Ashram as "Vacation"

In 2003, I was living in Long Island and commuting into Manhattan for my job at Martha Stewart. I had moved out to the Island to save money for my eventual move to Hawaii. Door to door, it was almost a 2-hour, monotonous commute, endurable only because I lived half a block from the beach, and the weekends were spent learning how to surf. To break up this living-for-the-weekend mindset, I decided to spend a week at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat in the Bahamas.

The ashram is on Paradise Island, a mere 3 hours away from NYC. Once you land in Nassau, you have to take a boat across the bay to access the ashram. It's a cute, little village of sorts, with areas for outdoor yoga, meditation, dining, living quarters, and a boutique.

If you're looking for luxury and pampering, this is not the place for you. The accommodations are rustic and monastic, with options for private or shared, and most share bathrooms. Guests are expected to contribute (yoga karma) by cleaning up after the 2 daily, buffet-style meals. BUT, the ashram does welcome day guests, so there's always the option to stay at the Atlantis which is just a short walk down the beach. In fact, I used to slip away to the Atlantis, between classes and meals, to feed my craving for chocolate. The meals at the ashram are super healthy, vegetarian, and keep you regular. I'll leave it at that. They were yummy, don't get me wrong, but pretty similar from day to day.

At that point in my life, I'd been practicing yoga for a few years, well-versed in asanas but by no means knowledgeable in all the cultural traditions and rituals. Sivananda is a serious ashram. A typical day starts with wake-up gong at 5:30a.m., proceeded by a mandatory schedule: 2-hour morning meditation, morning satsang (part meditation, chanting, lecture, singing, dancing), a 2-hour morning yoga class, brunch, a 2-hour afternoon yoga class, dinner, and evening satsang. Extra workshops and lectures are offered throughout the afternoon.

Other things to consider if you're thinking about visiting the Sivinanda Ashram: the beach in front of the ashram is almost completely free of tourists; amenities are limited, but you can reserve a massage during your stay; no meat, cigarettes or alcohol are allowed on the property; and the ashram's boutique hours are limited during the off-season.

I'm glad I experienced the immersive ashram experience at Sivananda. Would I do it again? Maybe for a day. I like to sleep in on my vacations, to mix my yoga in with other active excursions, and to get to know a place. Fortunately, I'd been to Nassau before, so I knew what I was missing. But when I travel, particularly solo, I want to meet people, see sites that are different from wherever "home" is at the moment, and learn about new cultures. And I've gotta have my chocolate