Lunchtime yoga class in the local gym, sandwiched between work and a disappointing desk salad, is all but ancient history. After nearly two years of YouTube yoga classes, you're not alone if your savasana meditation veers into daydreams of performing sun salutations on a beach in Bali or cutting your best mountain pose in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The global pandemic has been the opposite of zen, and we all need to unwind. If you're hoping to restart your practice or break up what's become a seriously well-trod routine, it might be time to start planning a trip that blends yoga and travel. You can leave your living room behind to lay down your mat amidst some of the world’s most beautiful locales, from Spain to Peru.
Most importantly, be mindful of the various COVID-19 restrictions on travel when seeking out a yoga retreat. Check the latest guidance before departure, and always follow local health advice.
Whether your downward-facing dog is rock solid or your warrior pose is a little wobbly, we’ve collated six of the world’s best destinations for a yoga holiday; places you can unwind, hone your skills and enjoy a myriad of restorative activities to get your groove back.
A city nestled within the Himalayan foothills on the banks of the sacred River Ganges, where locals gather at dusk for the nightly river worship ceremony, set to a tinkling soundtrack of temple bells – it’s hard to fathom a place more conducive to spiritual healing. India is the birthplace of yoga, and Rishikesh’s pedigree in the ancient art is well known, thanks, in part, to a certain Liverpudlian quartet, who visited an ashram here in the 60s.
Ease into this yoga heartland with a class (or lengthier stay) at Parmarth Niketan, one of India’s top yoga centers offering Pranayama and Vedic healing for all abilities. For total rejuvenation, try Phool Chatti ashram. Standing strong after 120 years of practice, this center draws on Hindu traditions in a programme of yoga and holistic renewal.
Away from the mat: Rishikesh’s most iconic landmark, Shri Trayanbakshwar Temple, is a grand, tiered monument, bedecked in Hindu shrines, that’s well worth a visit, and for a more adrenaline-pumping experience, there’s ample opportunity to try river-rafting in the Ganges, trek to waterfalls or even go bungee jumping. If their spiritual presence isn’t quite tangible enough, the swinging Cafe Delmar is the perfect place to pay homage to the Beatles (and serves up a mean smoothie too).
Still proudly sporting its badge of honor as one of the world’s most established party destinations, Ibiza is perhaps an unexpected addition to this list. But, bedazzled with secret coves and sheltered beaches, and dusted with fragrant pine forests, this Balearic island is as much about natural serenity as hazy hedonism.
A swathe of new wellness retreats channeling Ibiza’s liberal soul and natural beauty now provides a salubrious yin to the island’s hard-partying yang. Hidden Ibiza Yoga is one such center, which holds classes in isolated outdoor locations, from clifftop Hatha sessions to paddleboard yoga in secluded coves. For a more conventional experience, the YogaRosa retreat offers a tranquil stay in a traditional, whitewashed villa, with daily guided practice and meditation sessions.
Away from the mat: A trip to Ibiza wouldn’t be complete without some dedicated beach time, and the island’s rugged topography offers a wealth of coastal hiking to pair with a refreshing dip in the Med. For the ultimate way to unwind, head to Benirrás Beach on a Sunday evening, where local bongo drummers get together to play in the sunset.
Sacred Valley, Peru
Burrowed into the slopes of the Andean highlands and dotted with Incan citadels, rural weaving villages and airy, colonial towns, the Río Urubamba Valley is better known as ‘Sacred’ for a reason. This is a spiritual place, with the energy of Pachamama (Incan Mother Nature) tangible in every cloud-shrouded mountain peak, rushing waterfall and grazing alpaca, drawing yogis from all corners of the globe.
Whether it’s the spirituality or the scenery that appeals, there’s a few centers scattered throughout the valley, offering a variety of classes. Paramatma Holistic Healing center in the ancient Incan city of Cuzco runs Asthanga Vinyasa yoga and meditation workshops for all abilities.
Away from the mat: The Sacred Valley is home to Peru’s most beguiling ancient sites, not least Machu Picchu and the ruins of Ollantaytambo and Pisac. To take it easy after a day of practice, head to the colonial town of Aguas Calientes and soak tired limbs in its natural hot springs.
Perched at the crest of a sweeping, white sand beach, laidback Tofo is a small but charismatic town, both alluring and unassuming in equal measure. Overlooking a coral reef teeming with manta rays, whale sharks, dolphins and migratory humpbacks, this coastal community is a perpetual draw for surfers and divers, and its low-key, boho vibe attracts a steady stream of worldly yogis keen to hone their skills too.
If the idea of downward-facing dog in an oceanfront, gaia-tree yoga shala tickles your fancy, set your sights on Turtle Cove, a yoga and surf retreat that offers classes from beginner to advanced. Alternatively, mix your practice with a spot of scuba diving at Tilak Lodge’s specially crafted retreat. Well, when in Tofo...
Away from the mat: It’s impossible not to get swept up in the surfing and diving buzz that pervades Tofo – ideal for testing out that newly strengthened core and sharpened balance. It’s also a great place to nourish your stomach as well as your soul, with hearty local cuisine from cassava and coconut milk matapa (a green stew) to piquant peri peri sauce.
The sprightly city of Boulder in Colorado is a big draw for lovers of the American countryside. Framed by dramatic mountainscapes, rugged creeks and ponderosa-fringed trails, the city’s population of students, chic urbanites and outdoor athletes match its natural energy – fertile ground indeed for yoga studios and retreats to set up shop.
With the imposing Flatiron mountains as a backdrop to Boulder life, outdoor yoga practice here is particularly rewarding. SUP Yoga offer paddleboard yoga sessions on Boulder Reservoir, focusing on core control and breathing whilst immersed (although hopefully not fully) in the city’s surrounding landscape. For something a touch more traditional, Iyengar Yoga Centre in the heart of the city runs a full programme of therapeutic sessions, as well as Asana and anatomy workshops to boot. Note: The Iyengar Yoga Centre is closed temporarily due the COVID-19 pandemic.
Away from the mat: Boulder, as the name hints, is a hotbed for climbing, with classes for beginners and experts alike tackling faces throughout the Flatirons, which also offers great hiking and biking trails. For something a little different, try tubing on Boulder Creek – something of a local rite of passage – which can be a serene or adrenaline-fuelled experience depending on the river’s water levels. Inner tubes are available from a number of businesses in the town centre, including Whitewater Tube Company.
Bali’s fertile, volcanic mountains, glittering shoreline and hushed, hillside temples are synonymous with all things wellness, but the divine energy that characterises this island extends far beyond the private retreats and luxury spa resorts that perennially pop up on Instagram. It’s soaked into the reverent, religious ceremonies, streets strewn with flower petal offerings and gentle, almost meditative pace of local life, seemingly unaffected by the ever-present streams of visitors seeking to experience Bali’s unique essence for themselves.
Tucked within the emerald folds of Ubud’s rainforest is Taksu Spa, a serene sanctuary offering a range of Hatha, Flow and traditional Balinese yoga classes. If you’re looking to really master your sun salutation, consider a longer stay at Desa Seni retreat in Canggu, which provides personally tailored yoga workshops for beginners and upwards.
Away from the mat: From blissful beach relaxation in Seminyak to exploring the island’s many tranquil temples, relaxation and restoration are built into Bali’s DNA. Consequently, there’s tons of quality travel experiences on offer here that pair well with a stint in a yoga retreat, from watching traditional craftsmen at work to spotting cheeky macaques in Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest.