It has been three years since the events that are described here took place. Three years since I was a student at Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy in Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh, learning about a divine lifestyle and how not be affected by little ups and downs in life, and yet I never mentioned anything about the place here.
It is not that over the years I’ve lost touch with Sivananda Ashram (I think I’ve visited Rishikesh and stayed in the Ashram more times in the previous three years than any other place in the world) or that I didn’t want to talk about it; but the fact that I never found a compelling reason, was the reason. Sivananda Ashram, for me, is like a second home, a place that has nourished my roots and made me what I am today. And just like you don’t feel a need to write about your home and make it public to the world, I never felt it important to be writing about Sivananda Ashram either.
But this time, as I visited Rishikesh to spend a few nights in the Ashram, I was accompanied by an unbidden sense of realization — a force, rather — which motivated me to write about it.
It all happened when a friend repeatedly shared about the discontentment he was lately feeling in life. “It feels as if I am stuck in a hamster wheel and there’s no way out,” he would repeat on every meeting. Though unlike many others, he was still keeping some equilibrium while escaping his life in New Delhi, almost every weekend, trekking and recharging his batteries in the Himalayas, the fact that it was a no permanent solution and, with time, was only making things worse, I tried suggesting a rather slower but more effective and lasting solution — the introduction of a divine living and a visit to Sivananda Ashram!
How I Got Associated To Sivananda Ashram
When I finally quit my corporate career in 2015, I did it after hopelessly failing in finding my interest. I gave up my well-paying job in a media house in England, before moving to India, with a belief that things would improve here. But they didn’t. About one year after my relocation, I switched three different companies and a few different profiles. Everywhere I would go, I would feel a little incomplete within, wanting something else but that. I would plan weekends with my friends only to return on a Monday a bit more unsatisfied.
But now that I look back at it, I see that it wasn’t my lifestyle or the monotonous jobs that lacked something (I mean travel-blogging too, if we look at it that way, can be monotonous, except for a frequent change in geographic locations) it was me, or the ever-growing void in my head that felt unresting.
So after changing three jobs in India, I couldn’t hold it any longer and (in March 2015) I decided to leave everything behind and travel. I booked a one-way ticket to Bhutan with a big rucksack and a few belongings. For the next 6 months, I traveled across parts of Bhutan, Nepal and Northeast India. But as time passed, I realized that I was only, once again, losing time with no purpose and no direction. And this time, I was clearly, and more evidently, losing money too. Where those 6 months of uninterrupted traveling was sure a highlight and I gained many great experiences, I still had no clue about where my life was heading.
Six months later, in September 2015, I returned home, feeling more restless than ever, and waiting for a spark of light, when during a casual dinner-discussions my father suggested a two-month-long Yoga Vedanta course in Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. Of course, a regular habit of meditation and some yoga sounded like an ideal answer (as I happened to find on their website) and the next thing I knew, I was enrolling myself for the upcoming Yoga Vedanta Course.
Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy, Sivananda Ashram
Since its inception in 1948, Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh has been running three batches, every year, wherein they train a selected 40 students from across India about diving living. The training is given irrespective of their religion and professional background. The only condition is, however, they should be men of Indian origin, aged between 20 and 65 years old.
For a period of two months, you are required to stay in The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy inside the Sivananda Ashram (with Sundays as free days in addition to a little time to go out every day) and follow a strict schedule that starts as early as 4 in the morning.
Speaking of the routine, the students wake up at 4 in the morning, followed by a daily one-hour meditation class at 5. Throughout the day, the students are bound to attend various lectures learning about Indian scriptures like Bhagwat Gita and Upanishads, in addition to studying what the many great Indian and western philosophers like Aristotle and Adi Shankara and Chanakya said, and preached.
The aim of the course is not merely academic equipment of Yoga and Vedanta knowledge but a complete transformation of the way they think and perceive life. For a period of two months, the ashram life teaches about discipline and persistence while integrating their personalities in a way that they succeed, at least in an appreciable measure, in living a life of goodness and wholeness. Imagine it like a 20th-century gurukul where students learn about a life of discipline and order — something more useful than any college degree today.
How Sivananda Ashram & The Yoga Vedanta Course Changed Me
If anything, Sivananda Ashram — thanks to its daily meditation and lectures on how to live a more harmonious and divine life — instilled a sense of positive thinking in me. If I look back to the original me I would describe myself as an ‘unperturbed directionless person’, while the new me is still ‘unperturbed’ but ‘fairly nonchalant’ at the same time, and that’s a good combination.
The daily routine of meditation and yoga that I continued after my two-month course in Sivananda Ashram in 2015 has conditioned me in a way that negative thoughts are becoming a rarity inside. I mean if I think of the time when I started travel blogging in January 2016 with a little to no idea about how to make money from travel blogging, I cannot imagine how I continued doing it for the initial 8 or 9 months with no income and no hope whatsoever. If it were not for the positive thinking and persistence (and the old me were dealing with it) I would have given up somewhere in the middle, and be right now sitting with a grumpy face in a 4*4 cubicle, working on someone else’s dreams.
So yea, over time, as I continued practicing what I learned in the Ashram, I can feel a stronger and a more positive change from within.
The Factual mumbo–jumbo
- The Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy runs three batches every year (March-April | May-June | September-October) with each course running for a duration of two months.
- The course is free of cost (however, any donations are always welcome) with two months of free stay, food, lectures and everything else of daily need.
- The food served in the Ashram is totally Sattvik, however, you will be amazed by the quality of food (that range from fruits to wholesome meals throughout the day) and the kind of accommodation (which may be minimalistic and simple but super-clean).
- If you think of it as an opportunity to learn Yoga and get a degree to start your career in Yoga, please don’t enroll for the course. Because the aim of the course is rather instilling a divine and positive thought process in the lifestyle of the attendees. Enroll only you are coming with a keen spiritual aspiration and a deep interest in the practice of Yoga-Vedanta. There are going to be daily lectures on Bhagwat Gita and philosophy and Upanishads for at least 5 hours every day and not everyone can handle it.
- Smoking, use of intoxicants and drugs, and such other dissipating habits are strictly forbidden. Students are expected to live an austere life in the Ashram and should be mentally prepared and physically sound to stand the rigor of the course. You will also be asked to do Karma Yoga which includes duties like weeding the gardens to cleaning toilets to serving food in Dining Hall.
- The total group size of a batch is 40 people that are carefully selected after reviewing their academic background and their thoughts on spirituality. Applicants are required to submit an application (which can be downloaded from YVFA’s website). It is possible that you may be requested to come for an interview before you’re shortlisted.
- There are quite a few Sivananda Ashrams across India (with two of them in Rishikesh itself, I think) with names such as Sivananda Yogpeeth and Sivananda Dhanvantari Ashram. Please note that they all operate as independent identities and have no connection with the original Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. The Sivananda Ashram with Yoga Vedanta Forest Academy is the original Sivananda Ashram with Swami Sivanandaji’s Samadhi Shrine. So if you visit or have already visited any other Sivananda Ashram please make no connections!
Got questions? Write them in the comments below.