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The Yoga Studio at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Photos courtesy of Patchwork Farm (Click to enlarge)
The Yoga Studio at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Photos courtesy of Patchwork Farm

Yoga Tours Around the World

Personally tailored vacation time is a must for many travelers, and yoga-themed retreats have become one of the most popular types of getaways. The trips allow participants to practice their yoga in beautiful new places around the world while still leaving time for exploring local culture and of course, rest and relaxation.

There are a myriad of tour companies the world over, which means a great variety of options to choose from. Whether you want a historical look at the roots of yoga in India or a tropical island adventure in Bali, the list of possible destinations are endless, as is the price range.

While some may seek a luxurious spa and Yoga retreat at a four star hotel, one can easily find more affordable options: around $1,800 for eight to ten days excluding airfare, depending on where you look.

There is a great selection of personalized options, like a culinary and yoga experience in Malaysia that Yoga World Tours recently put together for a group from Australia, or Patricia Lee Lewis’s writing retreats, which combine yoga with writing workshops in locations around the world.

Connecting the Body and Mind

“The best writing is rooted in the physical world, through the senses. Yoga helps us relax and go deeply into our own physical self,” explains Lewis, who runs writing workshops at Patchwork Farm Retreat in western Massachusetts, and organizes several international yoga and writing retreats annually.

The first trip of the new year will be to Villa Sumaya, at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala in February, 2009, then to St. Non’s Monastic Retreat Centre in St. David’s, Wales during August. Each retreat runs for eight days, seven nights, and welcomes participants of all yoga and writing experience levels, from beginner to professional.

Writing Retreats founder Patricia Lee Lewis in Mexico
Writing Retreats founder Patricia Lee Lewis in Los Naranjos

Lewis has been running these international retreats since 1997, including destinations in Mexico, Costa Rica, Scotland, and Ireland in addition to Guatemala and Wales, and feels that yoga benefits one’s writing immensely:

“We are enabled through the movement to bypass the thinking critic in our mind and delve into memories, images, dreams, and feelings which are often buried in the tissues of our bodies.”

When choosing a destination Lewis looks for sacred sites around the world, places where the natural world and the human spirit intertwine, which are usually on the water and are always breathtakingly beautiful.

In these spaces, says Lewis, “We are transported into a fresh world that calls us to be more than ordinarily aware of our surroundings.”

During the retreats yoga is practiced in the morning and some afternoons for two to three hours daily, with writing in structured groups for four hours a day, but all activities are optional, leaving plenty of time for independent adventure or leisure.

Though the organization and planning of an international retreat is somewhat daunting, Patricia says the fruits of her labor are well worth the effort. The change in people is palpable; participants arrive exhausted anxious, but says Lewis:

St. David's in Wales, one of Lewis's sacred sites
St. David's in Wales, one of Lewis's sacred sites

“By the end of the week, almost all are radiant -- and why not? They have given these gifts to themselves: time, beauty, strangeness, rest, movement, and the creative expression of what has often been hidden for decades. They have stretched into their own true selves, a place almost forgotten only a week before.”

Participants have ranged in age from 17 to 84, with most being in their 40’s and 50’s, and about 75% are women. Patricia finds her international students “willing to take risks in their writing and to trust the process we use,” which results in “strong, vivid writing.”

There is a great sense of support and community at the retreats, which she says often results in lasting friendships, further supporting the writing and traveling life.

As for the future, Lewis is planning a return to Ireland next year, and hopes to find an appropriate location for retreats in the Caribbean, perhaps Puerto Rico. “A big dream is to take writers to New Zealand for a kayaking & writing retreat. Yoga would be a big part of keeping us fit and grounded!”

The Bali Bliss Tour 2008 at the Penestanan temple in Ubud. Photos courtesy of Michelle Jolanda Carballo
The Bali Bliss Tour 2008 at the Penestanan temple in Ubud. Photos courtesy of Michelle Jolanda Carballo
The Inner Self and the Natural World

Michelle Jolanda Carballo wakes before dawn to prepare turmeric and ginger honey tea for her travelers, making sure they are warmed from the inside out for their sunrise meditation on the island of Bali.

Michelle is the founder of Yoga World Tours, a Netherlands-based organization that specializes in custom-made retreats for groups of six or more.

Bali is one of the company’s most popular destinations, and as the only Hindu island in Indonesia, it is a powerfully spiritual place. Carballo likes to organize her Bali tours to coincide with the full moon, when “the whole island visits their temples throughout the night, [with] plenty of ‘Ohm Shanti Shanti Ohm’ [chants] being sung and vibrated through the island.”

Michelle partakes in every tour that she can, and though a certified instructor presides over yoga sessions, she “not only practices yoga but lives it as well.”

Yoga session at Blue Point Bay Villas in Uluwatu, Bukit
Yoga session at Blue Point Bay Villas in Uluwatu, Bukit

Besides organizing the retreat and acting as a tour guide during excursions, Michelle focuses on educating her participants on their surroundings, explaining the local agriculture of cacao trees, coffee, and cloves, Balinese healing techniques, and making sure the Gods of Bali are happy with plenty of offerings, for Carballo Yoga is a way of life which is greatly enhanced by Bali’s tropical climate.

“People tend to live more outside their house in tropical places, more contact with all that is living” she says. Lighter clothing translates to lighter, warmer dispositions. Attitudes change, smiles multiply, and the vitamin D-rich sunlight creates a joyous feeling that is infectious.

The food is different too. Fresh fruit is a staple in meals at the retreat, along with juices, soups, and salads, which Michelle calls “light food which makes you almost float.”

Yoga is not merely a physical practice but a full understanding and respect for all that is living, and where better to explore the living world than Bali?

Marianne Kinzer at the holy Ganges River. Photos by Thomas Fiedler
Marianne Kinzer at the holy Ganges River. Photos by Thomas Fiedler

Following the early morning meditation, retreat participants are treated to a unique fruit salad composed of fresh local produce drizzled with ginger and honey lemon juice which warms the body from the inside out. Next follows an hour and a half yoga session, with another in the late afternoon before dinner.

During the day Michelle organizes outings for the group, which in Bali have included rafting, climbing a nearby volcano, visits to a local silversmith workshop, chakra healing sessions, mangrove walks, and intro dive or surf lessons. All yoga sessions and activities are optional, and included in the retreat price.

Some of the most popular Yoga World Tours are the Thailand-Laos-Cambodia “Garden of Eden” trip, a New Zealand retreat with a focus on outdoor sporting, and the “Hot Spring Yoga” tour of Japan. Other offerings include a “Discover Europe” tour that spans seven countries, several trips to India, and new programs in Morocco, Fiji, Sri Lanka, China, and Turkey.

Personalized tours for groups of six to thirty are available in any location; recently an environmental group from Italy planned a trip focusing on reef checks around Bali. Furthering the company’s commitment to wellbeing, World Yoga Tours donates revenue from retreats to non-governmental organizations like The Mae Chee Sansanee Foundation to improve living conditions in Bali and abroad.

For Michelle, interacting with retreat participants from around the world helps broaden her understanding of humankind, and of herself.

The Temple of Hanuman, a half monkey half human Hindu devotee of God
The Temple of Hanuman, a half monkey half human Hindu devotee of God
Finding the Roots of Yoga

The practice of yoga (lower-case 'y') in the West has become a popular way to stay in shape, but this focus on the physical is far from the true meaning of Yoga (capital 'Y'), the Hindu philosophy. Marianne Kinzer had stopped practicing Western style yoga because she wasn’t sure if she needed it anymore.

Wanting to understand the old Indian beliefs that shape Yoga, Marianne signed up for the “Roots of Yoga” Indian tour through the Berlin Inbound Yoga Club of her native Germany.

“The old Indian beliefs are so remote from ours. I wondered how much a spiritual and physical practice from a very different ancient culture could really do for us now” says Kinzer.

Marianne thought the India trip was quite moderately priced. The group stayed in ashrams and simple hotels, and dined quite modestly at local restaurants. They traveled with a native guide and in this way experienced the real India.

The tour began in Delhi and the first destination was Vrindavan, an old pilgrimage town where the group stayed in an ashram inhibited by monks from a Bakthi Yoga order.

Throughout the trip the group practiced Hatha Yoga in the mornings, but the main objective was to visit sacred temples and sites such as the holy river Yamuna where some bathed, though Marianne was content to stick just her feet in, as it is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.

The tour continued on to the famous Taj Mahal in Agra and then to the pink city of Jaipur, where buildings are created from red sandstone. There Marianne and her group visited local temples to experience the Hindu way of worship.

It was in Rishikesh, a city in northern India often called the world capital of Yoga, that Kinzer experienced something truly inspiring. She practiced breathing exercises and sun salutations at the Hatha Yoga Center, chanting as she watched the sun rise over the foothills of the Himalayas.

“I noticed how much more spiritual the practice was than [what] I was used to in the West.” After reflecting on her time in India Marianne realized that she missed her practice. She now embraces the modern approach of physical yoga, but never forgets the importance of living life ethically, drawing inspiration both from the ancient teachings of Yoga and from the Bible.

Explore Your Options

Yoga-related travel is available the world around. Solo travelers can easily join pre-formed groups, and many agencies offer discounts for return travelers, couples, and large groups. Look for specific themes that interest you, and as always, beware of scams. Don’t let the cost of international flights discourage you! There are hundreds of yoga retreats in the United States which can serve as a great starting point.

 

Isadora Dunna

 

 

Isadora Dunne is a senior with a major in Communications at the University of Massachusetts, and recently studied abroad on the Semester at Sea Spring 2008 Voyage. She travels as much as her waitress tips allow and is an editorial assistant at GoNomad.com.

 

 



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