Travel log Vietnam: Sivananda Yoga Ashram

I've been back in Bangkok for a week now and I still have the kirtan chants in my head!

I needed to do a visa run so I could stay in Bangkok over a month, so I began researching to find a yoga retreat. I didn't find much to say the least and many places were totally unaffordable. After searching for an hour I stumbled upon the Sivananda website. They had a yoga teaching training in progress and offered "yoga vacations" for people like me who wanted to visit for 3-7 days. It was the most affordable place I could find at $40 a day all inclusive, food, accommodations, and yoga/meditation program. So I found a cheap ticket on Air Asia and signed up to go for 5 days. A mini vacation. But I had no idea what I was in store for…it ended up being hard work! 

Each day started at 5:30am, with me rolling out of bed and heading to satsang. This included a 30 minute silent meditation, 30 minutes of kirtan, which is lovely group singing/chanting, then followed a lecture by the Swami or a special guest. 8am we had a 2 hour yoga class, brunch was at 10am, then a lecture at 12am. Then we got a little break before our 4pm yoga class followed by dinner at 6pm. At 8pm was our evening satsang, which was over by 10pm when I went straight to my room for sleep.

I found the meditations to be the hardest thing for me. Even though I consider myself very spiritual and have studied all kinds of practices, I've never gotten behind meditating. I just can't sit and do nothing. Within 5 minutes I'm fidgeting around. By 10 minutes my mind is racing and planning things, by 20 minutes I just want to leave the room I'm so bored. After 3 days my meditation practice did not improve, but I'm trying to do 10 minutes every morning because I know it's good for me…scratch that, I gave up after a few days 🙁 

I loved the chanting though! Everyone sings and people break out the tambourines. It's so uplifting and happy. I'm still hearing those chants in my head and it keeps me company while I'm sitting on the bus. The lectures were interesting and mostly refreshers for me. I had one great ephinany, that no matter what discipline I dabble in or what any guru says, the heart of the message is the same. The Truth is Truth no matter what the wrapping paper. 

"Health is wealth, Peace of mind is happiness, Yoga shows the way." ~ Swami Vishnudevananda

I've been practicing yoga on and off for 12 years. I've tried every type of yoga possible. The Sivananda yoga was definitely not my kind of yoga. It started with two forms of breathing exercises, called pranayama, followed by a pretty set group of postures. The breathing stuff is hard for me. I get very bored. This kind of yoga is more internal, between every single pose you do a savasana. I like to move in yoga, do lots of vinyasa and not very many postures on the floor. One thing that was great though was getting back into headstands. Inversions are one thing I do not practice enough because of fear or laziness. So this got me back into it. I also realized that since my yoga practice hasn't been consistant over the last year that I'm weak and not as strong as I could be. This makes more advanced postures difficult. Time to start practicing more!

The food was amazing! With only 2 meals and lots of activity, everyone was stumbling over each other as soon as the meal bell was rung. Each night had a different theme, one night was macrobiotic and I got delicious beans for the first time since I was in Asia. It's amazing how much I missed simple food like beans! One night was Japanese with amazing sushi. Of course I had plenty of Vietnamese food, which was incredible and one of my faves. Needless to say it was a vegan foodie heaven.

The staff was pretty absorbed with the trainees, but helpful when needed. The grounds were beautiful and tranquil, the weather was gorgeous and I met some very lovely people. Overall it was a wonderful experience that I will not soon forget. I realized that I love being a student of yoga, but have no desire to be a teacher of yoga. Now off to do a headstand 😉

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  1. What an incredible experience! I'm a bit too hyper for meditation, too, which is ironic because I am a Buddhist and my daily practice is meditation — but with chanting and I think that's how I pull through. 

    Love reading about your experiences!

  2. It sounds like you're learning so much about yourself! What an awesome opportunity. I've never actually tried to meditate, unless staring at floaters or clouds for a while counts, but I'd like to try. I sometimes joke that I was a cat in a past life, so it might not be that hard for me. I'd love to have your energy levels, though! Oh, the trade off.

  3. It was incredible. @JL I have't tried again. Someone told me about this kind of meditation where you listen to a CD that connects with brain waves and helps you meditate better. Gotta get that!

    @Jennifer You should totally give it a try and see what happens as an experiment!!

  4. I concur.  Haven't been to Sivananda VN, but spent lots of time at the northern California retreat.  One thing I'll add: the part you didn't like and have subsequently quit on — meditation — is by far the best part.  Don't feel bad, there's no way a non-meditator is gonna actually meditate in 30 minutes, especially in an unfamiliar environment.  Your experience is extremely common.  Most people, like yourself, can't even get to the stage before meditation: sustained concentration.  They stumble where you did, at focused attention.  

    I practice daily, often morning and night, for over 8 month continuous.  These are stages you just gotta persist through.  I also had to deal with really tight knees and hips.  At first, sitting cross legged was merely an exercise in pain mgmt.  But, following the advice of the Yoga Farm director, Swami Sita, I stuck with it.  8 months later I can easily sit cross legged, and sometimes in half-lotus.  It took all that time just to get my body in a state where I could work with my mind.  

    When your body will sit still for 30 a while without stirring you can begin your approach to meditation.  Put some distance b/t you and your mind.  Try asking yourself, "what feelings do I notice in my body, what emotions in my mind, is my mind in the past, is my imagination in the future, and I thinking things thru?"  This creates a subject-object situation where the body and mind are the objects and you, that 3rd part of who you are, can be recognized as the subject.  When that gets boring, watch your breath.  In other words, notice it come in your nose or mouth, fill you upper lungs, then lower lungs, then diaphragm and leave your body in reverse order.  Just watch how you're breath is moving w/o trying to exert control over it.  As you do, it'll calm down.  It make take 10 minutes, but it'll calm.  Then go back to scanning those sensations, feelings, and thoughts.  Back and forth, back and forth.  Now, you're focusing your attention and learning to concentrate the mind on fewer and fewer objects.

    In time, both in one sitting and over the span of a sustained, regular practice you'll develop the habit of focused attention and concentration.  This leads into meditation.  At some point, the volume of sensations, emotions, and thoughts will naturally reduce to a point sufficient that the empty space between them outnumbers them.  Emptier and emptier you get and then it comes up: a feeling of completeness, of realizing you have a body, and a mind, and something else, and while you can get up out of your seated posture and open your eyes and go do something, there's an overwhelming feeling that nothing you could possibly do will ever bring you this same feeling of sitting still with your eyes closed just being.  That's the beginning of meditation.

    The Sivananda method has gotten me to realize the absolute perfection of the human being in its' natural form.  It comes from within.  We just have the habit of searching for things without to trigger these things within.  I'm sure you can connect to this, too.  I would love if you did.  You would love if you did, even more.

  5. Thanks for your lovely report! I am planning to do a yoga vacation in Vietnam as well, i just can't find the fact that they're offering yoga vacations as well on the website. Did you just mail them to ask if you could come for a yoga vacation? Hope you can help me out, thanks!



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