Everybody keeps asking me about my yoga experience in India. So here we go… I had an interesting insight into Ashram life @ Paramanand Institute of Yoga Sciences and Research in Indore.
Indore is in Madhya Pradesh a state in central India. It is the cleanest city in India and famous for its amazing food. As it is not touristy at all it is a very different way of experiencing this region. Ujjain is only an hour drive and a must visit for its diverse temples, the most famous one being the Shiva temple.
I had the unique experience staying in the Paramanand Ashram with the loveliest bunch of people, the majority being from all over India. This gave me a deeper insight into the culture and I made new friends. I was introduced to yoga practices such as yoga philosophy, therapy, anatomy, asana, pranayama meditation and ayurvedic medicine.
Staying in an Ashram can be a great experience while visiting India as it is part of its ancient culture. An Ashrams is usually a secluded place devoted to spiritual activities like yoga, meditation or religious practices. People who reside in an ashram are usually Gurus and their disciples. Yogis can study the ancient scriptures, meditation, yoga asanas and perform karma yoga duties while living onsite. Often Ashrams offer basic dormitories and basic, strictly vegetarian food. Many Ashrams have a curfew after nightfall and maun (silent) times for instance during meals. I signed up for a 200 hour Teacher Training Certificate for tue duration of a months to deepen my knowledge of traditional yoga practice. The daily agenda was packed; starting at 6 am with nasal rinsing treatment (neti) followed by self-practice, public asana class and guided meditation, breakfast, karma yoga, asana class which was followed by theory class, lunch, self-study, another asana and theory class, bhakti yoga, meditation, dinner, self-study and bed time around 10:30 pm.
I also had the chance to realize that India is facing an issue regarding unethical “Gurus, Swamis or Babas” who are claiming to run non-profit organisation. Their main focus however, being profit while maintaining an spiritual image to the public eye. There is such a broad choice of Ashrams in India that it can be very difficult to make a choice. Even though I had been made aware of the problematic situation by local friends, I decided to trust the very positive online reviews of the Paramanand Ashram. Living at the Ashram I have faced corruption to an extent that it made me laugh and question the place on a daily basis. It was as dramatic and ridiculous as in a Bollywood movie. What an experience!
Once upon a time an enlightened being came among us to lead us to the truth. Swami Paramanand Ji Maharaj chose the path of Karma Yoga and dedicated his life for the welfare of humanity. A loyal disciple of Swami Ji made a very generous donation to develop an ashram in Indore many years ago. This disciple had a son who was sent off to explore the western world and he went on to study in the US. This boy also was a disciple of Swamiji but not as devoted and full of good intentions as his mother. He came to an agreement with Swamiji to run the Ashram to which his mother made a generous donations. At this stage the boy had developed into a grown man called Dr. Omanand Guruji. It didn’t take long until it was realized that he turned the Ashram into a for profit organization and that not enough money reached projects where it was badly needed. The situation degenerated to an extent that even Swamiji would not want to be associated with the actions of his disciple anymore.
The first impressions you get is a Guru driving around in a big and shiny SUV. Doing sales pitches and recruitment all over the city. Meanwhile, in the office karma yogis were doing sales pitches over the phone in order to promote a Yoga competition. One needs to realize what yoga is – it was taught that it is an inner journey free from false ego and competition. Guruji was promoting himself and the “divine and profound” Ashram with very basic sales techniques. This was enough for Mathias to realize on the very first day that he had no intention to stay. However, I decided to stay and during my two weeks at the Ashram I witnessed the funniest and sadest things. For example a Guru preaching everyday how conventional medicine is killing us. We were very surprised when he took our group of yogis on a trip to visit one of the biggest local pharmaceutical companies in the state. After the Guru planted a tree, he left with a big envelope of cash. The hypocrisy didn’t end just here yet. When government officials announced a visit to see if the Yoga Teacher Training meets their quality standards, panic set in. We were ordered to study all weekend to be ready to answer their questions in the coming week. On the day the officials came to the Ashram, we experienced a whole day of a chaotic freak show and the Guru topped it up with a government bribery right in front of everybody. Finally, the officials saw a little bit of truth that day. They refused the envelopes with cash and left shortly after.
Most teachings were quite basic and often inaccurate. The Guru was manipulative and patronizing, putting people down as westerners while at the same time desperately trying to use them for publicity. A few interesting facts I learnt during my yoga training were that NASA received a message from space in Sanskrit. In order to follow a healthy diet one should eat more rice and cut out any form of protein. The mind in children only develops from an age of three years old. Teachers in the west vomit knowledge on students and ask them to re-vomit it while Gurus teach from experience – the only truth.
Despite all the corruption and controversy I truly had a fantastic time at this Ashram, meeting amazing people and getting to know a different side of India and Yoga. I didn’t complete my course as I believe it wasn’t my path to yoga but I am looking forward to more interesting experiences as my Yoga journey continues.