By Karen Asp
The Active Times
Forget room service. If you really want to unwind on vacation, head to a yoga class -- but don't let it cut into your sightseeing time.
Not only could a session be welcome relief for travel-stiff muscles, but it could also offer a powerful way to connect with your destination: take a helicopter ride to a secluded yoga spot in the Canadian Rockies, or salute the sun at Ala Moana Beach in Honolulu as it dips into the Pacific. And it doesn't really matter if you're a newbie or stiff as a rock -- yoga is an activity anybody can try regardless of age, shape or flexibility, especially since many styles of the practice are less goal-oriented than conventional strength training workouts. (Though you might want to tread carefully if you have health concerns or injuries.)
You might find that taking your first class in the serene quiet of a gothic cathedral or in a treehouse overlooking the Caribbean's peaceful blue waters dovetails with your goal of finding a relaxing escape. Recent research into the health benefits of yoga indicates that regular practice can have the therapeutic effects of lowering heart rate and blood pressure, as well as helping to ease psychological ailments like anxiety and depression.
As yoga's popularity continues to soar -- between 2008 and 2012, the number of American adults practicing yoga grew by 29 percent, according to a Yoga Journal study -- it's no wonder that this ancient Indian practice is popping up in unlikely settings.
With this carefully curated list, even beginners can enjoy a vinyasa voyage.
What do you do when it's not winter and you can't heli-ski? Why, you heli-yoga, of course. Just as you probably suspect, a helicopter transports you to a remote place in the Canadian Rockies so you can really connect with your inner yogi. We couldn't think of a better place to do this than in Banff's wild alpine landscapes. Book your trip through Icefield Heli Tours.
When you're seeking to quiet the mind, there's no better environment than this magnificent French Gothic-style cathedral in San Francisco's Nob Hill neighborhood. The weekly yoga class even comes with a bonus: finding your flow on top of a labyrinth. The 75-minute class runs Tuesday nights at 6:15 p.m. for a suggested donation of $10. Two words to the wise: Bring your own yoga mat and dress in layers, as the cathedral can be a little chilly.
You've heard of swimming with the dolphins, but how about doing yoga with them? That’s what you'll experience when you sign up for the Yoga Among the Dolphins class at The Mirage. While you won't actually be in the water with Flipper, you will be in the underwater viewing area at Dolphin Habitat where you can watch the playful sea mammals swim in front of you. (Hello, dolphin pose!) Classes, which are offered Friday through Sunday, cost $50.
Hawaii couldn't be more different from the mainland United States, especially when it comes to its residents’ stress levels. Hawaii was recently ranked the state with the least stressed residents according to a Gallup poll. (Go figure, right?) It’s only fitting then that among the state's serene settings you can do your crescent moon as the sun sets over Ala Moana Beach Park in Honolulu. Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii offers classes ($15) on the palm tree-dotted lawn overlooking the park’s white sand beach on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:45 p.m.
If it's summer in the Windy City, then it's time to take your mat (or hotel towel) to the Great Lawn at Millennium Park, one of the city's most happening parks. The reason? Free yoga classes. The 45-minute workouts take place Saturdays at 8 a.m. from June through August. If you’re feeling really adventurous, come an hour earlier for tai chi or stay later for Pilates and Zumba workouts, all free.
Even the most off-the-beaten-path destinations have gotten into the yoga movement, and the Tutka Bay Lodge, situated at the head of a seven-mile fjord on Kachemak Bay near Homer, is no exception. Here, you can gaze into the wilderness while taking complimentary daily yoga classes on the outside deck, weather permitting, of course. Go next summer and you’ll experience the deck with its new pergola and heat lamps.
Why do they call one of yoga's basic asanas mountain pose? You'll find out -- literally -- when you head to the top of Aspen Mountain for hour-long yoga classes offered during summer outside on a deck overlooking the mountains. (Classes also run in winter but are held inside; you still have breathtaking views, though.) The three-day-a-week classes are free and mats are provided, but you do have to purchase a ticket to ride the gondola to get there. Or if you’re really ambitious, and want to save some dough while burning extra vacation calories, you can hike or skin up!
South Beach might be best known for its scantily clad beach-goers and late night party scene, but venture to the beach at Third Street, and you'll find a group dedicated to finding calm amidst the frenzy. As long as the temperature doesn't dip below 55 degrees, a rotating team of yoga instructors teaches hour-long yoga classes in the sand every morning and evening. The coolest part, besides, of course, digging your feet in the sand and gazing at the ocean as you nail your poses? Classes are donation-based. Bring a towel or blanket (mats get super sandy) and dress in layers.
You'll get a real high when you do yoga on the open-air Zen Deck at this all-inclusive, five-star wellness resort. The deck extends from the resort's Tree House, a glass-enclosed fitness studio which towers 25 feet above the ground. Combine that with stunning views of the Caribbean, and you'll squash all of your stress in seconds flat.
For a complete slideshow of the Most Amazing Places To Do Yoga, go to The Active Times.
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