My first five or six days staying in the Sivananda Ashram (outside of Trivandrum, India) were a bit rough. I had a lot of trouble acclimating myself to the new environment and way of life and found myself withdrawing. The chanting, prayers, yoga sessions and juicing times are all scheduled. There were a lot of bugs. I wasn't a big fan of my room (request the Kailash building if you go). And I was in the fasting program, making it even tougher.
However, once I got used to the routine and learned how to relax a bit I came to realize it's a lot like going home. At home there usually aren't too many really exciting things going on, but that is the beauty of it. At home there are sometimes struggles over use of the bathroom and the Internet. At home you decorate for the holidays and have the occasional visit from Santa. At home you eat together in the evening, and at home there is always someone there for you when you need them. The same holds true for the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala.
I have met so many wonderful people at the Ashram from countries all over the world, including Switzerland, Japan, Ireland, England, India, Canada and China. I have also had the chance to immerse myself in the Hindu religious practices, which are incredibly beautiful. One of the best things about the Ashram is that they are open to people of all religions and races, and it's probably the only place I've ever been to where I didn't feel judged by a single person.
There are Pujas (prayers) performed regularly in different places. One night we hiked up the mountain and witnessed the local villagers Puja at a sacred location. The sunset was incredible and the candle lit ceremony was very intriguing. However, watching the local children's interactions was my favorite part. When you are in a small town they love to stare at foreigners because they are so rarely seen, and when they smile and wave at you with their shy innocence it makes you want to take them home.
On Christmas we had the weekly talent show, where visitors can do whatever they like on stage. A large group of people chose to perform "Silent Night" in nine different languages, including Spanish, French, Dutch, English, Japanese and one of the seventy native languages of Ethiopia. After each was sung individually the entire audience joined in and we all sang in our native languages at the same time. Perhaps it sounds cheesy, but I found it quite moving.
Should you choose to visit an Ashram, wherever it may be located, be prepared for rooms with minimal accommodations and people with very big hearts.
Suggested Chant: Om Namah Narayanaya (said to promote world peace)
Ashram Pickup Line: You Have Great Energy (haha)
Photography by me.