Before going into details in my experience of the ashram, let’s start with a few facts about Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram…
Located in the Himalayan foothills and above the banks of the ganges, it is the perfect location for Sadhana (spiritual practice).
The ashram was founded in 2007 by Yogrishi Vishvketu and Chétana Panwar. Its vision is to offer a comfortable sanctuary to spiritual seekers where they can feel safe, enjoy clean food and water and receive guidance for their yogic journey.
I can attest, mission accomplished! I stayed 2 weeks at first and then came back two times for 3 days and then back again for a week. And so many of my co-yogis (male) and yoginis (female) did the same, left the ashram for new adventures and came back. Why? Because it’s quiet and super chill and so friendly, homy and the yoga practice is very complete. In addition, the healthy, sattvic, delicious food that is served would make any gourmet come back to it :).
There, we practice Akhanda yoga, a holistic yoga practice created by the founders of the ashram, that encourages the practice of all aspects of the diverse traditions of yoga: Mudras (hand gesture), Asanas (yoga poses), Pranayama (expansion of breath), Vedic Mantras, Kirtan and Meditation. The main aim being to bring healing on every layer of the whole being.
What surprised me the most here is that I thought I had understood the whole concept of yoga through the different retreats and classes I had already done. But guess what? I hardly knew anything… As most of the people in the west, I thought yoga was mainly a practice of asanas to do meditatively and being present to my body, mind and soul. Well, yes, it is part of it and it’s clearly just a tiny bit of what yoga is. So let’s see what’s more…
In Anand Prakash, we have 2 classes per day, one in the morning at 6am (after 30 minutes of guided meditation) and one in the afternoon at 4.30pm. Each class lasts 1h30, which I feel is the perfect amount of time to have a complete practice. The teachers would mostly follow the below rhythm (that may vary depending on the focus of the class).
- We will always start the class by chanting all together “OM”
The beautiful universal vibration.
- The teacher will continue by connecting with the students through greetings, with a nice “Namaste”, a smile, a gentle look etc. as all the students are also encouraged to greet each other with “Namaste”
YOGA MEANS UNION
So it’s important for them to connect with us and help us connect with each other and also with our body, mind and soul.
- They place an intention for the class, explain what will be the focus
Whether, we focus on one specific chakra, on several chakras, on an emotion (gratitude, love etc.) or whether we will practice a certain technique (Kundalini yoga, 5 koshers (5 layers of the being)…) etc.
- Then, they introduce the mantra related to the focus of the class
We’ll chant this mantra all together at the beginning of the practice and then often come back to it during the class. Mantras are often used in meditation and healing thanks to their intense vibrations that resonate within every layer of the whole being.
- We would then work on breathing exercises – pranayama
To create energy and being aware of that life force energy that we have around us and within us. It will also activate and balance the elements in the body to put all the organs into action and free the mind, as well as purifying and cleansing the different layers of the body.
- And only then, will we start the Asana practice (yoga postures)
Working on the alignment of the body creating awareness, so we are present.
- We finally reach Savanna (relaxation – corpse posture) After about 1 hour of Asanas
Savasana is the relaxation following the practice of the asanas, preparing for meditation. Savasana is key in a yoga practice to integrate all the energetic work that has been done and here we stay about 20 minutes in the posture.
- And finally, meditation
We regain the easy pose to meditate for a few minutes.
- The end of the class
We will end the class by the Akhanda mantra, followed by Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (Om Peace, Peace, Peace).
Shanti is always chanted 3 times – one for the Body, one for the Mind and Soul and one for the Universe
While being hosted in the ashram there are a few guidelines to follow, such as:
- Be kind to one another
- Respect silence from 9pm to 9am
- Attend yoga and meditation classes
- No alcohol or cigarette, flesh food or any hallucinogens within the ashram or during your stay there
- Keep a calm and peaceful atmosphere in the corridor and hall
- Avoiding romantic relationship as they tend to distract people from their inner work
- Observe the dress code in the ashram
All of this will be part of the Sadhana (spiritual practice) of course. As I said earlier, Yoga is not only about physical activities. So all the above and below elements that are part of the life of the ashram are also a big part of a yoga practice.
Fire puja is an ancient Vedic practice that reaches back into Shamanic times. Fire puja pits were discovered in the Indus Valley civilization in homes, showing that these rituals were conducted by families themselves, likely on a daily basis. In these hymns, we invoked social welfare, as well as personal health, abundance and vitality to fuel the journey on the spiritual path. The hymns also describe the Divine as self-illuminating, all pervading Source.
The fire puja is sometimes described as a powerful vision of the transformation process. We see the elements of earth (represented by the herbs) and water (represented by the ghee) transformed by the radiant power of fire and air. The result is the fragrance and essence that rises up and pervades the atmosphere. This is a powerful representation of the transformative power of the ultimate transmutation of all elements back to the ultimate Brahman (supreme cosmic spirit).
I love that ceremony a lot! Every morning, around 8am, the chants would resonate within the whole ashram as the master of ceremony would start singing the mantras and prayers while lightening up the fire following specific rituals. Within the next 20 minutes, we would follow every chanted word and letting each vibration resonate within us. At a certain point we would all come closer to the pit to offer a mix of herbs to the fire. Each offering made while chanting a specific prayer. Soon, the whole ashram would be filled with that beautiful herbal scent purifying the energies and the atmosphere. This ceremony is said to be grounding and purifying, and surrendering negative energy with the transmutation power of the fire.
Participating to this ritual is healing and is said to send healing aromas and purified prana to all surrounding areas.
Mantras are a big part of the ashram life and the yoga practice, whether it’s during the fire puja ceremony or before every meal. Mantra means liberation of the mind. They are mystical energies encoded in sound structures dating back to the ancient sacred texts: Vedas and Upanishads. When we chant, we regulate breath, vibrate every cell in the body and connect with universal consciousness.
Below the Meal Mantra that is chanted before every meal.
Brahmar Panam, Brahma havir
Brahma agnao, Brahma nahutam
Brahmeva tena gantavyam
Brahma karma samadhina
The Vast is oblation. The Vast is the offering,
The Vast is the one who offers.
The Vast is the sacrificial fire.
The Vast shall be revealed to one who sees Pure Consciousness is all things.
This mantra refers to the offering we do during fire puja. It is meaningful before eating because we can see the fire of digestion, and the food as the offering. The eater is the offerer. In this way, eating becomes mindful and we assimilate the food well.
I have taken the habit of “blessing” my food in Bali already last year, but I really liked the fact that we would all sing this mantra together before each meal. It really helps bring awareness to the food that has been cooked and served, to its benefits (nutrients, freshness, vitamins, energy etc.) and be grateful for it. In addition, 3 nights of the week we have silent diners and every breakfast is silent. It really helps be more present while eating and have a better digestion.
Other mantras are chanted during fire puja, yoga practice, etc. such as the Gayatri Mantra, Maharityunjaya Mantra, Jyothi Mantra, Shanti Mantra, Loving Kindness Mantra, Akhanda Puja.
Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, there is Kirtan. Kirtan is part of Bhakti yoga practice that consists in chanting mantras, or devotional chants collectively to encourage people to participate in a heart opening, community building practice.
Kirtan days are a little special. The atmosphere when we gather all together around the fire pit to chant is amazing. Instruments have been placed near the sits so anyone who wants to play some percussions along can do so. The singer starts chanting in a call/response manner at first (he/she sings a sentence and the “crowd” repeats it), as the atmosphere seems to fill-up nicely with every note and slowly, as the rhythm of the chanting is becoming faster and stronger, all the voices become one and everyone is soon clapping and smiling.
ALL OF THESE PRACTICES MAKE YOGA!
Everyone can find its own purpose in yoga. Whether it’s doing something good for yourself, whether it’s something to hold on to, whether it’s a physical or mental (or both) healing practice, whether it’s for cleansing or purification, whether it’s your spiritual practice to enlightenment, or just a physical activity etc. KEEP GOING. Because, as Marcelo, one of the teachers would say…
” YOGA HELPS TO KEEP THE LIGHT SHINING “
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Sources: Anand Prakash staff and institutional documents