Travel Therapy: Ultimate Destinations for Yoga and Meditation

I'm kicking off Travel Therapy with a post Happy Hearts day special on my ultimate destinations for yoga and meditation. Chocolates and flowers are sweet and pretty during Valentine's day. But for the day after and the following days to come yoga and meditation is the key to a happy heart.

1. Rishikesh, India
Known as the world capital of yoga, this town is located close to the Himalayas and is next to the Ganges river. [Cool to know: George Harrison had his ashes scattered along this river.] What is important to note is that the Ganges carries an immense cultural and religious meaning for Hindus. For them this body of water is a symbol of life and purity.

Of course, one of the most popular thing to do in Rishikesh is to check in to an ashram where you can study yoga, meditation and Hindu philosophy. I discovered the photos below when I was searching for ashrams in India on Flickr (I use Flickr for inspiration on travel destinations). These are real yoginis captured in a very solemn moment.

 Photo Credit: Freestyler
If you don't know what an ashram is (chill it's not some cult compound) it is basically a hermitage where you go to find tranquility or get some form of instruction. Now, it is not some sort of spa. There are some things you have to know and take into consideration before booking that flight to Rishikesh. summarizes this best with the following:

If you're considering an ashram stay, it's worth noting that ashrams tend to have a distinctive rhythm and protocol. For one thing, while some have stricter rules than others, most still have mandatory daily schedules, often requiring you to rise before dawn. If you are fairly new to yoga, a day consisting of four compulsory yoga and meditation sessions could be overwhelming. Also, visitors are often asked to practice karma yoga (selfless service) by contributing to the upkeep of the facility—in the form of kitchen duties, gardening, cleaning, and other chores. In short, you should be comfortable with communal living to fully enjoy and benefit from the ashram experience.

A few tips: Most ashrams serve only vegetarian or vegan food; alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco are not permitted. Don't try sneaking in a bottle of Chianti—you'll be asked to leave if the contraband is discovered. Guests typically stay in dormitories with shared bathrooms. Modest dress is usually required at all times; shorts, short skirts, leggings, and sleeveless or sheer tops are not appropriate ashram attire. Instead, pack loose pants and a short-sleeved shirt for your practice.

However, if you are a yoga enthusiast such as myself then staying in an ashram is something you have been dreaming of doing. For ashram recommendations, I would like to start with my personal choice Parmarth Niketan (it's in my bucket list).  They offer offer 6 different programs on Yoga which ranges from general classes up to a 4 week intensive instruction that requires at least one year of practice before attending. The Parmarth also offers simple residential facilities to students, pilgrims and devotees. Oh and you get to wake up next to this view:

To find the right Ashram for you, here are some resources at your disposal:

When I was looking at the list, I noticed that some Ashrams were pretty pricey (I think it is because they are part of the Yoga Alliance which allows them to issue teacher certifications valid in the US). I was reading on some of the forums that the smart thing to do is to go canvas around the town until you find one that fits your budget and your purpose. Of course, this only works if you have a lot of time.

2. Kathmandu, Nepal

In a Buddhist town which lie in the Kathmandu valley you can find the Kopan Monastery. They offer a one month meditation course at their international center for study and meditation. They also offer other courses which focus on Buddhism (if you are into this). For $420 dollars, you can enroll in their annual meditation course which happens every November. The fee includes dormitory accommodation, all meals, course material and a course administration fee, which covers travel for teachers, course preparation and material, and administration expenses. You can read more about Kopan Monastery's program here. 

  La nostra aula.. Kopan Monastery, NepalKopan monastery
Photo Credit: Mo-pop

Warning: this is not for the faint of heart. It's not the usual retreat that you are used to where you have all the amenities that you need. I hear that the regime is rigorous and the conditions can sometimes be harsh (cold). Remember, it is a monastery so they have rules which can be very austere especially if you are used to independent hedonistc city living. The bright side is you get to experience a simple and quiet life free of distractions. 

Full moon from Kopan monastery
Photo Credit: Mo-pop

If you think that the month long course is not for you there are shorter courses available at other monasteries. has a section called spiritual pursuits which you can check out.

3. Paro Valley, Bhutan

I think these two pictures alone should give you an idea why this is on my list.

Photo Credit: Gavin Gough                          Photo Credit: Christo

Both were taken at the Taktsang Palphug Monastery or better known as The Tiger's Nest. It is a Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex located on a cliff side near a cave (No this is not where they filmed Batman Begins). Apparently, this cave is open for public viewing only once a year. You will also require a special permit and a guide to travel to this place. Then after you acquire these you will need to hike on foot or ride on a mule to get up to the monastery (is it just me or is this sounding more like a quest?). The way I think about it the awesome view on top is worth a few hours of pain.
4. Tibet

Last but not the least is the mystical and mysterious place in the Himalayas- Tibet. I did not write down a specific place because there are a lot of temples and gompas that you can go to. I think this would be a great choice for the "self-guided traveler" who does not want to be confined in a facility or receive formal instruction (note: individual travel is not allowed in Tibet so trips here have to be arranged through agencies). Sometimes the journey alone provides us with enough inner peace and tranquility. You can use the open roads and breath taking views as tools for deep reflection.

If you want to find a list of Tibetan Monasteries Wikipedia has one.

Potala Temple, Tibet
Photo Credit: Katarina
 Chiyu Gompa and Mt. Kailash, Gang Rinpoche Tibet
Photo Credit: reurinkjan (please check out his Tibet sets- it is very surreal)

There you are. I hope you enjoyed the out of this world landscapes captured on photo. Are there lesser known places for yoga and meditation? Don't keep it a secret- share =)

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inka said...

To answer your question first: yes, an ashram on Paradise Island Nassau/Bahamas. Tiny, directly on the water and next door to the overwhelming Atlantis resort.
Great pictures in your post.

Grace said...

Thanks Inka- I like pretty pictures! I just checked out that Ashram and it looks beautiful. Adding it to my list.

monette | fliptravels said...

would love to get myself into one of them ashrams. i am especially inspired after i read eat, pray, love. :D i'm not the biggest of fans of the book, but the narration of the experience is enough for me to want to go into one. thanks for the suggestions!

Jillian said...

We were in Rishikesh for a few days and loved it. Didn't stay at an ashram but had plenty of access to yoga!

Grace said...

@monette I have eat pray love but have not read it yet would you believe that?

@Jillian jealous! link me to a post please

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