Travelling Through India -- The Sivananda Ashram in Varkala

Traditionally, an ashram is a place where parents would send their kids (boys) to learn about their religion, and to explore growth – spiritually and emotionally. The word ashram comes from the Sanskrit ‘to toil’, and invokes feelings of discipline. But it also has to do with the decision to step into your life, and engage with what’s there.

It’s a school.

Nowadays, ashrams aren’t really for kids. The Sivananda Ashram in Varkala, India attracts women and men from all over the world. They come to study under a Swami (guru) who has devoted their life to their religious practice.

The first time I went to this ashram, I arrived ready for a change. I was 25, and had just been released from the hospital for the second time during my trip. I needed to recharge, rejuvenate, and deal with everything that I'd been feeling. I came to the ashram to heal, mentally and emotionally.

Over the following years, I looked back on this experience with many fond memories. Five years later, my partner and I decided to go to India together (it would be my second time). I wanted to return to that same ashram, and I wanted Chris to be apart of the experience.

When the time finally came, and we were close to the ashram, I was adamant in my desire to spend at least a week there. Chris was resistant at first, and for a moment it seemed like we might split ways and do our own thing for a week, but then he decided that yes, he would come with me. 

We arrived mid-day (as per the ashram’s recommendation), so that we’d have time to settle in. While there, you have to abstain from physical touch. Regardless, many couple there were sharing a dorm, while respectfully following the rules. We were on a budget and requested that same option, and they agreed. We were given a dorm and prepared ourselves for our stay.

The next week was going to be regimented. While staying at the ashram, you’re put on a strict vegetarian diet. No alcohol. No garlic in your food. There were many more restrictions. They want you to be in an optimal state of health – from there your spiritual practice can flourish.

Every day there were also early morning lectures, and scheduled yoga practices. The first time I’d gone to the ashram, I’d gone to every class. This time, I found myself sleeping in occasionally. Despite how adamantly I’d pushed to be there, I found myself leaning away from the regimented schedule – desiring instead to interpret how I felt, and resting when I needed to. 

Despite how much Chris had resisted the experience, he ended up engaging fully with the whole process. He went to all the lectures; all the yoga classes. His commitment was inspiring. And yet I also recognized the ways that our experiences were each unique, and completely valid.

I think we both found something we weren’t expecting at that ashram.

One of the things I found was a realization: just because something was good once, doesn’t mean it should and must be repeated. I can be a creature of habit. I like to repeat experiences that I once enjoyed, or that once meant something to me.

I’ve watched the entire season of Friends something like 100 times.

But at the same time I like to explore and have adventures.

I’m glad that we went back to that ashram, because I got to share something meaningful with my partner. But the experience also reminded me that I don’t need to return to the same spots over and over again. That I can be grateful for my memories and keep them close, while at the same time trying something completely new.