The practice of Yoga has taken the world by storm with its popularity increasing over the years. The benefits of doing Yoga are immense with positive effects on our physical and mental health, from improving our fitness level to promoting mindfulness. It is no wonder that it has become so famous!
However, it is always important when practising Yoga to be in a right place and guided by someone proficient in it.
What better place to learn Yoga than in its birthplace India? India which has been continuing the legacy of Yoga for the past 5000 years is undoubtedly the best place to detox both your mind and muscles. It offers some fabulous yoga centres with professional teachers which are definitely worth visiting.
Need some ideas to get started? Don’t you worry, I have got you covered! To delve into this topic I sat down with my Yoga teacher, Liz Bowman, who shares with us her experiences and adventures in India. Keep reading to see the recommendations of the best yoga centres in India.
What really drove her to visit India?
As a Yoga teacher, it was quite an obvious desire for Liz to visit India. She says:
“Yoga has always been a passage to India. I wanted to practice and experience Yoga from where it originally came from. I was also very much fascinated about their culture, food and everything”.Liz
Liz stayed in India for around six weeks and toured most of the northern parts of India. She kicked off her trip at Varanasi where she was there for nine days and then moved to Agra to see the beautiful Taj Mahal (pictured above). Later she moved up north to Rishikesh for nearly four weeks where she spent most of her time doing Yoga and sitting down along the banks of the river Ganga. She also visited Dharamshala which is a beautiful hillside city.
“The main reason I chose those places was because when I went there it was summer. I thought the south would be very hot. Although Varanasi and Rishikesh were way too hot, up north was a bit tolerable. Mainly I went to Rishikesh as I heard it was a Yoga town and wanted to investigate some of the Yoga training centres. I chose Dharamshala as I thought it was a less touristy place and I felt it was very cosy and comfortable…just like village life. And Varanasi was really beautiful and watching the fire burning (Ganga Aarti ) along the river Ganga was a cool experience”.Liz
Expectations vs Reality
Liz was very particular about accommodation. She did have certain expectations about cleanliness, ventilation in the room and everything. In most of the places, she was staying in dorm/hostel rooms mainly because she wanted to save money. And to her surprise, she found all dorm rooms very clean and well-priced. However, there was something that annoyed her the most and that was noise!
“The owner of the hostel was making loads of noise and I am like, guys, I am trying to sleep (laughs)…that was a bit frustrating. But other than that, everything was good and as I went in the offseason the prices were cheap as well”.Liz
Finding the right accommodation can indeed be challenging. So, check out another Asia Options article to find out some helpful accommodation advice.
Liz’s trip to India was unplanned. She had not planned what she wanted to do upon her arrival. She had expected that everything would be smooth sailing and could book local tickets easily. However, that was not the case in reality. She struggled a lot with booking train tickets at Varanasi. As she did not have either an Indian SIM or credit card, it was challenging for her to plan things beforehand. But later she went to the local train station and bought paper tickets and sought out all travel plans from Varanasi to Rishikesh to Dharamshala.
“I would just go with the glow and go out to see what I thought to be an interesting place to eat and sightseeing. Because of this I really could not see many things. Also, it was my own fault that I went in the offseason. So, I would definitely advise people to plan and organise everything ahead of time. I think the next time I would go; I will plan a Yoga retreat”.Liz
Apparently, Liz faced no language barrier at all. She says that everyone spoke English and it was very easy to communicate.
Nevertheless, like Liz, herself said it is always different to imagine something than it is to experience it with your own senses. The fact that she got to interact with the locals, experience the culture and do Yoga was itself very fascinating to her. They all must be experienced; no one can prepare you!
Key cultural takeaways
Understanding the importance of Yoga was indeed a huge cultural takeaway for Liz. She found the lectures at the Yoga centre to be very enriching and useful.
“I initially started Yoga for fitness. But now, I understand the spiritual side of it as well. You are constantly challenged and forces you to be in the moment. And it really teaches you to reflect rather than react. And I found that skill of reflection to be very valuable in my life. When I am in some sort of a conflict or an argument rather than reacting straight away, I try to assess and reflect first before responding”.Liz
Apart from Yoga, what attracted her the most was the diversity of India’s culture, tradition and of course food! Who does not love Indian food? Liz particularly enjoyed having green curries, roti, and rice.
On the other hand, a big cultural shock for Liz was locals asking for a selfie. She found this to be very bizarre. Initially, she was fine with it, but later she lost patience and started to reject selfie requests.
Want to learn Hindi beforehand? Check out some useful online Hindi apps here.
Some of the best Yoga centres
It is quite interesting to note that, given that Rishikesh and Varanasi are popularly known as the “Yoga town”, Liz initially found it difficult to find an exact Yoga centre she was looking for. Liz did Google up but hardly could find anything interesting and suitable to her. However, as she says, the best way to find one is only by interacting with locals, making contacts and hearing their suggestions.
“At Varanasi, when it was hard to find, I finally asked the hotel owner and he recommended one which was a bit far away. It was at Old Varanasi, but it was a cool place to visit. It was like little cobblestone alleyways, walking on the paths and little shops on either side. I did as much Yoga I could at that centre there”.Liz
“At Rishikesh, the must-go Yoga centre is the Swasti Yoga. I found out about this through my friend in Melbourne. The classes at this centre were always full and were amazing. I practised Hatha Yoga there and the teacher was great as well. The teacher’s name is not on top of my head, but his classes were really good. At the end of the class, there was a 10- or 15-minute lecture and that was so valuable. I just felt that he was really a wise and genuine Yogi”.Liz
Swasti Yoga is a Yoga school that provides an insight into the tradition of Hatha Yoga. As mentioned on their website, daily classes, as well as teacher training courses, are conducted throughout the year. The classes are usually deep, spiritual, and informative.
Apart from the Swasti Yoga, here are a few other recommendations in northern India that you could opt for:
- Tushita Meditation Centre, Dharamshala
- Himalayan Yoga Retreat, Rishikesh
- Rishikesh Yoga Shikska, Rishikesh
- Siddharth Yoga Centre, Varanasi
India definitely offers plenty of opportunities to explore Yoga. Although travelling at the time of a pandemic, might not be the right choice, a Yoga retreat in India must certainly be at the top of your bucket list after things get normal!
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