Yoga and Meditation in India
So you’ve decided that it’s time to go travelling to India to do yoga and mediation. Great idea! Read more to know what to look for and what to look out for!
India is a country that has been known for centuries for its spiritual practices. And Yoga is their biggest ‘export’. In recent years, yoga has become increasingly popular with people recognising the physical and mental benefits of the practice.
If you’re looking to deepen your understanding of yoga and meditation, there’s no better place to do it than India.
Having said that you might struggle to reconcile what we’ve come to equate to yoga in the West (an almost exclusively physical practice) with what you may find in India.
Yoga is the current of spirituality that has developed on the Indian peninsula over a period of some five thousand years. And it takes different forms or branches. Most of them have nothing to do with postures but also can play a part.
In India, you get to experience and witness Bhakti yoga (the yoga of devotion) with devotees queueing for hours at the temples and going on regular pilgrimages.
Mantra yoga is the recitation of mantras (which can be considered a part of Bhakti), which are potent sounds and sentences that are repeated a number of times.
You’ll notice how for most Indians yoga is a lifestyle, that may include prostrations, physical poses, chanting, some form of meditation and devotion to one or more particular deities.
The Benefits of Yoga and Meditation
Yoga and meditation have numerous benefits for both the body and mind. Practising yoga (here I’m talking mainly of the postural part of the practice) can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance, while also reducing stress and anxiety. In addition, meditation can help calm the mind, improve focus, and reduce symptoms of depression.
Together, these practices can help you achieve a greater sense of overall well-being.
As I mentioned above, yoga is not originally intended as a personal tool for well-being, even if that’s one of the most sought-after ‘side effects’, but as a spiritual practice of liberation (moksha or nirvana) and out of suffering (dukha).
Having said that… most probably your first encounter with yoga was perhaps at a gym or maybe a community centre. This is great, since in the past you could only access the teachings via a guru and on an individual base.
Many people start practising to remain fit, stay healthy, recover from injury, relieve stress, calm the mind, balance the nervous system, and even balance emotions and mental health… And that’s a fantastic reason too.
You don’t need to subscribe to the whole philosophical system, start believing in a Hindu deity, or know any of the mantras or chants to practice yoga and reap the benefits.
You don’t need to aim for enlightenment or moksha (liberation) to practice yoga.
However, whatever your personal reasons to practice or to be interested in yoga, it’s good to keep in mind what is its traditional aim.
The Best Places to Practice Yoga and Meditation in India and what to expect.
India is home to countless ashrams and retreat centres where you can immerse yourself in the practice of yoga and meditation. Some of the most popular destinations include Rishikesh, located in the foothills of the Himalayas and considered the birthplace of yoga; Varanasi, a holy city on the banks of the Ganges River; Mysore, the ‘capital of Ashtanga’; or Kerala, known for its beautiful beaches and Ayurvedic treatments. No matter where you go, you’ll find a wealth of opportunities to deepen your practice and connect with like-minded individuals.
And if you are interested in exploring any of the other branches of yoga, definitely talk to people in the temples, ask them to show you and join the highly ritualistic prayers.
Personally, I love reading about the multitude of gods and goddesses as well as their stories, most recorded in the Puranas (a vast genre of Indian literature particularly about legends and mythology).
Anyway, starting your journey in a yoga centre or ashram will give you a better understanding and overview and definitely you’ll find more meaning to your practice beyond the postures.
A traditional yoga retreat typically involves several hours of daily practice, including asanas (postures, physical practices), pranayama (breathing techniques), meditation, eating sattvic (a diet based on yogic qualities), perhaps you’ll also have an introduction to mantras, to chanting or singing, and even to kriyas (purification techniques). Many retreats may also include lectures on yoga philosophy and lifestyle and even Ayurveda.
Planning Your Trip
If you’re interested in travelling to India to practice yoga and meditation, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it’s important to research different retreat centres and ashrams to find one that aligns with your interests and goals.
Definitely read the reviews, and even ask for personal recommendations. Take into consideration what style you’d like to practice, how long has the school been functioning, and check out the teacher’s background.
Or maybe you are one of those people who follow their intuition and in that case really just listen to your gut. I guess I’m a mixture of both! Nothing wrong with a bit of both to make decisions like that.
A word of warning. In the past few years, it has become so popular to go to India to do yoga (even in the visa application there’s a special section for it!) that people who aren’t properly qualified see teaching yoga to foreigners as an easy way to make money. I’ve heard some horror stories of people who didn’t have great experiences once they started their retreats.
Of course, I’m not saying that that’s the norm, but be aware and definitely read reviews, or if in doubt ask your yoga teacher or someone you trust to help you decide.
Having said that, travelling to India to practice yoga and meditation can be a life-changing experience. Whether you’re a seasoned practitioner or just starting out, there’s no better place to deepen your practice.
👉 Check PART 1 of ‘Travelling to India’ to know a bit more about the challenges you can expect when travelling to India – click here
👉 Check Part 3 of ‘Travelling to India’ to know a bit more about where to do yoga, retreats and what is an ashram – click here
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.
visit www.montsegili.com for more information
If you have any questions or comments, I’d be happy to hear from you, so do not hesitate in leaving a comment below..
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