Ananda Ashram New York

»Ashram-lite in upstate New York«

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We've been to India. We've stayed in ashrams. Ananda Ashram New York is not the truly immersive experience we've found in that great motherland of yoga but it is a good introduction to the highs and lows of ashram living. Consider it ashram-lite: The beds aren't too comfortable and you'll be sharing a bathroom but the yoga is well-taught, the grounds are peaceful and conducive to contemplation, and the eucalyptus sauna with massage is a very nice add-on service.

  • What we love
  • Ashram living adapted to Western living
  • Good range of yoga options and other classes
  • The secluded and expansive green grounds
  • Skilled teachers giving a variety of workshops
  • What to know
  • Yoga mats are supplied
  • Accommodation is sparse – not a spa or a hotel
  • You can't choose your room-mates
  • Why go
  • Excellent daily open yoga classes
  • A genuine spiritual ethos
  • Suggested donations are very reasonable

A little over an hour's drive from Manhattan, Ananda Ashram is in the peaceful semi-rural area of Monroe. Rolling lawns give way to tall trees, which in turn bow gracefully to the private lake. Geographically close to the city yet a world away from the frantic pace, the ashram was founded by Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, a life-time student of yoga with a deep desire to unite the disparate philosophies of East and West.

Ananda Ashram is not to be confused with our other top center Ananda in the Himalayas. Not only are they on different continents, but they couldn't be more different in their philosophies and fittings. Ananda Ashram is a peek into Indian ashram living for those who have yet to visit India. This is no luxury hotel. It's not even a budget hotel. And that's exactly the point. Pilgrims to an ashram come for spiritual reasons, not to be physically pampered. By the way, if you're looking for enlightenment by visiting an ashram, you're a pilgrim.

It's not compulsory to stay on-site to participate in the courses and classes. Open yoga classes run every day, with all skill levels catered for, although the Vinyasa Flow classes are only for those at a skill level of intermediate and higher. Classes are charged either at a drop-in rate, a multi-class discount pass, or free for those who are staying at the ashram. Month-long residential courses are immersive, and offer a wide variety of education from yoga poses to Sanskrit to meditation. Shorter retreats are generally conducted over a long weekend and are geared around a variety of spiritual themes and cultural experiences. Hindu Classical Music, for instance, is a great way to learn a little about lands beyond the shores of the US.

The 200-hour Teacher Training Course is probably the jewel in Ananda's crown. Certified by the Yoga Alliance, it is a five-week residential program with a moderate base fee and varying accommodation fees, depending on the bed-type selected. In 2012 the course is graced with a two-day seminar by Srivatsa Ramaswami who was a 30-year student of Sri Krishnamacharya, the famous father of modern yoga. This kind of training is world-class, with graduates who are fully equipped to share yoga knowledge safely and with the empathetic compassion that a good teacher should have.

The 45 beds at Ananda Ashram are clean yet simple. Most of the accommodation is in dorm-style, with a small number of rooms designed as twin-share. None of the rooms have a private bathroom, so lining up for a quick morning shower is part of the rhythm of life at Ananda. Not being able to choose your room-mates can be difficult for some people. Living in harmony with others may be a noble concept on paper, but the reality of dealing with the rustling of late-night returning roomies can test the most yogic of characters. For some, this is the charm and the challenge of an ashram. For others, it's too much contact with their fellow man. Only you can know which category you fall into, and if you like a little privacy, consider bringing a tent – Ananda has ample camping space and it's the cheapest accommodation option.

Ananda Ashram is a recognized charitable organization under the IRS section 501(c)(3) and can and does charge both recommended donation amounts and set fees for different services. These are fairly modest considering the quality of the classes and the location. There is also a much-reduced donation level for anyone who is willing to do three hours a day of Karma Yoga – working on the ashram – in exchange for food, classes and accommodation. It should be noted that guest teachers can, and do, set their own fees that are mandatory rather than by donation. These are also modest, especially given the opportunity to study with some of the best in their fields.

Meals at Ananda are not Sattvic, the mild and slightly bland food of traditional yogic purification. In a small concession to Western palates they use the delicate and tasty spices that India is known for. Lacto-vegetarian, with some vegan options, the food is reputedly very good – and abundant, not always a common characteristic of ashram meals. Food is served three times a day, with the timing changing slightly to accommodate the day's schedule.

With a delightfully eclectic schedule of programs, from dance to Ayurveda to yoga, Ananda Ashram modestly offers a slice of life that is difficult to find outside of India. The clientele come from all walks of life, but with the shared goal of deepening their spiritual awareness – a powerful characteristic to share with the stranger next to you at breakfast. For those who are dabbling with the idea of an Indian ashram pilgrimage, or simply needing a break from the sensory overload of New York City, Ananda is a welcoming and peaceful introduction to the simpler, slower pace of the spiritual life.

About the area: Monroe

Monroe is a quiet rural town in Orange County, New York. With a small population, it is peopled mostly by families and retirees who have escaped the hectic pace of nearby New York City. The seasons here are distinct, with warm summers slipping easily into the fiery colors of fall and the crisp whiteness of winter snow. Warm apple cider is the region's drink of choice, from the distillery in nearby Warwick. Temperatures dip below freezing in winter and climb to a more temperate 27 degrees C (82F) in mid-July. There are three major international airports that service greater New York, with a wealth of smaller, sometimes private, airfields in the upstate area.

Image credit: Ananda Ashram New York

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