Soothing the Soul (and Body) at Sea

A 7-day Mexican cruise featuring daily yoga and meditation. A kids-only, yoga-at-sea program. An employment agency entirely devoted to providing expert yoga and massage professionals to private yacht charters and larger cruise lines. What do all these things have in common? They are just three examples of how yoga is infiltrating the travel and leisure industry, one om at a time.

Yoga retreats have been around for decades, but they reach an entirely new level of luxury when paired with a high-end cruising experience. Major cruise lines have expanded their yoga options, so that the practice is far more than just one of many fitness classes offered to passengers, and smaller, exclusive yachting companies have followed suit. In a June 2005 issue of Travel and Leisure, writer John Capouya writes about a seven-night “yoga cruise” on a 700-passenger boat (run by hotel chain Radisson). His luxury vacation included a personal butler, stops in Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Key West, and fine dining along with morning and afternoon yoga/meditation sessions. His only complaint about the experience was having to choose between yoga and disembarkation at several ports – but the yoga always won out.  Already a dedicated yogi (Capouya is the author of Real Men Do Yoga, the writer describes how practicing at sea had impressive – and surprising – benefits.

“Sitting solo at home, I’m easily distracted, but on the gently swaying ship I dropped effortlessly into a deep trance. I’d open my eyes after 15 or 20 minutes, amazed that so much time had elapsed; I felt as if we’d just begun… the slow, rhythmic writhing of the ocean was relaxing, putting us into a meditative state and holding us there, rocking us in an aquatic cradle.”

Of course, opportunities for yoga are also opportunities for commerce. The travel and leisure industry is capitalizing on the fact that since we have so little time and money for vacations nowadays, many of us want to combine healing, spa-like experiences with travel. It’s a mutually beneficial situation, though; yoga instructors have more employment opportunities, and yoga fans get more unique options to enjoy and improve their practice.

To this end, a new employment agency launched this summer that provides carefully screened yoga teachers (and others involved in the healing arts) to private yachts or cruise lines. Hands OM Crew, founded by a former yacht stewardess and massage therapist, puts potential crew through an extensive interview process where their skills (in yoga and/or massage) are assessed. They go a step further by mentoring and training the staff so that they can provide specific services to clientele. In addition, the agency offers itinerary planning and ayurvedic food consultation and provisioning for cruises.

Private chartered yachts are (primarily) the territory of the very wealthy; the cost of a small, private yoga cruise tailored to your individual needs is quite prohibitive. Luckily, more economical, popular cruise lines like Princess are starting to jump on the yoga cruising bandwagon. Princess’s entire fleet recently began offering free yoga classes for the youngest passengers on board. The 30-minute-to-an-hour-long classes are held in the children’s areas of the cruise ships, and parents are invited to join in the session with their kids.

It’s still hard to find cruises on the major lines that offer extensive, retreat-style yoga, but it does seem to be the next “big thing”. As Hands OM Crew creator Denise Dobbs told Newswire, “We believe that the general public has become more interested in natural health and want to make it a part of their daily lives, now travelers are looking to make it a part of their vacation… there are increasing demands for spa rejuvenation type cruises.”

Let’s just hope that this trend trickles down from the luxury market, so that all of us can afford the bliss of practicing yoga while the waves rush by… doesn’t just thinking about it put you in a more meditative, calm and relaxed state?

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