Asia's best yoga retreats

Get lean, clean and serene at the most blissed-out resorts on Earth

Asia's best yoga retreats Limbering up at Ananda in the Himalayas
By Helen Elfer

Imagine this: you get back from a fortnight’s jaunt in one of Asia’s tourist hotspots and instead of feeling knackered, hungover and carrying a wobbly reminder of all those curries on your gut, you return with lean, toned muscles and bursting with energy. Can it be done? Yes, if you’re willing to book into a yoga resort. Gone are the days when these places were populated entirely by ferociously flexible ladies or intense gents with beads in their beards. There are a huge range of prices, locations and styles available now, from the challenging and focused, to those that let you sleep in and (whisper it) even sink a few beers in the evening.

Yoga in India: Ananda in the Himalayas

The venue

Ananda in the Himalayas is set in the historic palace of the Maharaja of Teri Garwal, about 20 minutes’ drive up a winding mountain road from the ‘world capital of yoga’, Rishikesh. You couldn’t dream up a more scenic place to unwind – peacocks and monkeys wander around the hotel’s grounds, and the view of the Ganges at the foot of the mountains is dizzyingly beautiful.

The vibe

Given how extremely expensive a stay here is (Oprah and Brad Pitt are both clients) the atmosphere is unsurprisingly exclusive, private and reflective. Everyone from the chefs to the yoga instructors are reverential about your health and wellbeing and will remember every detail you tell them throughout your stay, whether it’s that achey shoulder or the fact you prefer grapefruit to orange juice in the morning.

The yoga

Different levels of group Hatha yoga classes take each morning at an open air stone amphitheatre. You can also take one-on-one lessons in a marble pavilion just outside the palace itself, or indoors at the spa. Tuition is of exceptionally high quality, and you can ask the teachers to incorporate any yogic style you prefer into your practice. Associated yoga practices, such as pranayama (deep breathing) and jai neti (nasal cleansing) are also taught here.

When you’re not in a downward dog

It’s easy to keep yourself very busy here if you want to. Group activities take place all day and include fitness classes, meditation sessions and Vedanta philosophical talks or you can opt to go on excursions to the ganges, hiking or birdwatching. The spa has some sensational international and ayurvedic treatments too.

Is it punishing?

Absolutely not. Yoga sessions are intense but carefully judged so you won’t find yourself in agony the day after. The rooms are tastefully luxurious, and you certainly won’t go hungry with a big breakfast and two three-course meals each day. The dishes are all relatively healthy, but you’re allowed to choose how strict you want to be, so if you fancy going nuts with a chocolate mousse and a bottle of Pinot Grigio one night, no-one’s gonna stop you.

Rooms start at £257 per night. Yoga packages and special offers are available.

Yoga in Sri Lanka: Barberyn Reef Ayurveda Resort

The venue

The resort stretches out along Beruwala’s rugged coast, with sunbeds dotted about under palm trees, on the sand and by the swimming pool. A series of wooden huts look directly out onto the rough sea, or you can choose to stay in the main building, near the reading room and restaurant. Rooms are gigantic and furnished with quirky, old-fashioned pieces.

The vibe

Totally old-school. Ayurvedic medicines, and potent herbal massage oils are boiled up in huge iron pots, and the therapists all wear starched nurse’s pinafores. That’s not to say it’s unfriendly – many of the guests here are single women, and the atmosphere is warm and chatty.

The yoga

Small group classes (usually between five and ten) are held every morning or evening in a huge yoga hall, where the walls are covered in bright, bold paintings. Yoga tutors teach traditional Hatha yoga with pranayama, and focus on back strengthening postures.

When you’re not in a downward dog

Since the emphasis here is on ayurvedic healing, much of the time is taken up with traditional massage, acupuncture and other therapies. Boat trips, dance and music performances and excursions to the nearby town of Galle are available too. The rest of the time you’ll probably spend stretched out with a good book in the sunshine.

Is it punishing?

In many ways, yes. If you’re determined to improve your health or lose weight, you can be sure temptation won’t cross your path here, as the largely vegetarian food is simple and low-fat and no alcohol is served. After consultation with a doctor, guests are given a strict schedule of bitter ayurvedic medicines to be taken at intervals throughout the day. As for the treatments, the emphasis is firmly on age-old remedies rather than pampering.

Full board starts at £54 a night. Summer promotion: Pay for one night, get the next night free.

Yoga in Bali: Fivelements, Puri Ahimsa

The venue

Fivelements describes itself as a holistic healing centre, and is located by the banks of Bali’s Ayung River. Impressively creative bamboo structures are dotted about the site, as well as a series of what are termed ‘sacred spaces’ meaning shrines, peaceful gardens and places set aside for traditional Balinese ceremonies.

The vibe

Ultra-spiritual. Check in your cynical hat at the door, as you’ll need to fully embrace the centre’s mysticism, philosophy of harmony and love, and devotion to protecting the environment to make the most out of your stay here.

The yoga

Part of the resort’s Sacred Arts program, yoga classes here are private. Mainly hatha yoga is practiced, but instructors will consult you on the style you prefer. Classes take place in the mandala agung – a dramatic, bamboo pavilion, with a shape that resembles Gunung Agung, Bali's highest volcanic mountain. The double spiral formation that converges in the centre is designed to represent the union of people from all walks of life.

When you’re not in a downward dog

Many clients book in for one of the healing programs, Panca Mahabuta for rejuvenation, or Tri Kaya Parisudha for detoxification. These include a busy program of activities, therapies and meditation sessions. The Sacred Arts program includes Aikido and dance classes.

Is it punishing?

Depends – the routine isn’t gruelling in the slightest, but only raw, vegan food is served, which will take some adjusting to for most. Alcohol and coffee aren’t available and smoking is forbidden.

Suites start at £298 a night.

Yoga in Thailand: Samahita retreat

The venue

Samahita is on Koh Samui, but don’t panic – situated on Laem Sor beach on the south coast, it’s at a safe distance from the debauchery of Chawang. Eco-friendly buildings use natural lighting, rainwater harvesting and solar power.

The vibe

Yoga and fitness are taken very seriously here and the retreat is costly for a Thailand getaway. As such, guests tend to be extremely driven, with fixed goals of improving their practice, gaining yoga qualifications or learning about yoga philosophy.

The yoga

They specialise in Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, and one of the teachers was directly certified by Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, who developed the style. Guest teachers are regularly brought in for focus retreats and workshops, teaching pre-natal yoga, pranayama and other specialist topics. Classes are taught in the retreat’s yoga shala which overlooks the meditation garden, beach and pool.

When you’re not in a downward dog

Reiki training, healthy cooking and massage workshops are available, or you can join a group barefoot run. Samahita is close to Laem Sor Pagoda, some interesting shopping areas and numerous walking routes.

Is it punishing?

The yoga is focused and intense, and if you’re booked in for one of their detox programs, your diet will be extremely limited. Alcohol and smoking are not allowed. But no pain, no gain, eh?

Rooms start at £63 per night.

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