India

  • Man in Kanyakumari, India  By Sonja Bjelland
  • A man at a Hindu ceremony in Kanyakumari, India      By Sonja Bjelland
  • Varkala, India   By Sonja Bjelland

 

 

Kanyakumari, India By Sonja Bjelland

Kanyakumari, India By Sonja Bjelland

Top 10 India yoga travel tips
India’s a difficult place to travel but also an incredible place to visit. A few tips can be the difference between starting your trip off with a lot of crazy or only a little crazy. After all, this is India – it will be crazy.
1. Spend the first night in a nice hotel wherever you land. Jetlagged and tired you’ll be miserable sleeping on a wafer-thin mattress with bells waking you up before 6 a.m.

2. Research what you can. This is easier for Europeans than Americans because so many Europeans know someone who has been to India. Not so for Americans, but Yoga Journal has written extensively on the topic. British newspapers such as The Guardian’s travel section and European travel publications are also great spot to find information on traveling in India.

 

 

Ruins of the ashram in India where The Beatles wrote The White Album By Sonja Bjelland

Ruins of the ashram in India where The Beatles wrote The White Album By Sonja Bjelland

What to pack for yoga in India

I’m sure as I visit more yoga ashrams in India this list will grow. But already I have this list of items that are helpful to bring. Don’t think you have to pack everything unless you’re going to a more remote ashram.

The touristy areas make it easy to find refills of anything. About a 30 minute walk up the road from the ashram, is a backpacker district called Lakshman Jhula. I’ve seen more white people here than in the rest of my time in India. I even grabbed a falafel sandwich and my roommate picked up a cold Diet Coke yesterday. “Heaven,” she said.

Not where I’m going to spend my whole trip, but it’s a great place to restock on anything from travel size tissues to hats, not a commonly sold item here.

What you pack also depends on where you’re staying. As yoga students at Parmarth Niketan we have to wear all white.

 

Candle in the Aarti ceremony at Parmarth Niketan By Sonja Bjelland

Candle in the Aarti ceremony at Parmarth Niketan By Sonja Bjelland

Life in an Indian ashram

The jungle practically envelops the Parmarth Niketan ashram.

Monkeys toddle around and butterflies of black, yellow, orange and blue dance in the gardens.

But this is India after all.

They burn the garbage next to the yoga hall during class and you have to lower your standards of clean or you’ll just be frustrated the entire time.

 

Parmarth Niketan yoga class

Parmarth Niketan yoga class By Sonja Bjelland

How to pick a yoga ashram?

It takes a bit of the knowing yourself that yoga brings to pick a yoga vacation or ashram that works for you.

After two weeks at Parmarth Niketan, I’m transitioning to yoga resort life at SwaSwara, south of Goa, India.
But before I left Rishikesh’s yoga hub, I checked out a few other ashrams in the area.

 

 

Metal lunch plates, also used for ceremonies, Rishikesh, India, By Sonja Bjelland

Metal lunch plates, also used for ceremonies, Rishikesh, India, By Sonja Bjelland

How to research yoga ashrams and destinations

Finding a good yoga experience can be tricky. Many yoga teachers in India do not have the same teaching style that Western yogis are accustomed and some may not be professionally trained.

Some of the people I’ve met who are studying yoga here are studying with Americans who are living here. One piece of advice I was given was to only study with Western teachers, but I’ve had good Indian teachers as well.

 

Bathroom No. 1 in Delhi, India By Sonja Bjelland

Bathroom No. 1 in Delhi, India By Sonja Bjelland

Lessons to learn before a yoga vacation

The other day I was talking to someone about my yoga travels and she said my upbringing must have been a big help. I’m not sure she knows how true that was. I’ve written about what lessons I learned on the road, but what skills did I have before hand that were useful that I hadn’t realized would be?

No, these aren’t necessarily lessons everyone learns growing up. But they were part of mine and they’ve served me well.

 

Varkala, India By Sonja Bjelland

Varkala, India By Sonja Bjelland

Questions to consider when picking a yoga vacation

Maybe you don’t want to follow my footsteps hiking on jungle islands and navigating Indian trains but many more yoga travel options exist.

Having a vacation feel more like you’ve walked out of a yoga class and less like you’re walking out of a night club  seems to be catching on. With so many options, I’ve offered up a few thoughts to keep in mind when considering a yoga holiday.

 

Bus ride Kerala State, India By Sonja Bjelland

Bus ride Kerala State, India By Sonja Bjelland

Yoga in India – Finding your way around 

It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve left out one key ingredient in how to take a yoga vacation in India – how to get there.

Yeah, sometimes you hop on a plane in New York and land at an airport where someone whisks you away after you cross customs and plop you’re at your destination.

For most of the places I’ve written about this is entirely possible.

 

Banks of the river Ganges in Rishikesh, India. Considered the home of yoga By Sonja Bjelland

Banks of the river Ganges in Rishikesh, India. Considered the home of yoga By Sonja Bjelland

India, ashrams and yoga
Ashram life may be the cheapest yoga vacation in India but it’s not for everyone.
Four hours of asana practice a day did manage to relieve the tightness in my neck from my pack, OK and the duffle for my purchases.
But poses or asanas only make up a small part of yoga in India. All those body contortions help people sit longer cross-legged in mediation. The physical poses have equal importance to meditation and chanting for a well-rounded yoga practice.

 

 

 

 

Musical service known as aarti in Rishikesh, India By Sonja Bjelland

Musical service known as aarti in Rishikesh, India By Sonja Bjelland

Yoga in India

I couldn’t believe it when I made it to India and now I can’t believe I’m gone.

I have many more yoga adventures I’m looking forward to but the first leg is done.
But I don’t feel finished with India. So much more I want to see and do.

 

 

 

A Sivananda yoga students sits by the nearby lake. By Sonja Bjelland

A Sivananda yoga students sits by the nearby lake. By Sonja Bjelland

Sivananda ashram’s yoga vacation

I’m filing this tonight from inside a neon pink mosquito net during one of the many power outages today as I race against a dying battery.
I’m also trying to do this as surreptitiously as possible. Cell phones are not allowed here and can be confiscated. Not sure what they’d think about a laptop with Internet access.

 

 

Window at the Hawa Mahal

Window at the Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, India By Sonja BJelland

Yoga, women and India

India is a constant reminder for me of how other cultures view women’s rights.

This ranges from my morning yoga class where some women cannot attend because their mothers-in-law won’t let them wear anything but a sari to being asked my father or husband’s name on a form to buy a cell phone.

Purdah is a Persian word and a concept brought to India about 1000 years ago by Muslim invaders from what is now Turkey and Afghanistan.

Depending on whom you ask, it means to hide women from the lustful eyes of men or to separate men and women, family and society.

 

 

Sunset in Varkala, India By Sonja Bjelland

Sunset in Varkala, India By Sonja Bjelland

Yoga in Varkala, India

Varkala, India – Sunburn is the latest fashion trend here.

Between 8 and 9 degrees north of the equator, the sun is fierce and the beach is always calling.

White women trying to be a little appropriate wrap their shoulders in a shawl purchased at one of the many shops that line the well-worn path on the cliffs above the Arabian Sea.

 

 

Amma's Ashram on the Kerala backwaters By Sonja Bjelland

Amma’s Ashram on the Kerala backwaters By Sonja Bjelland

India’s Amma Ashram

Within the walls of an ashram, resides a small community that is not totally different from the world outside those walls.

Amma’s Ashram on the Kerala backwaters By Sonja Bjelland

The one I’m in now is actually larger than the town I grew up closest to.

Some 2,000 people live here at times in dorms towering up to 17 stories – thankfully with elevators.

It has a bank, laundry, stores, juice stand, etc.

But all the work is done by volunteers.

My jobs include serving one of the breakfast options and washing up dinner dishes from the Western kitchen. I’ll explain more on that later.

 

Elephants in the mist at Periyar Tiger Reserve, India

Elephants in the mist at Periyar Tiger Reserve, India

Humility in India

In a traditional Indian yoga practices, you bow after chanting.

The act shows your humility.

India humbles me with its natural beauty and extreme poverty.

 

 

 

Beach in Anjuna, Goa, India By Sonja Bjelland

Beach in Anjuna, Goa, India By Sonja Bjelland

Yoga in Goa

Yes, the beach state on the Arabian Sea known for drugs and partying Europeans is turning to yoga. But Goa the state, and the yoga landscape, are a bit difficult to navigate.

With a dose of Portuguese influence and miles of sandy beaches, it’s really a place you have to settle in to.

 

SwaSwara yoga resort near Gokarna, India. One of a few yoga and ayurveda resorts. By Sonja Bjelland

SwaSwara yoga resort near Gokarna, India. One of a few yoga and ayurveda resorts. By Sonja Bjelland

Indian yoga spa vs. ashram, what’s right for you?

The sound of the waves calmed me immediately despite my long journey.

SwaSwara yoga resort near Gokarna, India By Sonja Bjelland

You don’t meet a lot of stressed out folks who hear waves all day. Not sure if that’s nature or nurture.

 

 

 

Yoga Stances