The Himalayan Institute

»From the ancient mountains to the virtual world«

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The Himalayan Institute has a foot in each world. One is firmly planted in the wisdom of ages past, the disciplined and spartan traditions of true yoga. The other is planted in the future, venturing into one of the fastest ways to bring yoga to the masses – the online world. This is East meets West in the best of ways, with the purest of intentions, pulsing outwards from a serene and humble ashram in the Poconos of Pennsylvania.

  • What we love
  • Weekend stays to year-long residential programs
  • Great value-for-money
  • Residents from all walks of life
  • Online seminars and lessons give a thorough understanding of the principles
  • What to know
  • Spartan accommodations, in true ashram tradition
  • No alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs or sex allowed
  • Application numbers rising, can be tough to get a place
  • Why go
  • Authentic ashram experience
  • Peaceful and pretty location
  • Easy three-tier pricing model

In the rolling green Poconos of Pennsylvania is an ashram that has successfully made peace with modern consumerism and the digital world. Making the on-site seminars available online, and introducing a simple, good-value, three-tier pricing program has put The Himalayan Institute at the forefront of accessible ashrams. And the free Wi-fi covering most of the grounds doesn't hurt either, for those who love to stay connected.

The Himalayan Institute is a sprawling and industrious community. This is not a place of smog and high-rise buildings though. Acres of meadows, expanses of lovingly-tended vegetable gardens, and miles of meandering, flower-edged paths are happily populated by people from all walks of life. This is a living modern society, but one that values selflessness, peace, and introspection.

The Institute offers retreats of varying lengths as well as long-term residential stays. Weekend retreats generally have a specific focus, with names like The Healing Art of Meditation and Kundalini: Inner Healing for a Troubled World. Taught by a range of guest teachers, these are high-quality seminars and workshops for those who are time-limited. Longer stays attract those who want to be a part of the Year Of Meditation – an extraordinary endeavor that involves round-the-clock meditation for an entire year, although obviously this task is shared between many people. Other reasons for moving to the ashram include being part of the Self-Transformation Program, the Residential Internship Program or the Organic Gardening Apprenticeship. All of these have slightly different emphases, but the fundamental principle is one of shedding the trappings of modern life and bringing awareness back to simple community living and the self. In other words, the yogic lifestyle.

Interestingly, the economic crash has seen applications for the long-term residential programs more than double. This is in part because living here is extremely cost-effective. A few hundred dollars each month cover accommodation and all meals. It is also because the economic crisis made many people in wealthier countries reassess their lives and priorities, leading some to turn away from the ceaseless consumerism of everyday America, and toward redefining riches as something for the soul rather than the pocket. There is work to be done in exchange though – Karma Yoga is the practice of working selflessly, purely for the benefit of others and never for personal gain or acknowledgment. It's a kind of living yoga, and tending the gardens, peeling vegetables or cleaning toilets are all part of the life-lessons taught here. Artists and hippies work side-by-side with stock brokers and CEOs, with little to distinguish one from another. Karma Yoga and ashram living are the great equalizer and the Himalayan Institute uses them to great effect.

Although accommodation is booked and paid for separately, tuition fees for all on-campus studies are no longer paid per-course. Instead, they are covered under the recently introduced three-tier pricing system. The first tier is a simple sign-up and allows access to the free content available online, provided by the Himalayan Institute. This is regularly updated and includes some yoga lessons as well as philosophy and meditation classes. The second tier opens the virtual door to the full Himalayan Institute knowledge database, an impressive and ever-growing collection, as well as a subscription to the digital and print versions of Yoga International Magazine. The highest pricing tier is around $300 yearly and offers full access to the online library, the magazine subscription and full access to all courses offered on the Himalayan Institute ashram. This last price-tier is far better value-for-money than the old per-course payment system, although courses and retreats can still be paid for in a one-off style if regular visits don’t appeal.

Accommodation is in typical ashram style. Clean and comfortable but sparse, with none of the gadgetry of a standard hotel room. Rooms are dorm-style, twin-share or double/private, with shared or private bathrooms respectively. Solo travelers will be paired with a same-sex roommate unless a private room is booked and snorers are asked to disclose the information prior to arrival. Children are not particularly welcome at the Himalayan Institute. No childcare is available and no-one under 16 may participate in classes, workshops, or seminars.

The yoga style offered here is purely Hatha. There are classes scheduled seven days a week. At least one class, sometimes two or more with different themes, runs at 6.30am, 10am and 5pm. The exception to this is Sunday when there is only one class in the early 6.30am time-slot, leaving the rest of the day for rest, self-study or that ever-present Karma Yoga. Some specialty classes are offered including Mommy And Me, a slightly incongruous offering considering that children are not well-catered for at the Institute.

The Himalayan Institute is, in a word, beautiful. This serene community is one of generally kind and loving people having a gentle kind of fun in their shared experience. The pastures, gardens and meadows that surround the site are perfect for slowing down literally and figuratively. Peace is found here, through self-analysis, shared hard work, regular yoga and meditation and an increased awareness of the moment. A weekend, a week, or a year, this is too good an experience to pass up.

About the area: The Poconos

The Poconos are a mountainous region of Pennsylvania. Famed for their tranquil green forests and abundance of clean, fresh-water lakes and rivers, the Poconos draw outdoor enthusiasts from all over the eastern US. This is a major ski region in winter and a hiker's delight in summer, while the colors of spring and fall are glorious for all manner of sightseers. The four seasons are distinct here, with temperatures typical of mountainous areas. Winters see the mercury dip to -5 degrees C (23F) while summers are very pleasant at an average of 21 degrees C (70F).

Picture credit: SM Hoenig http://www.flickr.com/photos/47372116@N04/with/4999435418/

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