Here are several suggestions for some of the best yoga retreats or “zen dens” in the world.
1. WILDFLOWER HALL
Where: Shimla, India
Guru says: Yoga was invented in the Himalayas, in caves where acolytes of Tantric bliss experimented with astrology, nutrition, sex, medicine, and asanas (postures). But cave dwelling is so 5,000 years ago: Stay instead at this cliff-side manor, once home to British commander-in-chief Lord Kitchener and now a luxury Oberoi property. Instruction with local masters who grew up practicing yoga can be arranged in private sessions or with a group. Most programs last one week and include spa and Ayurvedic treatments.
Classmates: Wealthy Indian families looking to escape the heat of New Delhi and Mumbai, as well as many European couples. The Himalayan environment attracts a steady stream of fit, young professionals into adventure travel.
Om factor: Didn’t we mention yoga was invented here? Teachers are often part of a guru-disciple lineage dating back centuries.
Prerequisites: A simple mountain pose. Better: the sweat-inducing headstand.
Extracurricular: Day-trips on the white water of the Sutlej River, hikes and single-track mountain biking trips leading to king-of-the-world views, tennis in the summer and ice skating in the winter.
When to go: The summer is warm, but not hot; wildflowers bloom in late spring; and snow falls regularly in January and February. Take your pick.
Doubles from $390; morning yoga classes included, individual yoga programs extra
Tel: 800 562 3764
2. COMO SHAMBHALA AT PARROT CAY
Where: Turks & Caicos
Guru says: This is the spot for well-heeled yogis whose idea of Zen minimalism doesn’t extend to thread counts and evening meals. The private 1,000-acre island in the Turks + Caicos has snow-white sand and turquoise coves, and the rooms are unfussy but gorgeous, all teak and white cotton. Instructors give daily yoga classes, but the resort also attracts some of the biggest names in American yoga for retreat weeks.
Classmates: A yoga rule of thumb: When the price goes up, so does the average age of the clientele. Don’t expect the barefoot, stringy-haired hard-bodies you share floor space with at home. Instead, you’ll get moneyed couples and a smattering of New Age yuppies.
Om factor: With American yoga luminaries such as Rodney Yee and Erich Schiffmann as retreat week regulars, the level of instruction is excellent, with an average of five hours per day during retreat weeks.
Prerequisites: Downward-facing dog. If you don’t already know this pose, just watch your dog stretch when he gets up from a nap.
Extracurricular: Dive or snorkel in the most pristine waters and healthiest reefs of the Caribbean region. Or just collapse on the beach for an extended savasana.
Doubles from $680 including group yoga classes; $120 an hour for private instruction; retreat weeks $6,240 all-inclusive
Como Shambhala at Parrot Cay
Tel: 877 754 0726
Where: Hua Hin, Thailand
Guru says: This retreat, my budding spiritual narcissist, is all about you. Thailand’s top destination spa ensures no annoying classmates and no early mornings unless you want them. Upon arrival at the luxurious, secluded seven-acre property located 135 miles south of Bangkok, you’ll be assigned a Health and Wellness advisor who’ll design a personal yoga program, ranging from 3 to 21 days (or longer), and augment it with spa treatments and a nutritional program.
Classmates: There may be no one on the mat next to you (all instruction is private), but other guests do exist. Between yoga and spa sessions you’ll hobnob with British, Swedish, and Australian thirty- and fortysomethings. Most guests are women traveling with their girlfriends or mums to detox or lose weight, but there are plenty of soloists, so you won’t have to dine alone.
Om factor: High. Every morning Buddhist monks wander along Hua Hin beach draped in faded red robes.
Prerequisites: Half lotus with breath of fire (kalabati breathing). You aren’t going to be able to fake this one.
Extracurricular: While most guests don’t leave the property, we suggest shuttling into town to explore the market and local Buddhist shrines.
When to go: The most comfortable time is the dry season, October through April. But prices drop during the summer rains, May to September.
Three- to 21-day retreats from $1,530 to $10,710, including meals and yoga instruction
Tel: 949 487 0522
4. BEGAWAN GIRI
Where: Bali, Indonesia
Guru says: Bali seems tailor-made for serenity: The Balinese culture is based on harmony, and locals couldn’t be more hospitable. If you don’t come away from here feeling balanced and fulfilled, you need a personality replacement. The only decision is how upscale to go. The tippy-top is Como Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri, where the guest villas are architectural masterpieces and the sumptuous spa overlooks the Ayung River. Yoga instructors are on staff, and the hotel hosts retreat weeks throughout the year. But Balinese tranquility isn’t limited to the elite. Australia-based yoga studio Inspya Yoga offers a handful of affordable Bali retreats each year, most of them hosted by renowned teacher Lance Schuler in the town of Ubud (just a stone’s throw from Begawan Giri). Retreat guests are lodged in a simple but comfortable compound with two-story bungalows, an open-air restaurant, and a spring-water swimming pool.
Classmates: Donna Karan at the Begawan Giri; attractive, down-to-earth Aussies with Inspya Yoga.
Om factor: Spirit saturates Bali. There are thousands of temples on the island, and even if you don’t know anything about Hinduism, it’s hard not to be intrigued.
Prerequisites: Wheel pose. Bali attracts types that do full back-bends in their sleep.
Extracurricular: Visit the mother temple complex, Pura Besakih; scale the sacred Mt. Agung volcano; dive in the pristine waters of North Bali; or learn to surf on the south coast.
When to go: Lance Schuler’s next Bali retreat is in July 2007. Begawan Giri announces its retreat week calendar in November 2006; check the website for details.
Begawan Giri: Doubles from $495, including daily yoga; retreat weeks from $3,882. Inspya Yoga: 10-day retreats from $1,009, including accommodations
Tel: 62 361 978 888
Inspya Yoga Retreats
Tel: 61 2 6687 2717