So, you’re planning a trip to India to see the palaces, temples, tigers, elephants, mountain ranges and beaches etc etc etc. Once you’ve made your hotel reservations in Bangalore, Delhi, or Mumbai you might also consider that while you’re there, it would be nice to learn some yoga or meditation. India is the home of this sort of stuff, and it is absolutely crammed with places offering various routes to nirvana, so you would be right in thinking that this is an ideal place to separate the wheat from the chaff.
You will probably stumble across an ashram or two (ashram is the sanskrit work for a place to study yoga or meditation) on your travels, but it can do no harm in finding a good one to visit along with your packing, finding a good travel insurance deal, arranging for jabs and a spot at parking 4 less, and all the other things you have to do before setting off. Planning to visit a particular spot is especially important if you have a short trip and don’t want to waste time.
The Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh
Rishikesh is a town on the Ganges (the most holy river for Hindus) that marks the river’s transit from the Himalaya mountains to the plains. The town is full of yoga ashrams – in the 60s the Beatles, and the Beach Boys decamped to the Transcendental Meditation (TM) ashram in the town – but possibly the most famous of them all is the Sivananda ashram. Started in 1936 and still going strong, you can learn about all aspects of yoga and watch the Ganges flow peacefully by.
The Iyengar Yoga Insitute, Pune
B. S. Iyengar was the first person to popularise yoga in the West and his yoga centres are found in most countries. If you want to go to the heart of his teaching and perhaps see the man himself or at least learn from his senior disciples, then his Yoga Institute in Pune is the place to go. It is also only a few hours from Bombay and its major international airport.
The Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore
Sting, Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow have given Ashtanga yoga a high profile. It is much more physically vigorous than the systems taught in Pune and Rishikesh, so should leave you looking toned and fit, as well as feeling a whole lot better.
Dhamma Bodhi, Bodh Gaya Vipassana Centre, Bodhgaya
Vipassana is the meditation technique taught among Theravada Buddhists in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand, it is one of the simplest forms of meditation and widely practised around the world. S.N. Goenka is one of the best known teachers of this technique and possibly the best place to learn is in Bodhgaya, the town in the state of Bihar where the Buddha reputedly gained enlightenment. Prepare for a trip to the chilling fields.
Ayurveda Ashrams, South India
Ayurveda is the Indian traditional medicine, you might say the equivalent of Chinese traditional medicine. Many people find relief for long term ailments after taking an ayurvedic retreat. The best place to find them is in South India where the tradition is strongest. You could certainly try the Ayurveda and Yoga Retreat, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu for starters.
A few other places that you could look out for are the Tibetan Buddhist centres in Dharmasala in Himachal Pradesh, where you can see and sometimes meet the Dalai Lama (said to be a positive experience), there is also the ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi (the hugging saint) in Kerala if you want to learn about Bhakti Yoga (devotional yoga). There are many more ashrams, but hopefully this article will give you an idea of some of the most popular.