About a year ago, I was researching yoga retreats when I stumbled upon something called the Yoga Cruise in Turkey. I immediately forwarded the link to my mom (a fellow yoga-junkie) with a message along the lines of “If you take me on this trip, I will never ask you for anything else ever again.” I then promptly forgot about the retreat.
Fast-forward a few months, and my mom is calling to ask if I’d like to join her and my stepdad on the yoga cruise in mid-September. Needless to say, I booked a plane ticket in about five minutes flat.
I left NYC on a Friday afternoon and after countless hours of flight delays and cancellations, arrived in Finike, a small beach town in the south of Turkey, around 9pm on Saturday night. Exhausted and disgruntled, I stepped onto the boat (a 200 ft., one-year old, super-luxury sailboat), took off my shoes, and the next six days were pretty much paradise.
The Yoga Cruise is run by an adorable German couple named Sven and Kathja. Kathja previously owned a yoga school in Amsterdam and teaches most of the cruise’s yoga classes (in the Sivananda style). However, for our week-long retreat, we had a special guest teacher named David Williams. If you are a yoga geek like me, you’ve probably heard David’s name. He is the man responsible for bringing Ashtanga yoga to the United States and is a teacher to other big-name yoga stars like David Swenson and Danny Paradise (who teaches stars like Sting and Madonna). In other words, he’s a big deal. He’s also practiced yoga every day without fail since 1971. As someone who has tried to practice yoga every day since 2013, with many failures, I had a thing or two to learn from him.
Each morning, around 7am, a gentle gong served as our alarm clock. Everyone gathered on the top deck of the boat for Pranayama (aka breathing exercises). These, David explained, are as important as the actual asanas (physical postures). They do everything from clear your sinuses to dissolve stress in the body. Most important for breathing, David taught us, is that you must engage your abs and sit up super-straight. A lot of people will teach that you should breathe in and out through your stomach, inflating your belly like a balloon. “Why would you stretch out the one muscle you want to keep tight.” David asked us. “If you want flat abs, breathe into your chest and ribs.” Lesson learned.
After morning Pranayama, we would descend to find a heavenly Turkish breakfast laid out for us. Cucumbers, tomatoes, homemade muesli, yogurt, honeys and jams, delicious cheeses and more. Lunches and dinners, by the way, were equally tasty with tons of fresh salads and many typical Turkish dishes. They definitely do not starve you on this yoga getaway! In between meals, you could get fresh juices and smoothies from our resident bartender Fatih (he also served up killer cocktails of the alcoholic variety for those so-inclined).
Other than eating, our days were spent lounging on the decks and swimming or paddle-boarding in the crystal-clear ultra-marine waters of the Mediterranean. I wore shoes a grand total of two times for the entire six days. Once, to visit the adorable seaside town of Kas, where I stocked up on colorful Turkish towels and an entire wardrobe’s-worth of flowy cotton cover-ups. The second time, was to visit the village of Simena, accessible only by sea. We hiked to an old fortress atop the hillside town and rewarded ourselves with fresh-squeezed pomegranate juices on the way down.
Each afternoon, around sunset, we would practice asanas with David. We did the ashtanga primary series, which is totally accessible to yogis of all levels. “Yoga is caveman exercise.” David would tell us. Everyone can do it, and more than that, nobody should ever get hurt doing it. “Stretching to the point of pain is wrong.” he would say to us over and over. If a stretch hurts you, it means you are going to create scar tissue. Once you do that, you will actually lose flexibility and never regain it. He warned against yoga teachers who want to give you “corrections' that involve pushing or pulling your body into contortions that don’t come naturally. It is better to practice a little bit every day, rather than for long spans of time only a couple times a week. A few stretches every morning, for example. Easy enough, I thought.
After a summer of overindulging in every way, I had arrived on the cruise stressed and broken out. Determined to give my skin a detox, I left all my makeup at home and spent the week with only my Clarins Sunscreen and Kora Organics Face Cream as companions. Between some safe-sunning and the ultra-salty sea water, I left the cruise with healthy, glowy renewed skin. And after a week of breathing and yoga, my mind was feeling as blissed-out as my body.
When I first met the international group of my fellow cruise-goers (26 in all, hailing from Australia, Amsterdam, London and Dubai, to name a few), many of them admitted to being second, third and even seventh-time veterans of the Yoga Cruise. After a week on the boat, I can definitely see why. My family is already talking dates for 2015 and, at the risk of giving up Turkey’s best kept vacation secret, I think you should too!
Photos by Victoria Lewis.