it would simply be another a silent meditation session.

It is important to know that there are no meditation classes or instruction. You are free to practice what you already know or simply sit in silence as long as you want and follow your inner guidance.

Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to every meditation session as I normally would. The pollution in Varanasi had taken its toll me so I was a bit sick. I was coughing like crazy and had trouble sleeping at night.

I was also embarrassed to cough in the meditation hall. It is so quiet and echoey, and in these days of Coronavirus, it's better not to scare people around. Lol.

By the way, if you are curious about what is that giant green stone in the center, then stay tuned.  I asked Swamiji about it in the interview that I will publish next week.

Update: And here is the  Interview with Swami Brahmdev of Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar

Asanas

Yoga Hall
View from the yoga hall after the morning yoga class

After the morning meditation session, there is a one-hour hatha yoga class.

The hatha yoga class is very basic and gentle. It is focused on simple mobility exercises, with several pauses in between the practice to center yourself, and a brief relaxation at the end.

Yoga Hall

I really like the class. It's nice to start the day with a very gentle practice, especially during the cold mornings in February.

I didn't go to any of the afternoon sessions but I imagine they follow the same style.

Satsang

The main activity during the day that all the guests are really looking forward to, is the satsang with Swami Brahmdev at 11:30 am.

The satsang is basically a Q&A session with Swamiji.

During our stay, this Q&A session took place in the library. Once Swamiji enters the room, he just sits in his chair and waits for a question. People then ask whatever doubts they might have about yoga and the spiritual path.

Satsang with Swami Brahmdev

His books are actually a publication of these Q&A sessions.

It was a bit difficult to listen to him during the satsang though. The library, like pretty much every other building at the ashram, has a terrible eco. On top of that, there were some people translating to other languages whatever Swamiji was saying.

Cultural program

During my stay, the cultural program at 8 pm was basically a group reading session.

Everybody sits together in the library with a copy of a book by the Mother in their hands. Then, one by one, we would read different passages of the book, including Swamiji.

I guess the idea here is simply to contemplate on these passages. I would have preferred though to hear a discussion of the text instead.

My favorite moment of the day

I had one extra activity during the day which was not included in the daily schedule. This was actually one of my favorite moments during the day.

I love to visit the goshala (cattle barn). Lol.

Every day after breakfast or lunch I would save some fruit peels or chapati and go to the goshala to feed and pet the cows.

Goshala

Yeah, I like animals and cows are very curious beings. They do like to be pet. Not all of them though. Some of them just want food. Lol.


Ashram food


Dinning Hall
Entry to the dining hall

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Aurovalley Ashram is a place where I could easily spend a few months focusing on my meditation practice, reading, or even working on my blog.

The only problem that I have is the food.

I know the cook works really hard every day to feed all the ashram guests, but the diet is very basic and in my opinion not very healthy, even if they use fresh ingredients.

It is the typical ashram food, but from my experience ( I have visited fifteen ashrams in India) the food is below the average.

The food at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama is ten times better, and that food is not that great either. Lol.

Ashram food is supposed to be healthy and sattvic, good for meditation. But trust me, eating rice three times a day, or eating rice, dal, potatoes, and chapati every day is not very healthy.

Breakfast
Breakfast including poha made with flattened rice and a sort of rice porridge with milk

If this is your first time in an ashram you might find the food pretty good and tasty. But trust me, if you stay long enough, perhaps a few months, you might realize that it is not the best diet for your body.

Lunch

Well, this is just my opinion and to be honest, after so many years traveling around Asia I have become very picky with my food.  My belly now says “no, no” to ashram food.

We actually heard some guests saying that the food was delicious. Aly and I were shocked to hear that though. Lol.

Mariellen Ward of Breathdreamandgo even says in her blog about Aurovalley, “It’s not food that’s going to win any awards, and it’s not what foodies dream about, but it is simple, healthy, nutritious and vital.”

I disagree with the “healthy, nutritious and vital“ part but like I said, that's just my opinion. Maybe the food is better in summer. I was there in February which is close to the end of winter.


Aurovalley Ashram contact details


Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar
Raiwala 249205
District Dehradun, Uttrakhand -

Website: http://www.aurovalley.com/
Location: GoogleMaps link
Email: indiaaurovalley@gmail.com, aurovalley@hotmail.com
Phone: +91 135 248 4851, +91 925 909 6978


How to reach Aurovalley Ashram


You can either arrive at Dehradun Airport or at the Haridwar train station. From there, since the ashram is a bit remote, you will inevitably need to take a taxi.

The ashram can easily organize a taxi for you, but you could also try using Ola or Uber. I booked an Ola cab from the Haridwar train station to the ashram and paid around 500 rupees.

My last day I had to leave the ashram at 5 am, so I booked with the ashram a cab that picked me up right next to the accommodation building. That cab cost me 800 rupees and it was very convenient.

According to the website, the cheapest option to reach Aurovalley Ashram is by bus. If you come from Delhi you can get a bus to Rishikesh or to Dehradun (via Haridwar) and then stop in Raiwala.

From there you can either walk 3 km or find an auto-rickshaw. I wouldn't recommend this option if you are planning to arrive late in the evening though.

There is also a train station called Raiwala Junction but I guess it is not very convenient since it is not mentioned on the website. There are probably very few extremely slow trains stopping there.


Other ashrams in India


If you are interested in visiting other ashrams in India I suggest you take a look at my Guide to the Best Ashrams in India.

These are all the ashrams that I have personally visited during my whole yoga journey.

If you are looking for a yoga teacher training course then you can also visit my curated list of some of the best yoga TTC in India.

And before you pack your bags I also suggest you visit my detailed packing list for India.

This list includes every single item that you might need for your ashram stay, for a yoga TTC or just for traveling around India.


Aurovalley Ashram: in brief


If you are looking for quiet and peaceful ashram where you can focus on meditation, contemplation, and reading, without following a too strict daily routine then I'm sure you will enjoy your stay at Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar.

Keep in mind that there won't be any instructions on how to meditate.

You either follow what you already know or just listen to your instinct. You can always approach Swami Brahmdev with any questions you might have though.

You can dive into the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother while at the ashram, but you don't have to. You are free to follow your own path. Everybody is welcomed.

To get to know Swami Brahmdev you can visit Interview with Swami Brahmdev of Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar.

What's your experience?


Have you visited Aurvalley Ashram before? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below.

And if you find this blog helpful please don't forget to give it a like and to share it with your friends. Thanks for your support!

9 comments:

  1. Hai Marco thanks for info. I just want to know how much they charge from indians. Thanx.

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  2. Hai Marco thanks for info. I just want to know how much they charge from indians. Thanx.

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    1. Hi Partha, no idea but you can easily call them or email them at any time. I've included their contact details in the article.

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  3. It was interesting to go through your writeup. Would like to go there. Let's see when that takes shape

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    1. Thank you Jaya for taking the time to read this. It is a really nice ashram. Whenever you are traveling in north India you should give it a try ;-)

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  4. Hi Marco, Thank you for sharing your experience at the AuroValley Ashram. I like the teachings of Sri Aurobindo & the Mother a lot and I spend several months in a year in Pondicherry.

    I heard about AuroValley when I was in Pondicherry last time but no one knew much about it - so I found your blog very helpful :-)

    Good Luck!!!

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    1. Hi Parag, I'm happy you've found my blog very helpful. If you like the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother then you should at some point visit this ashram. I'm sure you'll like it but probably it would be very different to what you've experienced in Rishikesh. So have no expectations.

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  5. I would definitely like to visit this Ashram. I will be in Haridwar from 25 th March to 1 st May. Thanks for information.Just tell us the rates for the ashram also.

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    1. Hi, it is expensive for foreigners. They asked as 1,200 per day per person with all meals included. I'm sure they have a cheaper rate for Indians. Just give them a call. Easy peasy.

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