India’s yoga retreats can help heal mind, body and spirit
In the countryside or on the beach, these destinations will help you relax and rejuvenate
Four years ago, aged 35, I finally stood on my head. Having never been gifted at gymnastics during my school days, this was no mean feat. To attain my goal, I had travelled to the leafy backwaters of Kerala in the south of India, where I’d spent days, helped by the patient dedication of a yoga teacher, working on my “asanas,” or postures and inner calm.
There is nowhere better to practise yoga than in India, where it originated more than 5,000 years ago and is intrinsically linked to Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of natural healing. You’re unlikely to find anyone across the entire subcontinent who doesn’t practise yoga and meditation in some form — young, old, man, woman or child, it’s in their psyche. Recent studies have shown yoga to be as beneficial as cycling — and if it helps 90-year-old men sit crosslegged, it’s good enough for me.
There are a myriad of options to practise in India, from earthy retreats in the western Ghats to upmarket hotels in the Himalayas, here’s my pick of some of the best.
SwaSwara Set in countryside above the majestic Om Beach in Uttara Kannada on the western coast, SwaSwara offers programs for complete beginners through to experienced yogis. Yoga sessions take place on the beach and on SwaSwara’s yoga deck overlooking the ocean, but also in an artist’s studio with watercolours, clay and coconut leaves. Programs include consultations with Ayurveda doctors, abhyanga massages to relax and rejuvenate and meditation sessions.
Ashiyana, Goa The retreat village is set in a calm, secluded palm grove on the Man- drem River, adjacent to northern Goa’s Mandrem beach, where guests can go for retreats, yoga holidays, yoga teacher training and drop-in yoga classes. Stay in luxury Raj rooms, Indonesian-style lodges or beach huts and immerse yourself in ancient and modern yoga life with daily practices, meditation, musical concerts, contact improvisation dance, “dharma” talks on finding inner happiness — as well as SUPrana, a mix of SUP, yoga techniques and awareness of the water element in Ayurveda.
Shreyas Part of the Relais & Chateaux group, Shreyas offers a host of yoga packages from silent retreats to weightmanagement yoga retreats, spiritual yoga and wellness for the soul. Yoga here is taught in a traditional ashram style of daily yoga, meditation sessions, chanting classes, a strict vegetarian, no-alcohol policy and community service, but guests stay in luxury poolside and tented garden cottages. Supplement your daily practice by learning to meditate in huts and “machans” tucked in Shreyas’ organic gardens, cooking classes or a visit to nearby villages and temples.
Ananda, Uttarakhand Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, Ananda is one of the world’s destination spas, and yoga is an inherent part of its offering. Stay for a few days or weeks for an individually tailored program that starts with a consultation with an Ayurveda doctor. Hatha yoga is taught here, a practice based on the premise that purity of body brings about purity of mind, so programs include yogic cleansing experiences in its 24,000-square-foot spa, where among a menu of more than 80 treatments you can enjoy Laghoo Shankhaprakshalana (yogic cleansing of the intestines). There are daily group treks and meals are adjusted according to your dosha — or Ayurvedic body type — of vata, pitta and kapha.