Perhaps the oldest form of health care in the world, Ayurveda and its sister tradition of yoga have developed side-by-side over the course of millennia, emerging in India as much as 5,000 years ago. Today, as people opt for holistic approaches to health, Ayurvedic wellness programs have become popular throughout India.
In Sanskrit, ‘Ayur’ means life and ‘Veda’ means knowledge or science, so ‘Ayurveda’ literally translates to ‘The science of life.’ Practitioners say it uses the blessings of nature and spirit to restore balance – harmonizing body, mind and the universal laws of nature to remove the roots of disease.
Ayurveda focuses on prevention of disease rather than treating symptoms, with an emphasis on wholesome food, pranayama (breath control), meditation, herbal medication and yoga. In fact, yoga has similar ancient beginnings – It’s a set of philosophical beliefs and physical techniques such as asanas (postures), pranayamas (breathing), and dharana and Dhyana (meditation), with the ultimate goal of attaining samadhi, the highest state of universal consciousness.
Together, Ayurveda and yoga go hand-in-hand, teaching that harmonizing your body and mind with the environment will prevent disease – the outcome of disharmony – and lifting the follower to a higher state of consciousness. From the spiritual mountain towns in the north to the rustic, interconnected waterways of the Malabar Coast in the south, here’s where to learn about these practices in India, where they originally emerged all those centuries ago.
1. Mysuru, Karnataka
From T. Krishnamacharya’s yoga shala inside Mysuru Palace in the 1930s to the birthplace of the Ashtanga and Iyengar styles of yoga, Mysuru has always played an integral role in the spread and popularity of yoga as we know it today. Today, most yoga schools in Mysuru are concentrated in and around Gokulam, a primarily residential neighborhood located northwest of the city center.
Though many come to learn the teachings of Ashtanga and prefer the Mysuru-style self-led method of yoga teacher trainings (YTTs), Hatha, Vinyasa and Yin are just some of the group-focused YTTs offered to practitioners of all levels.
And, that’s not all — lessons in wellness and spirituality extend well beyond yoga and its asanas in Mysuru. Trainings in Ayurvedic-style deep tissue massage known as abhyanga, chakra healing, sound meditations, reiki, astrology and Ayurvedic cooking also draw crowds.
2. Alleppey, Kerala
With a rich history in the performing arts, cultivation of spices and diverse geographical landscape, it should come as no surprise the southern state of Kerala is also the land of Ayurveda in India. A tropical climate, thanks in part to its strategic location along the Malabar Coast, and abundance of medicinal plants have resulted in numerous Ayurvedic programs and treatment centers opening up across the state in recent years.
After embarking on a traditional houseboat cruise along the bucolic backwaters of Lake Vembanad in Alleppey, consider adding on a week-long (or more) Ayurvedic program. Lakefront resorts like Punnamada Ayurvedic Resort and Kumarakom Lake Resort offer several Ayurvedic packages that can include panchakarma procedures and Pizhichil treatments, as well as dosha-specific oil massages called abhyanga and herbal steam baths called Ushma Sweda.
3. Rishikesh, Uttarakhand
The Himalayan foothills serve as an impressive backdrop to the spiritual town of Rishikesh, located in the northern state of Uttarakhand. Built along the banks of the Ganges River — considered one of the seven holiest rivers in India — Rishikesh has long attracted pilgrims and guided spiritual seekers on the path to self-discovery.
With ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ as its self-proclaimed moniker, Rishikesh is a popular choice for practitioners seeking Ayurveda yoga and wellness travel in India. Numerous ashrams such as the renowned Parmarth Niketan and Sadhana Mandir line either side of the holy river offering everything from intensive YTTs and meditation classes to harmonious hours-long kirtan sessions and even holistic Ayurvedic panchakarma cleanses.
4. Kottayam, Kerala
The current uptick in Ayurveda yoga and wellness travel in India, thanks to Kerala’s thriving wellness industry, shouldn’t fool you; Ayurveda’s roots in the state are far from new. Before the introduction of Western medicine in the 19th century, treatment and diagnosis of ailments were made by families of Ayurvedic practitioners, who passed down their knowledge of this ancient healing system from one generation to the next.
Athreya Ayurvedic Centre, owned by a family of fifth-generation practitioners, serves as the perfect example. Surrounded by rice paddy fields at the edge of Kerala’s famed backwaters, the center is the only one in the country to have built kutee huts, necessary for specialized Kutee Praveshika Rasayana treatments that focus on anti-aging and improving one’s immunity.
5. Narendra Nagar, Uttarakhand
For a one-of-a-kind wellness experience, head up into the Uttarakhand hills where Ananda in the Himalayas, an upscale Ayurvedic spa, sits on a sprawling forested 100-acre property overlooking Rishikesh and the rest of the Ganges River Valley down below.
Focused on teaching the traditional principles of Hatha yoga, Ananda’s retreats also include daily Vedanta talks, Ayurvedic detoxes, meditation sessions and pranayama exercises. Its 25,000 square foot spa offers more than 80 traditional and international treatments, along with a gym and an outdoor temperature-controlled pool for hydrotherapy sessions.
6. Patnem Beach, Goa
Goa’s palm-lined beaches and the susegad lifestyle have long attracted both local and international tourists looking to soak up the sun along its uninterrupted 64-mile stretch of sandy coastline. The winter months, however, bring with them a more spiritual crowd, as yoga retreats and centers open across the state for the season. While most, like the Ayurveda-focused Mercure Goa Devaaya Retreat, are situated in North Goa, for a tranquil experience away from the partygoers, opt for YTTs and Ayurvedic programs offered at retreats along Patnem Beach in the south.
Programs exist for all skill levels and range from traditional Ashtanga or Vinyasa teacher trainings to innovative intensives like Oil Yoga. Inspired by practitioners of India’s ancient martial arts forms, Malla-yuddha and Kalaripayattu, the month-long training blends principles of Ayurvedic self-massage with asana practice, strengthening lung capacity, improving flexibility, and regulating the body's lymphatic and blood systems.