Since the dawn of recorded time, people have been gathering for spiritual practice like yoga and meditation all over India. But where to start?
First of all, several of the world’s major religions were born in India, including Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
The sense of spiritual fervor is palpable. There are mandirs (Hindu temples), mosques, gurudwaras (Sikhs place of worship), and churches everywhere you look.
Small temples and shrines are set up on roadsides, in banks, even in underground parking garages. Seemingly every day, there’s a religious festival of one sort or another.
People in India practice their religions overtly, and take their spiritual beliefs very seriously.
You might see your bank teller in a suit and tie at work, but later, performing a time-honoured puja on the banks of a sacred river, wearing an orange robe with tilak marks on his forehead.
The spiritual undercurrent in India has given rise to several forms of practice: the two most well-known in the west are yoga and meditation. You can find ashrams, retreats, and centers all over India.
Yoga comes from the Hindu tradition and includes meditation as a core practice. This is one of the differences between yoga in India and in the west – where it’s seen as more of a physical exercise.
Meditation is also associated with the Buddhist tradition, and it’s the main form of spiritual practise in Buddhism.
Though Buddhism was born in India, it’s now practised more prevalently in other countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Bhutan.
There are many forms of meditation in India along with yoga, including Transcendental Meditation and Vipassana.
You can find all types of yoga and meditation all over India, from beginners to advanced. You’ll find there’s much less of a distinction on styles of yoga – or indeed even on the concepts of beginner or advanced practitioners.
If you’re already practicing yoga at home, you can ask your teachers and colleagues for a recommendation in India.
It was very near the end of my first trip to India that someone suggested I visit an ashram near Rishikesh. I was tired when I arrived, and had a nap. When I woke, I knew I had found my spiritual home – I had never felt more rested in my life. And yet, I arrived there by chance.
Rishikesh in north India is the picturesque spot where the Ganges River tumbles out of the lower Himalayas.
It’s often called the world’s capital of yoga, and makes for a great place to start your spiritual journey.
The peaceful valley is lined with ashrams and yoga and meditation centres, and people from all over the globe come here to study, practise, and chill out.
I liked Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram, which is owned and run by an Indian yogi and his Canadian wife. Here, you get the best of both worlds: authentic yoga teachings and western standards of comfort and cleanliness.
Yoga is also prevalent in Mysore, a small town in Karnataka, a few hours away from the capital of the state, Bengaluru.
Mysore is the center of the Ashtanga Yoga world, as the founder, Pattabhi Jois, established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute here in 1948.
The Sivananda organization has a center near Trivandrum that’s located among lush forest greenery. And you can find yoga retreats all along the tropical coasts of these states.
These retreats vary in terms of accommodation standards and prices, from simple to luxurious. There’s a spot for just about every budget.
You can stay for just a few days, do a one or two-week yoga retreat, or take an in-depth yoga teacher training course, which usually lasts a month.
I loved my stay at the Ashiyana Yoga Retreat in North Goa. Located right near the beach, with good teachers, delicious food, and a wide range of accommodation options, Ashiyana offers both relaxation and serious yoga practise.
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