I chose to return to Rishikesh, India where I did my first yoga teacher training three and a half years ago because I didn’t feel that I had the opportunity to truly experience it the first time. Most of my time was consumed by my training and I only really got a taste of the experience I was hoping for. I have always said I would never return to a place I have already traveled; there are just too many places in the world to see. But ever since that trip, I have been feeling the urge to return and this was the perfect opportunity. I needed a place where I could do some healing and personal work. Yoga is the thing that I turn to when I need healing and what better place to go than the birthplace of yoga where yoga ashrams are on virtually every corner?
During my first visit to Rishikesh, I accompanied a couple of my fellow trainees to a yoga class at Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram down the road. Since then I have had a few friends who have stayed at Anand Prakash and I have heard nothing but good things. So I decided to stay there during this year’s trip, and I couldn’t be happier with my decision. It is one of the best ashrams in Rishikesh and not just according to me. I have spoken even to locals who agree with this. Yoga ashrams are a dime a dozen in Rishikesh and many of them are just there for the money. Yoga teacher training is a big business nowadays and the value of money is quite different here so many people are getting rich off these programs. This however, does not mean that they are quality trainings. I experienced many issues with my training and have spoken to several others who have had similar experiences. But it is clear that Anand Prakash is not one of the ashrams just in it for the money. There is a lot of love behind how the place is run.
An ashram is a place of spiritual or religious retreat and there are certain expectations that go along with this. Modest dress, observing silence during certain times, abstaining from certain behaviors, being on time for classes and meals, attending all classes and offerings, etc. I think yoga ashrams have become more of a tourist destination anymore than a place of spiritual retreat but Anand Prakash did a good job of upholding these expectations and providing a space of sanctity. The yoga classes are very well taught from a place of love and devotion and are true to what yoga really is. The style that is taught is called Akhanda Yoga which I had never heard of before but is essentially a revival of traditional Hatha Yoga that incorporates all the aspects of yoga including asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra, mudras and bandhas. Every class has a theme – a yoga sutra, a chakra or spiritual message incorporated into the class. In my opinion this is one of the most important aspects of yoga because after all, the true practice of yoga is how we live our lives off our yoga mats. I have found that this is also one of the most neglected aspects of the yoga classes I have experienced outside of my Denver yoga community. And there were other offerings besides the meditation and twice daily yoga classes including daily fire puja ceremonies (an ancient fire ritual “invoking social welfare as well as personal health, abundance and vitality to fuel the journey on the spiritual path”) and twice weekly kirtan chanting.
The ashram is kept very clean which is not exactly easy to find in India. It is thoroughly cleaned every day and I have never once felt that the cleanliness was questionable. I have seen the conditions of the kitchens and bathrooms in the some of the restaurants and other ashrams around here and I will just say that I wish I hadn’t seen what I saw. The food is delicious, healthy and plentiful. They serve a sattvic ayurvedic diet which includes foods that are meant to be nourishing and cleansing to the body and mind and excludes foods that are said to stimulate or alter our natural mental and physical state of being.
Although it is difficult for me to get up at 4:45am for the morning meditation and yoga classes, the structure and schedule of the ashram has been good for me. I have been dealing with my own personal battles about being alone which I wrote about in my previous blog, and mornings are my most difficult time. There were a few mornings during the first week or two that I spent in tears through the entire meditation, but just being in a room surrounded by other people and not alone in my bed was a huge comfort. Regardless of how my mornings start, I always feel better after the classes. Having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and activities and meals to participate in with other yogis throughout the day has been incredibly helpful for me in working through some of the loneliness and coming out of this experience stronger and more grounded. And of course it has helped to facilitate the personal work I came here for. These practices are designed to give you the space to slow down, to acknowledge and to sit with what is within you. This is not always an easy process, but necessary for the healing that I have been in need of for the past year. I am quite pleased that I was led to this amazing ashram for this experience this time around.