Chiang Mai has long been one of the major centers for yoga study in Southeast Asia. Nestled between towering mountain peaks and home to some of the most breathtaking Buddhist temples anywhere, it’s perhaps the perfect location to clear one’s head and indulge your asana yoga practice. Being such a vital center of yoga practice, the city attracts some of the best teachers in the world along with yogis from every corner of the globe looking to extend their knowledge and refine their practice. If you’re considering coming to Chiang Mai too you’ll find these like-minded individuals ready to welcome you into their community of adventurers.
Living the Life
Whether you’ve been practicing for 50 years or just bought your first yoga mat, Chiang Mai is where you want to be. You’ll find some of the most patient and knowledgeable teachers here specializing in many types of yoga including:
- Ashtanga – Ashtanga is likely not for beginners. It’s a fairly intense form of yoga that utilizes 70 different postures, some of which call for extraordinary strength as well as exceptional endurance.
- Hatha – Hatha combines various asanas with breathing techniques known as pranayama. This coordination of breath and movement when done properly serves to create a sense of complete relaxation.
- Laughter – Laughter yoga is something of a Chiang Mai specialty. It’s intended to bring you into contact with your lighter side and includes prolonged periods of yogic breathing techniques and laughter.
- Restorative – Restorative yoga is not so much a distinct yoga style as it is a yogic approach to rejuvenation. Several different types of yoga may be combined into a single class that emphasizes restoration of the physical self through easy going routines.
- Vinyasa – With Vinyasa the emphasis is on constant movement. Fast-paced flows based off sun salutation postures help you build strength and endurance while expanding your physical vocabulary.
- Yin – Yin utilizes stretching and relaxation and is considered another type of restorative practice. It’s typically slower paced and intended to help calm the mind, increase flexibility and improve posture.
Where to Practice in Chiang Mai
Once you get to Chiang Mai you may want to find a yoga studio. Thankfully there are scores of them. Many are located in beautiful old Lanna-era buildings that, when combined with the spectacular mountain scenery, make for ideal practice settings. Yogis in Chiang Mai today may actually outnumber the standard backpackers who used to have the run of the place. As a result some of the more unsavory bars of yesterday have been converted to wellness centers and organic cafes. Here’s a small sampling of local yoga studios.
- Blue Garden Yoga Studio – Blue Garden is a small studio at the end of a quiet soi in the Old City. The practice space itself is open to the environment and the often cool mountain air has a way of clearing the mind and relaxing the body. Blue Garden Studio focuses on restorative practices that detoxify the body and restore balance.
- Freedom Yoga Studio – Freedom Yoga Studio is much more relaxed than some of the larger studios. It’s fairly new and located in one of those old-style houses alluded to above. Freedom Yoga is not focused on any one particular style or level. Instead it offers a variety of classes for yogis of all experience levels. A good studio for newcomers.
- Mahasiddha Yoga – Mahasiddha Yoga puts the focus squarely on tantra, yoga and meditation. Mahasiddha is a spiritual school that offers informative lectures and workshops which shine a light on ancient spiritual truths. Look for their free Sunday evening activities.
- Namo Yoga Studio – Namo is located next to a temple in the Old City. It occupies a teak and rosewood Lanna-era home and is only a 2 minute walk from Tha Pae Gate. Like Freedom Yoga, Namo tends to be more open ended in their class offerings, not pinning themselves down to any particular form. Be aware though that during high season classes here tend to fill up fast.
Yoga Retreats, Hotels, and Free Classes
Chiang Mai has some of the most popular yoga retreats in the world. Everything from weekends of intensive study to 10 day retreats that combine yoga with Thai massage. Mahasiddha Yoga mentioned above offers a full line of workshops and retreats. Check them out at www.tantrayogathailand.com.
Yoga friendly hotels and fitness centers abound in Chiang Mai where you can sign up for classes on a short or long term basis. For those who may be a bit financially challenged free classes pop up regularly led by local experts, talented expats and visitors with something to offer. Many of these free classes take place in the great outdoors which, in Chiang Mai, is very great indeed. Look for flyers posted around town to get the 411 on free yoga activities. With so many on offer you’re sure to find something that suits your tastes and abilities.