My Ashram Experiment

Sivananda yoga ashram after a morning walk
Sivananda yoga ashram after a morning walk

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that:

One: Two weeks in an Indian ashram was my ‘cheap shot’ at accelerated self-discovery.

Two: I was your textbook epiphany-seeker (no thanks to Eat, Pray, Love, which I never read).

Three: I now have firsthand experience of living out an old cliché, indulging a quarter-life crisis, trying a headstand with close to zero yoga experience, and dangerous chocolate-deprivation for two weeks.

Well, I’m still not sure why I went.

I guess, in a world measured out by Foursquare check-ins and cardboard cheeseburgers, the threat of unreliable wifi and a strict vegetarian diet might have just stricken me as refreshing at the time… Or it might have seemed like one of those trips that would give me granny-cred when I’m old and toothless.

In any case, I packed three of my oldest T-shirts, an insect repellent, iPhone and concealer into a 10 litre Deuter backpack and left for Sivananda Kerala, India.

15 days of curry vegetables, eight unsuccessful headstands, and a close encounter with a hairy palm-sized tarantula later, here’s are three random things I’ve gleaned:

#1 Everybody’s in some kind of crisis

The interesting thing about a clichéd vacation is… well, everyone else was thinking exactly the same thing – everyone in a short-term or chronic crisis seemed to converge at the ashram. I’ve never met so many people with quarter-life, mid-life, three-quarter life crises. There were people who couldn’t get jobs, people who hated what they were doing, tired people, confused people, people who were unhappy for no particular reason…

And perhaps it just seemed like the place for it, but well, people just shared their stories more freely.

The thing was, it wasn’t ‘solidarity of the miserable’ at all. On the contrary, what I realised was that everyone’s got some kind of half-formed plan too. I met a girl who wants to start a sustainable community in Costa Rica, a woman who lost a job she’s had for 19 years and suddenly decided to be life coach, and an ex-banker reinvented as a stopgap-hippie prepped to take on India.

Through their eyes, I saw a vast world of infinite possibilities, only limited by my imagination and courage. And somehow, I started to believe that all we need is a half-formed plan, and then we’ll make the rest up along the way.

#2 Epiphanies are over-rated

I may be saying this because I didn’t have one spectacular ‘moment’… like in the movies. No lightning spark went off, no ‘highlights-of-my-life’ flashbacks occurred – sorry to disappoint.

On my first day, our yoga teacher took us down to the river to mediate. Because every tree, every rock, every weed, he said, has vibrations and ‘memories’ that can heal the mind and soul, and so we’ve got a secret stash of positive vibrations right in our backyard.

This may sound a little new-agey, but I did feel just a tad calmer for that, and it made the crucial difference. I’m starting to think that perhaps, sometimes, instead of waiting for life-changing epiphanies, all we need is to calm our mind and think quietly.

#3 The monsters are really just in our head

No surprises – Monday is the day I hate most – it’s the day the world drags you out of your warm bed and across the street in your sleeping clothes, your hair bedraggled and your knees scrapping against the pavement, and makes you do a stupid tap dance.

The ironic thing was, Monday morning chased me right up to the ashram in India. I had no forgotten deadlines, no early morning meetings, no embarrassingly stupid powerpoint slides, and yet I felt the same sense of anxiety, the sense that I was somehow late for something, had forgotten something, had missed my shot – don’t ask me at what.

Maybe because, as they say, we can run halfway across the world, but we can’t run away from our own demons, fears and anxieties.

And of course, the other ironic thing was that I had to run halfway across the world to truly appreciate that.

More on why I love to travel: Wanderlust
And other Places On My Bucket List

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