Tuesday, 5 October 2010

How to choose a yoga holiday.

A yoga holiday or retreat is a great opportunity to enhance your yoga practice or immerse yourself more fully in it for the first time. There are, though, some questions you need to ask yourself to make sure you end up in the right place, with the right teacher, at the right level of practice.

Holiday or retreat?

A yoga holiday is essentially an activity holiday with 2 – 4 hours yoga a day and plenty of free time as opposed to a more intensive yoga retreat where most of the day will be organised around yoga practices. It is wise to check what the typical daily schedule is and that it accords with how much yoga you want in relation to how much holiday.

Who to book with ?

Small specialist yoga centres generally understand yoga student’s requirements better than large holiday companies – you probably don’t want to end up staying next to a large outdoor nightclub. There are plenty of these smaller operations around the world and they ought to be happy to talk to you directly if their website doesn’t answer all your questions.

Accommodation and food

Standards of accommodation will be reflected in the price. Food is usually vegetarian. If you have specific accommodation or dietary requirements then check this thoroughly in advance.

Choosing a teacher

It is also important that you find out about the teacher leading the holiday as one or two weeks is a long time to be practicing something you don’t like or is at the wrong level for you.

If you are going with your regular teacher then you know what you will be getting. Otherwise a personal recommendation is always good when possible, though this can of course depend on how well you know the person doing the recommending. Alternatively you could start by checking teacher's websites and give them a ring with your questions, they should be happy to talk to you. If practical, take a class or workshop with them.

Style and level

If you are unfamiliar with the style of yoga on offer then it is wise to check that out and make sure that you understand what it involves. Some styles of yoga are very demanding while others are more accomodating of individual student needs.

It is also important to check that the teaching on the course is appropriate for your level of experience, you don’t want to feel either out of your depth, or under challenged. Again, teachers ought to be happy to talk to you on the phone about your interests and experience and what they teach.

Travel alone or with a friend/partner?

Many people come alone to yoga courses and of course you will automatically be introduced to a group of like-minded people. You would need to check the accomodation situation if you don't want to share a room. Coming with friends, family, partner or spouse generally works best if you are both interested in yoga or if the non-yoga-doers are happily self contained.

What to bring

Yoga mat, loose clothes/shorts as appropriate to the climate and an open mind!

Getting started with your research

There are a huge range of yoga holidays available these days often but not always tied in with seasonality.
I run three courses in on Dartmoor in Devon a year, and some years I have an option to travel abroad; see http://www.nevyogamassage.co.uk/yoga-holidays-retreats/

Monday, 22 March 2010

Yoga, what is it again?

Most modern day yoga is the bastard child of an ancient esoteric Indian tradition and the modern western health and fitness industry. Arguably the two backgrounds complement each other.

The ancient Indian yoga tradition is based on a deep spirituality and inner vision and stillness beyond the superficial chatterings of the mind.The modern western health and fitness industry is largely derived from western scientific and sporting approaches and people’s desire to stay healthy and feel and look good.

Both approaches have benefits but are arguably incomplete by themselves. The Western emphasis on health and fitness can limit yoga to mainly its physical exercises potentially leading to self absorption rather than self examination. Traditional Indian approaches on the other hand are part of a particular cultural context that tended to encourage a withdrawal from productive worldly activities to ultimately liberate onesself from the cycle of existence. There is nothing wrong with choosing either of these approaches and perhaps a balance between the two options is possible.

A Modern Integrative Yoga?

Modern day teachers have met students with a changing range of mental, physical and lifestyle needs created by an arguably more stressful and sedentary modern lifestyle. Teacher's responses to this, combined with a generally more sophisticated interest in health, fitness and wellbeing has led to yoga evolving in new ways.

The teaching of yoga for its health and fitness benefits has arguably improved enormously under the western scientific microscope provided by interested professionals such as osteopaths and doctors, some of whom have become yoga teachers themselves.

Similarly the increased interest in  forms of spirituality that are less dogmatic than traditional institutional religion, such as that in yoga and some forms of Buddhism, has led to a renewal in the presentation of these inner practices in ways that are digestable to the modern mind and require no religious or esoteric beliefs.

In our generally busy, over stimulated, information soaked and outer directed society, there is little to encourage us to look inwardly for quietness, understanding, emotional balance and inspiration.

Yoga postures and breath work help attend to some of the physical manifestations of stress and inbalance. Meditation and some accompanying philosophy can provide a welcome window pointing towards an inner world of greater ease, understanding, freedom and creativity adding many benefits to our external life of relationships, work and attitudes.

Modern western yoga teachers are now trained to a certain degree in western anatomy, physiology and health care as well as some Indian arts, philosophy, healing, esotericism and spirituality. The resultant evolving creative fusion is modern yoga.

As a cross fertilised collection of knowledge, perhaps increasingly typical of our globalised culture, older timeless aspects of Yoga have richly intertwined with modern knowledge and ideas to give us a truly twenty first century discipline.