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Choosing a yoga holiday
With the summer coming, a lot of you are probably thinking of including yoga in their next holiday, perhaps for the first time. Here are a few pieces of advice to guide you in your choice.
With yoga becoming increasingly mainstream, the yoga holiday market, is now becoming increasingly competitive, and there are a few cow boys (and cowgirls:) out there. Main stream travel agents are also moving in, often with disastrous results. Unlike yoga teachers and dedicated venues, they do not always understand the particular requirements of what is still very much a niche market. Complaints about such new comers to the yoga holiday market, who often have operated successfully in other branches of the tourist trade such as the organisation of seminars or other types of package holidays, are their lack of understanding of the specificity of the yoga market, particularly in relation to diet (vegetarian and vegan options are not always available) and the unsuitability of the venues chosen, which are often large, soulless resorts, sometimes shared with a crowd of rowdy drunks (as happened to me once in Goa).
All this is not very conducive to peace of mind, so it is best to avoid large operators and stick with small, dedicated venues. There are a lot of these to choose from all over the world, and new ones are sprouting up every where so there's a large choice of destinations at any time of the year! Sun destinations such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, and the south of France tend to be most popular in the European summer while in the winter; India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mexico and the Caribbean tend to be favourites. There are also a number of other locations which don't emphasise the 'sun' part including Scotland, various parts of England, Ireland, Finland, Canada, Austria to name just a few. Even thought they might not be right up on the beach, these venues are chosen for their quietness and are far more suited to the practice of yoga than large tourist resorts.
Another excellent option is to book on a course organised by a teacher, preferably someone you know for having studied with them in the context of weekly classes or a non residential workshop.
Be clear on what you want
Are you going primarily for yoga, or primarily for a holiday? How much yoga to you want to do every day?. Club Med have had yoga teachers for many years in some of their resorts, they might be suitable choice for someone just wanting to do a couple of hours with plenty of fun and sun in between :), but they wouldn't even think of calling themselves a yoga holiday resort.
A distinction is often made between yoga holidays and a yoga retreats, but it is not always clear, (sometimes not even to the organisers). Generally speaking, a yoga holiday is primarily an activity holiday. The time devoted daily to yoga usually won't exceed three hours, in one, or possibly two daily classes, and you will have plenty of time for other activities or just to relax and chill out. The location should reflect this, with a beach or other notable attractions nearby, and these other attractions should be considered when making your choice. Yoga holidays will nearly always cater for beginners.
On a retreat, on the other hand, the yoga schedule is likely to be more intense, possibly including some meditation, times of silence, etc. The main focus is no longer to enjoy yourself, but to develop and deepen your yoga practice. Again, the choice of location should reflect this, with a quiet, possibly remote location. Retreats should be fully residential, the food vegetarian, and meal times carefully thought out to fit smoothly within the daily yoga routine. You will find more 'hard core' yogis and yoginis on retreats, and the overall atmosphere can be quite serious, with much less 'free' time. Unless you are quite certain that yoga is your thing, and want to move your practice to the next level, a yoga holiday rather than a yoga retreat is the best choice for your first time doing yoga away from home.
Decide whether you going alone, or with a friend
Going alone is not a problem. In fact, the vast majority of people going on yoga course go on their own. The downside to going on your own is that you might have to share a room with one or more complete strangers, but at least, you will know that, like you, they have a keen interest in yoga, and great friendships are formed on yoga courses. If you decide not to go on your own, choose your companion(s) carefully. A few yoga centres will welcome guests who don't do yoga, but in most cases, and certainly in the case of a retreat, yoga should be a shared interest with your prospective travel companion, so if you don't want to go alone, a yoga buddy is a far better choice than your new boyfriend (unless, of course, you met him on a yoga weekend!)
Make an informed choice
More important than the location is the level and style of yoga taught on the course. Remember you will be stuck with your choice of teacher for the duration of the course.
First make sure that the course caters for your level of yoga and fitness. If you don't know the teacher, check their credentials (a Google search on their name should help). Try to ring the teacher or the organisers directly, rather than email them, as you'll get a far better idea over the phone. Tell the teacher or the organisers about your yoga experience, level of fitness and your expectation for the retreat so they can advise you properly on suitability. Usually they don't want to be stuck with the wrong student any more that you want to be stuck with the wrong teacher, so they will advise you honestly.
Don't be afraid to check the teachers credential and qualifications, and to ask such questions as who they studied with, what qualification they have obtained, how long they have been practicing, how long they have been teaching yoga and if they have taught residential courses before (as this is different from teaching weekly classes). It is also a good idea, particularly if you are going on an intensive course or a retreat, to try the style of yoga that will be taught on the course by taking a few classes in your area, just to be sure that it will suit you, before booking.
If the organisers can't answer properly your questions about the yoga part of the course and the teacher can't be contacted directly, you are probably knocking at the wrong door, try somewhere else.