Introduction: How to Go to India to Study Yoga (alone)
If you are a yoga practitioner you probably had a desire to visit India, the motherland of yoga. And while some teachers from Europe and America organize retreats in India, the most interesting part about going to India is to study with a local teacher. India is an amazing country, but its culture and traditions are vastly different from the western way of life. That's why many of us feel cautious about going to India on our own.
This guide will help you be well prepared for the challenge. I have been in India many times with the purpose of studying yoga, and I will walk you through all the steps you need to take in what can be a journey of your lifetime.
Step 1: Decide Where You're Going
While you can find yoga pretty everywhere in India, there are some cities and towns where most people go to study yoga. And there are just a few of them:
- Mysore is a town to go if you're ashtanga vinyasa practitioner. Mysore is a place known worldwide, particularly due to Patthabi Jois who was teaching ashtanga vinyasa here. His school, Ashtanga yoga institute, is still running and you can practice with his daughter Saraswati or grandson Sharat. Very often, you need to book in advance as the number of seats can be limited at times. Mysore is located in southern India, in the state of Karnataka. It is an inland town.
- Pune is a place to go if you're serious about Iyengar yoga. Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute is located in Puna and it currently run by Iyengar's daughter, Geeta. Pune is located in the state of Maharashtra, not far from Mumbai. It is an inland city.
- If you want to practice hatha yoga, traditional yoga, or do not want to limit yourself only with Iyengar or Ashtanga, you need to go to Rishikesh. In fact, in this city, you will find the biggest number of yoga schools, and you will find teachers who will teach you a number of styles. There are good Iyengar and ashtanga vinyasa teachers, too. Rishikesh is located in the northern India near the foothills fo Himalayas, in the state of Uttarakhand.
- As all of these cities are located inland, and very often travelers want to combine yoga study with some ocean and beach. Therefore, Goa is the fourth option that does that. You will not find too many schools there, but some good teachers from Rishikesh and other northern cities are conducting classes in Goa in December and January, when it's too cold up north.
Step 2: Decide When You're Going
India is a country with seasons, so you need to pick timing for your journey, as in some months weather can be quite intolerable and many yoga schools will not work.
- If you're going to Mysore or Pune, good time is from October to the beginning of April
- If you're going to Rishikesh, good time is from end-September to end-November and February-mid-April
- If you're going to Goa, the best time (yoga-wise, as we want to get there teachers from other locations) is December-January.
Step 3: Arrange for Visa
India requires a visa for visitors from most countries. Luckily, it also offers the option of e-visa. That means that you don't have to attend the embassy, you can fill the forms and file the documents online, receive confirmation to your email, and get the visa put in your passport on the border.
Go to Indian official e-visa site to check if this option works for your country, and if so, file the necessary documents.
For most countries, e-visa gives a right to stay in India for the period of 60 days.
Be sure to print your confirmation email and bring it with you on the border.
Step 4: Get Your Plane Ticket
Now when everything is sorted out, it's time to look for plane tickets.
If you go to Rishikesh, the nearest International Airport is Delhi.
If you go to Pune, you should look for tickets to Mumbai.
If you go to Goa, yo should look for tickets to Goa, or Mumbai (second best option).
If you go to Mysore, you should look for tickets to Bengalore, Chennai, Kochi or Goa.
Step 5: Medical Preparations
You don't have to take vaccinations to come to India, but you might take some if you want to be on safer side.
Indian embassy recommends vaccines from most common infectious diseases such as Adult Diphtheria and tetanus, Hepatitis A and B, Polio, Typhoid, Rabies. Most of these vaccines give immunity starting from 2 weeks after they are given, so you need to do them in advance.
Many travelers come to India without vaccinations, but it's totally up to you and your beliefs. There is no vaccination against malaria, the most dangerous Indian disease. As it's transmitted by mosquitoes, you might want to take some insect repellent and clothing that covers your legs and arms.
Medical care in India is cheap, so you don't have to buy travel insurance, but it will definitely help in case of accidents or hospitalization.
Step 6: Make Arrangements for Your Yoga School
Now you know what city you're coming to study yoga and when you're coming. What you need to sort out is how you are going to study there. There are two ways of doing this.
- Completely independent way. You just come to your destination, find a room to stay and take drop-in classes with various teachers and in different schools to see what you really like. Advantages of this option: more flexibility and great choice of teachers. Disadvantages: you need to take care of everything by yourself, including getting to your destination, finding accommodation, finding food, and finding yoga.
- You book a yoga course or yoga retreat and come to a particular school. Advantages: the school will most likely pick you up from the airport and get you to the doorstep. Accommodation, food, and yoga are taken care of. Disadvantages: less flexibility. Most schools require pre-payment to sign up for their courses, so if you come and find out that you don’t like the place, you will have to stick with them for some time. Still, this option is best for first-time travelers.
If you decided to book a course or retreat in advance, you need a place where you can find different courses along with user’s reviews and feedbacks about the organizers of these courses. You can search here for yoga-related events and see the ratings that previous participants of these courses have given them. You can also search for yoga schools and teachers in particular cities in India.
Once you have chosen your school or event, sign up for the event and book your place. Most often, the school will pick you up from the International airport and you don't have to worry about transportation.
Step 7: Arrange Public Transportation to Your Yoga Town
If you decided to go completely independent and did not book any course in advance, you need to plan how you are going to get to your town on your own. Most of these yoga towns are located away from international airports, so you will have to get there using one of the following transport:
Taxi. You can get pre-paid taxis to your place of destination right at the airport. This is hustle-free, but traveling on Indian roads may be a stressful experience for a newcomer in India.
Train. Train is way cheaper and safer way of transportation, but you need to buy tickets for your train in advance, as it's almost impossible to buy tickets for most of the train classes on the day of departure. You can do it online using governmental railway site or some of the commercial sites like Cleartrip or Makemytrip , as they have a more user-friendly interface. They take a small commission for their service, but the ease of use is worth it. If you decide to go by train, you need to learn about train carriage classes, and also how to get from the train station to your destination. There is a helpful article on train travel to Rishikesh , but it is applicable to all other destinations as well.
Bus. You can travel by bus also, although Indian driving is an adventure in itself. Makemytrip has a schedule of buses and you can buy tickets there as well.
Step 8: Do Yoga!
Once you're in your yoga town, you will find your way very quickly. Don't' worry about transportation back to your international airport, you don't have to book it online, you can arrange everything with a local travel agent. India is pretty easy to navigate once you get used to it in one or two days, everyone speaks English, people are friendly.
Most likely, you will meet many yoga travelers there who will give you useful advice on everything you need to know.
So just enjoy this amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in yoga, and have fun!