The word “yoga” is Sanskrit, meaning “yoking” or “union.” For some yoga practitioners, that may mean union of breath, body, mind, or spirit. For the traveling yogi, it may be about that special union with an unforgettable place. With the very practice of yoga calling for your complete awareness, it’s perhaps one of the most fulfilling ways to enjoy the solace of nature. Fortunately, some of the world’s most beautifully preserved settings also offer dedicated spaces to fill your spiritual well.
If you’re looking to experience the purest form of yoga, perhaps a journey to its birthplace is in order. In India, the southwestern state of Kerala offers some of the world’s best centers for the practice of Ayurveda, a system of alternative medicine and “sister” practice to yoga which traces back centuries to the first Hindu text focused on medicine. While some travelers may swear by the power of Ayurvedic medicines, others may choose to simply make this the location to deepen their own yoga practice among the serenity of its many popular ashrams. Many centers offer holistic programs that include an individually designed Ayurvedic healing program complete with “prescriptions” for meals and movement, while others offer cooking classes so you can bring that sense of health and well-being back home with you.
Montezuma, Costa Rica
There’s a natural pairing with surf and yoga—both demand steady concentration, breath control, and of course, patience. Costa Rica may be one of the best places to enjoy the best of both worlds. Travelers love Montezuma for its inviting locals and artsy vibe, not to mention some delicious vegetarian-friendly dining. With a rugged and rocky coastline, it’s less crowded than other popular nearby towns like Santa Teresa. For the best surf nearby, take a short coastal hike north to the white-sand Playa Grande and test your balance out on the waves. For your efforts, enjoy a local avocado smoothie overlooking the Gulf of Nicoya.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
If you find yourself on retreat at a farm overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea along the Amalfi Coast, you will know you’ve made a wise decision. Towns like Ravello, Praiano, and La Selva offer the ideal setting for such an adventure. For a true spiritual experience, spend a day hiking the Path of the Gods, which links the picturesque hilltop town of Agerola with Nocelle, sloping gently downhill with magnificent views of the coastline and island of Capri. Take in the scent of tomatoes on the vine, fresh basil, olive groves, and citrus trees between scenic yoga sessions, only to be later served foods that come straight from the land.
Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
With a yoga practice that’s all about tuning into (and withdrawing from) the senses, you’ll have no shortage of ways to practice on the sleepy, unspoiled island of Koh Yao Noi. Offering a welcome escape from the more touristy areas of Thailand, Koh Yao Noi’s local teachers provide classes based on a variety of yoga practices from hatha to Yin, as well as pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation. Augment your physical practice with a side adventure of rock climbing, or take a serene kayak ride through the mangroves alongside brightly colored tropical plants, verdant palm trees, and vibrant butterflies. Cap off your day on a secret, isolated beach to meditate with the rhythm of the ocean.
Sacred Valley, Peru
While most travelers make the pilgrimage to Peru to visit its enigmatic ruins, including the famous Machu Picchu, slow it down for at least a few nights to recharge both mentally and spiritually in the solitude of the Sacred Valley. Many of the centers within the valley are family owned and run, providing a warm escape in which to follow your own spiritual journey. It’s also common to find a range of activities that span ancient shamanic traditions, from communal sweat lodge ceremonies, to the ancient Inca practice of San Pedro medicine, believed by Andean spiritual leaders to facilitate connection to Pachamama, or Mother Earth. To help your body acclimate to the altitude, some traditional healers recommend drinking tea brewed with coca leaves or simply chewing the leaves themselves. Then head out into the surrounding landscape to breathe in the air of one of the world’s most scenic and historical settings. In the morning, awake to 360-degree views of the Andes and wonder whether you’re still dreaming.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter if you subscribe to the particular brand of New Age wisdom that gravitates toward this so-called “vortex center.” Once you arrive, you’re bound to feel its magnetism—whether translated through the array of alternative medicines available or through the striking red-rock buttes and steep canyon walls that stretch across its desert landscape. While in the area, be sure to visit the Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park, nestled among piñon and juniper pines at the base of Thunder Mountain. Per Buddhist tradition, stupas are said to represent the Mind of Enlightenment, serving as the ultimate space for spiritual renewal.