How I chose a yoga program in Rishikesh

Yoga , Travel / April 22, 2020 / 6 Minute Read / Comments

Note: This piece is based on personal experiences and opinions. It is solely informational and is not affiliated with any particular organization, person, or ideology. No animal or person was harmed or offended 😊

Rishikesh, September 2019: The world capital of yoga, where yoga and spirituality buffs from all over the world congregate to experience a life-transformation. Be it deeper self-introspection, a holy dip in the Ganges, or just witnessing the zig-zag of Ashrams and yoga schools dotting every street crowded with motorcycles honking at every person, pooping cow, dog, monkey, and shops selling Indian-everything, there is something for everyone.

Having completed my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Program (TTP) at the world’s oldest yoga school, The Yoga Institute in December 2018, I was left craving more and decided to immerse myself deeper into this 5000+ year-old science that the universe gifted my ancestors. So, the grueling exploration began for expanding my yogic horizons.

Rishikesh seemed like a land of plenty and Parmarth Niketan seemed like an obvious choice as one of the most recommended, authentic and loved Ashram with almost 9,400 reviews with 4.5 star-rating on Google. Having enrolled for a two-week Intensive Yoga Course clad in all-white at all times, I was eager to embark on this intensive yoga journey. Upon checking in, I was not expecting an Egyptian cotton bed-sheet with plush pillows, but a basic level of cleanliness having been to Ashrams since I was a kid. Moreover, Sauch (cleanliness) is the first Niyama (ethical and personal code of observances) of Yoga philosophy, the first of eight steps that a yoga sadhaka (practitioner) should follow. Unfortunately, the room was dirty with bed covers that hadn’t been washed and the whole night was spent hearing the kitchen staff doing dishes till wee hours or their nightly gargles and practicing the harmonium. As students, we could not ask for a room that was air conditioned given the pinnacle of the hot Indian summer despite the hefty price tag. However, the next morning, I was taken to the superior and deluxe AC-room tour but they were also lackluster. From the orientation, it was clear that the course would be basic and so the quest for a better Ashram experience began.

Daily schedule for intensive yoga course at Parmarth Niketan
Daily schedule for intensive yoga course at Parmarth Niketan

It took three full-days of research from money-mints of yoga schools and Ashrams, walking ~20,000 steps, hiring a full-day cab and personally visiting 10 of them to short-list just three.

Criteria

  • Style of yoga
  • Quality of instruction
  • Daily schedule
  • Lineage
  • Authenticity
  • Cleanliness/attention to detail
  • Word of mouth recommendations
  • Price of the program

While all of the ashram bathrooms had Western-style toilets (not the best posture to sit in my opinion), the majority were lacking a separator between the shower and the rest of the areas so that the whole bathroom would be splashed while bathing. Yes, these small details go a long way, especially if I am spending a month in the same room….In the process, I observed that small hotels and bungalows had been converted to yoga schools, so much so that there were yoga schools in little villages just a few meters from the main city on hills without access to roads but with hundreds of 5-star Google reviews and misleading images. I felt disillusion and horror-story material for someone who spends their precious time and money to come thousands of miles with all basic notions of hygiene and security put aside - much less the quality of training as I was even unable to get basic questions answered.

Below is my observation regarding the yoga schools and Ashrams I checked out:

DON’T

  • Yoga Vini: only offers 200-hour TTP
  • Anand Prakash Ashram: Has popular teachers but was under renovation at the time and location was less than ideal for an ‘Ashram’ surrounded by waste dump sites
  • Yoga Niketan: No yoga program offerings and lack of Saucha
  • Swami Dayananda Saraswati Ashram: No yoga program offerings
  • Himalayan Yoga Ashram: In a little village on a hill just a few meters from the main city without access to roads but with hundreds of 5-star Google reviews and misleading images. Could not answer basic questions about the curriculum
  • Sanskar Yoga Shala + Om Shanti Om: trainers seemed ok but room and location undesirable
  • Yoga Therapy Foundation + Nada Yoga + Ekam Yoga Shala + Rishikul: Seemed like generic yoga TTPs, no attention to detail
  • Kriya Yoga Ashram: This Yogananda Paramhansa fame Ashram used to be all the rage in its heyday but they don’t have a formal program anymore. A high-priest of the organization was visiting at the time and initiating prospective followers at $50 USD ‘suggested donation’

DO

Swami Rama Sadhaka Gram: Any serious seeker is welcome here anytime with an extensive daily schedule starting at 5:00 AM. It is the Himalayan Yogic Tradition as propounded by the renowned Swami Rama and this village of seekers was founded by his disciple, Swami Veda. Excellent teachers and monks conduct systematic meditation, relaxation, and philosophy classes. Silence as well as special retreats are conducted regularly. The Ashram is beautiful, cottages are spacious and comfortable and we spent a month here. They also offer a year-long TTP for those willing to dive deep. I enrolled for this program and it is one of the most authentic, holistic and unique programs out there.

Daily Schedule at Swami Rama The Ashram birthday boy eating his cake
Daily Schedule at Swami Rama The Ashram birthday boy eating his cake

Osho Gangadham Ashram: For Osho fans, this Ashram is paradise as it boasts one of the best views in Rishikesh smack on the ‘beach’ of the Ganga so it is perfect for soaking up the sun and dipping in some of the cleanest waters just outside the bustle of the busy city. The villas are immaculate and I would fall asleep to the gushing sound of the river. The food is the best-tasting, albeit spicy, of all ashrams. The maroon-robed, ear-numbing dynamic meditations and dances are not for everyone. The schedule and vibe is pretty relaxed, and the teaching quality is subpar, so I spent less than a week.

Daily schedule at Osho Ashram Gorgeous view of the Ganga from the Ashram
Daily schedule at Osho Ashram Gorgeous view of the Ganga from the Ashram

Aurovalley Ashram Rishidwar: A close contender, I would totally have spent some time here if it were not for lack of a solid daily schedule and its offbeat location (about 45 mins from Rishikesh). It is a sprawling, less-frequented Sri Aurobindo campus far away from the crowds of Rishikesh so if you are just looking for some down time to read or grow individually, this is a good place.

Daily schedule at Aurovalley Sprawling Ashram campus
Daily schedule at Aurovalley Sprawling Ashram campus

A mention for Phool Chatti Ashram as it is touted to be among the best, but it was closed at the time so missed the opportunity to visit. I am sure there is a next time.

Conclusion

Before choosing a program, do lots of research and ask yourself and the yoga school a lot of questions regarding what is important to you. Feel free to use the criteria I mentioned above. I’m sure that the schools I mentioned as “Don’ts” might be good in their own right based on individual preferences. However, do not settle for less - have a plan B or even C in case you are not comfortable with the program you enrolled for…pay the least possible amount in deposits and keep your options open. If your time permits, physically get to Rishikesh a couple of days in advance and upon reaching, check out the school, listen to your gut feeling and pay the deposit upon getting there. While Ashrams are some of the most authentic yoga and spirituality organizations, they need not be dirty or uncomfortable. Don’t worry, you’re in the yoga capital and the next great school could be right next door 😊

I wish you all the best in your journey! Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

Love and light,
Zeal


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