A year ago I decided to ramp up my yoga practice – I’d been studying meditation and yoga for a few years, and was starting to feel pretty darn yogic every time I visited the studio, so a trip to an Indian Ashram seemed like the next logical step in my journey! Having successfully survived India with many stories of life-changing adventures, I’d like to share with you the top ten things I wish someone would have told me before I left on my trip…
1. The Daily Routine
Know that there will be a daily routine and that you will have to stick to it. You will, most likely, have to get up early in the morning, (sometimes as early as 4am!) and you will have to turn your lights off at a set bedtime. There will also be specific mealtimes and a schedule for lectures/workshops. If you have problems sticking to a disciplined routine, you may find the ashram schedule to be challenging.
2. Traveling Solo
For those people that don’t like to travel alone, Yoga retreats offer a great solution because there’s always a great group of like-minded people at the ashram. When you make a Yoga Retreat part of your travel plans, it enables you to enjoy the best of both worlds – time with others and time exploring your new surroundings alone. Traveling with friends and family is great, but you often find more adventures when you choose the solo option.
3. Pack “emergency snacks” such as nuts and dried fruits.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably soon be sick of eating Indian food all day, every day. Many students at the ashram found that digging into familiar foods on occasion gave their taste buds and body a break from digesting the heavily spiced Indian food.
4. Get your Gut ready months in advance
The stereotype about the food in India is true, with many Yogis suffering bouts of “Delhi Belly” – fever, chills, diarrhea, vomit and fatigue that lasts for days. This is definitely not the way you want to spend a yoga retreat. Strengthen your gut in whatever way you’re able. In the months leading up to your trip take daily probiotics, drink Kombucha, and eat cultured yogurts.
5. Pack Your Painkillers
Pharmacys in Rishikesh are Ayurvedic, which means that there is no western medicine. If you are a person who uses Ibuprofen to address mild pain, you will be thankful that you brought your supply from home.
6. Tame Your Cravings
Rishikesh is a vegetarian, booze-free town. When I went to Rishikish, I’d already been vegetarian for many years, but some of my classmates weren’t prepared for the dramatic dietary changes. When people are adjusting to new schedules and new challenges, adding the adjustment to a new diet is an additional unnecessary stress. If meat, eggs, or alcohol are a big part of your diet, it would be wise to gradually reduce these from your diet leading up to the trip.
7. Bring your own yoga mat from home
To put it bluntly, most of the yoga mats you’ll find in the ashrams for students to use have seen much better days; if you’re concerned about hygiene, you’ll not want to use one of the free mats. If you care about the quality of mat you use, bring your own from home. But if you just want something to last for your trip – you can buy cheap yoga mats in town, which you can donate to the ashram when you leave.
8. Bring Your Earplugs
India is loud. Whether it’s the incessant horn-beeping or the cows or the monkeys. India is loud. You won’t regret bringing your earplugs when you’re trying to get that shuteye before your 4am wake-up call! Sleep is critical when you’re on a Yoga retreat so I strongly encourage you to bring your earplugs.
9. Pack Light
Yoga retreats are generally very casual. In general, you’ll spend most your time in comfortable yoga style clothes. You’ll want to bring something basic to wear for the occasional dinner or evening out, but trust me – the simpler the better. Clothes are cheap in India, so leave space in your luggage to bring some Indian fashion home. Plan to buy your ‘India clothes’ in India!
10. Caution: Cows
Cows are considered sacred in India and they roam the streets. Often these animals elicit our pity as their bony frames are in such obvious need of food. Do be cautious though – I almost started a couple cattle stampedes through the streets of Rishikesh when attempting to feed some of my bovine friends.
11. (BONUS) Caution: Monkeys
Those adorable monkeys are everywhere in Rishikesh – but cuteness is merely a cover for their nefarious motives. While in Rishikesh, tourists are reminded to keep their purses and bags tight to their bodies or the monkeys will literally grab the items out of people’s hands. I witnessed one mom and her young daughter have their lunches swiped right in front of me. Bad monkeys.
Most important when planning a trip to a Yoga Ashram in Rishikesh is that you bring your sense of adventure. On my trip to India, I tried to cultivate a ‘go with the flow’ mentality. India is a crazy country and can be a tremendous shock for someone traveling from North America. When you bring a relaxed and flexible attitude, you will be in the right frame of mind and prepared for all the unexpected challenges that India presents.