Could you give up communication technology for a month? No late night phone calls with your lover, no scrolling down your Facebook newsfeed on the bus, no emails to open while you have your first coffee of the day. On the face of it, it sounds impossible – we live in an age where these things are the norm – but when Peacock Tree Yoga student and teacher, Steve Poile, traveled to a remote ashram in India, he was determined to leave the electronic world behind…
This was my second TTC – the first in Mysore at The Mystic School last year, was in the centre of the city with meals and access to the outside world a short walk from the classroom. Whilst it was a great Indian experience, it lacked the peace and tranquility I was seeking. I wanted a place where I’d be able to develop a deeper spiritual practice, create closer ties with the Sivananda path, develop my readiness to teach, and withdraw from the outside world in order to be able to focus on my own yoga practice.
After a lot of research, I decided to register with the Sivananda Kutir, Uttarkashi, an ashram next to the Ganges, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It offered everything I was looking for, in particular, a core focus on Sivananda yoga, remoteness in the mountains, and an absence of any outside distractions due to the (supposed) unavailability of wifi and mobile phone signals.
Leaving it all behind
Departing from York, it took over 40 hours travelling time to reach the Ashram, the last leg of the journey being a seven-hour car journey from Rishikesh (the spiritual home of Swami Sivananda) through mountain passes and past beautiful scenery to the little collection of buildings by the Ganges that was to be home for the next month.
After just one day to recover from the trip, the ashram experience began, with a daily schedule as reliable as the sounds that formed our soundtrack; the rushing water of the Ganges, the melodic calls of exotic birds, and the rhythms of the local bugs:
- 5am – get up
- 6am – Satsang (meditation and chanting)
- 8am – asana practice
- 10am – brunch
- 10.30am – karma yoga (performing helpful tasks around the ashram)
- 12 noon – lectures
- 4pm – asana practice (yes, another one)
- 6pm – dinner
- 7pm – Satsang
- 9.30pm – lights out
The Ashram ‘rules’
All activities are compulsory at the ashram, there are no exceptions. All food is sattvic lacto-vegetarian, consisting of one veg curry or dahl and rice (sometimes substituted by a dosa, noodles or roti), and a piece of fruit – all very basic but delicious. Everything – Satsang, meals, lectures – is undertaken sitting cross-legged on the floor. Daily Vedanta and asana homework must be crammed into the few moments of spare time since there’s no room for falling behind – hand-in is required the following day.
I was expecting all of this. However, there was one ‘rule’ which no longer applied. The relentless march of technology meant that the local area had recently obtained a 3G mobile phone signal! Giving up communication technology was no longer an externally imposed withdrawal from the external world, but a choice I would have to make. Did I switch on my phone and have access to the outside world or did I keep it switched off and maintain the remoteness and withdrawal? I chose the latter, since this was an opportunity to experience a different pace of life and be liberated from the demands of modern technology.
Tuning out and tuning in
Every day as I awoke, I no longer felt the desire to reach for the phone and see the latest news, emails, and Facebook posts. Instead, I focused on my own wellbeing, prepared for the day and quietly walked to the Satsang hall free from thoughts generated by this and that in the world beyond the ashram walls. As the month progressed, my mind became quieter and more peaceful. I didn’t once feel the need to switch on my phone. I felt liberated, able to sit by the Ganges, my spine tingling as I felt only love radiating out, and a blissful nothing coming in.
The modern world, with its demands on your time and resources is, you begin to understand, a self-made constraint imposed by the self on the self. I can choose to allow social media, email, mobile phone and so on to make constant demands, or I can choose to ignore these demands. The more I ignore them the quieter they become, and in turn the quieter and calmer my mind becomes.
Bringin’ it all back home…
When I returned to the UK I asked people what of importance had happened whilst I was away. My question was met with quizzical responses….nobody could really recall anything of importance that was worth a mention. I hadn’t missed a thing – and that’s partly why I have chosen to maintain a lower level of reliance on technology now I’m back on home soil. I leave the phone at home and don’t reach for it in the morning, and in doing so, I’ve managed to retain a quiet mind and a sense of calmness. It feels strange at times since I was used to having a mind full of thoughts.
So did I achieve the objectives I set out at the start of my trip? The answer is as loud and noticeable as the sound of insects scurrying along the stone floor of the quiet ashram: Yes! The regularity and simplicity of ashram life, combined with a voluntary withdrawal from technology, allowed me to delve deep into my yoga studies, and tune into an inner peace and tranquility that I’ve been able to hold on to – even when my phone lights up.