Ashram Life - Experiencing Lockdown at Phool Chatti Ashram in Rishikesh, India
Living in one of the best yoga & mediation ashrams in Rishikesh, the home of yoga, made me feel true gratitude and santosha (contentment) with the simple life.
I remember thinking before coming to Phool Chatti Ashram that this was going to be an interesting experience with a very basic level of accommodation and facilities. Not gonna lie, I quite enjoy a bit of luxury, plush duvets, crisp white linen that feel silky soft, minimalistic and stylish design, freestanding bathtubs, private pools and the whole lot. Who doesn’t? A couple of years ago you would probably have had to pay me to stay in an ashram.
But now is not a couple of years ago. As I’ve ventured onto the yogic path and consciousness is growing, I longed to have a spiritual experience. I wanted to connect more with myself and advance my practice. Part of me probably also wanted to stay in this place, so that I could report back and say, yup, I’ve done that. To friends, to family, people reading this, people coming to my future yoga classes etc. Not proud of it, but just saying it as it is.
Regardless of what the reason is that drove me here initially, I could not have imagined how much I would learn during my time in this ashram.
I’ve been here now for over 6 weeks and counting, when I look back to week 1, I was clinging on to my plans (I was supposed to be in Bali for YTT starting early April) and when it became clear that it wasn’t happening, I booked a flight to get back home, only for it to be cancelled less than 12 hours later.
Now, I have found peace and contentment (niyama number two: santosha). Amongst other things. For the last month, I’ve followed through with my morning yoga practice every single day and I’m so delighted to see the progress in my poses and changes in my body, muscles getting stronger and leaner. But much beyond the physical aspect of yoga, while I am not currently in official yoga teacher training, ashram life is teaching me loads about yoga philosophy and the yogic way of living.
The general motto here is no problem and you really learn to be content and grateful, especially when you are in this experience while the world is gripped by the fear that’s called the Coronavirus.
When someone allows you to stay in their ashram while other tourists are being kicked out of their hostels, you become truly grateful. When you are served three tasty meals a day while others are struggling for food, you truly appreciate it. Instead of looking at the fact that today’s lunch is the same as yesterday’s (because it’s difficult to get ingredients), you are happy for having food in the first place. When people are stranded outside or living in a cave (not a metaphor! A bunch of tourists actually did that cause they ran out of money), you appreciate that you have a bed to sleep in and a roof over your head. It might not be a 1,000 pocket springs and memory foam mattress, but it‘s a bed.
You begin to appreciate the beauty that comes with a very simple life. No modern clutter to distract yourself with. You wash your own clothes and you can pick from the following programs: hand wash, hand wash or hand wash. And yet again, when you wash all your stuff by hand and you hang it out in the sun to dry, you appreciate a clean pair of knickers all the more, cause you know you earned those clean knickers :).
When your bathroom is more of a wet room and your shower really is a bucket that serves to mix hot and cold water, so you can pour it over yourself, you start to anticipate the nice feeling of the warm water, perfect temperature, while you’re waiting for the boiler to heat and the bucket to fill up. You use less water and because the process requires more attention than standing under a rainforest shower, you do it much more mindfully. And again there’s gratitude.
When you run out of toothpaste and know you can’t go to the shop because of the lockdown, and the owner gives you toothpaste, you don’t question what type of toothpaste you got and whether it’s the one you wanted, you are grateful that you got a toothpaste, cause you needed it.
And very quickly you realise that there really are not that many things that you need. There are a lot of things that we want, or we think we want them because someone (society / media) told us, but not that many we need. And that’s when contentment and gratitude really settle in.
Ashram life also means community and especially in this situation, you help each other out - with things you may need or just with lending an ear when someone needs to talk about stuff that has come up. And trust me, stuff comes up when you’re immersed in yoga and meditation and have heaps of time for reflection.
You spend time together practicing some acro yoga, taking photos of each other (to feed all those social channels of course!), motivating and supporting each other’s goals and dreams. Or you just hang out for no other reason than have some fun.
You realise that actually life is much easier when you ask for help instead of always trying to get everything done by yourself. You exchange nail polish remover for hair conditioner and you help another woman by developing a marketing strategy for her to promote her services as a Reiki & Theta Healer in exchange for a free session. Before you know it, word gets round and the ashram director asks you if you can help her out with the ashram website. And of course you say yes!
That’s not to say I don’t have off days. Of course I do. I miss my family and friends, I do miss the comfort of my own place, I miss Edinburgh, I miss a nice glass of chilled rose and the list could go on if I went along with that train of thought. Or I get pissed off with something someone said and then I’m annoyed that I let that thing disturb my energy, and then I think ‘cut yourself some slack, you’re only human’... When you live with strangers for this long, not by choice, but because of circumstances, there will be moments when you collide. In the past, I would have jumped straight to my defence in such a situation, but now I feel like it’s just not worth the energy, so I try to observe and let it go (at least most of the time :D) which brings me to another golden nugget (thanks for that Sam, love it!) of advice I’ve picked up from the ashram director: you cannot change other people, you can only change yourself (and your reaction to others).
Two weeks in India turned into two months and what an experience it has been so far. With ups and downs, moments of connection, and moments of ego and plenty of learning opportunities. The thing is, no situation is permanent, and this situation will pass too, and soon I hope. So I’m trying to stay present, in the moment, experience ashram life and this immersion in yogic life and Indian culture, fully and soak it all up. Now more than ever before, I am truly ready for my official yoga teacher training, and I hope the time for it comes very soon.
Stay safe everyone, we’ll get through this.