Travelling to India to attend a yoga and/or meditation retreat in India can be a transformative experience. It allows you to immerse yourself in the practice and learn from experienced teachers, while also connecting with a community of like-minded individuals.
Plus, a retreat can also provide a much-needed break from the stresses of daily life, allowing you to recharge and return home with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.
A yoga and meditation retreat typically involves several hours of daily practice, including asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation and mantra recitation or chanting.
Many retreats also include lectures on yoga philosophy and lifestyle, as well as opportunities to participate in cultural activities and excursions.
But if you aren’t sure about committing that much time to yoga and need a break from your daily life, don’t worry. You can find much lighter options, with fewer hours of practice and less strict about diet or lectures. There are plenty of yoga retreats that provide a leisure and holiday approach.
I’ll point you in the right direction to find those for yourself, but in this blog I’ll be discussing the more traditional approach of ashrams in India. The hours of wake up and sleep are strict and so is the diet. Having said that, there are many ashrams where you don’t have to live in, which you can just visit and take part in some of the activities.
Why in India?
Even today, despite widespread industrialisation, the onslaught of Western capitalism and the burden of its 1 billion citizens, India is still a land of religion and spirituality. It’s rich in temples, shrines, saints, sages, yogins, and all sorts of sacred festivals.
It always surprises me how devout are people in India, and how the sacred is part of everyday life. It’s difficult not the get swept away by the many ceremonies and rituals, prayers and pujas. And yoga is part of it all.
Yoga and meditation have been deeply ingrained in Indian culture for centuries. The practice of yoga dates back to ancient times, as it was developed as a spiritual practice, some say around five thousand years ago.
Today, yoga and meditation are still an important part of daily life for many Indians. In fact, the Indian government has designated June 21st as International Yoga Day, a day to celebrate the practice and its benefits.
So, what better place to dive right into the deeper layers of yoga, than India?
Where do I go for a retreat?
As I mentioned above, there are plenty of options, with many online search platforms that can help you find your desired destination and dates.
Not just in India but all around the world, all year around, for all budgets. From Yoga training to luxury retreats. Definitely, there’s something for everyone.
👉 The biggest and most widely used, or at least the oldest that I know of, is: www.bookyogaretreats.com
👉 With a similar name, a worthy competitor is: www.bookretreats.com
You can definitely start there. You are bound to find something for you.
There are also plenty of Facebook groups dedicated to promoting different yoga retreats, many by independent teachers, where you can also post what you are looking for, below are just two examples:
- Yoga Retreats. https://m.facebook.com/groups/254754411634837/?ref=share
- UK yoga and wellbeing retreats. https://m.facebook.com/groups/398311531972319/?ref=share
But… I believe that you won’t find the most traditional places to practice yoga in India listed in any of those platforms. I’m talking about an ashram.
Not to get confused by all the modern retreats and yoga centres that add the word ashram to their name.
What is an ashram?
Ashram – A place where people go on spiritual or religious retreats or visits.
Sometimes are yoga connected and some yoga teachers go there to learn more or deepen their practice. For many religious Hindus is a place to meditate, chant, perform ceremonies, study, etc.
Ashrams have existed in India for thousands of years. They are mostly associated with Hinduism, meditation practices and spiritual development. Ashrams are usually founded by a guru, or in the name of a guru, a saint or a person who’s reached higher levels of enlightenment.
People may go to the ashram to worship said person, to practice, and/or to be in the presence of the guru (even when the person passed away, their presence and energy can be felt).
Personally, I have only been to a few ashrams and I’m not claiming to be an expert.
Here’s my experience of just four of them:
- Parmath Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh.
It’s located on the banks of the sacred river Ganges and it’s famous among other things for its renowned Ganga Aarti, a puja or ceremony that involves chanting, and offerings of flowers and fire to the Ganges.
People from all over the world visit and take part in their many activities, from their morning prayers, daily yoga, meditations classes, satsags and lectures. They also host the annual Yoga International Festival in June.
I stayed there for a couple of weeks with the intention of attending a course but ended up cutting my stay short. I didn’t have a great experience, to be honest, but I ended up making quite a few good friends.
The ashram was big and it was difficult to know what activities to join or not since there was no guidance. Perhaps if you have more experience and you know what you are exactly looking for it’s fine, but that was my first ashram experience so I was a bit lost.
The Ganga Aarti is beautiful and really worth visiting, but perhaps you don’t need to actually stay in the ashram since you can find much better, cleaner rooms in other places.
You can attend daily gentle hatha yoga classes, enjoy the serenity of their beautiful gardens, and eat a healthy Thali (a set menu) for a very reasonable price!
Having said that, Parmath Niketan is very foreign-friendly and accessible if you’d like to visit, which you can, even if you aren’t staying. Other of the many ashrams in Rishikesh might feel a bit more difficult to access or are only for Hindus.
- Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry
Worth visiting for its history and the idealistic ideas of the founders, Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. People go there to worship their resting place, to read and study and to observe silence and meditation.
The ashram is actually comprised of a number of buildings spread throughout Pondicherry, among them several schools and education buildings, libraries, medical centres, shops, etc.
If you are a visitor to the ashram, you can find accommodation in one of the many guest houses situated nearby, administered by the ashram. These are not commercial hotels, so you won’t have wifi or room service.
I must say that I had the BEST room of my whole trip! Clean, big and with amazing views to the ocean in one of the ashram’s guest houses. There’s a whole page in their ashram website dedicated to the guest houses, some admit foreigners, others not. Definitely worth checking them out.
As a guest of the ashram you can also visit Auroville, which is located nearby with a shuttle provided by the ashram.
Auroville is an experimental township with the purpose to realise human unity, founded in the early 70s. You can stay there, again you can find many guest houses around the area, or simply visit the Matrimandir, the spectacular central meditation dome, for the day.
Make sure you book your visit in advance! It was undoubtedly an interesting experience.
- Sri Ramana Ashram, Tiruvannamalai
Tiruvannamalai is a small town at the feet of the sacred Arunachala Hill. One of the main five Shiva holy mountains in South India, the hill itself attracts many devotees and tourist.
There are many ashrams and temples spread out around. The most important being The Annamalaiyar Temple, one of the largest in India. But what undoubtedly attracted me, and many others, to go there was to visit the ashram where the saint Ramana Maharshi lived.
Sri Ramana Maharshi was considered by many an outstanding enlightened being. He never pronounced himself a guru but attracted many devotees that came to listen to his teachings, or simply to sit in his presence. Although he died in 1950 the devotees keep flocking to his ashram and learning about his teachings.
In this ashram, you can devote your time to meditation and reading about his teaching. In the small bookshop inside the ashram, you can find his books translated in almost every language.
There are many, many, meditation rooms, plus you can climb the mountain to meditate in a couple of mountain caves. Don’t be fooled by the name ‘cave’, they are pretty little temples and houses where the saint lived. Climbing the mountain is pretty easy from the path from behind the ashram.
You can find accommodation in the actual ashram, but it’s not easy and it’s for a maximum of three days. I’d advise you to find a place to stay elsewhere and visit the activities when you can. You have daily chants and Pujas (ceremonies) in the morning and evening.
These are very simple pujas, compared to other places, like Parmath Niketan. Ramana Maharshi removed all mysterious rituals and promoted a path of simplicity and self-enquiry in his teachings.
Honestly, I truly loved this place. It felt somehow special. Many sannyasins, renunciates, monks and others congregate here.
Having said that, if you are after learning yoga postures, you won’t find many yoga (asana) classes; in fact, I was doing my own practice on the roof of my guest house because I could not find a teacher. For that is better to go to Rishikesh, or Pune or Mysore.
- Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashrams, Various locations… but I recommend Neyyar Dam in Kerala.
For a newbie to yoga, to ashram life, or for someone who’d like to dive deeper into the practices in an easy and friendly atmosphere… try this place.
I’ve visited two different Sivananda Ashrams in India and both were great for different reasons… but the most organised and where you’ll find people from all over the world, all ages, and with different abilities… is the one in Neyyar Dam, in Kerala.
The place is gorgeous, up in the mountains in South India, surrounded by jungle. You will definitely disconnect there. In fact, there’s no wifi, and once you check in… you need special permission to leave the premises!
They offer what they call a ‘yoga vacation’, which is a very well-structured 14 days of ashram life when you can learn meditation, chanting, pranayama, asanas, philosophy and of course, all about their founder and his guru and their practices.
You have to put in some ‘work’, or Seva, also called Karma yoga. Basically, help out for a couple of hours a day with some simple tasks around the ashram, like cleaning, or helping serve food. This is also an opportunity to meet new people and to see how things work.
Although I don’t practice Sivananda yoga myself anymore, my first teacher’s training was founded in that tradition so it’s been nice to go back to that kind of practice and take time to myself.
Remember, this is not a luxury vacation, the accommodation is simple and you keep it clean yourself, the schedule is packed and there are strict times to get up and go to bed… but it’s a great place to learn a bit more about yoga, enjoy nature and sattvic (yogic) healthy food.
Anyway, you don’t have to do the 14 days, they’ll only ask you to be there for a minimum of three days. So you can always be flexible with your plans.
The last time I was there, I also did a 21-day Panchakarma detox since they also have an Ayurvedic Health Centre on the premises.
What is Panchakarma? Did I like it? What it entails?
That will be another blog if you are interested. Let me know in the comments if you’d like to learn more about Ayurveda, Panchakarma or more about Ashram’s life.
Also, if you are interested in knowing a bit more about any of the places I mentioned above, leave me a comment or send me an email.
Montse has been working for the last 30 years in the world of theatre and performance as a director, mentor and performer. Her passion for sharing her knowledge and her desire to help others realise their true potential has led her onto the path of yoga teaching.
Her classes are relaxed, friendly and with elements of yin, hatha, vinyasa and humour where everyone feels welcome, regardless of their skill. Montse’s motto is ‘be your own template’, both in life and in yoga.
Your shape is unique and so is your life so don’t follow the ‘should be like this’ crowd and don’t try to fit into anyone else’s path, find your own… on and off the mat.
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