Every country has their great gift to give to the world. India has many - from its food and vibrancy to its storytelling and visual culture, it’s a never-ending source of wonder and intrigue, which constantly presents something new for the West to embrace and take inspiration from.
Of course, no mention of India’s influence on contemporary world culture can pass without talking about yoga. This ancient set of practices has been the cornerstone of Indian religion, health, and vitality for centuries, and over the eras, it has grown and changed, adapted and refined itself to become that which we know it as today.
Yoga is one of those things which, once you’ve dipped your toe into it, encourage you to swim even deeper.
There are countless texts to read and many interpretations of its basic forms. However, if you’re looking for an unadulterated yogic experience, and a chance to master new techniques within an authentic setting, led by true experts and yogis, a trip to the great yoga centers of India seems inevitable.
With more daily flights than ever between all the main Indian cities and the wider world, it has never been easier to seek out your authentic yogic adventure. As with everything in India, the sheer amount of yoga centers, ashrams and dedicated teachers on offer is vast, and you can find everything from the utmost in luxury to the epitome of austerity. Fully paid up package deals, drop-in classes, silent retreats, spiritual transcendence courses, yoga for beginners and yoga for seasoned professionals - all you have to do is find the right one for you!
If you’re confused, we don’t blame you. Thankfully, we’re on hand to give you a brief rundown of some of our favorite places to practice yoga in India, along with a few extra nuggets of enlightenment to help you make the most of your trip. Happy International Yoga day! Namaste!
For those seeking to deepen their knowledge of yoga
The high city of Pune is a place where you can quickly lose yourself in the beauty and majesty of India. Its location - close to Mumbai, yet at an altitude which means the climate is considerably cooler - has made it highly popular with westerners seeking a gentler introduction to India, and its proximity to other key places of interest means it’s a beautiful place to kickstart a true Indian adventure.
In Pune, we find the renowned Ramamami Iyengar Memorial Institute, a well known and highly respected yoga center which has helped shape the West’s understanding of Hatha yoga, and the postures for which it is famed. This center expects its students to have a moderate knowledge of Hatha yoga, and considering there’s a two-year waiting list to get into one of their excellent one-month courses, it’s unlikely it would hold much attraction for beginners, anyway. Beautiful, serene, and guaranteed to further and deepen your knowledge of yoga, it’s one for those looking to take their practices to the next level.
For those seeking an old school yogic masterclass
If there’s one thing to say about yoga, it's that it isn’t something you can learn on the fly. It takes time, dedication and effort and if you’re willing and able to commit to a longer course, and make significant changes to your approach and way of doing things, the rewards can be phenomenal and life-changing. The Bihar School of Yoga is a genuine gem of a school, founded in 1964 by Swami Sivananda Saraswati, widely regarded as one of the true yogic masters of the 20th century, and best known as the founder of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh. The Bihar School of Yoga runs a popular four-month course at its classical setting in the north-east reaches of India, where the emphasis is placed upon mastering meditation alongside traditional postures, breathing techniques and more.
For those looking to focus more on yoga than meditation, The Bihar School of Yoga runs a second school - Bihar Yoga Bharati - which is more squarely aimed at foreigners seeking to improve their technique, and further explore the world of traditional Indian yoga.
For beginners seeking an exotic adventure
The southernmost tip of the Indian subcontinent is an extraordinary part of the world. The peaceful backwaters of Kerala, dotted with traditional wickerwork houseboats and the elegance of the iconic fishing villages, make for an amazing backdrop in which to study yoga. Indeed, Kerala has become one of the most popular regions of India for those seeking to learn more about yoga, as the laid-back pace of life, lush, green scenery and incredibly fresh, healthy cuisine make it almost custom-made for beginners to yoga and seasoned yoga bunnies alike.
The most recommended Keralan yoga school is the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center and Ashram in sunny Trivandrum. Founded in 1959 by Swami Visnudevananda (another disciple of Saraswati), the Sivananda Center focuses its teachings on the five pillars of yogic perfection: diet, breathing, meditation, relaxation, and posture. Perfect for those just at the beginning of their yoga voyage, it offers everything from dedicated long term courses to drop-in classes. You can stay at the ashram and immerse yourself in the yogic way of life, or you can pop in and out as you please, making it a component of a beautiful holiday on the south coast.
For those seeking health advice and treatments
Yoga is not just about exercise or keeping fit and flexible. It’s a beautiful system designed to act holistically on the body, mind, spirit, and energy of the individual, and it originally went hand in hand with the Indian medical system of Ayurveda. As such, many people seek yogic retreats as a solution for underlying or existent medical issues and complaints, as a way of getting their bodies and souls back in check, and ticking over nicely. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, there’s probably nowhere better than Yoga Institute, a stunning Mumbai center, and recognized as the oldest still-running yoga center in the world.
Set up at the turn of the 20th century, Yoga Institute was founded as a place to gather yogic and ayurvedic knowledge, and to spread that among the populous to ensure good health, happiness and strength. Today, while it is not as famous as many of the others, it is very highly regarded for the effectiveness and breadth of its courses, camps, and therapeutic health workshops. The institute claims to be able to help with orthopedic issues, stress-related illness, hypertension, respiratory and cardiological problems, among many others, through a tailored regime of yoga, meditation, dietary changes and individual exercises. It also offers highly recommended courses for kids and pregnant ladies.
For those seeking a more luxurious experience
If you fancy splashing out a little, and want your yoga experience to be as luxurious, refreshing and comforting as it can be, there’s little debate over which center in India offers the most in this regard. Ananda is an exclusive elite center, based among the spectacular foothills of the Himalayas, which promises its guests that they will leave rejuvenated, spiritually revived, and feeling a decade younger than when they arrived.
Perhaps more renowned as a wellness center than a yoga retreat (Ananda offers over 80 different spa packages and treatments), it nonetheless does offer tailor-made yoga courses, taught by professional yoga tutors, which are suitable for all ages and ability levels. It’s secluded, beautiful, timeless - your own personal Shangri-La - and will give you that opportunity to escape your hectic lifestyle and focus on your personal goals.
Written by Benjamin Norris