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It is India’s age-old spirit and spirituality that made the West stand up and acknowledge the practice of yoga and meditation. Ashrams (isolated communities formed around a guru who follows Hindu philosophy) and Buddhist monasteries (residences for monks) provide a place of solace, emotional rejuvenation and spiritual reflection. The list of healing activities includes yoga, meditation, vegetarian meal plans and being in touch with nature and all things living. Usually located far from human habitation, attendees are not usually followers of Eastern religious practices, but rather seeking out a stress-free, spiritual and often inexpensive break. In memory of lyengar, we have put together a list of the 10 most popular ashrams (or spiritual retreats) that you must visit.
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Art of Living Ashram: Situated on the top of the Panchagiri Hills, 36km southwest of Bangalore, near Udipalya village, the ashram is an ideal location for reflection and retreat. Started in 1986, the ashram is an exquisite blend of the old and the new. Founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the Art of Living is renowned world-wide for its stress-elimination and self-development programs based mainly on breathing techniques, meditation and yoga. Courses offered include Art of Living I & II, yoga, meditation, Vaastu Shastra, Vedic math, and youth training courses.
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Ananda: This multiple award-winning resort, spa and high-end ashram is unique in that it combines world-class luxury with wholesome spirituality. Located in a holy place called Rishikesh in the Himalayas, the lavish guest villas and suites overlook the Ganges. It was once a palace of the maharaja of Tehri-Garhwal and currently offers yoga and meditation courses paired stress management classes and spa treatments. An all inclusive 5 night stay ranges from $500 to $3500 a night depending on the package booked.
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Sivananda: This Yoga Retreat provides a diverse array of lodging options. From pitching a tent on ashram grounds to staying in a luxury beachfront suite, the Bahamas based Ashram aims to cater to individual needs. This Paradise Island, Nassau retreat follows a specific pattern: Rise at 6 a.m., meditate through dawn, chant until tea time, followed by two hours of hatha yoga before breaking for the 10 a.m. vegetarian meal. The afternoon follows a similar pattern with a session of Karma yoga, where you'll help with ashram duties (known to non-yogis as chores).
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Govinda’s Indian Ashram: This luxurious ashram is designed primarily for Westerners who want to escape from their everyday stress. The ashram is situated in Vrindava, India’s most sacred place, and teaches, the peaceful practices of the sadhus, holy men and women of India. Govinda’s is part of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram complex which boasts award-winning architecture, and features beautifully decorated gardens rich in mango trees, peacocks and parrots. A setting that pleases the body, mind and soul only for $15 a day.
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Tao-Zen meditation centre: Located in North Goa and facing the Candolim beach, the courses are designed for travelers and tourists. The centre does not have a lodging premises and only offers short-term and drop-in classes. Dynamic yoga, Prana yoga, Tibetan yoga, Pranayama, Tibetan prostration and Dhyana yoga, along with Tao-zen meditation, are practiced to achieve enlightenment. Classes are $5 each.
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Zen Mountain Monastery: Founded in 1980, this monastic training center received a great deal of recognition and positive reviews. It provides traditional yet distinctly Western Zen training to people of all ages and religious backgrounds. With a resident community of female and male monastics and lay trainees, the Monastery offers a wide variety of programs and retreats for both beginning and advanced Buddhist practitioners. Set in a nature preserve in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, the Monastery offers an atmosphere conducive to self-study and introspection. Offered packages include Traditional Zen Buddhist monastic training, weekend retreats, short- and long-term residencies, and special events.
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Shekinashram: Single and double room occupancy, served meal, self-cooked meal and recreation – everything is available to meet your requirements during the stay in this Ashram located in Glastonbury, Somerset, UK. Shekinashram practices Bhakti and Karma Yoga as it represents both East and West cultures where the values of Radha Krishna are taught. Slowdown in the rapid paths of life and find yourself in an enchanting and refreshing atmosphere during the morning “aaratis”. Regular “kirtan” and “satsangsabhas” rejuvenate your senses while “aaratis” gives you time to reflect. Shekinashram can also serve to be a ‘women only’ retreat. Ayurvedic therapy, learning vegan food preparation, and meditation in the garden or are all ways to plan out your flexible schedule throughout the day.
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Osho Ashram: Located in Pune, Maharashtra (4 hours from Mumbai), the ashram, which is more like a resort, aims to provide a luxurious environment where people can be at ease with themselves. There's no gender segregation at the Osho ashram and all attendees must wear a compulsory maroon robe throughout their stay. However, this Ashram is commercial and far removed from Indian culture.
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Sri Aurobindo Ashram: Located in Pondicherry, 160 kilometers south of Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, this Ashram was founded in 1926 by Sri Aurobindo and a French woman known as The Mother. Collective meditations are held, but there are no prescribed practices, rituals, compulsory meditations, or systematic instructions. There are 80 departments on the premises and they all embrace the vibrancy of modern day life. If you're looking for a quiet haven of retreat, this isn't the right ashram for you. Much like other Ashrams, spiritual sessions, music lessons, and a simple routine through fulfilling basic daily chores are the key to a resident’s training and based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga.
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Sadhana Mandir and Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram: Meditation, in the Himalayan Tradition, is the focus of the teachings at these ashrams .The founder Sadhana Mandiris the author of Living with the Himalayan Masters, Swami Rama. This Ashram was built in 1966 on the banks of the Ganges river. Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram, on the other hand, was founded by the disciple of Swami Rama. It is currently regarded as a center for scientific research into yogic meditation. Accommodations, limited to 100 guests at a time and require reservations to be at least two weeks in advance.