Nothing could prepare me for living at an ashram.
Here I was, a freelance writer living a few minutes from the beach, with an adoring husband and two lovable cocker spaniels. Yet, even as my life unfolded beyond my expectations, I couldn’t seem to find happiness. Constantly trapped in the past and planning for the future, I found no peace in the present moment. One night in the midst of my insomnia, I decided it was time for a change.
Yoga had always been my way out of a mess. It was the crutch I leaned on when everything else was amiss. But even yoga wasn’t working anymore. I needed to recharge the practice I had long depended for sanity.
So I applied for a Living Yoga Training Program at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville, a yoga community in rural Central Virginia. With few clues of what this journey would entail, my expectations were nil. But in the end, the experience shaped me in ways that I’m only now uncovering.
4 Ways Ashram Living Transformed My Life
1. You can learn a lot about yourself from the way you interact with others.
Ashram living is curious in that it promotes solitude and relationships all at the same time. I lived with two other women, who on the surface, couldn’t have been more different from me. Both were ten years younger, just setting foot into the real world after graduating college. I hadn’t had a roommate beyond my husband for eight years and the thought of bunking with people I had never met before seemed fraught with peril. But the journey would have been vanilla without them. I learned when to shut up and when to talk. I learned when it was worth having an opinion and when letting a conversation pass was key.
2. It’s usually better not to say anything.
I tend to fill space with needless conversation, which means I end up saying things that I don’t mean and things that may hurt those around me. At the ashram you were for the most part shunned for talking bad about others. Of course, it’s not a perfect world, but needless gossip was largely absent from the conversation.
At lunch, daily speakers made mealtime chatter minimal. You could sit at silent tables if you didn’t want to talk at all during meals. I’d be lying if I said that I sat at those tables and I’d also be lying if I didn’t admit that I was a little put off by the mealtime silence at first. But over time I learned to chew instead of chat. I found peace in reading my book instead of talking to my roommates before bed. And more than anything else, I learned that clouding conversations with unnecessary negativity makes you feel as bad as it would the person you’re talking about in the first place.
3. A life without red wine and coffee isn’t a bore.
Living at an ashram means no booze, no coffee, and all vegetarian eats. I’ve long been comfortable on a vegetarian diet. Truth be told, meat isn’t appealing to me–minus a few shrimp and oysters now and then–the texture makes me feel like a dog gnawing on flesh.
But I do dig a glass or two of Old Vine Zinfandel and the thought of life without my whole milk cappuccino each morning seemed daunting. But five weeks later when it was time to go home, I felt blissfully free from my dietary crutches. After having returned to my “normal” life, sipping a happy hour glass of wine doesn’t always feel so authentic. And the impact of caffeine on my body means my intake has been drastically reduced.
4. Living in the present moment takes practice.
At the ashram, we had the option of meditation three times per day. And most days I took advantage of all three sessions. Staying present and enjoying this life you’ve been given, takes work. While animals and babies are well versed in the art of living in the present moment, us adult humans seem to avoid it at all costs. But if there’s one thing I took with me on my journey home, it’s that meditation is a cure-all, and it’s more important than any other aspect of my day. It’s practice for living mindfully in all of my daily pursuits.
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Image: Sara Novak