What's the attraction?
There was a time when a holiday was all you needed to relax: a week or two on the beach, be it in Bognor or Barbados. Now, however, it seems we need a bit of extra help to unwind. Yoga, once the preserve of Hindu and Buddhist devotees and later kaftan-wearing hippies is now mainstream, while a yoga holiday gives you the vital "me-time" to refocus and re-charge your batteries. Whether you're a stressed-out executive, a run-ragged mum or you simply want to add an element of wellbeing or relaxation to your holiday, there's a yoga holiday for you. Choose from exotic two-week retreats in far-flung locations, short breaks in Europe or simply a weekend in the UK. And that's before you start delving into the pros and cons of Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga or Bikram...
The growing number of specialist companies springing up includes Tatra Yoga Holidays (0161 408 8988; www.tatrayogahol idays.com), Health and Fitness Travel (0845 544 1936; www.healthandfitnesstravel.com), Essential Escapes (020 7284 3344; www.essentialescapes.com) and Destination Yoga (0845 458 0723; www.destinationyoga.co.uk), which is part of the in:spa healthy holidays brand. Healing Hotels of the World ( www.healinghotelsoftheworld.com) and Yoga on a Shoestring ( www.yogaonashoestring.com) are two other handy sites to check out.
Journey to the spiritual source
Yoga was born in India in the 2nd century BC. Soul of India's (020-8901 7630; www.soulofindia.com) 14-day tour, "The Source of Yoga" takes you to the sacred places connected to it. These range from the River Ganges and Rishikesh on its banks, to the holy city of Varanasi (for three days of personal yoga tuition plus a dawn boat ride with other devotees). It also takes in the Sivananda Ashram, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The trip costs from £626 per person excluding international flights, but includes transfers, accommodation, domestic flights and trains, and a Delhi city tour.
Strike a pose
"Yoga in Mayfair or Fifth Avenue, or in any other place which is on the telephone, is a spiritual fake," said Carl Jung. Destination Yoga (0845 458 0723; www.destinationyoga.co.uk) would disagree. New York is added to its programme for the first time this year. The trip is hosted by Katrina Repka, with classes in the Big Apple's top yoga studios. And there'll be time for Christmas shopping, too. The five-night trip departing 19 November costs £1,350 and includes twice-daily yoga classes and B&B at the Hotel on Rivington, but excludes flights.
The best medicine
Laughter Yoga, invented in Mumbai in 1995 by Dr Madan Kataria, is a combination of laughter and Pranayama (breathing techniques). The idea is simple – you feel better when you laugh. One retreat that doesn't take itself too seriously is The Hill that Breathes in Umbria (00 39 0722 347895; www.thehillthabreathes.com). Run by John C Parkin and Gaia Pollini, retreats range from the signature "F**k It" weeks, to Ashtanga and Hatha yoga breaks. Classes are held in a dome in the woods. Prices from €895 (£776) including shared accommodation, meals and classes, but excluding flights.
Tatra Yoga Holidays (0161 408 8988; www.tatrayogaholidays.com), which specialises in breaks in the Slovakian mountains, is offering UK breaks for the first time. The two-night Hatha yoga weekends will take place at the Metropole Hotel in the Welsh spa town of Llandrindod Wells. The first is from 13-15 January. Morning classes feature dynamic "wake up" postures while late afternoon sessions focus on breathing and relaxation. From £299 per person including half-board accommodation, guided walk, meditation and four yoga sessions.
Visiting masters add kudos to a yoga retreat. At Amankora (00 800 2255 2626; www.amanresorts.com), a clutch of luxury lodges dotted across Bhutan, Iyenger yoga teacher Lorraine McConnon will be running a retreat from 22-30 November. It costs from £3,986 per person full board, without flights.
The Como Shambhala Estate in Bali ( www.cse.como.bz) offers "Strength and Surrender: A Journey into Balance" with Andrea and Christina Curry from 30 October to 5 November. The six-night break costs $3,970 (£2,647) without flights.
Sun (and sand) salutation
A new retreat opens in Essaouira on the Moroccan coast this November. Lalla Abouch Farm's first yoga retreat runs from 10-13 November and you can book it through Boutique Souk (00 212 66 132 4475; www.boutiquesouk.com). The three-night retreat combines Hatha yoga with elements of Asana and Pranayama. The price of €550 includes meals, accommodation, classes, massages and treatments, but excludes flights.
For far-flung luxury, there's a new retreat on an island off Mozambique. Vamizi Island Retreats (01285 762 218; www.vamizi.com) offers Vinyasa yoga on the beach, followed by deep-sea fishing or diving. You'll round off the day with another yoga session at sunset. The first retreat is from 21-27 January 2012 and costs £2,550 per person.
There are plenty of holidays that combine yoga with another activity. For example, relax in an Italian palazzo in the medieval village of Casperia near Rome on a yoga and cookery holiday. The seven-night trip through GoLearnTo.com (0845 625 0445; www.golearnto.com) costs £643 B&B and includes daily yoga and cookery classes but excludes flights and transfers.
Or take your surfboard to the beach in Costa Rica's Ballena Marine National Park, then stretch out with a Vinyasa Flow yoga class in the afternoon. The seven-night breaks start at $1,075 (£716) per person with accommodation, some meals, equipment hire and tuition, but not flights (00 506 8712 8919; www.bodhisurfschool.com).
Star Clippers (0845 200 6145: www.starclippers.co.uk) offers yoga and meditation cruises on sailing ships in the Mediterranean, cruising around the coast of Corsica and through the turquoise waters around Formentera. Prices from £1,295 per person, including yoga and full board; flights and transfers excluded.
Finally, Adventure Yogi (07929 168237; www.adventureyogi.com) offers skiing, snowboarding and yoga holidays such as Snow Yogi in La Rosiere in the French Alps. The week-long trip from 11-18 February 2012 costs £695 per person including half-board, yoga and transfers but not flights.
Who said that?
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." B K S Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga
"Couple of weeks and I'll be bending like Madonna, won't I darling? I'll be able to kiss my own arse from both directions!"
Edina, 'Absolutely Fabulous'
"Yoga seeks a synthesis of the spirit, the soul and the flesh."
Footprint India Handbook
"Over half-a-million Brits practice yoga frequently and this ancient tradition has become more mainstream with people now going on holidays to engage in various styles including Yin, Hatha and Ashtanga, learning from some of the best teachers in the world."
Paul Joseph, co-founder of Healthandfitnesstravel.com