Historians believe yoga began in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. Today, the practice of connecting your mind, body and spirit through moving meditation has manifested into many forms. Whether you enjoy traditional yoga taught in an ashram, poses paired with punk rock music in a city warehouse or seaside yoga retreats with the ocean as your soundtrack, there are no bounds to when, where and how to practice yoga.
If you're searching for the best travel vacations for yoga, these are the destinations you won't want to miss.
Travel back to yoga's ancient roots in India where monasteries, called ashrams, welcome yogis who seek a spiritual harmony between themselves and the world. In an ashram, you'll practice, meditate and participate in spiritual yoga practices guided by a mentor. It's a place to disconnect from the stress of daily life and focus on your inner self. An ashram usually has a garden for meditation, rooms dedicated to yoga, a library and a communal kitchen area for sharing meals. Unlike yoga retreats found elsewhere, staying in an ashram is often free or nearly free, as yogis volunteer within the community in exchange for accommodation and food.
The city of Rishikesh, set on the foothills of the Himalayas, is known as the birthplace of yoga and home to ashrams where even budding yogis are welcome. Mysore and Chennai also offer authentic ashram experiences. And while Goa might be famous for its party scene, there are plenty of worthwhile yoga schools near its sandy shores.
Yoga has Hindu origins, with Shiva commonly seen as the creator and great deity of yoga. This relationship between Hinduism and yoga is why many beliefs and practices within the two often cross over. For example, according to Hindu mythology, Shiva has a third eye on his forehead, which is where many yogis focus their point of consciousness during meditation. The belief in chakras — focal points of human energy — is present in Hinduism and some forms of Buddhism, and many yoga teachers center their classes around these ancient Hindu concepts.
Yoga's connection with Hinduism (and Hinduism's close relationship with Buddhism) is also likely why the practice has been widely accepted in other predominantly Hindu and Buddhist regions around the world, like the island of Bali in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Nepal
Bali was where I first found my yoga practice. Tucked away in the back of a thatched-roof bungalow built from bamboo, I realized that you don't need to be able to touch your toes to receive value from yoga. Those who lack flexibility, both mentally and physically, are often the ones who can benefit from yoga the most. As a novice traveler, yoga helped me navigate unfamiliar environments — like the busy streets of Denpasar and the pumping waves of the Bukit Peninsula in Bali. Before yoga, I would've panicked and jumped to the worst case scenario. With the help of yoga, I gained the confidence to stay present and calm.
There are dozens of yoga studios around the "Island of the Gods," typically set in tranquil locations. In Ubud, you'll find traditional yoga taught among emerald terraces of rice paddies. On the Bukit Peninsula, you can enjoy views of a cobalt sea, impressive cliffs and mesmerizing waves in between classes. The Hindu temples, sculptures of deities, ever present public ceremonies, and daily offerings of meticulously arranged flowers, called canang sari, found all throughout the island act as reminders of the essence of yoga.
Set along the Himalayas, the dramatic snow-capped skylines of Nepal are bound to inspire awe as you practice yoga near the world's largest mountains. Many yoga centers in Nepal offer classes taught outdoors, often paired with trekking as a form of moving meditation. The crisp, cool air against your skin, the presence of unfathomably tall mountains, the warm feeling of sipping a cup of piping hot tea, the sound of chimes and the sweet smell of incense wafting to the skies from Hindu and Buddhist temples all make it hard to be anything but in the moment.
No matter how busy your life is while at home or while traveling, it's worthwhile to practice yoga. Recent studies have found that a regular yoga practice can lead to benefits such as better sleep, better body awareness, and greater happiness. Though yoga classes often tick beyond the hour mark, a few minutes of yoga a day can lead to these health rewards. When you practice yoga in a natural setting, the benefits stretch even further.
Many yogis enjoy yoga for the sense of peace it can bring, even those who've only just picked up the practice. And while the commercial yoga industry might have you wondering if you need the perfect outfit, a non-stick yoga mat, yoga blocks, straps, and a teacher to participate in yoga, the truth is that it can be done just about anywhere in comfortable clothing. Once you have the basics, you can practice beach yoga, on a point overlooking the ocean, in a forest surrounded by birdsong, or, if you're brave, on a snowy plain. In the smallest of spaces, you can always practice tree pose, where you balance on one foot. This opens the possibility of practicing yoga at nearly every scenic setting in the world, as long as you have a little solitude.
In Asia, Thailand is a worthy contender for being one of the best travel vacations for yoga in nature. Yoga classes and retreats take place near (and sometimes on) the sugar sand beaches of Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Phuket. Classes range from traditional to modern, with acro-yoga classes available to traveling duos who have a penchant for practicing with a partner. At the Yoga Garden on Koh Samui, I spent a class moving through sun salutations in an open-air studio surrounded by tropical gardens. Inland, you can stretch and relax amidst the tropical forests of Chiang Mai. Or take a trip to the top of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple overlooking rolling mountains — the epitome of serenity.
Sri Lanka is also an ideal setting for practicing yoga immersed in nature, with some programs available to yogis who want to spend time outdoors in between classes. In Kandy, swim under a waterfall, stroll along a quiet trail, and look to the treetops for a chance to spot colorful birds and cheeky monkeys. In Mirissa, let the waves lull you into a trance as you enjoy beach yoga. The well-being benefits of nature come when you surround yourself in green spaces such as forests and blue spaces like the ocean. Fortunately, Sri Lanka offers both.
The laid back lifestyle of a Pacific island paradise pairs nicely with the intentional slowness of yoga, and you're bound to be surrounded by natural beauty on just about any island offering a yoga class. In Hawaii, classes are taught near the impressive cascades of Maui, the volcanic black sand beaches of the Big Island, and near the big waves of Oahu's North Shore. Across the equator, Fiji's Coral Coast is a prime spot to practice yoga under palm trees.
While yoga boasts mental well-being benefits, it's also incredibly beneficial to physical health. With these perks in mind, many athletes are adding yoga to their regular training routine. Yoga can be paired with just about any sport, and retreats that combine yoga with surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking, or climbing are becoming increasingly popular.
Central America is a hub for the surf, yoga, eat, sleep, repeat lifestyle. In Costa Rica, revitalizing yoga retreats and classes are found all throughout the country. Beginner surfers and yogis can enjoy the laid-back lifestyle of Tamarindo, while those in search of pumping waves might get lucky enough and find them at Playa Hermosa or Salsa Brava, near Puerto Limon. Costa Rica's motto, "pura vida," means pure life, and you're bound to experience it no matter which part of the coastline you explore. In Panama, invigorating surf and yoga holidays are found in Santa Catalina and Bocas del Toro.
You don't have to trade adventure for relaxation. There are hundreds of yoga retreats throughout the country of Mexico that combine the two. Pair yoga with snorkeling and scuba diving in Cozumel, where sea turtles, rays, reef sharks, and technicolor corals calls the region home. You'll explore seascapes such as caves, caverns, and coral bommies, and then wind down at the end of the day with a zen yoga practice. Or, spend your days on retreat hiking the Sierra Madre of Puerto Vallarta for mountain yoga, stopping beneath the shady trees for mediation, and additional stretching. And near Tulum, try a yoga class on an over-water platform in an underground sinkhole. Perching yourself above the aquarium-clear water will make the transition from savasana to swimming seamless.
Europe's southwest coast might not be the first region that comes to mind when you think yoga vacation, but many yogis are flocking to southern Portugal, Spain, and the Canary Islands for the scrumptious food, historic architecture, sunny skies, pristine beaches and waves the area has on offer. In Portugal, surf and yoga camps are common in Lagos, Ericeira, Sagres, and Cascais. Yoga is the antidote to adrenaline-inducing sports like kitesurfing in open ocean, surfing over shallow reef, or hiking volcanic crater rims — all activities available for yogis in Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands. And in Greece and Croatia, sailing and yoga retreats go hand in hand as you balance onboard a sailing yacht. Hoist sails and navigate from island to island in search of a prime place to relax. With unreliable internet service once you leave shore, this is one of the best travel yoga destinations for swapping external for internal connection.
If you prefer snow to sunshine, see just how flexible you can be even under all those layers. In the Austrian Alps, there are retreats catered to snow-shoeing, snowboarding, and skiing yogis. Classes are given under the northern lights in Norway, creating an ambiance that will make you feel like you're embedded in an arctic fairy tale. Zen, indeed.
The incredible thing about yoga is that it can be practiced anywhere, anytime. So, whether you're on a beach in Maui, in a treehouse in Indonesia, or in your living room still dreaming up your perfect yoga trip, take a deep breath in and give thanks for the beauty this world has to offer. And ... exhale.
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