Find Your Perfect Yoga Holiday
Most of us go on holiday to relax, revive, unwind. Flopping into a beach with a pile of blockbusters and a piña colada can do that for some people. Others find walking the streets of bustling reviving, guidebook in hand to help track down pitstops to refuel between museum/monument visits.
But for me – and countless other yoga fans – there is quite simply nothing to rival a yoga vacation’s power to restore us. I’ve seen a yoga holiday described as ‘not recreation, but re-creation’ – and that hits the nail on the head. A yoga vacation can be the ultimate – even life-changing – way to immerse yourself in this pursuit. Sometimes you really have to ‘lose’ yourself to ‘find’ yourself…
In my case, the chances of getting my husband on a yoga vacation are about the same as getting him to tight-rope across the Grand Canyon (i.e. less than zero) – but my experience is that yoga vacations can be fantastic for the lone traveller. Travelling on your own can generally be isolating. But on a yoga vacation, you already have something seriously in common with your fellow travellers: your love of yoga. It’s a great starting point for conversations – and, potentially, for friendships. On the other hand, if you ‘vant to be alone’ while on a yoga break, that will be totally respected, too. Maybe you want to meditate. Maybe you want to read a Jackie Collins, sneakily. But you’ll usually be left to your own devices, without a fuss, if you choose to spend some time on your own.
But still, there are some basic guidelines to follow, to get the most out of your yoga holiday. Here’s what I’ve learned – a little taster for you from the yoga book I wrote, which you can find on VH, called Yoga for Life…
Consider the temperature. Selfishly, I’m starting with my No. 1 concern, here. If you’re of ‘un certain’ age, you may not want to do yoga in the broiling heat. I look on retreat websites to see whether the yoga is done outdoors beneath the blazing sun (that would rule it out for me) and at what time of day. (Morning and late afternoon/evening are fine, but I am no Bikram babe and find it seriously challenging to do yoga when it’s too hot. The perfect location for me would be a straw-roofed studio, with a cool breeze coming off the sea. There are plenty out there.) Alternatively, you may be the sort of person who loves to work up a sweat while you’re doing your yoga, in which case you may adore an outdoor class in the midday sun. But do research these things, before you book, and bear them in mind.
Get your style right. If you usually do a gentle form of yoga, you’re probably not going to be crazy about a power yoga/astanga retreat, but if you have a favourite style of yoga, bear that in mind when you plan your great escape. Maybe your priority is to recover a sense of stillness in a crazy-busy life: look for one that focuses on meditation, with mantras or kirtan chanting.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling adventurous, you may want to step out of your ‘comfort zone’ and up the pace on a yoga vacation, using it as a kind of ‘taster’ for other styles. Fact: most yoga workshops have a website, and this info should be freely available. If not, feel free to e-mail the organisers. You also want an idea of the schedule: some retreats offer all-day sessions with a break for a (light) lunch; others offer one or two classes at either end of the day. How much yoga do you think you want to do…? (Don’t be over-ambitious, is my tip. If you’re new-ish to yoga, two daily three-hour sessions may be more than your body can take.) Again, important considerations which you need to research, before you hit the ‘confirm booking’ button.
Single, double, dorm…? You would not catch me sharing a room with strangers for all the bancha tea in Wholefoods Market. However, you might love to bunk up with a couple of (same-sex) strangers, or go with a friend/friends. Naturally, sharing accommodation is less expensive, but most yoga centres do offer some single rooms (these tend to get booked up early, so take that into account when planning your vacation).
Find out exactly what’s included. Now, I’m a pretty seasoned traveller, used to getting from A to B and travelling independently. But you do need to know: does the price include travel? Transfers to and from the yoga location? Taxes and tips? All meals? When you’re budgeting, this is crucial info – but it’s also important if you’re used to being whisked from airport to destination; not every yoga holiday does include transfers, and you wouldn’t be the first person to be found sobbing over an erratic Italian bus timetable by the roadside. Never a great start to the vacation.
Research the ‘pamper factor’. Yoga retreats can be pretty spartan – particularly ashrams and rustic retreats. Others can be more indulgent and may also offer additional massage/pampering treatments, which can help you to unwind still further. Again, take a little time to check out what else is on offer.
What other ‘action’ is there? Want to combine your yoga with an outdoorsy pursuit like hiking, kayaking, white-water-rafting – or a more gentle pursuit, such as cooking or watercolour painting. My suggestion is to Google ‘yoga and painting holiday’ (followed by your ‘dream’ destination), and see what comes up, but you may find your perfect ‘combo’ of activities. Or, if you’re the yoga ‘bunny’ in a relationship and you’d actually quite like to go away with your (non-yoga-loving) partner, you may find a holiday that offers something for both of you.
Is the food going to sustain you? As a vegetarian I tend to find that the food on offer is right up my street; if you’re a carnivore, and you feel you need protein for energy, check out what the menu’s likely to feature. (Fact: it’s easier to find vegetarian yoga retreats than those which do offer meat.) Also get an idea of how many meals a day you’ll be offered, and how light they may be: some retreats are more of a ‘detox’ and it can be hard to strike a balance so that you get enough to keep you going through the classes without feeling faint. (It’s certainly happened to me, and as someone whose blood sugar is a bit rollercoaster-y, I prefer to eat regularly and have the energy for class, rather than be deprived and keel over.) A quick e-mail to the organisers, if the info’s unclear, can be helpful.
What about hotels and spas with yoga as an option…? You might get lucky. I’ve been to hotels where the ‘visiting’ yoga teacher has been fantastic, but in general, these classes can be far less satisfying than in a full-on yoga retreat. The reason: they’re as likely to have to cater to unfit seventy-somethings who haven’t touched their toes in a couple of decades as flexible twenty-somethings – and so the class has a ‘lowest common denominator’ factor, in my experience; not particularly challenging. Spas with yoga thrown in are a bit better, I’ve found – but my real preference would be for a retreat in a location where yoga/meditation is the sole focus of the destination, rather than a trendy ‘bolt-on’.
Remember: it’s your vacation. On some yoga holidays, participation in all the activities is considered mandatory and there’s no real chance to duck out except to fake a headache. Others take a more relaxed view. What you don’t want is to find you’ve got to join in more than you want to, because you can start feeling resentful and grouchy. My ‘dream’ yoga vacation is 90 minutes’ practice in the morning, and the same later on, with a meditation session, the chance of a good walk and a massage, before early dinner and deep, deep sleep… But yours may be quite different. So try to get it right, before you book, by ensuring any questions you may have about the schedule and activities are answered.