Yoga is practiced nowadays by more and more people around the world and it is becoming increasingly popular as far away as in the South-Pacific, Africa, Latin America and of course Asia. Many hotels offer as part of their wellness programme morning and evening yoga classes, traditional Thai massages (a sort of passive yoga stretch) and Ayurveda. Where Yoga means physical and mental fitness, Ayurveda offers natural health remedies for the longevity and well-being of your life. Imagine yourself getting pampered, feeling better and looking younger and at the same time combining your adventure with the sacred search for the meaning of life? Sounds good?
So, here are a few ideas to help you travel around the world exploring amazing destinations at the same time as deepening your practice. The yoga community reaches far and wide with people all over the world offering yoga holidays in the sun in every little paradise corner of the earth. While it may be tempting to visit many places, exploring a handful of destinations in various countries can be most rewarding. I've chosen a few special places – some of them that have been spiritual and cultural places for millennia.
A journey should start right in the birthplace of yoga – that is India. And which town would be more suited than Rishikesh, the little pilgrimage town at the foothills of the Himalayas, called the Yoga capital of North India.
Rishikesh is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains along the sacred Ganges River in Northern India and is easy accessed by train from Delhi to Haridwar. You can either take a bus or taxi to this spiritual city.
Rishikesh is not only a destination for Westerners but a holy pilgrimage place for many Hindus. It has a good network of buses connecting with all the important cities like Dheradun, Haridwar and New Delhi.
There are plenty of Yoga courses on demand and some of them are getting booked out in advance, so if you have a place in mind, make sure you book in advance! For example, Usha, a Swiss lady living in Rishikesh for many years offers Iyengar Intensives. But you will find plenty of other exciting offers for classes, retreats and workshops.
You can stay in a guesthouse “Swiss Cottage Style” or even in an ashram (religious retreat place, similar to a hermitage or monastic community) and prices are very reasonable. Begin your day with yoga in the morning and enjoy your Lassi and breakfast porridge with curd and fruits on a sunny roof terrace overlooking the Ganges.
Afterwards, you could visit the old Beatles temple (the Beatles came to Rishikesh -“the valley of the saints”- in 1968 in their search of enlightenment) or go for a Satsang (a discourse about truthful living) to the Sivananda ashram. You can also watch a Ganga Aarthi (ritual or worship); go shopping for yoga clothes and books or other memorabilia, go rafting or swimming in the Ganges or discover the many temples that pay homage to various gods and goddesses – the opportunities are endless!
You could end your day with a nice Thali with fellow yogis and speak about the newest yoga gossip or philosophise about the meaning of life at a place where many saints have sat before you.
Once a year, the Niketan Ashram offers an International Yoga Festival and Swamis and Yogis come from all over the world to discuss, practice and chant.
From Rishikesh, you can visit Mussouri (a hill station), Dheradun, Haridwar and the Rajaji Tiger Reserve. A bit further and worth staying for a couple of days are Shimla (summer capital of British India) and Dharma Sala (the Dalai Lamas residence and headquarters of the Central Tibetan Administration).
Here are some trip ideas for northern India which you could base your trip round, then include some longer stays to practice yoga:
Of course, you could stay in India for a whole year to a life time to explore every yoga place right from the North to the South and East to West and if you do find the time, you could explore the city of Mysore down south– where many yogis flock to in order to practice Ashtanga Mysore Self Practice, Pune – the main place for Iyengar yoga, but also many other places, such as Hampi, Varanasia or the Sivananda Ashram in Kerala, or the Bihar School of Yoga in the East, could be on your bucket list of things to see and visit.
Many people who travel around India end up visiting Nepal and either continue their quest for self – realisation by climbing the Mount Everest or chill out in Pokhara (now one of Nepal’s top yoga destinations).
As Nepal is part of the Himalayas it is a deeply spiritual place to explore. You can look forward to the sacred Kathmandu valley, plenty of yoga ashrams and amazing nature, plus the traditional Namaste salute as a greeting. Even though you’ll do the same down-dog or sun salute as at home, facing east watching the sun rise over a snow-capped mountain of the Himalayas will certainly take your breath away and feel different!
Thailand has been an easy-going destination for travellers for many years, and lots of international senior yoga teachers are holding retreats on the islands, with yoga studios springing up all over Thailand.
Why not combine your yoga journey here with receiving (or even learning) traditional Thai massage – and let others do the stretching for you? You’ll be stretched, and if you could not stimulate your meridians (energy lines) through Hatha Yoga somebody else will press the right places for you!
Plenty of Yoga and Thai massages are offered throughout Thailand so if you prefer the mountains to the beach, head north to Chiang Mai where you can combine your yoga life with perhaps a cooking course, snorkelling, mountain trekking, surfing, diving or just chilling out on a beach.
Note: The massage style differs in North and South Thailand.
Bali really has crept up to become the new Number 1 yoga destination it seems! In Indonesia, a Bali yoga holiday offers plenty of opportunity to practice, chill out and enjoy friendly people and meet new friends.
The main places for yoga are in the city of Ubud and Canggu (on the beach), but you can find plenty of other places to practice. I really liked the ‘Power of Now’ in Sanur, but there are also yoga venues on Nusa Lembongan and on the Gili Islands. In every place, you’ll find drop-in sessions are possible and as in India, you’ll find many amazing temples where you can enjoy a sunset. It’s useful to know that Bali, India and Thailand offer amazing massages for those whose muscles ache and need a break from exercise – so if you’re ‘yoga’s out’, get a massage instead. Check the tourist maps offered at every place as they sometimes offer coupons to get a free or discounted class.
Australia was one of the first places outside of India to really embrace modern yoga. It was introduced by a western Yogi called Michael Volin in the 1940s.
Interestingly, I discovered that Aboriginal people have a similar art form to yoga which includes postures, movement and breath-control exercises, both physical and philosophical. So all the spiritual places of Australia, like Uluru are worth visiting and honouring whilst you’re here.
Northern Australia (Darwin) is only a 2.5 hour flight from Bali, so it’s a convenient hop for your yoga trip! If you’re destined for Sydney, you could visit my yoga teacher Simon Borg Olivier and Bianca Machliss in their lovely Bondi studio.
Heading north from Sydney, Byron Bay is Australia’s yoga ‘mecca’ and the hometown of the travelling yogini Delamay Devi. This beachside surf town was claimed by the hippies in the 1960's and today you’ll find farmers markets, locally produced goods, yoga retreats, workshops, and festivals all year round.
Byron Bay is also the perfect base to explore the Mt. Warning Rainforest Park. You can climb Mt. Warning/Mt. Wollumbin and enjoy breath-taking views and you’ll even see the first light that Australia receives as this is pretty much the most easterly point in the country. As the mountain is sacred land, it’s a good idea to get permission from local Aboriginal people or ask them to guide you.
If you’re in search of more spiritual sites in the area, seek out Little Wategos Beach; a sacred Aboriginal women’s birthing place and further inland you’ll find rock formations like Nimbin Rocks, Protestors Falls and Minyon Falls.
In Western Australia, another big centre for yoga is the picturesque Margaret River region, just 3 hours south of the city of Perth.
Many old established yogis settled in Hawaii to continue teaching yoga to people in paradise. Most of them you can find offering classes in Maui. Enjoy the laid-back nature and establish a deep relaxing way of looking at life. If you don’t want to venture out to Maui you find also many yoga teachers offering lovely classes on the main island and you can enjoy from full moon practices on the beach to acro-yoga and every other style on the island. You will find plenty to do, such as trekking, whale watching or just simply enjoying the beautiful beaches.
Los Angeles yoga menu offer and eclectic assortment of different styles, teachers and centres. As far back as the 1950s, many Hollywood stars were practicing yoga.
One of the most famous Yogis to come to Los Angeles was Yogananda who founded the Self-realisation Fellowship in 1920. Also, the first woman to bring yoga to the West opened a yoga studio in Hollywood and taught stars such as Greta Garbo, Eva Gabor and Gloria Swanson.
Of course, there are many more places to visit and practice Yoga around the world and I’ve only outlined a few! Others of my favourite destinations include more places in the USA (Arizona and Phoenix), Costa Rica, Mexico (Tulum) and Sri Lanka. The whole world is catering for the modern Yogi and you can easily find a place to roll out your mat, meet new people and change your perception. Namaste!
If you are inspired to combine wellness with a trip around the world, we can arrange your flights, accommodation and tours. To get planning, simply call us on +44 1273320580 or request a quote by email.