So, you’ve finally done it. You’ve decided it’s time to check yourself into a yogi’s idea of heaven -- a blissful ashram under the warm, life-giving sun. But, now what? Ashram life is way different than the householder one. Schedules vary in different ways and so do diets and day-to-day activities. Is there something you should do to prepare yourself for what’s to come? Should you start rising at dawn, spending your days in silence, or brushing up on your Sanskrit?
There’s nothing wrong with a little preparation before embarking upon a journey to such a holy place and sacred experience. It’s a really good idea, in fact. Grooming yourself to be the best ashram participant that you can be will only make life easier for you and your peers. Here’s how to prepare yourself for visiting an ashram.
Get Used to Silence
Not all ashrams deem that you take a vow of silence, but some do and there’s no doubt that ashram life is far more peaceful than the householder one. You might chant mantras, but you certainly won’t be listening to loud music, hearing the buzz of a television or running your lawnmower. The beauty of visiting an ashram is that you get to take a break from all the external noise so that you can bring your attention to your own internal noise.
For some of us, this can be uncomfortable, especially if we’re not used to silence. So, I would suggest you conscientiously choose to spend more of your days without the external noise. Refrain from listening to music when you work or do your household chores. Talk on the phone a bit less. Practice eating your meals in silence, rather than in front of your favorite Netflix series. Let your friends and family know what you’re doing, so that they don’t think you’re giving them the cold shoulder. You can even try spending an entire day (or half day) in silence, to give that tongue a rest. Immersing yourself in silence relaxes the nervous system and helps you get in touch with your inner voice, the one’s that often stifled due to all that external noise. Getting used to silence is one of the best ways you can prep for your ashram visit. (Read more about the benefits of Taking Silence Breaks Throughout Your Day.)
Early to Bed, Early to Rise
If you’re a night owl, you’ll want to heed this tip. Ashram life is all about getting in sync with nature, and this means getting to bed around 9 p.m. and waking at dawn. Most intensive yoga teacher trainings follow this schedule as well. It’s a super healthy way to live and a cornerstone of Ayurveda, which is yoga’s sister science.
Again, if you prefer to be more active at night, then you should start preparing at least one month before your ashram visit. Do it little by little. All you need to do is go to bed a half hour earlier than you normally would. Then a half hour earlier a few days later, and so on and so forth until going to bed by 9 or 10 p.m. isn’t such a foreign experience. Your body will get accustomed to the new habit, and you’ll probably find you feel much healthier by changing your sleep schedule in this way.
Be sure to commit yourself to this task. If you don’t, your stay in the ashram could be miserable. Imagine not being able to go to sleep until midnight when your roommates are sleeping soundly and then having to rise at 5 a.m. to meditate. Early to bed, early to rise -- it’s the ashram way of life. (Learn more in Sleep Is a Treasure.)
Get Used to Giving Things Up
Ashram life is simple. You’ll not be checking your cell phone every five minutes and you probably won’t be eating meat. You’ll certainly be abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes and any other substance, for that matter. If the thought of giving these things up makes you nervous, consider abstaining before your ashram visit. Cold turkey could be a major shock to the system.
If you’re a meat eater, cut down your intake and consider eating vegetarian meals during the week and meat on the weekends. If you’re an iPhone junkie, turn off your phone for a couple hours at a time and get used to the break from that constant buzz. (Learn about the Joys of Unplugging.) If you enjoy wine or beer with dinner, practice drinking less; get to the point where it’s not an everyday habit. All it takes is a bit of practice, and your body and mind will shift. If you smoke cigarettes, it’s best to quit. Seriously. There’s no room for smoke breaks in an ashram. And you’ll want to enjoy your ashram experience in peace, rather than withdrawal!
Your Journey Awaits
Kudos to you for embarking upon this journey. Ashram life will no doubt be eye-opening for you and your spiritual practice. You’re going to meet interesting people and make new friends. You’re going to create healthy habits and evolve in very real ways. Preparing yourself for an ashram visit will no doubt make the experience that much more enjoyable. You’ll now be better equipped for whatever comes! (Read on in India's Top 3 Ashrams.)