So you have signed up for your first 10-day Vipassana meditation course or you are seriously considering to. Yay! Let me first say congratulations. Making the investment to go sit with yourself for 10 days is a BIG THING. You are taking a brave leap in the right direction and your efforts will definitely be rewarded.
That being said, you’re probably also a little bit intimidated. First you had to agree to all the rules and regulations, very aptly named The Code of Discipline. And now there is the prospect of you being stuck at the course site for 10 days straight, not being able to quickly pop into the store to get something you forgot to pack. Just saying, you kinda wanna be fully prepared.
Every Vipassana center has its own facilities and the resources that are provided for the students can differ. However, after taking three courses at three different Vipassana centers, I have found that there are some general practical tips that have been very useful for me in preparing for any stay.
I would like to share with you my advice on how to thoroughly prep for your course so you can get the most out of your stay, making sure that you can focus on your meditation practice while you’re at the center, without having to worry about practical issues.
How to plan for your 10-day Vipassana course
Choose a Vipassana Centre
Around the world, courses are being held at either Vipassana Centres or non-centres. While the non-centres are great because they enable a larger group of the population to attend courses close to home, the Vipassana Centres are considerably more suitable. The facilities at the centers are set up specifically for the purpose and will be more equipped to cater to the needs of the meditators. On top of that, you will be able to ride the wave of good vibes that have accumulated at the location by people practicing Vipassana there all day every day. If you haven’t signed up for any location yet, I would recommend you to consider joining your first course at an actual Vipassana Centre if possible.
Find out if you can get or offer a ride
Most centers are located a little outside of the urban areas, which is great for the peace and quiet, but not always very practical when it comes to transportation. On the website of your center, there will be some information on how to get there and sometimes they will also send out e-mails a few days in advance. I have personally found going by car most convenient, just so you can pack any and everything you think you just might need and you don’t have to worry about public transport connections and timetables.
If you have the luxury of owning a car, think about providing a ride to fellow participants who don’t. On the website of your center, there is usually a link to a rideshare board, where you can sign up to offer a ride. Talk about starting off on the right foot – you’re already taking selfless compassionate action and the course hasn’t even started yet! If you don’t have a car you can also check the rideshare board to see if someone in your area has a spare seat available, or even request a ride.
Inform about special diets
During the course, you will be served a healthy, light lacto-vegetarian diet. Don’t worry if you’re not a vegetarian, the food is plentiful and delicious. Plus it’s all you can eat, so going hungry will be the least of your concerns. The exact contents of the menu differ from center to center and are adapted to the local cuisine. The amount of dairy products that will be included in the diet depends on what is the general standard in the area you’re visiting. For example, the Japanese center did not serve any dairy at all, while the center in Belgium had a few dishes including (fresh) cheese and yogurt. Usually, all the dishes will be marked with little cards indicating if they contain any allergens (i.e. dairy, gluten, sugar). If you have any allergies or if you’re on a special diet, it is advisable to inform the management in advance, so the kitchen staff can take this into account. In some instances, they will provide a modified or alternative dish for you.
Prepare to change your biological clock
The course schedule runs from 4:00 AM to 9:30 PM and includes the largest meals at breakfast and lunch, which most probably differs greatly from whatever daily schedule you’re used to. While you will certainly get used to the routine after a couple of days, you can prepare yourself by already making some changes in your routine during the week prior to the start of the course. Going to bed at 9:00 PM, even if you don’t fall asleep right away, and setting your alarm an hour earlier, helps your biological clock to ease into the new rhythm. This will certainly help when you hear that dreaded 4:00 AM gong on the first day! On top of that, you could increase the amount of food you eat at breakfast and lunch, skip any snacks, and try to eat early and light dinners, without eating anything a few hours before bed. Don’t overdo it and starve yourself before the course starts, though!
Inform friends and family
At the start of the course, you will have to fill out a form that states who the center should contact in case of emergency while you’re staying there. But don’t forget to inform your family and friends that you’ll be out of reach for more than 10 days and to provide them with the contact details of the center. So in case all goes pear-shaped while you’re away, they’ll have the possibility of informing the management to get across any urgent news.
What to pack for your 10-day Vipassana course
Check the weather forecast
Most centers are set up with separate buildings for meditation, dining and accommodation, and an outside area or garden to walk around in. You’ll definitely be exposed to the weather conditions, so make sure to pack accordingly. I have found it to be very useful to pack hiking boots or any other kind of shoes that are easy to slip on and off and you don’t mind getting dirty. Walking outside during the recess periods is super refreshing after sitting for long stretches. If you’re thin-blooded like me, a warm fluffy coat that you can snuggle up into will also prove to be very useful in colder climates. Depending on the location you might also want to pack a rainproof coat or sturdy umbrella, so you don’t get soaked if torrential rain hits (like it did when I was in Belgium).
Bring good quality earplugs
The majority of the centers have shared rooms for first-time students and the rooms are pre-assigned. And guess what: you don’t get to choose your roommate(s) or switch rooms. As you’ll be exhausted when you hit your bed after a long day of meditation, you definitely don’t want to be disturbed by people snoring, coughing, or tossing and turning at night. If you know you snore, you should inform the center’s management beforehand, so they can take this into account when assigning the rooms. But in any case just do yourself a favor and pack good quality soft earplugs that are comfortable to sleep in for 11 nights, so any risk of annoyance is minimized.
Comfy outfits, lots of comfy outfits
When it comes to choosing which outfits to pack, you obviously have to stick to the regulations of not wearing anything flashy or provocative. But other than that the only question should be: is it super comfy? Don’t worry about matching colors or looking cute, because if all is well everyone will be minding their own business. In warmer climates wide airy tops and breezy harem pants are my go to pieces, while in colder conditions I love wearing thermal underwear underneath my sweatpants and hoodies with fluffy socks. Make sure to pack enough outfits for the whole stay and then some, because you can only manually wash small items at the centres. With your supercharged Vipassana senses smelly clothes (yours or anybody else’s for that matter) will prove to be an even bigger nuisance than usual. Also, don’t forget to pack decent pajamas, chances are you’ll have a roommate!
Bring mild hand soap
If your center has accommodations with (semi-)private bathrooms, you’ll probably need to bring your own hand soap. I forgot to bring this twice and had to use my shower cream to wash my hands. While this is not the end of the world, it is definitely more practical to have a pump bottle with mild soap on hand. Especially since you’ll probably want to go pee ‘just in case’ before every sitting and thus will be washing your hands a lot. For this reason, if your skin dries out easily, you’d also better bring a good moisturizer.
Take your own water bottle or thermos flask
Since the meditation hall is usually in a separate building, it is nice to have your own water bottle with you, so you can have a quick sip during the short breaks in-between sittings. Also, in some centres they’ll allow you to fill your own thermos flask with a hot beverage during the afternoon tea break, so you can still enjoy a warm drink later in the evening.
Protect your feet
In most centers, no shoes are allowed inside the buildings, at least in the meditation hall and residential quarters. If your feet get cold easily or if you’re fussy about hygiene, make sure to bring slippers or non-skid socks. This also goes if your center has communal shower blocks, in which case a pair of flip-flops will come in handy.
Bring a 6 pack tissues
So chances are you’ll be stirring up a lot of old emotional junk over the course of 10 days. While everyone’s experience is different and unique, a lot of people do cry. Some cry once, others weep for days, there’s just no telling. Usually, there are boxes of Kleenex conveniently placed around the center, but just to be safe I like to always have a pack of tissues in my pocket in case the waterworks come in the middle of meditation. Even if you don’t end up using them yourself, there’s a good chance one of your neighbor meditators will be bawling sooner or later, and a pack of tissues silently placed in front of their mat can mean the world.
Make sure you don’t bring anything prohibited
While packing, make sure to check all your pockets and empty your bags, to ensure you are not bringing any items that are against the regulations. No one will be x-raying your luggage, but if you’re serious about giving Vipassana a try you’ll want to limit any temptations to break the rules. Following the Code of Discipline is hard enough on its own, you don’t need the extra challenge of resisting that chocolate chip Cliff Bar that you discovered in your pocket after 4 days of no dinner. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later.
Bring a digital alarm clock
Multiple times a day a fairly loud gong will be rung to indicate when it’s time for the next scheduled activity, and there will usually be some clocks around in the communal areas. So unless you’re a really heavy sleeper, it is not necessary to bring an alarm clock. However I have found it to be very practical to put a digital alarm clock with a red display on the side of my bed, so I can keep track of the minutes I have left to snuggle. Be mindful not to bring any clocks that tick, though, because in absolute silence that gets annoying very quickly.
If you have some experience with meditation chances are you already have a tried and tested way to sit comfortably for longer periods at a time. At the centers, there will be a small candy store for meditators that has an array of cushions and seating aids available, but it is also allowed to bring your own gear. If space is not an issue I would recommend you to bring anything that you feel might be helpful for your sitting. Seated meditation for over 10 hours a day is no joke and you’ll be glad to have your favorite props on hand to make yourself just a tiny bit more comfy. My personal favorites include a light and breathable blanket that can be wrapped around my whole body and a buckwheat hull cushion.
Think about your digestion
Yep, I’m going there. We can pretend it’s all moonlight and roses and but the truth is that barely moving for 10 days will come as quite a shock to your body and you certainly wouldn’t be the first one to suffer from constipation and gas. Few things are worse than having to hold it in for 1 hour while sitting in a room full of people so quiet you can hear a pin drop. If you are prone to poor digestion, you should consider bringing any natural remedies that have proven to work well for you. While it is not allowed to keep any dried prunes or fruit juices with you, you could think about bringing a jar of baking soda and adding a teaspoon to a small cup of hot water during the afternoon tea time, or alternatively bring a small bottle of flaxseed oil capsules to alleviate any discomforts.
If you’d like to use my personal packing lists that I use to pack for my 10-day Vipassana courses as a reference, you can sign up below to download them for free! I’ve divided them into two separate lists, depending on the climate your center is in; one for the winter wonderlands and one for the tropical paradises.
So let’s be real. Even if you take all of my advice and come to your course with Mary Poppins’ Purse, you’re still going to face discomfort. It’ll be hard. You won’t be prepared. There will be moments you wish you were home watching Netflix, ignorant and happy. And if you’re anything like me you’ll probably have a good cry (or two). Good, ‘cause that’s exactly the point. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone, it is supposed to be uncomfortable! But that’s how you grow. That’s where all of the magic happens. And magic will happen all right!
Once you’ll become more experienced in Vipassana meditation you’ll probably realize that you’ve surprisingly started enjoying some of the discomforts and pains. You’ll start to see them a challenge – to remain balanced and poised in the midst of all the trials you encounter in the 10-day Vipassana mini-world. And you’ll silently laugh about how silly we are to be focused on eliminating all outside discomforts, while the key to peace is inside ourselves. But for your first course, there’s already enough on your plate. So I see no harm in going easy on yourself. Now go rock it!
I’d love to hear if you’ve found this to be helpful in preparing for your 10-day Vipassana meditation course or if you have any special tips yourself! Please write me in the comment section below.
Love and light,