After four weeks at Rishikesh Yog Dham practicing yoga for three hours each day, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated. I knew that it was going to be hard to maintain at home. In fact, I asked Arvind, our yoga instructor, many times if I could make the school my ashram and stayed forever. He laughed, but I was serious. I knew I could keep up with my practices in India, but it was returning home I was worried about. But, it was less about the physical aspects of yoga, and more about the emotional benefits. I felt more open than I did in years, and happier too, I didn’t want to ruin all the hard work I had put in.
I knew that assimilating back into life would be difficult and that I was going to have to make a serious effort, so I decided that I would start with New Year’s Eve. I recruited my dear friend, Erin, to come with me, and we began looking up yoga and meditation retreats. She found Ananda Ashram and after a few days of debating, we settled on it and booked the last two bunk beds the day before New Year’s Eve.
Located in Monroe, New York, Ananda Ashram is about an hour away from New York City. Erin took the train to me and I drove us the rest of the way up, though there is the option to take the train up to Harriman and catch a taxi to the ashram.
We arrived just in time yoga class, and by just in time, I mean we walked in late, but luckily they let us into class. It was the first I had taken since being certified, and it was intense, but I had the confidence I hadn’t previously had. The teacher pointed out an open spot that was front and center, and while in the past I wouldn’t have been comfortable enough to take it, with 200 hours under my belt, I was excited to be up there. I also knew the mantra that the teacher repeated before class, which also boosted my confidence. The yoga room at Ananda is beautifully built and perfect for practicing. There’s even radiant heat flooring, which means your feet never get cold, even on a freezing December day.
Then, Erin and I headed to the dining hall for a delicious vegetarian lunch. This was part of my motivation in wanting to go on a retreat. Thinking of my own vegetarian meals at home wasn’t as fun as getting served the way I did in India. So this was an easy way to get some new delicious flavors without much effort.
After lunch, we added some layers, as it was colder than we were expecting it to be and headed for the trails. Of course, the beautiful space was perfect for a yoga photo shoot and some quiet reflection by the lake.
Feeling relaxed, we figured we would check out the laughter workshop. We didn’t realize it was an additional twenty dollars until we got there, but we figured that it would be worth it. How could we not want to laugh our way out of 2015 and into 2016?
Well, the experience was interesting, definitely out of our comfort zone, but I am glad we had each other to laugh our way through it. While I don’t regret taking the class, I think I’ll stick to yoga asanas, pranayama, and meditation in the future.
Since check in was 4pm, Erin and I went straight from laughing and headed to the main house to pick up our linens. Then, we were off to our dorm, which was located across the street in the Panini house. This house has such charm and was located right next to where our morning yoga was. Had we been staying longer, there was no way we’d be late for our yoga asanas again.
We found our room upstairs, which had two sets of bunk beds, plus our own bathroom, which we discovered not every room has. Erin took the top and I took the bottom, and then we made our beds before heading over for dinner and the night’s main events. From 7:30pm until midnight, there were a variety of events for us in the Blue Sky Center.
We headed over and found comfortable spots on the floor, not sure what to expect. I had attended a kirtan in the past and was fresh off four weeks of yoga in Rishikesh, so I knew it couldn’t be too far from what I had experienced. It began with meditation and a fire ceremony, then chanting, some musical performances by residents of the ashram, a kirtan, “I am” dancing, and then we rang in 2016 with a meditation. At midnight, the ashram’s guru broke open a coconut and blessed us all with the coconut water. Afterwards, we all grabbed a piece of cake and danced, as the kids ran around playing with giant balloons that were dropped from the ceiling. In an effort to completely disconnect, I don’t have any photos from this part of the night, but it was much needed and the perfect break from the usual New Year’s Eve activities.
We headed back to our room and planned on heading to bed early, but we met Lakshmi, our roommate, and we wound up talking for a while before falling asleep. Since we didn’t set our alarms, we didn’t wake up at 9am, which is precisely the time that breakfast ends. I am sure we could have made it in time, but we were both too exhausted, spiritually and emotionally. The previous day had taken a lot out of us. So, for breakfast, we headed to the Dunkin Donuts down the street.
Then, we made our way back to Blue Sky for the sitar and tabla performance. The musicians were extremely talented, and when I closed my eyes, the music took me back to India.
After a while, we headed down to the dining hall with our coloring books and relaxed a bit before lunch. Then, we had our final meal before preparing to leave. At this point, Ananda was starting to feel a bit like home, and parting ways wasn’t easy, especially as we were just starting to make some new friends.
We headed to the mediation building to set some intentions for 2016, then made our way to the gift shop to make a few purchases. Erin got a candle and I got a Himalayan salt lamp, some incense, and oil to keep my vata dosha in balance. Then, as the snow came down, we hopped in the car and headed back to reality.
Since coming home from the ashram, I feel more clear and open to the coming year, and it was nice not to begin 2016 with a hangover. I’d love to spend another new year this way, thinking about my mind, body, and soul, and I believe that I’ll focus my new year on this as well. This year’s focus will be about mindfulness and its importance in our lives. I’d love to find some wellness travel experiences, and continue working on my growth and deepening my understanding of my place here; I am looking forward to the journey.