What is an Ashram? Spiritual Retreat Centres!

What is an ashram? Why go on a spiritual retreat? This article explains the way of life on an ashram and has links to ashrams and pictures of ashrams in India and outside it.

An ashram is a place of spiritual retreat. Usually there are permanent residents as well as visitors who come for retreats.

The word Ashram is originally Indian (and Hindu), but is used for more general spiritual retreat centers as well these days.

Shown here is a picture of the Dutch Maitreya Institute at Emst, a Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre, photographed summer 2011, Katinka Hesselink

Going on a Retreat – three reasons to do it

  • To get away from it all
  • To rethink your life
  • To regroup, find your center, get in touch with yourself (again)
Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in India, which is an Ashram.

About food on an Ashram

Ashrams usually have practical rules to make sure the atmosphere stays spiritual and meditative. For the permanent residents these rules have become a way of life. For visitors they are voluntarily taken on, usually for spiritual cleansing purposes.
Rules often found in Ashrams include:

  • No meat: vegetarian food
  • No alcohol or other intoxicants
  • No smoking

On stricter Ashrams rules may even include the following:

  • No sweets or sugar
  • No coffee or tea (these contain caffeine)
The Ashram Mahatma Gandhi stayed in. His spinning wheel is still there

Other restrictions to life on an ashram

As spiritual growth is supposed to be the main occupation on ashrams, everything else can be secondary to that.
The following are rules that may or may not be practised on specific ashrams. Just to give you an idea.

  • No tv, radio or internet
  • Strict rules about waking and sleeping times
  • Silence, except during talks with a spiritual teacher
  • Shared physical activities like cooking, cleaning and gardening

Ashram: etymology and dictionary meaning


“religious hermitage,” from Skt. asramah, from a-, adnomial prefix, + sramah “effort, toll, fatigue.”

Etymology online


1. a secluded building, often the residence of a guru, used for religious retreat or instruction in Hinduism.

2. the persons instructed there.

Dictionary .com

A reader says:

The word Asrama in Sanskrit means ‘without toil’ or more technically – ‘a place in the mind, where we offer the least resistance’ to the maya around us! When Maya is fought with – it will overpower us, and an Asrama is a conducive place ‘with the path of least resistance’ to the nature and prakriti around us.

In today’s world it is nigh impossible to go to ‘vanavasa’ or ‘asrama’ (Asrama – a place without toil). The challenge is to be at home – without the mental toil (that is).

Ashrams as Monasteries

Ashrams today really have a lot in common with monasteries. Especially now that many monasteries give retreats. Both are part of a growing culture of spiritual resources which enrich and calm the lives the busy life of working people.

On a previous version of this page, I asked:

Have you ever been to an ashram?

  • 22% Yes, I did a retreat and loved it 
  • 0% Yes, I did a retreat: never again! 
  • 4% Yes, I live in an ashram 
  • 6% Yes, I make my home my ashram 
  • 58% No, but I might go on a retreat some time. 
  • 9% No and I don’t want to either

77 people voted in this poll.

I also asked:

Did you like the Ashram?

For those of you who have experience with going on a retreat, please tell the rest of us whether you liked it or not. Did you like going on a retreat? Would you go again?

I lived in an ashram for a month during my yoga teachers training. Loved it. I now offer retreats in Sedona Arizona. Love being a retreat facilitator.

Spiritual retreats are wonderful. I am currently in the Schochwitz healing castle retreat in Eastern Germany and I recommend it for everyone, including the writer of this article. They receive almost everyone with open arms.

We regularily spend time yoga retreat centers and ashrams throughout the world. Some of our favorite are in South India. Of particular note is Ramana Ashram in Tamil Nadu where the practice of Advaita vedanta is still practiced in purity. You can also try Blooming Lotus Yoga in Thailand if you are ever in south-east asia.