What is an ashram? Techinically, it’s a monastic community, or other place of religious retreat for Hindus. In this post I’m going to describe my ashram life experience in the 5W format: who, what, where, when, why…
So first of all… lets start off with WHY anyone would stay at an ashram. During my travels I learned that ashrams are a place where people venture to in search of love. And when I use the term love, I’m talking about a divine love because there’s no love-making of any sorts at an ashram. Lots of sexy man-bun eye candy but celibacy is
requested mandatory. LE SIGH.
In regards to WHERE… there are ashrams all over the world, and I stayed at the Amritapuri Ashram aka Amma’s Ashram in Southern India. Located in the small fishing village Parayakadavu on the coast of Kerala, the Amritapuri ashram (also called the Mata Amritanandamayi Math) can host approx 8,000 guests (it’s freakin’ huge unlike other ashrams).
PS: Everyone is welcome to visit. I met people there who were visiting for the day, staying 3 nights, 1 week, 2 months, 18 years. SIDENOTE: UM YEAH. When that woman told me she spent 18 years at the ashram I literally told her to “shuuuuut up” clueless-style. She giggled and went on about how she changed her name 10 years ago from Beth to an Indian name that translates into Goddess of Flowers; needless to say, she hasn’t looked back.
WHO is Amma? Amma is the only living female saint in India and she is known for her hugs. She has embraced over 36 million people and counting (yes, I am one of 36 million). The English translation for “Amma” is “Mother of All”, but what I like about her is that she is accessible, and instead of preaching a specific religion, she spreads spirituality by promoting others to go deeper into their values, and to live by those essential principles.
WHEN was I in India? I just got back last week. I spent 2 days traveling and 12 days on a yoga retreat lead by Ali Cramer of Laughing Lotus. Of those 12 days, 4 days, 3 nights were spent living at the ashram. Four days may not seem like a long time to stay at an ashram, but I will say that it was an intense, yet rewarding and inspirational experience. I found three nights to be two too many for a 29-year-old New Yorker who wasn’t there to find divine love. 2 days, 1 night would’ve been just as effective.
WHAT did I do at the ashram? Well I embraced the lifestyle by waking up at 4am, I sat among those who chanted 1,008 divine names (and tried very, very hard not to fall asleep on the tile floor), I tested my own patience and waited three hours to receive darshan (Amma’s hug), I took long walks around the compound, I sat by the beach to meditate, and I volunteered for seva (service) by chopping vegetables, making pizza, and prasad (handing Amma candy directly to give to those who just received darshan)… other people chose to sort out the trash, clean laundry, sweep floors, fold pamphlets, etc. To each their own.
If you’re planning a trip to Amma’s Ashram, this is the info you wont find on the website:
- most people wear loose, white clothing as a sign of simplicity/purity but it’s not mandatory; I wore a black t-shirt and purple alibaba pants when i got my hug from Amma and she still embraced me
- if you meet someone at the ashram, you will see them over and over again even if there are 8,000 people surrounding you (I can’t explain this)
- in the words of Amma, “some people who come to the ashram are crazy” so just acknowledge that for a sec…
- as soon as you arrive, you will need to stock up on bottles of water and toliet paper
- on the toliet paper note, most people in India use their left hand to wipe instead of toliet paper, so avoid ALL left hands at ALL times
- people will walk straight into you, especially local Indian people, but don’t get mad about it
- the ashram uses communal spoons, plates and cups which are washed in cold water and cheap soap; i suggest buying your own spoon (15 rupees), plate w/ lid (180 rupees) and cup (20 rupees) from the shop located inside the ashram
- your room will be bare to the bones; they only provide sheets (usually stained) and a pillow for your cot, the bathroom has a western toilet with a shower head directly on top of it, and you’ll need to bring your own bath towel or buy one at the shop
- PS: there’s no hot water whatsoever; if this is a potential problem for you, bring dry shampoo and deodorant
- PPS: you’re most likely bunking with someone else so everyone should have their own room key unless you plan to stay together 24hours/day (highly unrecommended, you’re there to work on yourself)
- sign up for seva (service) at the office or jump into an activity randomly- they will not refuse your help
- there are yoga classes available for 250/300 rupees, some workshops are 500 rupees that came highly recommended
- lots of people get sick because they are not used to the ashram living conditions; take probiotics daily, I recommend the ones by JUICE PRESS
- but if you’re really sick, there’s a hospital on-site and they only charge you for the medicine; I had stomach pain and got pills for 7 rupees… I think that’s a US penny
- last but not least, no picture taking is allowed inside the ashram