So I find that I have piqued your interest about Vipassana meditation and you want to go to Leh too:) Well, here’s how you can prepare yourself to get the most out of your ten-day silent meditation!
Book your seat/ session early here as courses get filled up weeks in advance. They take some time to confirm your seat too.
Get a visa (if required)
Managing high-altitude sickness
I flew in to Ladakh two days before the Vipassana meditation course (from Singapore) to acclimatise to the 3500m-altitude difference. I also took Acetazolamide before my flight to manage symptoms of altitude sickness.
Take the first two days easy. Though I am somewhat fit, I still experienced bouts of breathlessness as I explored the place. Two people I know who weren’t prepared spent the first two days in bed.
So see a doctor to tell him that you will be flying into a place that is 3500m high. My GP didn’t carry any high-altitude medication so he told me that medication wasn’t necessary. Am glad I did not heed his advice. (Thank you so much for the advice and medication Glenn and Ming Xuan!)
- I shared a taxi from my accommodation to the meditation centre in Saboo Village. Total 240 rupees.
- You can take a shared taxi from the shared taxi stand in Leh town -much cheaper this way
The road up the mountain to the village was so bumpy, I was surprised my head didn’t hit the roof of the minivan. I sucked on sweets to help with the motion sickness. When I reached the centre and started walking around, I experienced breathlessness and dizziness. I popped one Acetazolamide, took a lot of water, slowed down my walking pace and was soon ok.
- You can share a taxi out with course mates after the program – no worries!
What to pack
- T-shirts and light cotton pants for the day. Pack enough clothing so you don’t have to wash – water is scarce.
- Warm jacket. I come from the tropics and I can’t take the cold. So I dressed in jogger pants and a hoodie for early morning and evening sessions. (I was relatively overdressed with my socks and gloves but these kept me warm and happy.
- Protected me from the sun and cold wind. I could roll it up and pop it under my thigh during meditation to ease the discomfort caused by lack of circulation. It also doubled up as my ‘mask’ when using the dry toilets.
- Slippers- you need to remove your shoes every time you enter the meditation hall.
- Sunblock – You are 3500m closer to the sun. Sun damage is real ladies!
- Heavy duty moisturiser for face and body. If you want to slap on a hydrating sleeping mask, sure! The air is so dry, and the wind coming in through the window did not help.
- Lip balm. You can buy this from Leh town.
- Personal care and sanitary pads: You can tell the volunteers should you need something from the town. They pick up supplies from the town every one or two days. Nonetheless best to pack what you need since there isn’t much variety in the shops.
- Ear plugs if you are a light sleeper- my roommate snores
- Money for donation
Transport and itinerary after the program
If you are cool about having an itinerary that is free and easy, I would encourage you to leave it open after the completion of the course. You would have made friends by then so you may want to travel or do something together after that.
Even if you don’t have plans to travel, there are many accommodation choices in Leh town, so don’t worry:)
So…. The big question..
How to survive TEN HOURS of vipassana meditation daily?
Rest time was mostly spent stretching on my bed – check out the heel stretch and knee rolls here. I also targeted tight muscles with a trigger ball. I do these to manage an old back injury that flares up when I sit for long periods of time.
My roommate started stretching too – she did pilates stretches though – so I realised that regardless of whether you had a back injury, stretching will help you to meditate longer without discomfort.
We get 15-minute breaks during the meditation sessions. I took the time to walk about or stretch on my bed. Walking backwards also helped to relieve the tight muscles in my lower back.
- NAP during breaks
What is worst than keeping still for two hours? Trying not to DOZE off during meditation. This is a torturous experience. On the other hand, a nap keeps you alert and focused.
Then you may ask: “What if my body just can’t take it?” Don’t worry sweetheart, you aren’t alone. It is tough trying to sit still for so long but you know what, you are more resilient than you think.
The first few days, I could hear shuffling from my neighbours every time they fidgeted. The hall is so quiet, you can hear it even when someone tries to stifle a fart.
But by day four, the shuffling was drastically minimised. I too was able to control the desire to constantly change my position.
If you get hungry easily, consider lowering your food intake in the lead up to the program. I minimised exercise in the lead up to the trip to slow down metabolism.
As I am prone to gastric pains, I also ate until I was 90% full so I wouldn’t get so hungry between meals.
Other participants said that though they looked forward to meal times, they were not that affected by hunger.
A lady who was doing the course a second time, said she did not feel hungry throughout though she only had juice for dinner/tea,
You have to surrender your devices and reading materials so inform whoever you need to inform that you will not be uncontactable for 12 days. There is no reception up the village.
Hydrate and keep yourself healthy. One meditator wasn’t feeling well but she still had to engage in the same activities as us.
So overall, be happy, keep an open mind, push on, and you will be fine!