My Vipassana experience: Ten days in noble silence

A few weeks ago I got back to Berlin from a nearly six week trip to India. I stayed most of the time with my family-in-law in Mumbai but at the very beginning of my trip, I went for a ten days Vipassana (kind of meditation retreat) in Mumbai. In this blog post, I am describing my experience and answers a few questions I have received. So there is no FinTech in this blog post this time 😉

Why did I do the course?

A few years ago, I wanted to learn meditation and, like many others, I opened the app store on my phone and searched for a solution. I downloaded Headspace and enjoyed the app immediately. The guided meditation program was very helpful to get started with the technique but a few months in, I felt like I need to improve further. And this meant for me, to make the switch to an unguided meditation. Headspace meditation, like many others, is guided meditation where a voice is telling you to want to do. During an unguided meditation, on the other hand, you are just sitting in stillness and meditate. Obviously, there is no app required for such mediation, however, the switch was hard for me and I basically stopped meditating at one point as I did not get comfortable with unguided meditation. Switching back to Headspace was not an option for me either.

How do you learn Vipassana?

Two friends of mine had done a Vipassana course and told me about their experience. It sounded very interesting but it has quite a catch: in order to learn Vipassana, you have to do a ten days course. And the rules of this ten days course are – let’s say – special:

  • No talking
  • No eye-contact with others
  • No phone, laptop etc.
  • No writing
  • No reading
  • But 9 hours of meditation every day from 4:30 am until 9 pm (full time table) in a cross leg position

Especially the first rule makes the course quite famous and many people refer to Vipassana as the course “where you are not allowed to talk”. This was indeed quite challenging at the beginning but after a few days, I got somehow used to it – you are still allowed to talk in your own head 😉

After completing the whole course, I realised that these strict rules are very crucial to learn the technique. The rules ensure that each student is focusing 100% without distraction on their own meditation and distractions are not possible. Moreover, it is quite helpful a well that a student cannot compare their own progress with other the progress of students as this would be a potential source for lots of demotivation.

The teaching

During the first three days, the students focus only on breathing. This might be sometimes a little boring – and trust me it is! But this is somehow also quite helpful since the mind is very busy at the beginning. Personally, my mind was going through all the phone calls, messages and emails I was still dealing with a day earlier, however, at one point your mind realises that there is no new input and starts to calm down. For me, this went hand-in-hand with the first three days while focusing on breathing. Only on day four the students will learn the Vipassana technique and are focusing on this until day nine. On the last and final day, day ten, nearly all rules are lifted and students are allowed to talk and use their mobile phone again. This is described as the re-integration phase and I think it makes a lot of sense, especially, when you are doing the course in Mumbai and will enter the busy Indian streets again after finishing the course.

Why should I learn Vipassana?

The meditation technique is a few thousand years old and even though it was discovered in India, a person from Burma (S.N. Goenka aka the teacher) ensured that the technique did not get lost and built a worldwide non-profit organisation around it to teach as many people as possible.

The main part of the Vipassana technique is a body scan, where the person goes through each part of the body and can feel each area of their own body. If you are familiar with Headspace or other meditation technique this may sound familiar, however, let me emphasize that Vipassana is on a totally different level compared to a normal body scan. Vipassana enables you to feel every centimetre of your body wherever you desire it. And not just outside your body, but also inside including your spinal cord. The part which I cannot explain is, and apparently, the teachers cannot do this either, how this physical body scan links to your mind and emotions. Even though I cannot explain it, I felt like emotional baggage was removed from me. This happened to me on day nine the first time and continued afterwards for some sessions, but not every time.

Who should do this courses?

I had as many highs as lows during these ten days. On some days I really questioned my decision to join and wondered how some people can do such a course on a yearly basis. Nevertheless, as it is with a heavy workout: during the workout, you want to give up but when you finish you are super happy that you did not give up in between. And that’s my experience with Vipassana as well. I can highly recommend to almost everybody to have a look at the course and try it out. Besides learning the technique, the teacher talks a lot about non-aggressive behaviour, compassion and mindfulness. So I learned a lot and I am sure you will too. There are places all around the world but it might be tricky to get a spot as the courses are getting very popular. If you have any questions, please message me!

My experience

It helped me a lot to prepare myself (mentally) for Vipassana when I looked at pictures from other students. So that’s why I am sharing my personal pictures here as well. Please keep in mind that I have done Vipassana in Navi Mumbai (Dhamma Vipula homepage) and that your facility might look different.

Overall, the facility is perfectly set up for the intended purpose to learn the meditation technique. That being said, it does not mean everything is ideal which I can easily explain with two examples: bed and food. Firstly, the bed is probably one the worst you will ever sleep on in your whole life. Its basically a stone plate with a rather slim cushion (I would not call it a mattress), however, having a few pain points over your body is actually very helpful for learning the meditation technique. And since the days are rather exhausting, you will sleep no matter what mattress you are lying on. Secondly, the food is rather tasteless but again it helps you focus. The food is easy to digest, does not contain spices (in India!!!!) and ensures that you are never really hungry throughout the day, even with odd eating timings at 6:30 am, 11 am and 5 pm. Overall, all these limitations are manageable. Personally, sitting in a cross leg position was the worst part of Vipassana for me, but luckily the body and mind get used to a lot of things 🙂