LET’S BE CLEAR. I don’t like chanting or incense, and I’m far from flexible. I’m too impatient to meditate, or frankly, even lie still for a few minutes with my eyes closed on a mat. But I would like a body like Gwyneth Paltrow and the inner calm of a Buddhist monk.
In all my travels, I’ve never set eyes on an unhealthy or stressed out yoga practitioner and I’m 100% sold on yoga’s benefits — increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone, an inner peace and calmness, plus, its ability to lower blood pressure. And while I’m far from a hardcore yogi, yoga has taken me to many wonderful places. I’ve tried hatha on a rocky outcrop in Ibiza and yin in the Maldives on a beach, and I’ve reached the conclusion that I’m an ashtanga-bikram fan — which involves high-octane moves and leaves you exhausted in a heap of sweat.
Like many yogis, I believe I’m healthier and happier when I practise, though I’m baffled by the terminology, types and increasingly diverse retreats where you can strike a pose from dusk ’til dawn. Should I, for example, ditch the alcohol, go vegan and opt for the ultimate yogic holiday, spending a week or two dedicated to detoxing cleansing rituals in a far-flung mountaintop ashram? Or head for a hip and healthy hotel where you can (literally) dip in and out of yoga, combining sessions with such heart-pumping pursuits as surfing, paddleboarding, free diving and swimming?
Somewhere out there I know I’ll find the perfect balance — a yoga holiday that ticks all my personal boxes — but it sometimes seems you have to have the patience of a monk to find the right one. So read on for our selection of the best bendy breaks worldwide.
Mountains & waves
Aqua yoga, Switzerland
A shaft of sunlight slants across the pool while ripples of water shatter the reflection of the snow-capped, pine-clad peaks of the Swiss mountains beyond. I exhale and almost hear my shoulders shudder a sigh of relief. The view itself encapsulates calmness and as I sink just slightly under the water’s surface, I discover the ethereal sound of classical music emanating from the Grand Hotel Kronenhof’s submerged speakers.
Just down the road in St Moritz, downhill skiers sporting Gucci and Prada insouciantly strike a pose on one of Europe’s first yoga slopes, but I’ve chosen to stay here — in my old Speedos — to try asanas in water. I have visions of gurgling chants while simulating the moves of a synchronised swimmer, so I’ve come armed with goggles. Should I have packed a noseclip too?
Areti, my yoga guru, laughs and shakes her head. Tall and lithe, an athletic symbol of health and vitality, I’m told to swim a few laps to warm up, then stand ‘rooted’. There’s no mystical mumbo jumbo as she instructs me to focus on my breathing and the chakra beneath my belly button. The water keeps ebbing me off balance as she guides me through a series of standing asanas, but somehow I feel more graceful than I do on land. Plus, no one nearby can see how inflexible I am, although I spy a child watching inquisitively, eager to either dive bomb or join in.
Between asanas Areti makes me perform aqua gym exercises to strengthen and tone my muscles. Standing on a kickboard, I’m told to paddle from one end to the next, sprint on the spot, perform ballet-like moves and dangle from her arms to stretch and elongate my muscles and spine. It’s not really ‘zen-like’, but Areti believes that for me, the most important thing to do is to stretch and relax
— and she’s clearly a tad frustrated at my inability to do either.
My shoulders are too tight and the stress stems from my jaw, she scolds, prescribing Bach flower remedies, a dental check… and a stay at her retreat in Greece in the summer. A holistic therapist for over 10 years and a hatha yoga teacher for more than five, she often tells her land-based students to imagine they’re performing asanas in a jar of honey or pool of water. “The resistance helps you move in a more relaxed, calm and flowing movement, while the water supports your body and increases the range of motion,” she says.
At the end of the session I feel more relaxed and flexible, but I think I’m more suited to yoga on dry land — where you can breathe without getting a mouthful of water.
How to do it: Aqua yoga with Areti Chatzi from CHF80 (£55) for 30 minutes or CHF150 (£100) for an hour. The Grand Hotel Kronenhof also offers holistic winter retreats with Areti. kronenhof.com aretichatzi.com