Whilst the variety of schools, practices and goals are far-reaching, the core origins of yoga date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, mainly found in classical Buddhist, Hindu and Jainism texts. Yoga has been around for centuries, with The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali dating back to the first half of the 1st Millennium CE. The West, however, have only since the mid 19th Century, began fully embracing yoga. It was guru Swami Vivekananda who was one of the first to introduce the yogic philosophies to Europeans and the Americans in the 1890s. Celebrities began building public acceptance of yoga through their personal endorsement and soon enough yoga was being practiced around the world. Today, the Wests popularization of yoga is mainly as a form of physical exercise, focusing on Vinyasa yoga, Hatha and its asanas. Madonna swears by it, Gwyneth Paltrow lives by it and Jennifer Aniston admits she would not be who she is without it. As our society becomes more health conscious and connected we see a surge in practices such as yoga and meditation. In the USA alone yoga grew from four million practicing in 2001 to twenty million in 2011. Barack Obama stated “yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise…crossing many lines of religion and cultures.”
As we become more connected (digitally) so do we become more disconnected, from nature and from humanity. With more time spent on cell phones and laptops than ever before and cities seeing stress levels sky rocketing, it is no wonder people have been on a desperate search for more peace. In our highly chaotic lives, rarely do we find the time to notice our breath. Breath, a powerful tool used in yoga to quieten the mind. Thoughts of what we need to do: future, and what has happened: past, are set aside during practice as one relishes the present moment, by noticing our breath. Sounds simple, but try putting aside the endless to do lists and thoughts and you will soon realize how cluttered our minds really are. It is through discipline and continual practice of yoga, however, that some peace and tranquility will undeniably find its way into your life. Overtime, leaving your yoga class will bring feelings of ease with yourself and your surroundings.
As yoga becomes more popular, more research into its health benefits have been discovered. Scientists are now able to show a direct correlation between yoga and physical health. Dean Ornish, a follower of Swami Satchidanada, connected yoga to heart health, legitimizing its benefits beyond the more skeptical esoteric ones. Yoga has been used to treat cancer patients as it is said to decrease depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue as well as anxiety. The American College of Sports Medicine has acknowledged yoga as beneficial in bringing ‘mental, physical and spiritual awareness’ and a great tool for stretching, breath control and core strength. The strength which yoga provides is long lasting as the body is trained from the inside out, with focus going beyond your external body image. By strengthening the muscles around the spine and core, everything that operates around this area is improved: posture to shoulders, neck ache and back alignment. Yoga is particularly beneficial, therefore, for those sitting at a desk all day.
The functioning of respiratory, circulatory, digestive and hormonal systems is vital to our overall health and wellbeing and another feature which yoga benefits. The digestive system is rebooted, relieving all forms of internal discomfort and allowing for a healthy tummy which results in a healthy mind. It is found that those doing yoga naturally adopt healthier eating habits too. Soon the need for a chiropractor or doctor will begin to fade as we realize the power of self-healing; how our bodies have the miraculous ability to heal themselves.
Preserving our health is the best medicine, yet often we wait for something major to happen before we decide to take care of our bodies. Yoga can be seen as a powerful preventative tool and the best remedy for longevity. Unlike some of the intimidating gym classes, where only the youngest and fittest attend, yoga is open to all generations and fitness levels. From young models to middle-aged moms; bodybuilders to old hippies; even children, yoga does not discriminate. ‘Age is a matter of the mind, if you do not mind it does not matter.’ The point is to leave your ego and insecurities at the door and come as you are. Yoga reminds one to be humble. Whilst instant gratification is what our Western minds often expect and seek, yoga’s main benefits are gradual. Patience and discipline are key but the result is lasting transformation. Unlike the monotonous gym routine, leaving little space for stillness and reflection, yoga strengthens the body but more importantly, the mind as well (‘moshka’ or liberation via ‘nrodha’ – mental control.)
The wide variety of yoga styles allows the practice to be accessible to all who welcome it into their lives. You can tailor the practice to suit your lifestyle and level. If you are looking for fitness and detoxifying, hot yoga or Bikram is a powerful cleansing practice and very popular in cities around the world. For those wanting to have a restorative, deeper muscle stretch, yin yoga holds poses for longer, allowing for greater opening. There is also power yoga, for a more physical workout, Vinyassa Flow, kid’s yoga and even prenatal yoga.
International Day of Yoga
The 21st of June is International Day of Yoga (IDY). An initiative of The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and is recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). On 21 June 2015, 35000 people, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, performed 21 yoga asanas for 35 minutes at Rajpath, New Delhi, establishing two Guinness World Records for the largest yoga class with the greatest diversity of nationalities. The day is now celebrated around the world with events even taking place in cities such as Cape Town, South Africa. This year, five hundred people came to celebrate their love for yoga with family and friends in a warehouse in Woodstock, organized by LOKOH, a collective and social enterprise based in Cape Town. The intention behind IDY is for yogis around the world to celebrate their passion for yoga and share this with their family or friends in the hopes that they too may to discover the great benefits it brings.
Yoga Retreats Around the World
Yoga can be practiced anywhere: on your front porch or garden, in your room, in your office in the city or a studio down the road. If you are looking to dive straight in with a holistic experience of yoga, an exotic yoga retreat may be the perfect way to start. These resorts around the world are some of the most luxurious and healing. Recharge those batteries and experience world-class teachers, delicious cuisine and the very best rustic and luxurious spas.
Obonjan Festival, Sibenik, Croatia
Sail across the Adriatic Sea from Šibenik and you will soon come across a small island called Obonjan. Only an hour and a half from Split, the island is surrounded by turquoise waters and the land is covered in olive and pine trees. With only six kilometers of mainland, this mystical island is completely secluded from the rest of the world. The yoga classes range from beginners to advanced and take place throughout the day with sunrise salutations and sunset restorative classes. London’s top yoga teachers are flown in to share their practice with you offering acro, vinyasa, yin and yoga nidra. Imagine stretching under the shade of pine trees with a panoramic view of the ocean; the island breeze cooling you off after a heated vinyasa series.
At the Zen Den Spa you can indulge in a range of alternative healing therapies such as reiki, hypnosis, deep tissue massage and Raynor (a blend of Eastern and Western massage). Skin and tonic facials are done with organic, natural face products serving as a reminder to be aware of what we put on our very absorbent skins. If you are looking to detox, the Zen Den includes a raw food café with spiralized beetroot and zucchini salads, watermelon zinging smoothies and ginger mornings (grapefruit, lemon and ginger juice). They cater for all allergies with gluten free breads and homemade spreads are served all day with divine raw cakes made from natural sugars. If raw and vegan is not your thing, delicious fresh fish and meat options are on offer at the east harbor restaurant called Bok, overlooking the pool and dance floor. When you are not doing yoga there are workshops, inspiring talks, boxing classes and even star gazing at night with some added insight into astronomy. Off-island adventures include a nautical paradise excursion through the Croatian archipelago with a stop off at the magical Kornati National Park, a breathtaking sight of waterfalls and karst-limestone dating back to the Neolithic Ages.
Anahata Yoga Retreat, New Zealand
For a more traditional experience, travel across the globe to New Zealand where a remote ashram-style yoga retreat awaits you. At Anahata, the aim is to get yogis back to basics. Expect incredible serene views of Golden Bay where you will live atop a mountain in the midst of native bush. The environment is aimed at fostering personal growth and clarity with specially targeted practices for each individual. Yoga ranges from introductory to deeper esoteric yoga but is made simple and accessible to all. The integral system at Anahata provides a step-by-step approach to dealing with the chaos of our modern world so one is well-equipped when leaving the retreat. Regardless of age, experience or social background you walk away from Anahata with tools for self-love, peace of mind and a healthy body full of energy and inspiration. One yogis review reflects on how one “starts to really think about what you’re giving to the world and how you’re taking care of it.” (A. Blair, BookYogaRetreats.com)
The accommodation is eco-friendly with hotel-style rooms and private strawbale houses offering daily, weekly and monthly stays. Locally sourced vegetarian food is hand-picked from the garden, providing simple but fulfilling meals. Personal growth is practiced through the Satayanada tradition with simple daily routines of hatha, mantras, walking, chanting, cooking and gardening. Karma, which literally translates to action or work, is a form of yoga offered at Anahata consisting of working with meditative awareness. This dynamic form of meditation encourages one to live in the present, witnessing our inevitable thoughts but remaining unattached to results. It is not uncommon for us to be so caught up in preparing for the future: stressing to reach our targets; planning the next party to go to; people to see; places to be and whilst doing so, missing the moment we are in right now. At Anahata, karma yoga is in the form of helping in the garden, cooking food for one another and sharing in the simple activities around the retreat.
Como Shambala, Bali, Indonesia.
If you are looking for something a little more refined and lavish head over to the tropical paradise of Indonesia where you will find Como Shambala. The Como Hotels are best described as understated luxury with a focus on wellness and healing. The Como Shambala retreat in Bali was voted this year by Conde Nast Traveller Awards as the ‘Best Destination Spa’ and Bilanz’s ‘Best Holiday Resort.’ Bali is known for its lush landscapes and magical beaches, a perfect location for a yoga getaway. The aim at Como Shambala is to immerse its guests in nature and offer experiences which have lasting improvements on your lifestyle. The wellness program runs for three, five or seven nights with therapies and yoga styles designed to fulfill whatever you desire: be it relaxation, detox or deep healing. The Balinese yoga teachers offer a full program of varied yoga and meditation techniques.
The accommodation is made to feel like a home away from home with villas, suites and houses for the individual, couple or family. You are immersed in a natural forest with wild (but maintained) jungle and the glorious River Ayung flowing nearby. The river, with its own sacred spring, is revered by the locals for its healing properties. The cuisine ranges from traditional Indonesian at Kudus House or raw, health conscious options from the Como Shambala Restaurant. Flexibility is imperative and their offerings are indulgent or light depending on your preference. If you are partaking in the full yoga and healing retreat, a resident nutritionist and Ayurvedic doctor will be found on site at all times to help you create the perfect diet. The outdoor services on offer are uniquely designed with bamboo bridge climbing, trekking through rice paddies and visiting the local Sebali village to learn more about the Indonesian culture. One can even take a bike ride through the wild jungle gorges to the sacred spring of the Ayung River.
Haramara Retreat, Mexico
Last stop, Mexico, where we you will find Haramara, a yoga retreat in its truest form. Haramara was built using all the basic principles of the yogic life materialized into one location where true transformation can take place, a safe place surrounded by natural beauty. Using the eightfold path of yoga, Sajeela, the founder, created a space that would allow everyone to heal together and become whole. Haramara (Mother Sea) is an exclusive and intimate sea side retreat with a superior mind, body and spirit yoga package, encompassing all the elements. The incredible Pacific Ocean coastline views and Sierra Madre Mountains allows one to completely disconnect from the pressure of work life, city life or family life. It is an idyllic place for yoga with the yoga shalas providing full panoramic views of the jungle landscape, perfectly placed for sunrise and sunset salutations. The classes are customized with great focus on meditation and breathing. The energizing yoga breath is taught as a tool to take home, a way to return to balance when faced with stressful situations.
The food is a perfect mix of heartiness and rustic charm with catering for all pallets. Expect gourmet, organic Mexican food with a menu that changes daily, depending on what is locally available and fresh. Head to Larimar, an open air wellness center, for relaxation and renewal. The spa aims to reconnect you with nature whilst healing the body and mind through private treatments. Ayurvedic treatments as well as beautifying therapies and are on offer. The environmentally conscious retreat has been designed with minimal impact and remains at one with the spirit of the land. Everything is hand-built using traditional methods and the casitas, cabanas and dormitories have no electricity or wifi, encouraging guests to reconnect with nature (and disconnect from their digital devices) so they may fall asleep to the breaking of the waves against the shore in luxurious hand woven sheets. There are hot, outdoor showers with magnificent views and hammocks to laze around in all day.
Leave these retreats feeling glamorous and rejuvenated, ready for the next holiday adventure. Prioritizing relaxation time for you, or you and your partner, is essential. Whilst a party in Ibiza, Mykonos or the South of France is a must do over the summer months, it often leaves one feeling as though we need a holiday from the holiday. A yoga retreat offers you this balance. Whether you are looking to better your yoga practice or just desire some personal reflective time, the best investment one can make is in themselves and their wellbeing and yoga is a great way to start!