I feel many people (including myself) are too busy on social platforms and do not live in the present moment. Technology has made us so busy that we forget the people around us. At times I feel irritated with people around me who constantly are fussing with their smartphones.
I came to the conclusion that I cannot change people but I can change myself. “Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself,” said Leo Tolstoy. I needed to slow down, get grounded, find inner harmony again and withdraw from everything and everybody.
I have never been to an ashram before. Yes, an ashram sounds to be the right place to practise and experience what I was looking for. An ashram is a place with little distraction. Technical devices are prohibited, you have to observe silence, work selflessly, following a disciplined daily routine and study your inner self. BSY is known to be one of the strictest ashrams in India.
For this reason I chose BSY. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and put myself in a kind of extreme situation to test myself. How far can I go and how do I feel with that? I went to BSY for nine days beginning of March 2016.
An ashram is neither a yoga retreat nor is it supposed to be an escape from your current life, but it is a respite from worldly pursuits. “An ashram is a place of simple living, where you can develop a positive attitude and an understanding of selfless service. It is a place of inspiration because it does not teach or preach,” says Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati.
Don’t visit an ashram if you have gone through some emotional trauma the last months (e.g. divorce, death in the family, etc.). You won’t be able to concentrate on your self-studies. The ashram management wants you to come strong because ashram life is rigorous. Not just physically but also psychologically. You spend a few hours a day in silent mode. You live in closed quarters with strangers. Do not expect to get pampered or spoiled there. Everybody works internally with themselves.
The first three days I felt very weird in the ashram. I was not used to this guided routine and to someone telling me what I have to do the whole day. I felt irritated by the high walls around the ashram and the window grills everywhere.
Ashram means ‘come and work’. During my stay in the ashram I had to work in the kitchen, do gardening, clean the dormitories for the ashram guests and serve food in the food hall to the residents. One benefit of practising seva is you attain a sense of inner peace. It comes out of the satisfaction of doing whatever you can for the common good of others. Another benefit is that society improves as a result of your seva. The most important benefit is that it helps you progress on your path by eliminating your ego and overcoming your selfishness, bit by bit.
What I liked the most during my stay was the weekly Sunday satsang with Swami Niranjanananda. I was lucky to join satsang with Swamiji two times. Satsang means ‘the company of the truth’. Satsang is not a discussion, philosophy or academic debate; it is a reflection. People who participate in satsangs regularly become more reflective and intuitive. Satsang can also help people to develop the quality of positive thought and action.
Yoga means ‘union’, so the task in yoga is to find union and balance between the body and mind, our thoughts and the source of thoughts, and to become One. To become one is to be centred, to be a balanced person, a conscious person.
Swami Niranjanananda says: Purify your body and mind by:
Okay, understood, but the challenge is trying to put that understanding into practice and living it every day, outside the ashram with all the daily distractions. Of course this takes practice and effort. It is not a teaching that you hear once and think you can master immediately. Lifestyle changes take time. There will be trouble, trial and error and pain.
At the end of my nine days in the ashram I know it was only a glimpse of what I could have experienced. I wished I could have stayed longer. I felt an amazing sense of self-awareness and strong connection with the here and now. I am again in tune with my own inner rhythm. Every experience in the ashram (chanting mantras, practising mouna, doing seva, eating a balanced diet of light and nutritious food, self-study and attending satsang) helped to relax my mind. It controlled my thoughts and brought me back to the present.
Ashram life is not for everyone but for me it was simply right. I found staying in an ashram to be healthy and creative. A few days can do wonders, but a few weeks or even months can really make a lasting difference in your life. I found in these few days what I was looking for and got even more. It won’t be my last time I visit an ashram.
—Helena Hoffmann, Bangkok