RISHIKESH, India // Well if I had to choose between a Bali Retreat and an Ashram stay in India, at first I would have said Bali hands down, no competition but as I step away from the Ashram I am starting to appreciate it more and more for its imperfections.
Bali was taught by 2 girls from North America // Canada and California. I loved them both. They were soft spoken and provided a relaxing retreat environment. It was easy and peaceful and everything I imagined a yoga retreat would be but it was Western in nature which is why I probably felt so comfortable there. The information was easy to digest and well organized.
The Ashram was much harsher and uncomfortable for me. There was no AC. There were no screens in the windows but it was so hot you were forced to open them and hope for the best as far as bugs and mosquitos were concerned. The bathroom drain didn’t work and one evening there was no water. This was very different from our private villa cut into the mountainside in Bali. At first the local male instructors, Vickay and Rajish, at the Ashram seemed harsh and monotone. But after 14, 90 minute yoga classes and 14 pranayama and meditation 60 minute classes, in one week, I can honestly say I feel the differences in my body. My heels almost touch the ground in downward dog and mountain pose. The sternness of the instructors really pushed me to go beyond my normal comfort level of pain like a good coach who pushes your limits. They were skilled too with the details they described as we flowed through poses and by the end we considered them to be good friends. I found myself in some very deep meditations after pranayama breathing. The organic vegetarian meals each day were simple but flavorful.
Meeting the other guests of the Ashram was our favorite part. One guy asked so many tough deep questions and I found I was able to open up and express my thoughts on “What do I believe in?”, “What questions are you most afraid your kid will ask you one day?” or “What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?”. We met a couple from Venezuela and Sweden who are doing Work Away for the Ashram who were fascinating people who are huge proponents of Vipassana which is a free 10 day silent meditation retreat that they hold around the world. Tough but supposedly life changing. Adam and I are looking into it. We also met an Indian family on vacation at the Ashram who taught us about the local culture. Her daughter was 25 and had a near death experience recently and we were discussing my fear of death or loss of body and she had some interesting things to say about how fear is conditioned into us by society and that while she was in the in-between space there was nothing to fear and all she felt was unconditional love. It was very beautiful. We also got to go listen to her boyfriends band play at a local cafe tree house. We joined a drum circle while the couple sang and played guitar. It was our best night in India.
The Ayurvedic doctor however was the only downfall of the Ashram. He was disingenuous at times. His message was good // be positive, see positive, hug the sky, be grateful, but the package was all wrong. Ill give you a few examples to illustrate my point.
The doctor insisted we attend a concert that would be "good for us" where this lady played the harmonium and chanted single names or phrases in Sanskrit and then you sang them back to her. The band also included a tabla drum player. It was quite moving and not as weird as I thought it would be. The doctors uncle showed up and the doctor not only didn’t participate but talked with his uncle in loud voices for almost half the concert. If this was so important for us why did he disrespect it by talking?
He also had us all (12 guests at the retreat) wake up at 4:30 AM to chant with him. When we got down to the area to chant he was not there. We all waited 30 minutes. At 5 AM I left and went back upstairs to sleep. Was this a test of patience? Adam and a few others waited until 5:15 and then he appeared in his pajamas all disheveled and said, "I overslept." Then he sat down and made them Om 51 times (thats right 51!) and then he sent them back upstairs. There were 2 other occasions were he overslept the 4:30 AM in a one week span. That is disrespectful of our time. Why tell us all to meet him if he wasn’t going to show up?
We actually had this discussion with him our last day about why we would be unable to write him a "5 out of 5 star" Trip Advisor review which he asked us for. He took it all gracefully but I don’t think he was really listening. I hope he was as I would love for the Ashram to succeed. He kept harping on his worldly experiences as his credentials but he was only a few years older than us. Its not like he was an old wise sage. In all honesty our grandparents, parents, and friends seem more at peace than this Ayurvedic doctor. I would have rather listened to them speak than this man say empty words.
He kept saying I speak from the heart. I care from the heart. I love you from the heart but then on the last day, after being there a full week, all day everyday, and having many discussions with him he asked me what my name was. He says the right words but doesn’t back them with any type of action.
That is what I learned from the Ashram // People in authoritative positions should not always be followed. I should think for myself and not blindly follow anyone. Above all else I learned being genuine with your actions is even more important than saying the right words.