Contrary to what western media may portray, yoga is not just for young, outrageously flexible women in bold-print leggings. It’s is an age-old practice filled with rich and beautiful teachings that can help guide any interested student. As if that weren’t enough, it’s also an incredible way to de-stress and turn inward after over a decade of essays, papers, and presentations -- sound familiar?
Whether your last up-dog was this morning or last year, there is a yoga gap year program that could help your mind and body feel a little more at ease. Maybe you're itching for a little self-care, or perhaps you’d like to look a bit deeper into who you are and what you want before you head off to university or to pursue a career as a yoga teacher. Either way, a yoga-centric gap year might just do the trick.
With unique and varied programs in some of the world’s most beautiful locations, it’s hard to see the downside in taking some time off to practice a yogic lifestyle. Go, take a yoga gap year full of yoga retreats or teacher training courses in a new corner of the globe.
There are tons of ways to get involved with yoga, both physically and spiritually. Once you’ve thought about your goals and what aspects of the practice interest you, you can decide whether a retreat or teacher training may be best.
If you’re new to yoga or you’d like to learn a thing or two about the practice first hand, a retreat may be perfect for you. Retreats can be found all over the world and can last anywhere from a weekend to over a month. Depending on your budget, your wanderlust, and your prior experience, you can choose a retreat that best fits your schedule or geographic interests.
There are many branches of yoga, but if you sign up for a yoga retreat that doesn’t specify what branch it teaches, you can likely assume it will be Hatha or Vinyasa. Those are the most widely practiced forms of yoga in the west, and they’re largely physical (down dogs, headstands -- the whole lot).
If you're interested in mantra chanting or Kirtan as well as the physical aspect of yoga, asana, a Bhakti retreat would be a better choice for you.
If these words all sound a bit like mumbo jumbo, that’s also perfectly fine. You can always call the ashram or retreat center you’re interested in and ask what they’re all about. I suggest asking for a sample schedule to get a taste of what you’ll do on a day-to-day basis.
Whether you want to rock a vinyasa as the sun sets over the ocean or chant Hare Krishna to the beat of the tambas, there’s a yoga retreat waiting for you somewhere in this world.
Meditation / spiritual retreats
Similar to a yoga retreat, a meditation retreat is a period of time spent in a community dedicated to a certain practice. Naturally, the difference is that a meditation retreat will focus much more on meditation than on physical yoga, if physical yoga is practiced at all.
If you're looking for a more quiet, personal environment, a meditation retreat may be ideal. Meditation centers can be found all over and vary in styles taught and mindfulness techniques. Regardless of what center you attend, though, you can expect to join an incredibly peaceful community, perhaps a monastic one, and spend a good amount of time in silent contemplation.
There's perhaps no better way to turn inward and discover more about yourself than through meditation, and no better time to do so than on a gap year (after all, that's one of the benefits of a gap year, right?)
Yoga teacher trainings
Another common yoga gap year program is teacher training. A teacher training program differs from retreats in that rather than just practicing yoga and meditation. You will delve into the history and learn how to share the practice with others. For students looking for a deeper knowledge of yoga, or for those with less time constraints, teacher training can be a truly life-altering experience. Most teacher trainings are at least 200 hours, with some running a whopping 500 hours.
The hours can be completed in a retreat setting over a month or so or at a yoga studio over a few months. Depending on the level of immersion you are interested in, a live-in teacher training or a series of local classes may better suit you.
If you're looking to teach in the west, I would suggest attending a training that is certified by Yoga Alliance, which is sort of the FDA of the western yoga world. While it certainly has its pros and cons, a newly certified teacher is certainly more highly regarded with their seal of approval. Additionally, a gap year is a great time to get your certification because loads of colleges are jumping on the yoga train -- and teaching a practice you love is a way cooler student job than, well, pretty much anything else.
Where to Go
While Yoga has it’s roots in India, the practice has spread all over the world. So, if you aren’t down to go to the South Asian subcontinent, fear not. There is yoga for all!
Whether you’d prefer to be nestled amongst the howler monkeys in the jungle’s canopies, or sprawled along white sand beaches, Costa Rica has a yoga retreat or teacher training that can meet your needs. This Central American hot spot has become a popular yogic destination for its incredible natural beauty and friendly people. Also, if you’d like your yoga with a side of adventure or eco tourism, this might be the place for you.
Another Central American beauty, Nicaragua boasts incredible natural beauty and a growing tourism industry. While there may be fewer choices in retreats and trainings here, they will also be a bit less expensive. Nicaragua is often said to be richer in history as well, so if that perks your ears, you may want to search around this area.
Not only is Thailand an incredibly beautiful country, it’s also a hot spot for yoga and other spiritual practices. If you're looking for a place with countless options and styles of yoga and meditation, Thailand is the way to go.
As I said, India is the birthplace of Yoga. If you are looking for an authentic experience, and you’re interested in more than just the physical aspect of yoga, I would highly recommend a trip to here. It surely will not be one to forget.
Europe is now home to many yoga and meditation retreats, as well as some teacher trainings. Portugal in particular is rich with yogic opportunity, but France, the UK, and Spain are also great choices. These centers are often smaller and less visited than the ones in the afore mentioned locations, but they are brilliant nonetheless. If you would feel more comfortable staying in a western country, Europe is a great option.
If you’re American and looking for a yoga program close to home, look no further than the American Southwest. California, Arizona, and New Mexico are rich in yogic potential, and have some incredible retreat centers and trainings.
A yoga-centric break is not what many imagine when they think of a traditional gap year. If you're looking to spend late nights out partying with friends in the city, perhaps it’s not the best option for you. But if you're eager to look deeper, unafraid to get a lil’ bit heady and spiritual, and you have an open mind and an open heart, this experience is calling for you.
There are, naturally, a few things to keep in mind. If you are a big meat eater, be aware that many yoga ashrams and retreats are vegetarian to keep in line with their Hindu principles. If your retreat or training is at an ashram or monastery, modest clothing may be expected.
In general, it’s a good idea to be humble and willing to listen and try. Completing a yoga program will undoubtedly change the way you see your reality, and like many travel experiences, it will expand and deepen your worldview. Be ready to meet incredible people, discover more about yourself, and push your mind and body beyond its previous boundaries.