Ashram Clothing: What to Wear in a Spiritual Centre

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Those going deeper into their yoga or meditation practice often have the urge, or at least the interest, in visiting an ashram — be it in India, or some other off-the-beaten-track location in this world.

When venturing to an ashram or spiritual centre, the question of what clothing to wear probably comes to mind.  You may even be thinking: “Will I have to shave my head?”

Of course, the age-old response to any question about the rules of an ashram is always: “It depends.”

Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres

Take for example, a well-known ashram in the yoga world, the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre.  The Sivananda tradition originated in Kerala, India, and now has centres in Quebec, Barbados, and many other locations around the world.  White pants and a yellow t-shirt is the “uniform” of the staff, and is required to be worn by the Sivananda yoga teachers.

Visitors are required to wear pants to their ankles and clothing that will cover the shoulders — the longer sleeved the better.  White pants are usually cooler anyway in tropical countries, especially when one has gone with the intention of bettering oneself though yoga.

I remember being in the extreme heat in India at this ashram, thinking: “Can’t I just wear shorts and a tank top?” yet reading signs covering the mirrors in the dorms asking women to be sure their arms were covered so as not to provoke the sadhus leading an ascetic life.

The rule also held true when we went off-site to go swimming. Yes, full clothing was to be worn in the water if you were a woman.  I might as well have left the bathing suit at home for this trip to the “real” India in the south, where they do seem to be more conservative than in larger cities in the rest of India.

Clothing in Other Ashrams

Covered shoulders is a rule I have seen in places such as Amma’s ashram (the Hugging Guru), Vipassana Meditation Centres, and Tushita Meditation Centres.  Even when the women had their alone-time in the pool at Amma’s (no men allowed between 2:00-3:00pm), we still had to wear full dresses over our bathing suits.

But covered shoulders are a cultural norm in India.  You will not see many people in tank tops even if you are not in an ashram.

If you were to visit a Hare Krishna temple, you would see many full-time devotees symbolizing their celibacy as well as their devotion to Krishna through orange robes.  The male devotees will often shave their heads.  To some, this is a simple way to keep the head clean, yet to others, it is a symbol of a re-birth, a sign that one has changed or is changing, or a way of stating to others that the physical or outside appearance of a person is only that and non-reflective of the soul or true nature of a person.

Clothing in the Osho International Meditation Centre

You might be surprised at first entry into the Osho International Meditation Centre in India, where maroon robes are the daytime colour (which used to be orange, along with the traditional mala beads).  Apparently Osho himself despised the colour maroon, and to get over this judgement he asked his disciples to wear it.

In the evening, visitors of the ashram are required to wear all-white for the White Robe ceremony, and to come showered, non-perfumed and non-adorned.

They are strict in this ashram about colour — for example, red instead of maroon or cream instead of white is not permitted.

The integral difference in this ashram may be that sexual experimentation is permitted and often encouraged, so that we may transform through relating with each other instead of repressing our true natures.  Bare shoulders, as long as the clothing is maroon or white, are allowed.

Clothing at The Gathering

If you are coming to The Gathering, you will receive a list of all of the clothing (and other items) to bring with you for the event.  Different colours and styles of clothing will be worn at different times, depending on the day and the activity.

There will be a wide variety of teachings, activities and workshops at The Gathering — from chanting and meditation, to yoga, Sufi whirling and dance.  Several different types of clothing will be needed to cover all of the different functions at the event.

Dress for the Location

So be it orange, maroon, white, jungle, hippie, covered or non-covered, ashram clothing is as variable as humans themselves.  In the end, the idea of an ashram is to be in a place to get to know one’s true nature…and we all know that the exterior of a person is only a tiny part of that.


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