Ashrams are special places. They are sacred spaces like no other, away from the distractions of the world, where yogis like me can entirely devote ourselves to spiritual development. In an ashram, I can truly deepen my yoga practice, immersing myself in the culture and history of yoga, and connecting with my inner Self.
However, spending time at an ashram is simply not a feasible proposition for me or for many yogis, especially in the West. And even if it is, most residents will not live in an ashram forever. But the fact that I don’t live in an ashram doesn’t mean the benefits of ashram life are inaccessible to me. Instead, it’s possible to instill the vibes of an ashram in my own home and I can teach you how you can, too. Here are five steps to turn your home (or at least part of it) into a personal ashram.
Establish a Routine of Rituals
Most ashrams will begin the day early with a wake-up bell. Yoga, meditation, study, work, chanting and mealtimes will follow a strict schedule, in accordance with the yogic principle of dinacharya. Dinacharya is the Ayurvedic idea that a daily routine is essential for health and wellness.
Consider, in particular, how you begin your day. If it usually starts with checking emails and multitasking while you grab breakfast, dress and prepare for work, consider beginning your day earlier. Carve out time first thing in the morning for a daily routine of meditation, chanting or yoga. This discipline will set you up optimally for the rest of the day. (Get some ideas for creating your own routine by reading Morning Rituals for Yogis.)
Clear Your Space, Clear Your Mind
One thing many people realize through embracing ashram life is how little they actually need. It is possible, and maybe even preferable, to live full, satisfying and rich lives with relatively few worldly possessions.
This is not to say that you need to live a Spartan existence, sleeping on your yoga mat with only your copy of Patanjali’s "Yoga Sutras" for company. However, most people hoard things that they do not need, and these things can be a huge distraction from what really matters. Look around your home and notice all the things that you do not use. Consider de-cluttering and giving away the excess to charity or friends.
This physical de-cluttering can also provide emotional and mental release. When you let go physically of possessions that are not benefiting you, it can be a helpful cue to release thought patterns and behaviors that are no longer serving you. Let the simplicity of your home space inspire you to only devote energy to things you care about. (Having trouble letting go of your clutter? Learn how to release these material objects, and other clutter in your life, in Practicing Aparigraha (Non-Attachment).)
Make a Sacred Space
An ashram is typically designed to be a spiritual space. As a result, it's free of most things that can divert attention away from meditation and pursuing a spiritual path. These places radiate a calm and powerful energy.
It may be unrealistic to say that your home should be free of laptops, mobile phones and other distractions, but it is advisable to have a space within your home where you can practice yoga, meditation and chanting. This may be a room, or even just an area, but mark the space with things that remind you of its purpose. You may wish to have a picture of a chosen deity or guru for inspiration. You could also use candles, flowers, incense or crystals to create a peaceful, healing atmosphere. (Get some ideas on which items to choose for your sacred space in Creating a Personal Puja.) It is this space that you should visit first thing each morning. The space you create in your home for this will translate into the space you find within yourself - that sacred place beyond stress, beyond thinking, beyond emotion, where you uncover the Divine and inner peace.
Observe Sounds and Silence
In an ashram, chanting and mantras flow. There is no reason why you cannot set up this flow in your home. Instead of automatically turning on the TV or listening to music, play mantras. Devote time every morning to cleansing the space through your own chanting.
That said, don’t forget the beauty of silence. Set aside specific times to be in silence. Make this part of your routine to maybe have one silent day per week, or to have all mealtimes in silence. Turn off your mobile phone, switch off as many electrical devices as you can and carry out your routine quietly. Notice the difference in your energy levels when you are not expending energy through talking. Allow your daily tasks to become a moving meditation.
You do not have to live alone to embrace silence. Share the practice with your loved ones. Invite them to join you. (Learn more about the benefits of silence in Shhh: 5 Life Lessons You Learn By Staying Silent.)
Perform Seva (Selfless Service)
An ashram is not the same as a retreat. Ashrams are places of work, where you perform seva, or selfless service. This may be sweeping the floors, peeling vegetables or weeding, but what makes these menial tasks a form of yoga is the attitude you bring to them. Seva yoga is performing your tasks with an attitude of selfless giving, without attachment to the reward or outcome. Similarly, at home, when there is work you need to do, these tasks can all become seva if they are performed with an attitude of selfless giving. Watch yourself and observe your reactions to the tasks - in particular, any aversion or reluctance - and use that as a tool to learn more about yourself. (Learn how to identify your averse behavior in Exploring Aversion.)
Visiting an ashram can be a beautiful, life-change experience. But it isn't available to everyone. By turning your home into a place of spiritual development and growth, you can create space to live a more conscious, mindful existence. (And when you are ready to make the voyage, read How to Prepare for Visiting an Ashram.)