You walk inside the land of siant, mahamuni and gurus to learn the art of peace, silence, and mindfulness. You walk inside India.
India is a dream destination for yogis. Our country has so many ashrams and courses where you can experience peace of mind, soothe your soul and feel free. Yoga is the journey of self through the self. There are few questions which cannot be googled and these yoga retreats give you a sense mindfulness. This list includes some of the best ashrams, retreats and shalas India has to offer, there are three notable omissions: BKS Iyengar’s school in Pune, Pattabhi Jois’s in Mysore, and the pan-Indian Sivananda Centre, excluded on account of their existing popularity and fame.
Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar
At the sprawling Bihar School, yoga is a lifestyle not a practice, and karma yoga is given precedence over asana. So alongside classes expect hours of seva (service) – including gardening, kitchen work and toilet cleaning – supplemented by cold showers and a simple diet.
It may sound daunting, but comfort’s loss is authenticity’s gain, and former students attest to the life-altering qualities a stint in this ashram can give. Days begin at 4am, and end with twilight satsangs (discourses) or kirtans (mantra chanting) before lights out at 8pm. Many yoga styles are taught, including Hatha, Raja (mental discipline), Kriya (breathing, chanting and ritual gesture) and yoga therapy, as well as Yoga Nidra, a deep meditative technique lulling the mind into a state neither awake nor asleep, developed by the ashram’s founder Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
• Open to all (beginner to advanced), year round (though in May-July, temperatures can reach 45C). The four-month residential course in yogic studies starts every October, around £1,200 for international students including accommodation and all meals. biharyoga.net
Purple Valley, Assagao, Goa
If you’re a modern yogi craving India plus detox juices and fast Wi-Fi, with access to the world’s best Ashtanga teachers (John Scott, Petri Raisanen, Alexander Medin), Goa’s Purple Valley is your place. Despite its hardcore reputation, beginners are not only welcome but encouraged, making it a great place to kick-start your Ashtanga training, with Mysore-style self-practice in the morning and special classes in the afternoons, including philosophy, yogic living, kirtans and pranayama.
The retreat is spread over two Portuguese-style houses and landscaped gardens with a tropical forest feel. Two international and one Ayurvedic chef prepare buffet meals that include the likes of masala millet crepes and soy burgers. Consultations with Ayurvedic doctors and massage therapists are also offered. Once the preserve of foreign students, Purple Valley now has a growing Indian following.
• Open from mid-October to late April. Full-board is £590/£890 for one/two weeks in a shared room, or £750/£1,100 in a single room. yogagoa.com
Kaivalyadhama Ashram, Lonavala
Set within 180 acres of parkland at Lonavala, a hill-station between Mumbai and Pune, this ashram, designed as a yogic research centre when it opened in 1924, is the kind of place you can spend days, months or even years immersed in its myriad programmes. The ashram’s school offers diplomas and fully accredited degrees for yoga teachers, along with shorter courses for both beginners and advanced students, while the health centre – where Gandhi was an early patient after a breakdown in 1927 – has week-long packages that include yoga with a focus on either relaxation, naturopathy or Ayurveda. You’ll stay within the leafy, old-fashioned campus, at the health centre or in the rooms of the main hall, some of which are air-conditioned. The diet throughout is organic Indian vegetarian.
• Open all year. £42 a week for yoga with naturopathy, £115 a week for yoga with Ayurvedic treatment; accommodation starts at £67 a week for a shared room and goes up to £425 for a cottage. The year-long diploma in yoga therapy is £4,255, including accommodation and all meals. kdham.com
Mysore Krishnamachar Yoga Shala, Mysore, Karnataka
Mysore, in the southern state of Karnataka, is one of India’s most popular yoga destinations. Photograph: David Pearson/Rex
BNS Iyengar, who has taught quietly in his Mysore shala for the last 38 years, was one of the original students of “super-guru” Krishnamacharya, the teacher of the famous BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, founders of Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga respectively.
His classes include Ashtanga yoga asanas (the sequence differs from the main Ashtanga institute’s, with a 55 minute primary series) pranayama (breathing), kriya (breathing,