YOGA VACATION AT SIVANANDA ASHRAM NEYYAR DAM
What is a yoga vacation? And what is a yoga vacation like at Sivananda ashram in Neyyar Dam? Well not a vacation in the tradition sense so you can forget that immediately. It’s more of a yoga system bootcamp. If you know anything about yoga you should know that ‘yoga’ is the whole system in the way yogis live and function. Yoga in the western sense is just a part of this and is actually called asana yoga.
So with that being said, when you arrive here you will be dressing like yogis, eating like yogis, doing asanas like yogis and selflessly serving like yogis. For some, this is too much so check yourself. Why are you coming to the ashram? Because it sounds neat or a ‘thing to do’ in India. Well you’re probably going to have a bad time and leave due to your personal limitations and all the rules you’ll have to follow. If your coming with a basic understanding of yoga and would like to dive deeper, this is the perfect place for you.
The daily schedule is as follows
05:20 hrs WAKE UP BELL
06:00 hrs SATSANG
07:30 hrs TEA TIME
08:00 hrs ASANA CLASS
10:00 hrs BRUNCH
11:00 hrs KARMA YOGA
12:30 hrs ASANA COACHING (optional)
13:30 hrs TEA TIME
14:00 hrs LECTURE
16:00 hrs ASANA CLASS
18:00 hrs DINNER
20:00 hrs SATSANG
22:00 hrs LIGHTS OUT
So what’s it really like?
You start with 30 minutes of silent meditation which they will advise you to either continue your own method or they will walk you through their method if you don’t have one.
Then you start with daily chants. They will provide the lyrics for you. The first one will take up to 15 minutes and will seem to be in Chinese the first time you read it but it’s fairly repetitive and after day 3 I didn’t even need the lyrics anymore. The next chants will vary depending on the day. Sunday has the longest ones. After this they will finally say good morning to you and maybe read a passage from a book etc.
Then they will do the closing prayer in sanskrit and the Arati which is a prayer to the gods. You will be sitting for everything except the Arati where you stand. FYI When you reach the ‘Twamera’ point in the lyrics they offer smoke to the Swamis to cleanse their egos and then to the crowd. Just wash it over you to symbolize your ego being washed away. At the end you will bow to the divine light of the universe, not any specific god (or a specific god if you chose). Finally you are allowed to leave. Collect your things and grab your ‘Arati’ or snack and go on with the schedule. All of this takes about 1.5 hours.
The AM tea time is only tea. It will be served with milk and sugar (or without). There is no snack so make sure you grab the arati because breakfast/lunch is still 2.5 hours away! The PM one is herbal tea without sugar and a snack, usually fruit. Get. There. Early. If you want the snack.
There are three types of yoga classes at the ashram. Morning and afternoon there is Beginner and intermediate and only afternoon there is gentle asana. They all follow the structure of the 12 main asana postures and branch out (or not) from there.
+ Beginner: This is very basic yoga which may or may not be very easy depending if you skipped the basics or not. I advise this unless you are sure you’re solid at all/most poses, do this one. Check your ego at the ashram door. They ramp up in intensity but the nice thing is is they explain every posture thoroughly in this class.
+ Intermediate: In my opinion this is advanced. They do not explain postures in the class whatsoever. You either know them or you don’t. I thought I did but I did not know the Sivananda way so I had to re-learn and perfect a few poses.
+ Gentle: This is designed for an easy slow yoga experience. Great for people who are doing the panchakarma program or who are sick or otherwise unable to do full intensity yoga. It’s very slow and nice.
Generally unless you are fairly advanced at yoga I would head to the beginner class. If you are able to at least do a headstand and/or a crow and/or a wheel then head to intermediate. Some people did a beginner class in the morning and an intermediate in the afternoon or vice versa. It all depends on how you feel on day 1. Remember it is not a race and don’t get hurt trying to be excellent at everything remember to listen to your body.
Meal times can be rather depressing in the beginning. Especially if you’re not accustomed to eating on the floor or eating with your hands. You will be called about 10 minutes to. I suggest you go then because meal times only last around 20 minutes here, don’t be late. They will sing to bring you in, join them! It’s nice. Then choose a spot on the mat. Continue chanting and try to say the prayer written on the wall with them. They will serve Ayurvedic water which I thought was gross at first but now it tastes normal. It gives you an appetite I noticed. The meal will be vegetarian, no eggs. They will come around with more food which is very shocking to your western minds because they will be in pails. By day 3 you won’t care. Grab as much or as little as you’d like. Food seemed to get better the longer I stayed Or maybe my attitude changed? You will eat with your right hand unless you grab a spoon. They sell them at the gift shop or just ask staff for one on your first day. or find them hiding around by the dish racks. After they’ve dished out thirds the food either stays at the front for you to grab or they send it back to the kitchens. Like I said, fast, so if you like a large meal make sure you’re quick.
Lectures are generally 1 hour long and they try to explain some basic points of the ‘5 points of yoga’. It’s a big undertaking especially in one hour but they can be very interesting. Bring your yoga mat, pen and paper and enjoy.
Thats it! They say that your mind is your biggest obstacle and some people just get so caught up in everything being ‘different’ etc. that they just quit the first day. Try to at least stick it out for the three days you paid for. It definitely gets easier. You get in a groove and you make some friends and you start to enjoy everything. Not to mention you’ll relax about the food and the wifi and sharing a bathroom.
I hope you have the best time and enjoy your life changing experience!
Stay tuned for Part 2 for what to pack!