The Ashram Diaries

Since I first learned of its existence nearly 10 years ago, The Ashram has been on my bucket list.

Not an ashram, The Ashram.

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The Ashram, located in both southern California and Mallorca Spain, is a week long program that integrates strenuous exercise with a strict detox diet of no caffeine, no sugar, no dairy, no alcohol, and no meat. It promises to be physically arduous and spiritually restorative.

As a full-time caffeine obsessed sugar addict and occasional couch potato, I looked at it as a daunting challenge and a chance to reboot.

Settle-in Sunday:  My two friends and I arrive in Mallorca with anticipation and trepidation.  Within minutes of our arrival, we are out on our first hike, tackling the rocky and hilly terrain close to our abode.  That night our gang of 11 gathers for a fireside orientation.  We are told to take off our watches and set them aside for the week.  We will be beckoned as needed with bells to signal meals and activities.  There are no choices to make.  Every day follows the same sequence beginning at 5:00 a.m.:

  • Yoga
  • Hike
  • Massage
  • Core Class
  • Yoga

Delicious, nutritious vegetarian meals are doled out in small portions providing no more than 1200 calories per day.  There are no seconds.  We learn to eat s l o w l y.  There is always enough to keep us going but not enough to fill us up.  Given these circumstances, there was rarely a speck of food remaining on anyone’s plate.  At lunch, I bartered peppers for quinoa.  If something fell on the floor, it was fair game.  One night, we all agreed to lick our bowls, yearning for one more taste of yummy soup.  With the exception of the sunflower seed pâté, I genuinely loved every meal.

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Manic Monday:  We awake in the pitch-blackness of 5:00 a.m.  Bleary-eyed, we yawn through a yoga class as every muscle stubbornly resists movement.  Soon, we are on a grueling 10 mile hike through craggy canyons surrounded by beautiful scenery.  We learn that hikes are measured from Snack One (nuts) to Snack Two (fruit).   A few blanched almonds and a lone apricot feels likes a feast.  Each of us receives one small piece of banana, apple, and melon, and these meager fruits begin to taste irresistibly sweet in the absence of sugar.  I even start to enjoy sprinkling Himalayan salt on a small piece of apple to keep my electrolytes in balance.

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Toxic Tuesday:  Today is the day most people begin to feel the effects of the detox.  Stomachs are growling and muscles are howling.  The 7 mike hike today is mild in comparison to Monday and includes an extra snack.  We stop in a rustic outpost along the trail to sample a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and one fig.  It is so sweet and unexpected, that my friend dubs this the Spa Day!  The sea peeks out at us on our hike, and later we kayak through a beautiful bay to add to our activity output.

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Hump Wednesday:  This is literally a hump day as we gain over 2,500 vertical feet on an unrelenting uphill climb switch-backing across nearly 12 miles.  When we reach the top, there is exhilaration among the gang, and we bond in our communal accomplishment.  Suddenly yoga class begins to feel relaxing and restorative.  Dinner conversations become more animated, and there is a sense of relief to have the worst behind us.  Strangely, most people can’t sleep at night.  We are physically exhausted but also filled with an extra energy that keeps us mentally hyper-alert.  My friend aptly says we are all “zingy”.

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Thoughtful Thursday:  At fireside chat the prior evening, we were told to consider hiking in silence today as we climb 2,000 cobbled ancient steps on the Pilgrim’s Trail.  I suspect none of us would have had the extra breath to speak anyway!  The pain of this unrelenting climb is mitigated by the sublime scenery.  As we climb into the clouds, the valley beneath is partially hidden by a mist that suspends silently around us.  All we can hear is the clickety-clack of our hiking poles, the rattling of clunky bells on the roaming sheep, the occasional call of a goat, and the constant rhythm of our labored breathing.  It becomes a spiritual experience.  Rain threatens but never touches us on the trail.  At the onset, rain appears in a sudden downpour as we gear up beneath protective covering.  As we step on the trail, it disappears.  Later, when we get on the bus to return to the Ashram, rain gently strikes the windshield and forces the wipers into action.  Perhaps, this is Ashram karma.  That night ends gathered around the fire listening to a flamenco guitar master play soulful melodies.

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Finally Friday: So near and yet so far from the finish.  This is my toughest day on the trail.  It is another long 10 mile journey that ends in a long (endless) hour of careful plodding downhill.  My knees are shot.  Though I’m still eating the same meals, my stomach feels empty.  The massage today is painful as I am told that I have “worked my body to the max”, and every muscle is complaining. Tonight at dinner, we go around the table and share what we will take away from this experience.  Later, as we gather around the fire, someone spots a rainbow outside.  It seems symbolic.

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Sadly Saturday:  After yoga, breakfast, and a short hike, it is time to start saying goodbye.  It is sad to see the group disperse after sharing such an intense and enriching experience together.  In the end, it is only me and my two girlfriends who remain waiting for the last taxi to the airport. We realize that in one week, we have hiked nearly 60 miles, folded into about 50 downward dogs, and eaten less than 8,000 calories.

Looking back, I absolutely loved the entire experience, even the parts that were a struggle physically and emotionally.  I met an outstanding group of people who provided a supportive environment for my personal journey.

On their website, The Ashram describes the experience:

A combination of simple spirituality, loving punishment, and camp-like congeniality sets the mood and pace.

I couldn’t agree more.

In the spirit of The Ashram,

Namaste.

 

 

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