A Complete Guide to Yoga in India
For travelers who enjoy yoga and want to better understand this ancient practice, there is no better place to go than India.
In this article, we will explain everything you need to know about doing yoga in India from the differences between western and Indian yoga to where to go, the best retreats, and what to expect from an ashram experience.
But, no matter how you choose to practice yoga in India, one thing is for sure: your experience here will change you for the better and help you reach new heights within your practice.
Why You Should Experience Yoga in India
Over the last 20 years, yoga has spread from South Asia to the rest of the world and has become a popular way to exercise in almost every country. So, if every country does yoga, why should you go to India to experience it?
The answer is that yoga is simply different in India. It is hard to describe how, but we would say that the way people practice and teach yoga is more pure, organic, and spiritual in the country in which it was created.
If you need more convincing, here are 3 reasons why you should experience yoga in India.
1. Indian yoga and western yoga are not the same
In the west, there is a disconnect between practicing yoga and its true purpose and meaning. This is because when yoga was introduced to the west it was changed in order to better appeal to western culture which yearned for an exercise method that gave quick results and had a specific end goal.
Today, for many people in the west, yoga is a great form of exercise and is often practiced using workout-style quick flows intended to make you sweat.
This is not how yoga is practiced in India. Indians don't see yoga as a physical practice that has an end goal. Although there is a physical aspect to yoga in India, it is just one part of a larger ideology.
In reality, Indian yoga is part of a complete lifestyle that includes how you treat others, what you eat, and how you respect the world around you. The purpose of the asanas, or poses, in Indian yoga is to relax your mind and prepare it for meditation where you can search for inner peace and happiness.
2. Discover ancient tools to find contentment and spiritual balance
Yoga has been documented as a practice in India since the 7th century BCE. The longterm success of yoga is due to the fact that its methods truly help people clear emotional and physical blockages. The goal of yoga is to bring peace and contentment to your mind and better connect it to your body.
That being said, yoga is a complicated process that is learned through the journey of a person's life. In order to get the tools to find this spiritual balance, it is best to have a skilled teacher which is why so many yoga practicers are heading to India today.
In India, you will learn about the 8 different tools, or steps, of yoga including ethical guidelines and principles, postures and movements, breathing techniques, ability to look inward, concentration, meditation, and the ultimate goal of yoga: fulfillment.
3. India is a great place for all yoga lovers whether beginner or advanced
Indian yoga is not about who can do the best headstand or tree pose but is instead focused on the spiritual journey and your personal progress. Because of this, India is a great place to practice yoga no matter your level.
There are plenty of yoga retreats and ashrams in India that have specific courses for beginners and there is no need to worry about being considered "not good enough". The only requirement for yoga in India is sincerity and a desire to improve.
India is also perfect for advanced yoga practicers who are skilled in postures and mindfulness but just need that extra help and concentration to bring their practice to the next level. Advanced practicers will benefit greatly from experienced gurus who have spent decades mastering the craft.
Yoga: The Spiritual Experience
Yoga is not a physical practice but a spiritual one and how good you are at yoga is not measured by the number and difficulty of your postures but rather by how it positively affects your life and relationships with others.
Most gurus describe yoga as a spiritual science that’s purpose is to quiet your mind and better connect it to your body. Once your mind and body are connected, you can explore your inner self more deeply and understand more about what your body truly needs.
Types of Yoga in India
Because yoga has been practiced in India for over a thousand years, many different schools of thought and types of yoga have been developed. Here, we will describe the types of traditional yoga that are often taught in India.
Many of the newer types of yoga that are popular in the west such as hot yoga are not included because they are untraditional and are not often practiced in India.
Hatha yoga is a general term that includes all types of yoga that teach physical postures or asanas along with breathing exercises or pranayama. The goal of hatha yoga is to relax your body and mind in order to prepare for other spiritual practices like meditation.
Most yoga that is taught in the West is hatha yoga. Hatha yoga can vary a lot from teacher to teacher but in general, it starts slowly and is great for beginners who want a more relaxed yoga style where each pose is held for a longer period of time.
Vinyasa is also a general yoga term that describes any type of practice that includes rapid flows and continuous movement from one posture to the next. Synchronized breathing is also another important part of vinyasa yoga.
The constant flow of poses along with inhales and exhales often helps new students be mindful and focus on the practice instead of letting their thoughts wander.
Ashtanga yoga is based on ancient yoga teachings and involves a series of postures similar to vinyasa yoga. However, in Ashtanga yoga, the same poses are always performed in the exact same order and each pose gets progressively more difficult.
This type of yoga is often physically demanding and causes internal heat which helps detoxify your muscles and internal organs.
Iyengar yoga was started by B.K.S. Iyengar who has become one of the most famous yoga gurus in modern times. The main difference between Iyengar yoga and other types is that Iyengar focuses on the small details of every posture.
Poses are often held for longer in Iyengar yoga than in other forms and participants are asked to pay close attention to the alignment of their muscles in each pose.
Sivananda yoga was created by Swami Sivananda and is a type of hatha yoga. Sivananda yoga classes often begin with a relaxation pose followed by a sun salutation and then the class goes through Sivananda's 12 postures.
Full-length Sivananda classes also often include chanting and meditation.
Kundalini yoga incorporates many parts of yoga including repeated movements and postures, breathing techniques, chanting, mantras, and meditation. What makes Kundalini yoga different is that the purpose of the practice is to awaken the energy at the base of a person's spine and draw it through the seven chakras.
This type of yoga uses repetitive breathing and movements to move energy through the body.
Best Yoga Destinations in India
In India, there are certain cities that are yoga hubs. These cities often contain many yoga retreats and ashrams and have a long history of influential yoga teachers and students.
Here are some of the top cities in India to experience yoga.
Rishikesh is located in Uttarkhand near the Himalayas and is often referred to as the 'Yoga Capital of the World'. The practice of yoga is thought to have originated in the Himalayas and the closer you get to the mountains, the more traditional the yoga will be.
Rishikesh is home to many gurus and teachers and is a great place to study yoga, meditation, and spirituality. Rishikesh is also a beautiful destination surrounded by nature and located in the mountains.
Many ashrams in Rishikesh are quite formal and students there follow a strict schedule and diet.
Every year, thousands of people travel to Mysore to study yoga and the city has become the most popular place for foreigners to learn yoga in India after Rishikesh.
Mysore first became famous due to the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute which was founded in 1948 by Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois. Mysore is often regarded as the home of Ashtanga yoga and has seen many of the 20th century's most influential yoga teachers.
Kerala is the perfect place for travelers who are interested in practicing yoga and learning about Ayurveda, India's 5000-year-old traditional medicine. In Kerala, most yoga retreats combine the two into a spiritual and health awakening.
Here you can deepen your yoga practice and received Ayurvedic treatments to help heal your body and bring it back into balance.
Keralan yoga often combines hatha yoga with Kalari which is a form of ancient warrior yoga done to enhance the spiritual powers of soldiers.
Varanasi is a 3000-year-old city that has a long tradition of yoga and is often considered to be the most spiritual place in India. Here you can join in with the locals as they stand on the shores of the Ganges to perform sun salutations and then deepen your practice in one of the city's many yoga retreats.
Yoga in Varanasi is steeped in spiritual tradition and discovery.
Traditionally, Goa has not been a popular center for yoga as the majority of the local population is not Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain.
In recent years, Goa has transformed into a great location for yoga students as more and more retreats have popped up to meet demand. Yoga in a Goan retreat is often more relaxed and not as strict as in some of the more traditional Hindu cities.
Here you can casually study yoga and search for inner peace while laying on the beach or swimming in the cool Arabian Sea.
How to Experience Yoga in India
Yoga in India can be experienced in many forms and at many different levels of intensity.
Travelers who want to experience a couple of quick yoga classes can find reputable courses offered at many 4 and 5-star hotels. While these classes can't guarantee the intense soul searching that other programs provide, they are a great way to experience traditional Indian yoga and learn more about the true purpose of the practice.
Travelers who want a more in-depth yoga experience can spend a day at a yoga center. During this time, guests will be able to deepen their understanding of yoga and gain some of the important tools to begin their spiritual journey.
Travelers who really want to achieve a new balance and awakening can spend time in a yoga retreat or ashram. On the retreat, you will take courses taught by experienced yoga masters and truly begin to understand the depth of yoga and your practice.
Types of Yoga Retreats
There are many different types of yoga retreats that are available in India. It is important to do a lot of research before booking a yoga retreat to make sure that you are choosing one that aligns with your goals.
In general, there are two main categories of yoga retreats including the stricter retreats or ashrams and the more relaxed yoga holiday retreats.
Some yoga retreats can be referred to as ashrams. Ashrams offer yoga students and spiritual learners a place where they can relax in quiet and solitude while learning from an experienced yogi or teacher.
Ashrams are best for yoga students who are very serious about their practice. If you want to stay in an ashram, you will likely be required to follow a strict schedule that includes early morning activities, meditation, yoga classes, simple meals, and an early bedtime.
Ashrams are meant to be a place that allows you to take a break from your normal responsibilities and live a simple life while spending your time looking inward. These yoga retreats are often located away from popular tourist destinations in a remote and quiet place surrounded by nature.
Rooms in ashrams are often very simple and definitely won’t be as comfortable as a hotel. Students at the ashram often follow a strict yoga diet which includes simple vegetarian meals made from locally grown food.
Yoga holiday retreats are best for people who are interested in yoga but want to relax and enjoy their vacation while deepening their spiritual understanding. Yoga holidays normally take place in a hotel or resort with comfortable rooms and restaurants that offer a variety of meal choices.
Yoga holidays also follow a much more relaxed schedule and allow students to miss their classes, wake up late, and leave the resort to explore nearby tourist areas. Most yoga holiday packages include two yoga classes a day and the rest of the time can be spent enjoying other spiritual classes or relaxing in nature.
The best places to go for yoga holidays are Goa and Kerala. Goa specializes in yoga holidays with beach relaxation while Kerala has yoga holidays in beautiful jungle towns with the addition or Ayurvedic massages and other treatments.
Retreats for Serious Yoga Students
If you are someone who wants the more serious style of yoga retreat where you only focus on deepening your practice and attaining spiritual balance, then here are some great ashrams to look into:
1. Parmarth Niketan
Location: Rishikesh, Uttarkhand
Located on an 8-acre campus in the hills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh, Parmarth Niketan is a wonderful place to study yoga while surrounded by peaceful nature.
This ashram has 1,000 rooms and offers programs on beginner yoga, spirituality, Vedic heritage, and yoga teacher training. The ashram is particularly famous for its week-long Yoga Festival that it puts on every year in March.
2. Yoga Vidya Mandiran
Location: Rishikesh, Uttarkhand
This ashram is perfect for people who not only want to learn about yoga but are also interested in the entire lifestyle that comes with it. Here, you will take classes on meditation, breathing techniques, philosophy, and mantra.
The ashram also offers programs that teach many different styles of yoga including Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga.
Here you will get basic but comfortable accommodation, simple vegetarian meals, and opportunities to visit nearby temples or go for hikes in the mountains.
3. Krishnamachar Yoga Shala
Location: Mysore, Karnataka
Krishnamachar Yoga Shala is a great ashram for those who are looking for an intense yoga training and spiritual experience. This ashram is dedicated to teaching all aspects of yoga including meditation, chanting, Ayurveda, and Ashtanga and only accepts students who register for at least one month of class at the ashram.
Krishnamachar Yoga Shala is particularly famous as the teaching location of the oldest living teacher of Ashtanga yoga, BNS Iyengar.
4. Bodhi Ayurveda and Yoga Retreat
Location: Kochi, Kerala
Bodhi Yoga Retreat is an ashram that offers students a 10-day yoga retreat that includes daily cleansing Kundalini poses, yoga and meditation, and Ayurvedic treatments. Here, students receive personal recommendations from an Ayurvedic doctor on the ideal diet and exercise for your body's needs.
Retreats for Yoga + Relaxation
For travelers who are looking for a yoga experience that is combined with a more relaxed schedule and a vacation atmosphere, then here are some great recommendations for yoga holidays to try:
1. Ashiyana Yoga Retreat
Location: Mandrem, Goa
Goa is the perfect place to go to combine yoga and meditation with a relaxing beach holiday. Ashiyana Yoga Retreat is located on Mandrem Beach and is surrounded by tropical gardens.
Ashiyana is not a yoga ashram, but rather a beautiful boutique resort that includes a swimming pool, comfortable rooms, and a restaurant that offers great-tasting and healthy food.
Besides yoga, you can also participate in many spiritual classes and workshops or spend some time getting massages at the spa.
2. Little Cove Yoga Holiday Retreat
Location: Cola, Goa
Little Cove Yoga Holiday Retreat is located on the secluded Cola Beach in Goa and is surrounded by a peaceful palm grove. This retreat is special because the classes here are taught by an Indian Yogi who has a diploma in Ashtanga yoga.
The retreat offers two beachfront yoga classes a day, organic vegetarian meals, a complimentary cooking class, and some Ayurvedic treatment options.
3. Namaste Ayurvedic Wellness Centre
Location: Chalakudy Village, Kerala
Located in Chalakudy Village in the Western Ghat Mountains, Namaste Ayurvedic Wellness Centre is the perfect place to escape for some yoga, spiritual exploration, and healing.
This resort welcomes all yoga-lovers whether they are beginner or advanced and offers meditation and yoga courses, a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, herbal baths and massages, and delicious Keralan vegetarian food.
4. Ananda in the Himalayas
Location: Narendra Nagar, Uttarakhand
Ananda is a great choice for travelers who are looking for luxury. Ananda consistently rates as one of the top luxury spas and yoga retreats in India because of its incredible service, classes, and comfort.
Ananda is located on 100 acres of land belonging to the palace estate of the local maharaja with accommodation that matches the princely and luxurious vibe. This resort offers yoga and meditation classes, luxurious massages, and aromatic spa baths.
What to Expect During a Yoga Retreat in India
Variety of Retreats and Ashrams: When you are trying to find the yoga retreat that matches your personal goals, you are likely to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options. It is important to do a lot of research before making a final decision in order to ensure the retreat is the correct one for you and that it is also a legitimate yoga retreat.
What to Wear: Unlike yoga in the West, yoga in India is not about tight spandex pants and strappy sports bras. In India, you'll be more comfortable wearing loose long pants and a comfortable T-shirt. In serious ashrams, yoga pants may be considered inappropriate and will likely be uncomfortable.
Food: Because it fits with the principles of yoga, most yoga retreats serve fresh and organic vegetarian dishes. If you attend a serious yoga ashram, you can expect meals to be very simple but also nourishing for your body and mind.
Length of Retreat: Yoga retreats vary greatly in the length of their packages. Some of the more serious ashrams require that participants stay for at least one month. Other ashrams offer packages of 5 or 10 days. At yoga holiday resorts, there is often no requirement for how long you must stay.
Indian Travel Visa for Yoga Students
Almost everyone will need to apply for a visa in order to travel to India. People who come to India as a yoga student can apply for an Indian tourist visa. On the online tourist visa form, there is even an option to mark "studying yoga" under your reason for your trip.
We recommend applying for the Indian E-visa on the official website. It is also possible to get a visa on arrival, but E-visas often allow for easier planning and are less of a hassle at the airport.
How We Can Help you With Your Spiritual Journey
- We can help you book the perfect yoga retreat that aligns with your spiritual goals. With more and more illegitimate yoga retreats popping up online every day, it can be hard to find the one that is high-quality and works for you.
- We can help plan your itinerary for the rest of your trip. Many travelers choose to visit a couple of destinations before or after their yoga retreat to learn more about Indian culture.
- If you aren't ready to commit to a full yoga retreat but still want to learn more about the practice, we can arrange for you to take yoga classes or spend a full day at a yoga center.
Explore India with Asia Highlights
India is one of the best places in the world for people who want to explore their spirituality whether that is through yoga and meditation or by witnessing a beautiful religious ritual on the banks of the Ganges. Everyone's spiritual journey is unique and at Asia Highlights we can create a unique tailor-made trip that fits your specific travel desires.