The Sivananda Ashram at the Neyyar Dam in Kerala simply referred to as Neyyar by those who have visited, is a typical Vedic ashram. Practice is expressed through intent and not dogma.
The basic practice of yoga is to develop a stamina and capacity to govern the body, still and clear the mind and to heal and stabilise our emotions. These are an integral part of a personal transformation.
The body is the vessel that carries our thoughts and feelings. The mind is defined by the nature of the thoughts it contains, and spirit is our state of being. These become our truth.
U G Krishnamurti said, something to the effect that, seeking is the biggest barrier to attainment.
Its evolved founder Swami Vishnudevananda, taught yoga. This is the core theme at Neyyar. Four hours of Yoga practice every day, taught by dedicated qualified teachers. When you practice your postures (asanas) using your awareness of breath to lead your movements, this simple non-sectarian non-religious process heals, strengthens and aligns body, mind and spirit.
The hills and lake around the ashram, and the profusion of trees in the ashram keep the environment pleasant and ideal for Yoga practice.
The meals are sattavic, vegetarian not vegan, in that dairy is used. You can make friends from around the world. Buddha called this the Sangha.
The morning and evening get-togethers are called Satsang. There is an interactive Vedic lecture every afternoon, and Vedic mantras, prayers and chanting.
No one has a knife to the throat. One is simply expected to follow the Ashram decorum and to be present for all activities for the purpose of benefiting from the choice to invest in the Ashram experience.
Meals are at 10 am and 5:30 pm. Morning satsang from 6 am to 7:30 am followed by tea. The morning yoga class is from 8 am to 10 pm. Karma yoga (community service) is for just an hour after the morning meal (at 10 am). There is free time after karma Yoga, of about 2 hours (until the afternoon tea at 1 pm). Tea is served with fruit or biscuits in the tea area shaded by large jackfruit trees, and time to chat. Following this is the one hour lecture, and the 2nd yoga practice of the day, from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm. After the evening meal, the WiFi Internet is switched on for those who need access to the Web. There is also a Cyber Café. The evening Satsang is from 7:30 pm to 9 pm. Lights off at 10 pm.
After Karma Yoga, one can take a gate pass and go outside the ashram to stroll around, visit the health hut or tea shop, go shopping and the ashram boutique or nearby town, consult with the ayurvedic doctor at the health centre and have an ayurvedic massage.
I would normally head down to the Neyyar Lake for a swim. This one does at their own risk, as the lake was once infested with crocodile, there are warning boards around. The crocodiles have apparently been removed, but they may have still been sightings in other parts of the lake. Note most clearly, the Ashram is not responsible if a crocodile chooses to feast on you. So be forewarned. Yet me and many others have enjoyed this fresh sweet-water swim in the vista of the sacred Agastya Mala and lived to tell the tale.
From across the lake, you can hear the roar of lions at the Lion Safari Park. The Kerala Forest Department operate daily scheduled cruises on the lake priced at Rs.250 per person that includes entry into the Safari Park. It is a lovely walk around the lake to the Safari Park and back, or you could walk one way, and swim back across.
The Ashram Shop is open both in the morning and evening, where you can get yoga mats, CD’s, books, toiletries, memorabilia, T-shirts, yoga pants and snacks.
Unlike many ashrams, where you check-in and stay in, the Sivananda Ashram is humane. You can get a Gate Pass daily from the Reception and go out. Taxis and Auto Rickshaws are on call 24×7, and are reliable and competitively priced. For people new to Kerala, the drivers will help you get Local, so you have the best safe experience.
Talking about safety, the Ashram is a safe destination for solo female travellers.
Every Friday, the Ashram organises a trip (minimum 16 people need to sign up, and it is priced at Rs.1500 per person and includes entry fees and meals), to either Kanniya Kumari or the Backwaters. The Kanniya Kumari trip includes the boat ride to and from the Vivekananda Rock, the Padhmanabhapuram Palace and the Suchindram Temple. The Backwaters trip is to Kollam on Ashtamudi Lake and goes on to the Beaches, Cliffs and finger-licking restaurants at Varkala. That evening, Friday, the Satsang is at the Devi Temple.
Twice a week, in lieu of the morning Satsang in the Ashram, there is a Silent Walk (going only, you can chatter on the way back) to the Neyyar Dam or the Temple on the hill. In fact, you can take special permission from the Director to take this walk any morning, but do have a valid reason for doing so. Request a Staff to join and guide you if they can. This is also a great bet for a Friday Picnic with friends.
Saturday evenings are Talent Night. Sign up to showcase your talent. It can be anything, as long as it is modest. I have seen and heard Opera singers, songs in many languages, dance, recitation, readings, magic tricks, memory training, music and so much more. It is all fun, always, and everyone claps and joins is every time. This is the attitude in the Ashram, one for all, all for one.
On Thursdays, a film on either Swami Sivananda, the Guru of Swami Vishnudevananda; or of Swami Vishnudevananda is screened. It was absolutely clear to me, that here were two gentlemen, who had embraced life to the hilt.
The most popular activity is the Yoga Vacation. This is for 2 weeks and includes the Basic and Intermediate Levels of the Sivananda yoga system. Both operate co-currently. The dates are 1st to 14th and 15th to 28th of every month. I recommend being there a day before and leaving a day after, if you can, in order to have time to settle in both, in to and after your Practice.
There is also the Teachers Training Course, Advanced Teachers Training Course, the Kids Camp, the Teens Camp and the Ayurveda Wellness Course. Yes, Dhanwantari, a part of the ashram’s name, is an avatar of Vishnu, is the Vedic God of Ayurveda. You can call the Ashram Reception at +91 949 563 0951 for details.
Prices are per person per night. A 3-night stay is mandatory. Other than dorms, all rooms are twin sharing. Prices for foreigners are a bit higher. Baths are with western water closets.
Non-A/c Dormitory Rs.450
Non-A/c Room with Common Toilet & Shower Rs.1150
Non-A/c Room with Attached Toilet & Shower Rs.1400
A/c Room with Attached Toilet & Shower Rs.2200
Kannan, the Little Master.
After your ashram experience, you can head off to either Varkala or Kovalam to chill for a couple of days before continuing your journey.
There is a regular bus service to Trivandrum from Neyyar or vice versa, direct or via Kattakada. From Trivandrum you have bus services into Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Of course there are long-distance trains to Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and more. Trivandrum is also a National and International airport. Neyyar falls within Trivandrum district, so Taxis and Auto-rickshaws are easily available. The bus fare to Neyyar from Trivandrum is about Rs.50 per person + another Rs.20 per person for a shared auto from Neyyar Bus Stand to the Ashram, a 20 minute walk otherwise. Auto-rickshaw is about Rs.700 one way and an A/c Taxi is about twice that.
The ashram is open and can be visited around the year. I totally enjoyed my stay during the rainy season and stayed for almost 6 months.
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram
PO Neyyar Dam, Trivandrum,
Kerala 695 572, India
T: +91 9495630951
All images courtesy Larissa Beniaminova Uma, Sivananda Ashram.