Yoga retreats are great, but even the most extraordinary practice in Costa Rica simply can’t compare in depth to practicing along the sacred Ganges River in Rishikesh. There is something unmistakably unique about the experience of traveling to a destination where the yogic tradition’s roots run deep. While starting your yoga travels in India makes sense, you don’t necessary have to fly 14-plus hours to find authenticity. Destinations closer to home like New York City and the wild Rocky Mountains also have real-deal links to the eight limbs. Here, 10 spots for your yoga travel bucket list.
1. Rishikesh and the Ganges River Valley, India
If you’re going on a yoga pilgrimage, Rishikesh is a good place to start. Dubbed the “birthplace of yoga,” this spiritual town is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains along the sacred Ganges River in Northern India. Legend has it that a famous saint came to the river to give penance and was acknowledged by Hindu God Vishnu. Rishikesh is replete with ashrams and temples that pay homage to various gods and goddesses, as well as a plethora of yoga classes and workshops.
Stay at the garden-set Phool Chatti Ashram (from $190 for a 7-day program with vegetarian meals) known for the silent components of its retreats. Or get spoiled at Ananda in the Himalayas (from $510/night), which sits on a 100-acre Maharaja Palace Estate. The luxury spa resort is famed for its Ayurvedic spa and wellness treatments, yoga and meditation classes (check out their new Dhyana Self-Realization program), and organic cuisine. Intrepid Travel’s 13-Day Mountains & Mystics itinerary (from $1,095) includes visiting ancient temples in Old Delhi and the Dalai Lama’s tranquil Dharmasala, before completing the trip by setting up camp along the banks of the Ganges River in Rishikesh.
It is believed that yoga and its meditative practice have been around for 5,000 years. But while Mysore is considered the home of Ashtanga yoga (the traditional style your go-to vinyasa class can be traced back to), it wasn’t always part of the city’s identity. Back when India was under British rule, the practice of yoga, along with other Hindu customs, were unpopular, even with the locals. Only in the 1930s did the Maharaja of Mysore make a point of reviving ancient traditions, such as yoga, and appoint Krishnamacharya, now known as the “Father of Modern Yoga,” to cultivate the notion that yoga promotes health. Krishnamacharya began studying ancient texts at the Mysore Palace library and discovered Ashtanga, which he went on to adapt to include the gymnastic-like poses the style is now known for. The majority of his students were young men including his wife’s brother, B.K.S. Iyengar, and K. Pattabhi Jois, guru to many of today's Ashtangis.
“To travel to Mysore is a seeker’s journey that sets your practice on the firm ground of the tradition,” says Kino MacGregor, who studied with Jois at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute and wrote The Power of Ashtanga Yoga. “There is something that is hard to describe, a feeling, a sense of transcendence, something deeply profound that happens in Mysore. It is like each day peels a layer of yourself and opens your heart up to more surrender, more authenticity.” In addition to immersing yourself in yoga, she suggests trying a thali platter at Dasaprakash in Gandhi Square, visiting the swami at Chamundi Hill and its stunning Temple just outside Mysore, gaining a better understanding of Ayurveda with Dr. Anil Kumar, who teaches at Dexit Health Clinic & Research Center, and making a point to pet and feed a cow or two.
Just as Mysore is synonymous with Ashtanga yoga, Pune is the hometown of Iyengar yoga. As one of Krishnamacharya's disciples, B.K.S. Iyengar was asked to spread the study of yoga to Pune by his guruji, at just 18 years old with a mere 3 years of yoga experience. Once in Pune, the young yogi didn’t just share his knowledge, he adapted the practice to incorporate the use of props, such as chairs and ropes, to assist students who with limitations and, thus, making the practice’s therapeutic benefits more accessible. Almost 40 years after his arrival in Pune, he opened the esteemed Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in 1975.
“The Institute feels like a time capsule,” says Carrie Owerko, a Senior Intermediate Iyengar teacher in New York City, who first studied with B.K.S. Iyengar and his family, more than two decades ago. “It still seems somewhat untouched by all that hustle and bustle that surrounds it.” While B.K.S. Iyengar’s absence after his 2014 death is palpable, his legacy continues in the marble-floored asana halls adorned with ceiling and wall ropes, wooden props and a formidable platform for a teacher to dole out instructions. “This is a place for practice and study,” she adds. “It is not a yoga vacation destination. It is not an Ashram. It is an Institute, a school for those who are self-sufficient, industrious, and dedicated to the practice and study of Iyengar Yoga.” Pune, about 90 miles east of Mumbai, is also home to the 300-year-old Chatturshringi Temple of the deity of Pune, and the panoramic Parvati Hill. For a side trip, head 200 miles northeast of Pune to investigate the UNESCO site Ajanta Caves, adorned with rock-cut Buddhist monuments. The prayer halls and monasteries within the caves are filled with 5th Century AD religious art.
Want to practice with Carrie Owerko? Sign up nowfor Yoga Journal’s Iyengar 101: A 6-Week Master Class on Iyengar Yoga's Legendary Poses and Principles.
4. The Rubin Museum of Art
New York City
The Rubin Museum of Art is a pocket of serenity in New York City’s lively neighborhood of Chelsea. Unlike other art spaces in the city, this six-floor museum is not just home to some of the most prestigious Himalayan art exhibitions, it’s a hub for world-renowned scholars and yogic thinkers who teach seminars and workshops (many of which are free) that tie contemporary fields like neuroscience and technology to the ancient practice of yoga and meditation. The gift shop alone is a gem, stocked with colorful vintage silk sari shawls, sculptures, and even presents for young yogis, like the whimsical Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth storybook.
Post-museum, make your way to Divya’s Kitchen on the Lower East Side. This restaurant, located on the floor of the Bhakti Center, takes a global approach to Ayurvedic cuisine by transforming comforting staples, like lasagna and risotto, into ingenious fare.
Sedona is not just one of the most beautiful places in the U.S., it’s also one of the most mystical. The Native Americans consider it a sacred locale for healing and spiritual renewal. It’s known for its energy vortexes (there are four main ones, but you can spot small pockets of energy around spiraled Juniper trees), plethora of crystal shops, and aura readings, as well as rejuvenating and medicinal spa treatments. Nature-loving yogi’s can sign up for guided yoga hikes and vortex tours with Aumbase Sedona Adventures, which also offer a ton of classes, workshops and retreats. The Red Rock country is also home to the annual Sedona Yoga Festival (March 9–12) that draws prominent yoga teachers, luminaries, and influencers, like veteran yoga instructor Sara Ivanhoe and renowned yoga photographer Robert Sturman.
We suggest you stay at one of the spa-centric properties to reap the most benefits of Sedona’s unique environment. Amara Resort and Spa (from $199/night), which offers complimentary yoga classes to guests, is also known for treatments such as chakra-balancing and custom oil-blended massages, that aim to detoxify and harness the metaphysical energy of the region. The five-star Enchantment Resort (from $605/night) is nestled in Boynton Canyon, one of the vortex hotspots. It offers more than 100 weekly activities like meditation courses and healthy cooking seminars as well as access to the luxe Mii Amo Spa, which is designed to harvest the natural energy of the canyon, particularly suitable for unique treatments like the Full Moon massage.
Named after the Cambodian interpretation of Harihara, a Hindu deity that bears attributes of gods Shiva and Vishnu, Hariharalaya dates back to 800–1000 AD as the Vedic capitol of Cambodia. The little village, just 10 miles and a 30-minute tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap, is also home to the Hariharalaya Retreat Center (from $260 for a 6-day retreat with vegan meals and activities). The center hosts over 40 retreats each year that focus on Integral Yoga, Meditation and Conscious Living.
“It’s not just about the physical, it’s very much about working on incorporating yoga into your everyday life,” says Anna Strahs Watts, yoga instructor in Richmond, Virginia, who spent 3 months at Hariharalaya last fall. “That’s what separates Hariharalaya from other places. The idea isn’t to just come for a week and leave; it’s about creating new habits to change your life.” Unlike other locations, this remote village was only recently introduced to electricity, which means that you won’t be hooked up to Wi-Fi, making it a prime location for a digital detox. Less than a mile from the retreat center is the Bakong Temple, which represents the mythical creatures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. And, of course, no visit to Southeast Asia would be complete without a stop at nearby Angkor Wat, the largest archeological temple site in the world.
You don’t have to travel to India to deepen your knowledge of yoga and Ayurveda. The esteemed Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health (from $167/night, including meals and activities) in the Berkshires offers some of the most comprehensive programs, retreats, and workshops in North America. Tucked away on a 150-acre sanctuary in western Massachusetts, the campus offers more than 700 programs a year and caters to visitors of all levels.
A novice can get a taste of Kripalu with a day pass, while an experienced practitioner may want to enroll in teacher trainings or in-depth workshops with some of the most brilliant minds in yoga, like Rodney Yee, Dharma Mittra, and Sally Kempton. Whatever your program, we highly recommend adding one of their Ayurvedic treatments (say the prana-restoring abhyanga massage) to your stay.
Think of Shambhala Mountain Center (from $109/night, including meals) as one of those places with a reset button. Nestled at 8,000 feet above sea level in the Northern Colorado Rockies, about 50 miles northwest of Fort Collins, this 600-acre property’s alpine setting alone is worthy of a trip. Not to mention the specialized programs and host of yoga and meditation options for a day or weekend visit.
Hike the property’s 8 miles of trails or visit the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, a unique destination in the Colorado wilderness. The 108-foot-tall stupa is said to promote health, harmony, peace and freedom, as well as impart blessings on those who visit the sacred Buddhist structure.
Eat, Pray, Love put Bali on everyone’s radar as one of the premier yoga spots—and, for good reason. Rooted to Hindu spirituality, Ubud (which actually translates to “medicine”) has always been a hub for holistic healers. Lodging options run the gamut. The minimalist Bali Silent Retreat for Prayer and Meditation (from $40/night) is ideal for the yogi looking for a more structured stay filled with meditations, yoga classes, and full-moon fire ceremonies. On the other end of the spectrum, the superbly accommodating Mandapa, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve (from $495/night) has an in-house swami who offers his own style of yoga, Pranawayu (a blend of Hatha, Kundalini, Ashtanga, and Iyengar practices). The property also hosts guided tours to holy locales, like the 11th century cliff shrines of the Gunung Kawi and Tirta Empul, the Hindu-Balinese water temple and springs famous for use in purification rituals. What’s more, there is no dearth of spa treatments—the Balinese acupressure massage at Tamarind Spa at Murni’s Houses and Bali Botanica’s Ayurvedic chakra massage are just a few to try.
The Chopra Center, which turned 21 this year, is a newbie compared to other destinations on this list. Deepak Chopra, co-founder and board-certified physician, helped create a modern enclave for this ancient practice by incorporating the Vedic science of mind, body, and spirit into contemporary integrative medicine and personal growth.
In addition to traditional yoga and meditation sessions, the center offers a series of retreats, seminars, and workshops, as well as a unique Chopra FIT program (from $3,332 for 7 days, all-inclusive) that melds classic yoga with present-day fitness regimes, like TRX and Core Fusion. It also includes an intro to Ayurvedic cooking that won’t overwhelm those lacking extensive knife skills.