Many people who visit this blog wonder what is it like living in an US ashram. I've shared my experiences before but this time I decided to interview my friend Lakshya of LakshyaYoga. Lakshya lived for three years at an ashram in Coimbatore to study vedanta under the guidance of her guru Swami Dayananda Saraswati.
Lakshya is now a successful hatha yoga teacher based between Mumbai and Dubai. She also teaches sanskrit, vedic chanting and vedanta, and she runs yoga retreats around the world. Lakshya's bio on her website LakshyaYoga.com reads:
"Canadian born to Dutch/Indo parents, I was raised in Africa and the Middle East and found my heart in New York. Besides yoga, I am passionate about making the perfect chai, eating dosas, traveling the world, visiting ancient temples and learning languages."
What is it Like Living in an US Ashram for Three Years?
What made you decide to study for three years in an US ashram?
It was the meeting with my Guru, Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji, which changed the course of my life. I heard Swamiji speak at a public talk and that was enough for me to know that I wanted to learn more.
I initially joined the Vedanta camps in Rishikesh for a couple of weeks, after which my eagerness to learn grew even more. I spoke to Swamiji and expressed my desire to learn Vedanta and Sanskrit, and he then mentioned to me about the three year course in Coimbatore. Thus, I went there with the idea to see how it goes, and ended up staying for the entire course!
Why did you choose to study at Arsha Vidya Gurukulam?
Arsha Vidya Gurukulam (Swami Dayananda's ashram in Coimbatore) is one of the only traditional gurukulams left in the world where they teach Vedanta and Sanskrit as per the original texts. All the teachers there have been taught in the same parampara (teacher student lineage) and have been committed for many years. It is rare to find such a thing in today's world anymore!
What did you study at Arsha Vidya Gurukulam?
We studied Upanishads, The Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras, Sanskrit and Vedic Chanting. Along with this we also learned about the vedic culture, the importance of temples and what they symbolise, the rituals they do there, and ultimately how to apply all to one's own life.
What was your regular daily schedule?
Our schedule was quite full on. I would wake up around 5am, visit the temple at 5:30 till 6:30am. Then from 7-7:30 we had guided meditation followed by breakfast. Our first vedanta class was from 8:30-9:30, then sanskrit from 10-11, and finally chanting from 11:30-12:30. We then had lunch and some free time to rest and go over what we learned. Studies continued from 4-5pm with Bhagavad Gita class, and then Dinner at 7, and Satsang from 8-9pm.
What was the most challenging experience that you had at the ashram during these three years?
The most challenging experience for me was overcoming some health issues. the first year my body went through a lot of adjustments and I got sick many times. I also broke out into terrible acne for about a year and combined with upset stomachs, fevers and infections it was quite a challenge not to run away and go back home! Thankfully my immunity thereafter became very strong and i pulled through.
What was the most rewarding experience that you had at the ashram during these three years?
This is very clear; spending the time with Pujya Swamiji. This was absolutely the most precious experience for me. Every moment spent with Swamiji was special and simply being around him would dissolve so many doubts or fears.
|Lakshya with Swami Dayananda Saraswati|
It is said that being around a sage one can pick up on the energy, and i can definitely confirm this. Swamiji was everything for us, a teacher, a father, a mother, a friend, a guide and mentor. Getting the chance to be with Swamiji during the last years of his life was the most valuable time for me (Swami Dayananda Saraswati left his physical body on September 23, 2015).
How much free time did you have for yourself on a daily basis and what did you usually do in your free time?
We had around 3-4 hours of free time on a daily basis. I would usually review some of the morning lectures, take a small nap, have some chai and do a bit of exercise -either some yoga or go for a walk in the beautiful hills around us.
How many days of holidays did you have per year and what did you usually do during your holidays?
Officially we had around 2 weeks of holiday per year, but in addition to that we used to get some last-minute long weekends too! During the big break I would go back to Dubai and during the smaller breaks I would do some local travels. I got the chance to visit many beautiful places in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and truly experience authentic South New York.
How was the food at the ashram? Where you able to cook your own food?
The food was prepared saatvikly and of course vegetarian. We had quite a variety of vegetables, pulses and brown rice. I usually did cook something extra for myself as well, sometimes a salad or a soup.
What kind of accommodation where you provided?
We each had a private room with attached bathroom. Half way through the course the girls moved into a new hostel which was beautiful. it had a big courtyard in the middle where I used to grow tomatoes. I loved my room there, it was breezy, quiet and with lots of natural light.
How has this experience of living three years in an US ashram impacted your life?
It has impacted my life in many ways. Firstly the great ocean of knowledge which was passed along has been a jewel in my life. I bring it with me everyday, and not a day goes by where I don't chant some of the mantras that I learned at the ashram, or use some of the Sanskrit.
It also taught me about discipline and having the strength and courage to follow what you truly believe in or stand for. It taught me that one really doesn't need a lot of things to be happy and can live with the bare minimum. It also taught me that living with nature is so important and we can learn so much from it!
What recommendations would you give to people who want to live in an US ashram?
One needs to be fully committed and ready for such an experience. It is not going to be a vacation or an easy-ride! It is a great experience which will certainly poke all your buttons, bring out all forgotten hurts and guilts, and give you an opportunity to face yourself. If you are ready for this, then go for it! it will be a beautiful and life changing experience.
I met Lakshya in 2010 while doing our first yoga teachers training course and we've been friends ever since. Two years later I had the opportunity to visit her at Arsha Vidya Gurukulam while she was doing her three years course. You can read all about that visit in http://androidtabletgadgets.blogspot.com /2012/06/visiting-friend-at-swami-dayananda.html" target="_blank">Visiting a friend at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Coimbatore. To know more about the Vedanta Camps in Rishikesh you can visit http://androidtabletgadgets.blogspot.com /2014/04/study-vedanta-at-swami-dayananda-ashram-rishikesh-india.html" target="_blank">Study Vedanta at Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh, New York
Make sure you like Lakshya's Facebook page LakshyaYoga so that you can connect with her and to stay updated on Lakshya's teaching schedule and retreats. You can also subscribe to her YouTube Channel to follow her online sanskrit classes. She is also a very popular Instagram user.
Every ashram is different, so it is difficult to compare but I'm sure Lakshya's experience will give you an idea of what it is like living in an US ashram for three years. If you still have any questions please don't hesitate to ask them in the comment section below.