The global reach of India’s spiritual heritage continues to beckon travelers to its hallowed grounds and the ashrams—repositories of wisdom, learning and healing, both spiritual and physical. The country’s ancient treatises and scriptures are punctuated with references to the ancient practices of yoga and meditation revealing their intrinsic linkages with India’s heritage of spirituality and wellness techniques.
One of the most austere disciplines of meditation, Vipassana—or Insight Meditation—undertaken by Gautama Buddha in his journey to enlightenment, has seen a resurgence in its country of birth. The practice was re-established in India, with its headquarters at Igatpuri near Nashik by S.N. Goenka. The Dhammagiri Vipassana Centre today has several branches spread around the country. Vipassana is a logical method designed to help the mind and body perceive in an impartial manner things as they actually are, moment to moment, by doing away with delusions that fog the mind and plague the body with innumerable ills. This heightened awareness helps a person reach the higher plain of self-discovery, and also relieves psychosomatic illnesses. This newfound liberation also fills one with compassion. Vipassana is not a religion; it is a practice which can be used by people of all faiths. The 10-day residential course introduces students to the basics of the technique. During this period, students must shun alcohol, sex, any form of religious ritual they usually follow and all communication with fellow students. They must observe “noble silence.” For more information, visit dhamma.org.
Ashrams of Rishikesh and Haridwar
The twin gateway towns of Rishikesh and Haridwar in the Himalayan foothills of Garhwal in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand have for centuries played host to ascetics and pilgrims on their spiritual quests. Both these towns have seen a mushrooming of spiritual retreats (ashrams), many of which along with meditation, prayers and chanting, holy dips and ritual fasting, also offer residential facilities. At Haridwar, the Patanjali Yogpeeth Ashram teaches yoga, in particular pranayam (there is no charge for this). Optionally, a guest can attend one of the yoga camps held under the aegis of Divya Yog Mandir Trust, an initiative of Swami Ramdev and others associated with the Patanjali Ashram. At Rishikesh, the Shivanand Ashram teaches shavasana (relaxation), dhyana (meditation) and positive thinking. The Parmarth Yoga & Meditation Centre, renowned for its annual International Yoga Festival, is also located here.
In the late-60s, the Mother, the French spiritual leader, who along with Shri Aurobindo ran the ashram at Puducherry (formerly known as Pndicherry) until her death in 1973, set up the township of Auroville, about four miles away, with the idea of creating a base for harmonious communal living. Today, about 60 percent of its residents are from various parts of the globe. Auroville, known for its crafts, organic farming and community projects, is a serene retreat whose spiritual center is the Matrimandir—a new-age center for meditation.
Art of Living International Centre
The Art of Living Centre or the Ved Vignana Mahavidyapeetha—its official name—located near Bangalore has created a global awareness of the power of correct breathing (Sudarshan Kriya) to transform one’s life. This ancient breathing technique has been promoted as The Art of Living by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in workshops around the world.
For more information on India, visit incredibleindia.org.