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Pain in the Ashram

Neyyar Dam, Kerala
3/15/08: 

It was hard for me to sleep last night. I was as excited as a 5 year-old on Christmas Eve anticipating seeing what Santa pulled from his sack and placed under the Christmas Tree. Today, I am heading to a place that is far from the Catholic tradition I was raised. Finally, it was time for me to visit the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Neyyar Dam to enjoy several days of meditation and yoga practice.

As Alex & I headed to the bus station, we saw an elephant on it’s morning commute on the back of a good’s carrier into Varkala. Most likely it was on its way to make an appearance at a temple ceremony. It seemed odd to bring in an elephant rather than a bus full of monkeys given the temple was devoted to Vishnu and Hanuman (the Hindu god that looks like a monkey).

It took more effort to drag Alex to the Ashram than it did for the journey there. Alex & I took a train to Trivandrum then caught a bus to Neyyar Dam. It was easy to spot others also waiting for the bus to the ashram: Westerners with yoga mats. It was also easy to find our stop since it was the end of the bus route. The ashram was only 1K from the bus stop. Knowing this information, Alex refused to fork out a few Rupees for a rickshaw by insisting we could easily walk.

Under certain circumstances, yes, walking a kilometer is easy. Easy if you do not have to walk up a steep windy hill with heavy packs in ridiculously high humidity. With the ashram in sight, it started to pour down rain. We were so drenched with sweat, the assault of raindrops did not matter.

Stepping into the reception area, I was elated to finally be here. Alex was not to say the least. Check-in required us to fill out a bit of paperwork including forms to sign stating we would abide by the guidelines and schedule of the ashram during our stay. Upon reading these, Alex had a near meltdown being less than thrilled to not be in control. Alex grabbed me by the arm and told me that we were leaving. That was when I gave him the memo I was staying with or without him. He had ruined or prevented me from enjoying the few activities on my list thus far. This was a non-negotiable. I told Alex calmly, “Feel free to leave. You know how we got here and can make your way back to Trivandrum. I’m staying here and will meet back up with you in a week!”

Alex stayed. However, per one of the Ashram’s rules he was not allowed to stay with me in my dorm nor I in his. The male and female dorms were separate even if you are married or a couple. Guests are asked to observe brahmacharya (celibacy). While on the grounds of the ashram guests are asked to refrain from expressing affection such as hand holding, hugging or kissing. It also goes without saying public nudity is forbidden. Men and women are not permitted to wear provocative clothing such as anything tight-fitting, transparent or revealing the shoulders, midriff or legs.

Having separate quarters away from Alex didn’t bother me in the least. One of the friendly volunteers on greeting duty grabbed an umbrella and showed me to my dorm. The dorm had 12 beds divided into nooks of 2. My bed was along the back wall. Across from me were 2 friendly souls: Shruti from Delhi and Angela from Toronto who quickly welcomed me.

The part of the program at the ashram that excited me the most was being able to practice yoga for 4 hours a day and we made it just in time for the afternoon practice.

4:00PM: I laid my rented mat next to my new friends and saved a spot for Alex. The idea of practicing yoga for 2 hours was intimidating. The fact that we were instructed to go into a sirsasana (headstand) immediately after the first few Surya Namaskaras (sun salutations) did not help. The 1st yoga class was intense since I had not been practicing consistently for the past 5 months. I felt like an amateur. Even though you are not supposed to bring an ego to your mat, mine was bruised. Hopefully the next several days will reset my rhythm.

6:00PM: Dinner immediately followed the afternoon practice. We waited outside until we were called inside. Everyone walked in single file and sat on the floor before a metal tin plate. No one was allowed to speak during the meal other than chanting something prior to the food being served. Rather than served, I should say slopped. As volunteers walked by with metal buckets scooping and slopping the food onto our plates I couldn’t help but giggle to myself. This reminded me of the scene from Billy Madison with the crazy cafeteria lady in hairnet dishing out sloppy joes in the same fashion saying, “Who wants more Shhhloppy Joe? I made them extra sshhhhhloppy for ya today!” Why do I always have my childish thoughts when things are supposed to be serious? Fuck it! I am glad to have my inner child always with me to keep me amused. Maybe this will keep me young and allow me to age as gracefully as the beautiful old Indian woman I connected with in Varkala.

8:00PM: Everyone quietly filed into the grand hall and silently sat on the ground cross-legged. Unlike Alex, I had done my research. Although I was prepared to meditate, what followed I was not. I knew there would be some chanting based on research and reading Eat, Pray, Love but did not expect maracas, tambourines, drums and a weird accordion-like instrument. There was a booklet in front of me that would help me chant along with the masses but I was not having any of it. There is no way I am saying anything in sanskrit without knowing the meaning. Silently to myself I chanted, “What the fuck? What the fuck?! What the fuck!!” Now I was having the stress reaction Alex had several hours earlier. “Get me the hell out of here!!”

Soon the chanting stopped and the so-called “guru” wearing all orange started to speak lecturing about attachments, expectations and judgement. This topic creeped me out a bit. How did this person know what was going through my head? Then again, the room was mostly filled with newbies getting ready to begin a month of yoga teacher training (TTC). The lecture made sense.

10:00PM: We were set loose to preform our nightly routine prior to bedtime.

10:30PM: Lights out. Observe silence.

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