Picture above: morning yoga in Benares (Varanasi) at Ganges riverside
Mula banda’s, samasthiti, om vande what? Jumping from a plank position immediately into a lotus? Yoga is a complicated business for a down-to-earth, clumsy and stiff North-European girl. After many years of practice my knees still can’t get lower than my ears in cross legged position. But I don’t give up. After a yoga session I feel focused and totally clear in my head. So sometimes I need to get in touch with my inner yogi. And why not do that in India, the cradle of yoga?
Of course you can do drop in classes in India at every corner of the street. But it’s nice to attend a course that builds up. Or to immerse yourself into yogi-lifestyle by staying at an ashram or yoga-institute.
So, if you’re into downward facing dogs, pack your yoga mat! Here are some recommendations for yoga retreats and courses. Of course, additions, questions or corrections are more than welcome!
Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Center (Arambol. There is also a center in Dharamkot, North-India)
I really recommend attending this course when you are a beginner. It learns to understand how your body is build and to perfect your posture. It lays a foundation for further yoga practice of any kind. Especially If you dislike the spiritual side of yoga, like mantra singing, this course might be a good idea. Improving your posture and breathing is the main focus, although in the end the goal is harmony between body and mind. The teachings are very static, precise and detailed. No sun salutes but standing for minutes in the same position. You practice the asanas over and over again, until every finger and toe is in the right position. There is a main role for props, like belts and cushions. In the beginning it takes time to find out which props you need for the best alignment, but they are very helpful. So you need a lot of patience if you want to attend the course, but it’s definitely rewarding. And not to forget: some exercises are great for relaxation. But also funny, for instance hanging under a table. It’s like having a dinner party upside down.
I attended a beginners course in January 2017. At that time I had an injuries in my foot and knees and during the course I learned how to deal with them. It helped me to improve my posture and my way of walking, without putting to much pressure on my injuries.
The beginners course has a duration of five days. There is also an advanced course, but you need to do the beginners course first. Everyday there is a three-hour class in the morning. So you have the whole afternoon to enjoy the beachlife of Goa. If you’re tired of the busy, touristy side of this beachtown, you can stay in a very basic bamboo hut at the quiet, remote institut, like I did. Although the monkeys and birds kept me sometimes awake at night. Nearby is also the nice and laid-back hostel Ave Maria.
Parmarth Niketan (Rishikesh)
Oh Rishikesh! Holy city near the Ganges and yoga heaven. This laid-back settlement at the foot of the Himalaya breathes a colourful hippie air. If you sharpen your hearing you can still hear the echos of the Beatles playing with the late sitar master Ravi Shankar. Not to mention the enchanting Hindu rituals you can witness.
In Rishikesh you can can indulge yourself into yoga everywhere and everytime, but especially during the yearly International Yoga Festival in may. There are countless ashrams, courses or drop in classes going on at that time.
I visited Rishikesh in the summer of 2014 and stayed at the colourful Parmarth Niketan Ashram. This institute gives shelter to masses of pilgrims and yoga lovers. The courtyard is amazingly decorated by frivolous hindu statues and beautiful flowers. In the evening there’s a magnificent puja (praying) at the Ganges with beautiful singing. Another ‘pro’ is the accommodation: the rooms are incredibly cheap, clean and big. But be aware: don’t expect quietness and serenity. This place is huge and alive. There is always activity and noise. And I have my doubts about the pureness of the little, giggling bhabha’s. They apparently had fun while stealing my bra that was hanging outside my room to dry.
In the Ashram you can attend a multi-day courses, with a full schedule. It’s a good way to deepen your practice and to learn more about spiritual stuff. If you like to be more free, you can just book a room and attend the yoga classes in the morning and afternoon. The yoga is simple hatha-yoga.
Sivananda Ahsram (Neyyar Dam. There are many more Sivananda Ashrams around the world)
Yoga is more than only forcing yourself in impossible snakelike positions. Proper exercise, proper diet, proper breathing, positive thinking and meditation. These are the five points of yoga I learned about in the wonderful Sivananda Ashram in Neyyar Dam, Kerala. To learn how to integrate them into your daily life you should attend every part of the program. From meditation and chanting in the morning and evening, to the intensive and great yoga classes, karma yoga and inspiring lectures. Despite the full program, there is also enough free time to relax and chat with your fellow yoga students. Ayurvedic treatments are also a possibility.
The meals are delicious and healthy. When you cannot live on only two meals a day, you can take refuge to the ‘health club’. In this small restaurant the sell salads, muesli, juices and more. Outside the Ashram, down the road to the left there is also a little joint where they sell great bananacakes.
Sleeping is in dorm rooms. When the ashram is loaded with people you might need to sleep on the balcony. There are a few single and double rooms available.
You can arrive anytime you want and participate with the beginners or intermediate yoga course. The courses start every 1st or 15th day of the month and build up. There are also teacher trainings and other courses going on.