I am so happy to share this guest post with you about what to expect at a yoga retreat in Rishikesh!
A yoga retreat in Rishikesh, India (“the birthplace of yoga”) can be a truly life-changing experience. In fact, it’s an experience I think everyone would benefit from having at some point in their lifetime. Set in northern India, tucked into the Himalayas with the Ganges river flowing through, it’s no wonder this quirky little city attracts throngs of yoga and meditation retreats each year.
I was lucky enough to experience a yoga retreat in Rishikesh last March and am happy to report that I gained so much more out of the experience than I ever thought possible. However, it was not the experience I had envisioned, and it certainly wasn’t always easy.
Looking back, I realize that I was grossly underprepared for this trip. There are so many things I wish I had known beforehand would’ve made my transition into Rishikesh life much smoother. To help you avoid my mistakes, I’ve put together a list of the 16 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Doing a Yoga Retreat in Rishikesh, India.
- The Best Yoga Teacher Training Ashrams in India Based on Where My Readers Went and Loved (many are in Rishikesh, and the reader’s reviews are in the article!)
- The Best Yoga Retreats in India: The Top 5
- The Best Yoga Retreats in Goa
- The Best Yoga Teacher Training Courses in India from BookYogaRetreats Reviews
16 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to a Yoga Retreat in Rishikesh
Planning for a yoga retreat in Rishikesh India
1. Prepare your gut months in advance- Strong stomach or not, this is the best advice you will get as you prepare for your retreat to Rishikesh. Unfortunately, the stereotype about the food in India is true. Many-a-traveler gets hit with “Delhi Belly”: a bought of fever, chills, diarrhea, vomit and fatigue that lasts for days. Definitely not an ideal way to spend a yoga retreat. My advice is to take every precaution you can to reduce your chances of getting sick once there. (I didn’t do this and suffered the consequences). In the months leading up to your trip take daily probiotics, drink Kombucha, and eat cultured yogurts to toughen up your gut.
2. Wean your body off meat, eggs, and booze
Rishikesh is a dry and vegetarian town. I was prepared for no meat and no alcohol. But I was completely surprised to find out that eggs in Rishikesh are few and far between. (Funnily enough, though, milk is everywhere.) Being someone who eats two eggs every morning, this sudden and unexpected egg-deprival came as a shock. Suddenly all my body and mind wanted was eggs. If meat, eggs, or alcohol are a big part of your diet, it would be wise to gradually reduce these from your diet leading up to the trip.
3. Satsang season runs from early February to mid-March…plan your trip accordingly
Satsangs are a spiritual event common in Indian tradition. The word satsang literally translates to ‘association with the wise’. Students come from far and wide to be in the presence of their spiritual teachers. During satsang, the teacher (or “guru”) starts by giving a talk and sharing wisdom, which is then followed by a question-answer session. From February until mid-March in Rishikesh, satsangs are held daily in venues throughout the city. If this is interesting to you, these months might be a good time for a visit. If not, you can take advantage of fewer crowds by planning your trip for a different period. I personally gained a lot from the satsangs which I didn’t necessarily expect going into the experience.
4. Find a guest house or hotel off the beaten path
With all the hustle-and-bustle of daily life in Rishikesh, it can be nice to stay in a quieter place. When browsing guest houses and hotels, look on the map for ones that are a bit off the main roads. Still accessible, but set further back in the mountains.
Packing a yoga retreat in Rishikesh
5. Pack Advil
Most (if not all) pharmacys in Rishikesh are Ayurvedic, meaning no Western medicine such as Ibuprofen. Even the corner stores don’t seem to know about painkillers. As a precautionary measure, make sure to pack yourself a large bottle of Ibuprofen. If and when Delhi Belly or the yoga aches-and-pains set in, you will certainly be happy you did.
6. Bring your own yoga mat from home
Let’s just say the yoga mats at the Rishikesh studios have seen better days. If you are even slightly germophobic and/or have high cleanliness standards, you will likely not want to use the free mats provided. This leaves you two options. You could bring your own yoga mat from home…
7. …Or plan to buy a yoga mat there, and donate it when you leave
Mats are for sale many places in Rishikesh for approximately $5. Of course, you get what you pay for so don’t expect the sturdiest or stickiest mat, but it will serve its purpose. It’s common practice to donate the mats to the studio or space when you leave if you do not want to carry them home with you.
8. Pack “emergency snacks” such as nut butter
You will likely get sick of (or sick from) eating Indian food for three meals per day. Sometimes the taste buds and belly just need a little break. Many people in our group brought nut butter with them that they ate with bread for one meal per day to give their body a reprieve from all the hard work of digesting the heavily spiced Indian food.
9. Plan to buy all your “India clothes” there
In Rishikesh, you should wear flowy, full-coverage clothing. (You will not want to wear your tight yoga pants or tank tops outside of the yoga studio.) Don’t waste your efforts trying to find this type of clothing at home as it will be more expensive and not the true “Rishikesh retreat style”. You are best off shopping upon arrival to pick up some ali baba pants and scarves to wear during your stay. There are tons of shops throughout town where you can procure your new retreat wardrobe at a great price.
10. Blanket scarves can be your best friend in Rishikesh
Especially if you are travelling in the cooler months, a blanket scarf will serve many purposes. It can be used to cover your shoulders or keep you warm in the mornings and evenings. In Rishikesh you will find yourself sitting cross-legged on the floor for extended periods of time; be it at satsang, meditation or even eating at the local cafes. Folding up your blanket scarf as an extra cushion can be a huge help for your level of comfort and spine happiness.
11. Withdraw and exchange money before you arrive
Contradictory to my normal travel stance of “bring enough cash to get by for the first few days and use credit cards for the rest”, in Rishikesh very few places take credit card. It is also not uncommon for the ATMs to be out of cash for multiple days in a row. If it’s an emergency situation, you can typically journey further outside of town to find a functioning ATM, but this is definitely not the optimal use of a day. There are also daily withdrawal limits, so I found myself having to go back to the ATM multiple days in a row. Save the hassle and convert your cash into rupees at home.
12. Bring earplugs
Whether it’s a motorbike, a car, a cow, a horse-drawn carriage, a monkey, a group of people, or a ceremonial procession, India is loud. While it can be festive, if you happen to be sleeping, it can also be quite disruptive. Pack earplugs. Sleep sound.
Settling into the environment in Rishikesh
13. The Monkeys are cute, but not friendly
Don’t feed them or let them see that you have food. They will snatch it.
14. The Cows are also cute, but sometimes headbutt
15. Just because it’s a retreat, don’t expect it to be relaxing
Yes, it’s true, when most people hear “retreat in Rishikesh,” they think it will be zen. However, you must remember that retreat or no retreat, India is still India. A vibrant and dynamic place with so much going on at any given time. This is not a place for the faint of heart. While Rishikesh is amazing in its spirituality and energy, don’t expect to kick your feet up and relax. Twice daily yoga practices, meditations, and experiencing the city of Rishikesh can be extremely tiring, and often a sensory overload. Some days it may seem hard or exhausting, but know that it is all worth it and you will come out a better person for it in the end. (However, you may need a vacation afterward to soak it all in. The “post-trip savasana”, as I call it.)
16. Expect the unexpected
Every day in Rishikesh will be an adventure in and of itself. Be open to it. Go with the flow. Let go of any and all expectations you have for the retreat and let mother India work her magic on you. She has a plan, after all, that is far greater than what you could ever imagine.
There are so many reasons to pursue a yoga immersion in India that are personal to each and every one of us. Be it to get out of your comfort zone, understand yogic tradition, become full immersed, or even just to challenge yourself.
No matter what it is that is calling you to Rishikesh, though, don’t forget to be in the moment. Don’t forget to enjoy the colors, the hustle and bustle, the vibration of the mountains, the sound of the river. Allow your eyes and heart to be opened by this charming Indian city. And despite all the chaos, if your experience in Rishikesh is anything like mine, you will look back on it with nothing but fondness.
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Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Jill is the author of travel blog Travels & Tribulations. Her writing covers the highs and lows of being an expat abroad as well as budget-friendly tips and itineraries. Jill has visited India twice and is now planning her third trip. You can read more about Jill’s experiences retreating in Rishikesh here and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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