11. September 2017 · Comments Off on Is a yoga retreat at an Ashram a good idea? · Categories: Blog Post, Retreats

“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace” – Dalai Lama

For a long time I have wanted to go on a yoga and meditation retreat. I finally decided to take the plunge this year. I talked about it a lot with my good friend Kali who decided to come along on this journey with me. I think starting out I had this vision of what it was going to be like.

I had recently watched an episode of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders (which I love) and it was based at a yoga retreat in Nepal. The episode opens with a woman finishing up a yoga session and retiring to her tent with her tea overlooking the beautiful snow capped mountains of Nepal. That was all I needed to be hooked on the idea of doing a yoga retreat.

So I started researching yoga/meditation retreats near me. One that wouldn’t cost an excessive amount and would provide me with the chance to step away from my every day life and get in touch with myself again. I consider myself an on again/off again meditater and yogi so I wanted to spend time developing my practice. I found a website that listed a ton of different retreats and came across one in the Catskills of New York called Savanada Yoga Ranch. What instantly grabbed my attention was that I could camp and that they had a hiking themed weekend. It seemed perfect and it only cot $150 for two nights stay and all your meals.

The plan was to arrive by 2 pm on Friday. This would give us a chance to set up our tents and make it to the yoga class at 4 pm. This, however, was not to be. We got stuck in the craziest, most random traffic, complete with detours and a bit of a culture shock and arrived at around 3 pm.

3 pm Friday afternoon – Arrival:

It wasn’t the easiest place to find. We found ourselves winding through little towns before ending up on a long road that was lined with lots of houses owned mostly by Orthodox Jews and suddenly there was a sign for the ranch. Pulling up the driveway the place seemed rather idyllic. We went through the door of the main building with the little registration sign and the lady behind the desk got us checked in and gave us a very quick tour. Then we were led up to a big open field to set up our tents.

4:15 pm Friday afternoon:

We missed the first yoga class, but once our tents were set up we decided to do a little exploring of the grounds. There were two temples a short walk from the area, one on a wonderful trail through the woods (by far my favorite spot at the ranch). We explored the woods for a while before heading back to the main area. The weather was threatening rain and I had a sad looking little tent which I covered in a tarp (which apparently had some holes in it) in an attempt to stay dry.

6 pm Friday – Dinner:

There was a large bell in the middle of the ashram that was rang for each event in the day. The food was fantastic, if you like vegan food. My friend Kali wasn’t really all about it mainly because it wasn’t really her taste but there was enough to make a small meal. It had started to rain by this time. It started out as a light drizzle but quickly became a torrential downpour. Dinner was followed by Satsang, which consisted of meditation, followed by chanting, followed by yogic teaching. Before heading to Satsang I discovered my tent had a slight leak in the top and my bed was getting dripped on. I added a second tarp to my little weekend abode and headed to Satsang.

I am not used to trying to meditate in a sitting position for 30 minutes and by 5 minutes my feet were asleep and my butt hurt and I started to fidget. My lower back was in a world of hurt by the time the meditation ended but I tried. The chanting was interesting to say the least. I should step back and say that our hiking group was not the only group at the Ashram that weekend. There was also a kids camp there and a yoga teacher training group. This Ashram offers a plethora of training and “vacations” so there is always something going on and lots of people around.

10:15 Lights out:

Back in my tent I fell asleep to the sound of the wind and rain raging outside, hoping for a better day tomorrow.

5:30 am Saturday morning – Hike day:

The bell rang signalling it was time for the morning Satsang. Same thing as the previous evening, we meditated, chanted and listened to a yogic lecture. Our group was going to hike the Catskills that day and were given an early breakfast before departing for the hike. The hike was about a 45 minute drive away and we were expected to carpool there with our own vehicles and pay the fee to enter the park. This I was not expecting and there was no mention of it on the website so I a little annoyed by that but it was not a huge deal.

So fun fact, I was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease prior to the retreat I was given doxycycline and if you have ever been on that medication you know you are not supposed to have direct sun exposure. So I was covered head to toe in clothing and had applied SPF 50 sunscreen as a precaution (and the sun wasn’t even out). About 1 hour into the hike I was pouring sweat but there was nothing I could do about it. The hike was by far the best part of the trip, being at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. We hiked a loop trail to a spot called Gertrude’s Nose, which had amazing views, where I wish I could have spent more time meditating in nature. The entire hike took about 5 hours.

By the end of the hike we were starving, because they neglected to tell us that they would not be supplying us with a lunch or snacks. I was also getting a caffeine headache from a lack of coffee, though the tea they supply at the Ashram was amazing! Kali and I had carpooled with 2 ladies from NYC, a pediatrician and single mom who loved spending all her time outside in nature and a massage therapist who lived in the heart of NYC. We quickly decided a pitstop was badly needed in one of the towns on our way back and got coffee and sandwiches. Needless to say we missed the afternoon yoga class. So thanks to our hike that day we had effectively missed the 2 yoga classes that day.

When we got back to the Ashram we decided to retire to our tents for some rest before dinner. This was the second best part of my entire stay at the Ashram. I did a meditation using my favorite meditation app “Simple Habit,” then I took a nap and did some journaling. It was the rejuvenation I was looking for.

7 pm evening Satsang:

By this time, this was my third Satsang and I have to say, I am not overly religious but something didn’t feel right to me. Maybe it was because I didn’t understand what we were chanting or what they stood for but I got a sudden urge to go to church (which I do on occasion anyway but that’s beside the point). It was just starting to rub me the wrong way and I was determined that when I returned home I would find out what the yogic teachings were all about.

5:30 am Sunday – Final day:

On our final day at the Ashram instead of our regular Satsang we did a silent walk mediation around the grounds, ending up at the little Temple in the woods that I loved so much. The morning was beautiful and there was even a deer that we stopped to watch while on our silent walk. Today we finally made it to yoga, the only yoga class I made it to the entire weekend. It was held outside on a covered patio. It was a slower meditation style than I am used to, with a lot of breathing but was still very restorative. We then had our breakfast and packed up to head home.

Some final thoughts:

This was not the idyllic yoga retreat I had hoped for. From the first moment we arrived until we left no one was overtly friendly or welcoming. I expected at least a hello or a smile or something when the people of the Ashram passed me but they completely ignored me. It wasn’t as welcoming as I had hoped. One visitor told us that she was very disappointed with the place and would not be coming back.

The hiking weekend or “yoga vacation” seemed poorly organized and they didn’t really provide the best instructions going into it. Overall, I was pretty disappointed with the whole thing. I was looking for a restorative weekend to get away and reconnect with myself but I don’t feel like it affected much. Next year my friend and I are going to try it again, somewhere else.

Interesting tidbits:

During my research on the Ashram and yogis in general I learned an interesting tidbit, not only are they vegetarian, they do not allow garlic or onions which I thought was a weird quirk. So here’s what I found on that:

Spiritual Harm –

Onions and garlic excite the lower nature of man, making him aggressive and blunting his natural sensitivity. When mixed with the nectar of the gods, garlic and onion may have some medicinal properties. Nevertheless, they strongly affect the lower chakras. That is why those who seek spiritual elevation avoid these foods.

Physical Harm –

Garlic causes burns of the mucous membranes of the esophagus and the stomach, generating a severe spasm that, in turn, leads to weakness and malfunction of the digestive organs.

Weird right?

That was my first experience at a yoga retreat and I think next time I will try to find a retreat that is not at an Ashram. Have you had any experiences with yoga retreats or Ashrams? Let me know your thoughts or suggestions for my next yoga adventure.