Yoga in Rishikesh

Rishikesh

 At the foothills of the Himalayas along the banks of the sacred river Ganges, lies the town of Rishikesh. The first town this holy river reaches on its decent from the mountains, Rishikesh is home to many ashrams, and most major Indian ashram, including Vivekenanda, Sivananda, Osho, Bihar school of yoga, have an office there. It is a good place to experience classical Indian yoga. Class instruction may leave a few gaps for students used to the precision of western classes, but with its slow and spiritual atmosphere, it's an enjoyable place to begin discovering what India has to offer. Rishikesh is less intense than other parts of India, probably because people have religion on their minds.  Most people are very friendly and quick to say hello or namaste.
 As a pilgrimage point, Rishikesh greets many devout Hindus and wandering sadhus (holy men). Many come to bathe in the sanctified waters of the Ganges, as Hindus believe this can remove layers of karma. This peaceful ashram centre is certainly one of the more atmospheric places to relax and enjoy meditation in India As the sun rises from behind the mountains, and cuts through the fog, locals wash in the river. Live temple chanting sets the tone. Beginning around 4 am, the chants float across the water until well after dark. During night time pujas (ceremonies), offerings of hundreds of camphor flame leaf boats float picturesquely on the river.
The commercial centre is more typical of India. But there is little need to visit it as the ashram centre, located on either side of a footbridge over the river, has great bookshops, good restaurants and email places.  As a holy city, Rishikesh is fully vegetarian, so you won't even find an egg there. Rishikesh hosts an International Yoga Festival, which is held every year in the first week of February.


Mother Ganga at Rishikesh

Where to Study

The Yoga Study Centre, Ganga Vihar, Haridwar Road, Rishikesh, 249201 Tel. +91 135 431196. Bramacharya Rudra Dev, a senior Iyengar teacher, conducts lessons in a rather militaristic style and students need to move quickly to keep up. Many western students appreciate his style and are able to feel the warmth behind his challenging adjustments. While Br. Dev's English is fluent, it might take a few days to get used to his accent, which is so strong that it is sometimes hard to tell whether he is speaking English or Hindi. His students are a mix of locals and Westerners. Donated mats and blankets are provided though if you are concerned about cleanliness you might want to bring your own. As with most Indian yoga schools, women should dress modestly. There are classes daily at the centre. Twenty day intensives are held three times a year during February, April and September. The centre is closed from mid-December to mid-January and for March, May and June. The Yoga Study Centre is on the other side of town from the other ashrams, and from where most people stay. A constant stream of Rs3 shared rickshaws move up and down the main road, and many go as far as the centre.

Yoga Niketan Ashram Tel. +91 135 430227.
Located near the footbridge, just south of the Sivananda Ashram, classes are taught in a traditional Indian teaching style. Asanas taught are the classical postures with few variations or adjustments. Class instructors often use the sing-song voice sometimes found in India as they gently urge you to 'Relaaaax'. The green ashram grounds full of monkeys are a short, steep walk up from the main road, taking you towards river views and away from the bustle. To stay on the ashram you need to commit to 15 days or more and attendance at the morning and evening yoga and meditation classes is compulsory. Those not staying on the ashram are welcome to attend classes and can also use the library.

Sri Ved Niketan Ashram Tel. +91 135 433537/430279.
Across the river on the Eastern side of the Ganges, turn right after the footbridge and it's a five minute walk. The classes offer gentle yoga style similar to the Bihar School of Yoga and classes cover gentle warm ups for the joints, a few asanas and some pranayama. Meditation classes are offered too. Classes are held morning and evening in the big central hall. One month courses held seven times a year, and cover asana, pranayama and yoga and Hindu philosophy. It is not obligatory to participate in the classes, bhajans or satsangs in order to stay on the grounds.

Swati & Rajiv Chanchani - Padmini Nivas Estate, The Mall, Library,  Mussoorie 248 179, Phone:  +91-135-7529, TeleFax:  + 91-135-632793, Email - yoganga@nde.vsnl.net.in / yoganga@sancharnet.in website: www.yog-ganga.com
For first class Iyengar yoga instruction it is worth spending time in Dheradun, one hour by bus from Rishikesh and Haridwar. This husband and wife team, Rajiv and Swati Chanchani, are both senior Iyengar teachers, each with about 25 years experience. Authors of the book, Yoga for Children, the couple teach occasional 5-20 day courses in Dheradun, around India, England, Israel, and the USA. Using precise, abrupt, energy raising instructions, relayed from a kind heart, Swati has a brilliant understanding of the effects of the asanas. She is a wealth of knowledge on finer adjustments and comfortably adapts them to individuals with a spread of abilities throughout the class. During the asana courses you will find yourself using props or modifications in each pose. A little pranayama and philosophy is covered.
Rajiv and Swati Chanchani have written a book entitled Yoga for Children, which has been reprinted several times and has been translated in French. Teachers and teacher-trainees who wish to seriously learn the art of teaching yoga to children can apprentice at their children's classes at the schools.
Acceptance to any kind of training under Rajiv and Swati Chanchani has to be confirmed in writing, in advance. Moreover, applicants must have a recommendation from an Iyengar yoga teacher or from a person who has studied with the Chanchanis.
The centre holds three intensive courses a year and each course is of about three weeks duration.  Asana, Pranayama and basic Yoga philosophy are taught.
Besides these three-week courses, short workshops and on-going 'general-classes' are also conducted: these are held in Dehradun and other locations
With direct trains, buses and flights from Delhi, Dheradun has an agreeable climate and there is plenty to explore in the surrounding mountains, rivers and forests. Capital of a newly created state, Uttaranchal, Dheradun itself has little to recommend it as a travel destination but lovers of Iyengar yoga will find the quality of instruction more than makes up for lack of inspiration in the city surroundings. Yoga students generally rent furnished cottages with kitchens from local families for Rs3000-5000 per bedroom per month. Swati can help set something up. 

Sri. Nanda has been conducting regualr Iyengar style yoga courses at the Swami Dayananda Ashram. He is a student of Sri B.K.S. Iyengar, Sri. Gitaji and Sri.Prashanthji. He is also a student of Vedanta taught by H.H.Swami Dayananda Saraswatiji. On this courses you will explore the technical details of Asana, Pranayama and Meditation in the tradition of Iyengar Yoga. All courses are residential intensive courses with single and double accommodation with delicious yogic cuisine.From morning to evening, you’ll be engaged in different sessions of Asana, Pranayama, Meditation, Chanting, Audio-video shows of Shri.Iyengar classes, Discussions on Yoga Philosophy, Music & Bajans.  For further details email yogiyaar@hotmai.com or visit the ashram website at www.dayananda.org

Other Things to Do

Sivananda Ashram P.O. Sivanandanagar, Dist. Tehri-Garhwal, 249192. While they share the same guru, this ashram is part of the Divine Life Society, and different to the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashrams and Centres found around the world. The Sivananda Ashram has three living gurus - Chidananda, Brahmananda and Krishnananda, all direct disciples of the Swami Sivananda. Although no regular yoga classes are conducted here, it is possible to attend the lectures on philosophical subjects, and studies of classical texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. To stay on the ashram it is necessary to request it in writing ahead of time, and explain your reasons for the stay. The ashram is near the footbridge on the west - city- side of the river.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ayurvedic Centre located by the Niketa Ashram sells ayurvedic health products. It might be possible to organise classes in ayurveda if you can put together a small group.

Places to Stay

Most people choose to stay along the banks of the Ganges. Omkarananda may call itself an ashram, but feels more like a shoeless guesthouse with a curfew. Rooms are large, light and airy, with balconies perched over the flowing Ganges. It is worth staying there for the superb yoga room featuring floor length windows looking out across the river. It is fully 'block and tackle' equipped - yoga belts, blocks, back archers, wall ropes. Room rates are inexpensive, and a discount applies to stays over three days. Guests may use the yoga room for an additional 100 rupees a week. Book ahead in high season. (tel. +91 135 430883) Views from The Swiss Cottage are worth lugging your backpack for ten minutes up the dirt track. Situated high up in a green oasis you can enjoy the chanting which wafts up from the valley. Delight in a feast from their Swiss bakery, as you sit in the shade overlooking a running waterfall.

Getting to Rishikesh

Rishikesh is 6 hours (250 kms) by bus from Delhi. Buses depart regularly throughout the day from near the ISBT. Trains, including the luxurious Shatabdhi Express with its meal service and air conditioning arrive at Haridwar, an hour by bus or taxi to Rishikesh. 

Christina Brown  for Yoga Online
Photograh Malcom Beatie