Experiencing life at an ashram.
So I decided to spend a week at an ashram partly to see what it was like, partly to get back into meditation which I used to do a lot more of and partly because someone I met recommended this particular place to me. The Phool Chatti ashram is right on the Ganges about 6km outside of Rishikesh so it was great to get some peace and quiet. I had heard that some ashrams are basically just really basic guesthouses but this particular one had a rigorous schedule that started with a 5:30am wake up bell and "activities" that filled the day. There was some meditation, some yoga, "meditative walks", discussion sessions, and Hindu ceremonies and chanting sessions in the evenings. It was requested that the guests remain silent (meaning no talking) until after lunch every day as well as during meals. The food was quite good but simple and was served to us as we sat on the floor. I think that most ashrams are probably more "hard core" than this one since it is geared towards tourists but it was nice to have a comfortable bed and flushing toilets. ;) It was also great to be in a secluded location where the river was within steps of our rooms if we wanted a bit of a soak (the current was a bit too strong to really swim though) in the "sacred" water.
Anyway, I think I got some benefit from the experience but I found myself wondering about the people who spend their entire lives living in this way. The chanting was something that I really couldn't get into. Every evening the group would be led in various chants - mostly repeating the names of different Hindu gods over and over (and over) for a long long time. I was in awe that people are so passionate and devoted to their beliefs that they can spend such significant periods of time in this way. But, that's fine... it just wasn't for me. ;) We learned a lot more about yoga as a lifestyle as opposed to how most western people view it (as just a form of stretching that you do for an hour every day). For example, there was a half hour of Karma Yoga every day - basically us cleaning the ashram by sweeping, picking up trash, etc. So "yoga" is actually just a word that means "practice" so it can be put after basically any other word. Like "breakfast yoga" can be your routine of having toast for breakfast every morning. ;) Anyway, there are 8 limbs of yoga and we went through them all in the discussion sessions and just talked through what it means to live in such a way. Some of it was a bit idealistic but definitely positive... some of it was just a bit weird... like some of the cleansing techniques we were told about (sticking some kind of thick string type thing up your nostril until I comes out your mouth to clean it out... sort of like flossing), Luckily, we didn't actually try that one. ;)
Other highlights: we had a huge bonfire on the beach on our last night during which people from various countries got up and sang songs from their respective countries. Seeing as I can't sing for the life of me I opted out when the other two Americans sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" but it was fun anyway. Oh and I think I saw the biggest leech I've even seen in the bathroom one morning when I walked in at 5am... it was at least two inches long!