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Day Ninety-Three: Experiments with Ashram Living

“By following the complete Himalayan Yogic Discipline, you will be cleaning the karmic banks, changing habitual patterns (samskaras) and mental program of the mind. A state of awareness will develop which will transform ignorance into awakening. When the art of living slowly will appear into your consciousness, it will start to manifest in your daily life and all actions such as talking, walking, working, living, etc. Then yoga or unity will come into each moment of your life”

Imagine a week where your only responsibility is to live consciously and contemplatively, where the focus is to not make yourself busy, ever. The ultimate life detox of deconstructing everything you think you already know.

Well, little did I know that just six days of experimenting with this kind of living could be found up the hill from my apartment at a cozy quaint ashram called Himalayan Yog. Founded by Yogi Ram and his Dutch wife Talitha, this home welcomed me with open arms and couldn’t have come into my life at a more perfect time (cue up my New Year’s intention to bring presence in all that I do, specifically spending less time “doing” and more time “being” – not to be confused with “being” busy).

Goodbye wonderful home of the last two months, you will be missed.

Goodbye wonderful home of the last two months, you will be missed.

Ready.

Ready.

It was a bittersweet moment leaving my Rishikesh apartment of two months to move up the hill into a completely different world unknown to me. What I did know was that the look and feel and energy of the ashram was right up my alley – intimate living quarters compared to most ashrams in Rishikesh with European touches of design in the minimal airiness of the rooms with windows overlooking the Himalayas. What I did not mentally prepare myself for was the complete redesign of time that was about to turn my day upside down – one that starts before sunrise, no caffeine, includes two sattvik meals had in silence (light ayurvedic diet with medicinal spices and herbs) and meditation-based practices that start and end the day – all of which leaves six hours of free time during the day with a special emphasis on being ‘in contemplation.’ All I could muster up was an image of an Indian baba sitting in nature, contemplating thoughts all day long. ALL. DAY. LONG.

But doing what, exactly?

Busting these bad boys out for sure (emphasis: contains caffeine)

Busting these bad boys out for sure (emphasis: contains caffeine)

Six days of a new and super charged conscious lifestyle did not seem difficult at first, but reality revealed itself pretty quickly and deeply in just the first day. While I’ve been chanting for almost four years now, meditation was a completely new experience to me. By taking in fewer stimuli from the outside world, I was basically emptying out all of my mind’s usual distractions – coffee, any kind of food anytime I wanted it, the vast world wide web and all other activities that I would typically fill my day up with. I was diving into the even more complex world of my own being and thoughts, from the most random to the most reoccurring. It dawned on me how desensitized I’ve allowed myself to become. Everything becomes that much more sensitive and clear when you allow yourself to empty everything that would ordinarily consume even the smallest bits of energy – I’m talking even a small cup of hot tea. Ashram real talk: you’re not supposed to drink hot tea right before meditation because the temperature gets the heart pumping, making it difficult to focus on achieving long deep even breaths.

Inspired by my core challenge (‘you have no choice’) from just a few weeks back, I decided to make this week a challenge in not being busy. Lying in bed at 7:00p after finishing up dinner and a long first day (yes, this was the usual time I’d be getting into bed), I sketched out the guiding principles of this little experiment. Since not being busy is a foreign concept to me (and I think most people in the western world), I decided to turn ‘busy’ on its head a la Ram’s wise words, “be busy with the tools.” The tools being meditation, contemplation and any practice that allows you to experience the fullness of who you are without outside attachments and that all too sneaky FOMO.

Made friends with the plants...

Made friends with the plants...

As the days progressed, I found myself calming the impulse to be busy. Gone were the days of ‘filling’ in all its sneaky and sometimes not so sneaky ways (not so sneaky: devouring large quantities of snacks, sweets and Facebook just to pass the time). Apparently, making conversation while talking can fill you up in unnecessary ways, hence the ashram rule of taking “mauna” or voluntary silence during meals. I found myself looking forward to stretching moments of time simply through presence, be it my favorite daily ritual of sunrise haiku writing or Ashtanga yoga hour on the rooftop. I also managed to find an awesome 45-minute nature hike up to a waterfall, which became my go-to daily field trip (it made me recall an article I read once about Korean doctors that prescribe patients with ‘forest bathing’ as a way to combat high anxiety, ‘forest bathing’ being long hikes in nature). The hike down at 3:30p, which believe it or not was when the sun started setting at my particular altitude, was my absolute favorite. Why? Magic hour lighting. Apparently, during magic hour, our prana or energy is balanced between action and emotion, leaving us in a light euphoric state.

Girl power

Girl power

Oh hey there crab leg...

Oh hey there crab leg...

Yes PLEASE!

Yes PLEASE!

Okay, and if we’re being totally honest, I’m no ashram saint -- I may have snuck in a few minutes of whatsapp chatting here and there, but it was all done in good “contemplative” faith.

Don't I look contemplative?

Don't I look contemplative?

By day three, I was already in the flow of our morning activities of meditation, pranayama, and yoga theory (though I think ‘wisdom talks’ is more accurate) – honestly, one of the better experiments of morning living I’ve tried in a long time. If only we all created this much time and space in our mornings to start the day, I think we’d all be much happier and healthier as a collective. I’d even go so far as to call this morning flow ‘medicine’ – medicine of space, inner organization and presence. And, it’s FREE, let’s not forget this!

“But energy is bound not only by muscle tension, it is consumed by mental tensions as well. When there is preoccupation with fears and anxieties, vast quantities of energy may be wasted.”

I should probably mention my biggest breakthrough moment at the ashram – the moment when I literally meditated myself out of the worst headache, which all came crashing down post hike right before daily 5pm meditation. My old self would have tried everything in my power to get my hands on some kind of pain killer or at the very least, hot tea in bed. BUT, as fate would have it, the timing of the headache coincided with daily meditation. And as I suspected, one hour of even breathing and meditation did just the trick. I came out of savasana feeling the muscles of my mind loosened and relaxed, the way a cramped muscle would feel after eating a banana or few minutes of self-massage. As a recovering hypochondriac, this moment was huge.

“Be busy with the tools, not negativity”

Six days flew by just like that, and it will take some time to process it all. As I digest all the wisdom (lots of food for thought below), I just want to encourage all of you to tap into your inner ashrams and if you haven’t already, start getting busy with those tools – whatever practice allows you to find that breath and stillness, the key being repetition. Even if it’s waking up for one sunrise, you might just find something there.

The ashram family after my last supper. Left to right: Martin from Germany, me, Johanna from Finland, Grant from Scotland, Danny and Marty from Australia <3

The ashram family after my last supper. Left to right: Martin from Germany, me, Johanna from Finland, Grant from Scotland, Danny and Marty from Australia <3

Magic hour gratitude o'clock

Magic hour gratitude o'clock

...

Day 2, Jan 3: Sunrise Haiku

Watched these guys wake up
As the sun rose in the sky
Good morning Tuesday

:: Wisdom talks with Yogi Ram :: 

·      Entire body is in the mind; entire mind is not in the body

·      We have to bring inner organization to the mind

·      Understanding and observation equals freedom

...

Day 3, Jan 4: Sunrise Haiku

Playful energy
Bounces off their curvy shape
Good morning Wednesday

:: Wisdom talks with Yogi Ram ::

·      Be practical in your spirituality, spirituality is not fantasy and hallelujah

·      Be busy with your tools, not your negativity

·      Keep your spine straight -- all energy moves up

...

Day 4, Jan 5: Sunrise Haiku

Rosy sun shining
Chilly Himalayan breeze
Good morning Thursday

:: Wisdom talks with Yogi Ram ::

·      Small thoughts manifest big reality

·      If the ego is weak, immune system is weak

·      Your experience is your answer

·      Go into moments with a naked eye and naked heart, truly understanding things as they are

·      Keep your personal mantra private – secrecy is the key to transformation

·      Always wake up before sunrise, otherwise you’ll be much more tired

·      Prana is balanced at sunrise and sunset, in other words, your prana is balanced between action and emotion

·      Learn stability in your mind

...

Day 5, Jan 6: Sunrise Haiku

Peachy sky rises
Against mountain silhouette
Good morning Friday

:: Wisdom talks with Yogi Ram ::

·      Our breath affects thought, and thought affects breath. Why not then organize the subtlest aspect of our being?

·      Train your mind to know your best position for sitting

·      First observe and then decide what is useful and not useful for your life

·      Do less, but do quality work

Final day at the ashram was a rainy one. Apparently on rainy days, there is less of a chance of getting sick because all of the dust settles. Good to know Yogi Ram &lt;3

Final day at the ashram was a rainy one. Apparently on rainy days, there is less of a chance of getting sick because all of the dust settles. Good to know Yogi Ram <3

Tiffany Wen