Back to Om: Journey Through Southern Thailand’s Yoga Shalas

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My love affair with yoga started over a decade ago. Constantly seeing it on the pages of Cosmo magazine sparked my curiosity. Back then, there weren’t any yoga studios in Alabang where I grew up, so I searched for a yoga CD and started my practice at home with my kuya who on that day just happened to be bored. He passed out halfway through, while I struggled to the end. It was exhilarating! Little did I know that afternoon session was just the first tiny step in my life long journey with yoga.

Now, yoga is my strength. It has taught me patience and empathy. Through our parents' separation, falling out with my childhood friends and break ups with boyfriends, it has been my friend all through out. It guided me every single day without judgment. It has taught me confidence in my own skin, in my own body, constantly reminding me not to compare mine with others as we are all perfect the way God intended us to be. It has taught me how to be comfortable alone, whether in a cramped yoga studio or traveling to a whole new different country.

Very slowly I’m beginning to get to know the meaning of this sacred ancient practice. I seek to understand the different kinds and always look forward to discovering new variations as well. Thailand is probably the best place to discover yoga in Southeast Asia. So feeling lost and overwhelmed after an intensive yoga teacher training, I flew to the south of Thailand and relished each step of my journey back to om.

island yoga 1 beachfront

Island Yoga, Koh Yao Noi

Island Yoga’s home is the virgin island of Koh Yao Noi, a tiny piece of paradise on the calm waters between Phuket and Krabi. From the pier, pick-up taxis drive through a rural setting before reaching the tranquil bay. The gigantic limestone formations create a stunning view from any angle. Island Yoga hosts a variety of yoga holidays and retreats for curious beginners to the more dedicated practitioners.

island yoga 2 session

Mornings are usually an energizing Vinyasa flow, while afternoon classes are more relaxed and meditative. I felt at home as soon as I stepped in into the glorious yoga pavilion. Fragrant incense and groovy Indian beats filled the space big enough for over a dozen mats. I could feel the love that radiated all throughout the wooden hut. I was amongst happy yogis from all over the world, and it was comforting to realize that there were no Lululemons here or any other cliché overpriced yoga brands, only well-loved and comfortable clothing that spoke of each one’s own unique character.

island yoga 3 offering

Heather, our yoga guide, began our Yin yoga practice by taking time to send out our good intentions to those who were affected by the Boston Marathon that happened earlier that day. It was such a powerful and sincere moment that a lot of us got teary eyed. From that moment, it was clear to me that it wasn’t gonna be just another work-out, but a meaningful spiritual practice. Heather lead us into calming Yin poses all throughout the session. It felt really good for me having been in the mayhem of the Songkran water festival just before that. She noticed that I really let go and melted to the floor during the long holds.

island yoga 4 partner

At Island Yoga, classes are genuine and soulful. There’s either a lot or little to do in between classes, depending on your mood. Take a kayak into the still waters to explore the magnificent seascape. There’s also rock climbing or “yoga on the rocks” as they fondly call it in the nearby area. But we found ourselves just lounging and bonding with one another at the restaurant during the afternoons. After the evening classes, we excitedly walk to the nearby Thai restaurants to savor the sumptuous and affordable local delicacies fresh from the ocean.

vikasa 3 teacher training

Vikasa, Koh Samui

This boutique cliff side yoga resort is a lovely place to practice, hang out with like-minded yogis, indulge in healthy food and just chill-out. As I look out from my Panoramic room, I see the vast turquoise ocean below. The infamous Chaweng beach, known for its never ending parties is miles across me. I could stare at this view all day! Fast jet skis are circling the bay. Sailboats breeze through the warm salty air and kayaks slowly inch their way to nowhere. Vikasa has the best view in Koh Samui!

vikasa 2 room

From its humble beginnings as small yoga studio, Vikasa has now evolved into a lavish resort on Koh Samui. The resort is rooted along the main road and gracefully cascades down into the deep blue ocean. Days are started with a gentle meditation class, followed by a yoga session right before a healthy filling breakfast buffet. The restaurant’s menu is very impressive, serving many healthy and delicious filling meals like their signature Vikasa Burrito. Between classes I didn’t feel the need to go out and just lounged by the infinity pool, meditating out into the deep blue sea.

vikasa 1 kosta

“We believe that everyone is a yogi, and that means you. You don’t need to be flexible or thin, or have the “right” clothes. You don’t need to know ancient Sanskrit or burn incense in your home. All you need to do is show up with an open mind and do your best. You will transform your body, mind and life with this practice, just as we did.”

~Konstantin, the founder of Vikasa

There are yoga classes for beginners and more advanced practitioners in the afternoons as well. The class of Yuko, a Japanese yoga instructor really gave us a good challenge. As she entered the class, I somehow felt at ease because we were about the same height and body type, petite but far from frail. She started the class in a cross-legged seated pose. With closed eyes, she started to explain each chakra in our bodies and the color that it radiates, from the root all the way to the head chakra and I felt the energy slowly moving up my body.

vikasa yuko 2

Yuko spent many years working in beautiful tropical destinations such as The Maldives, Great Barrier reef, Lombok and our very own Cebu as a dive instructor. She started practicing yoga as cross training for free diving and eventually fell in love with it. She then moved to Thailand and trained under Kosta, the founder of Vikasa during a teacher training a few years ago. The next teacher training is happening on July 2013.

ananda 1 man

Ananda Wellness Resort, Koh Phangan

As full moon was approached, Koh Phangan was calling me to visit. The island is notorious for its hedonistic, endless full moon parties. So it made perfect sense to find a wellness, detox and yoga resort in the area. Ananda offers a variety of life-enhancement and rejuvenating customized programs for the body, mind and spirit. They believe that if you take daily baths and clean your house, why not do the same with the inside of your body? Cleansing and purifying is necessary for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual wellbeing.

ananda 2 girl

“Ananda’s detox and fasting programs have proven and shown how internal cleansing of the body acts to reduce physical weakness, reduces states of distress and depression, as well as to alleviate the symptoms of many illnesses. It eliminates feelings of being heavy and unclean, slows down the aging process and fortifies people’s immune system." says Vangelis, owner of Ananda.

While lounging at their restaurant that served healthy vegetarian meals, I overheard hippies at the next table talking about Tantra yoga. Apparently they were taking a course next door at Agama Yoga on the ancient form of enlightenment. I got so curious that I had to chat with them.

Surprisingly there were over a hundred students from all over the world. According to one, they have rituals and exercises with different partners everyday, from staring into each other’s eyes to more intimate ones. Tantra 2 teaches non-possessiveness so students are discouraged to bring their spouses and really encouraged to open up to new friends. Seeing the poster blew my mind!

agama tantra poster

The next Tantra course is on August 12-16, 2013. Anyone willing to give it a shot?

How to make this trip happen:

-Manila to Bangkok roundtrip airfare 250 USD with Cebu Pacific Air

-Bangkok to Koh Samui one way airfare 150 USD with Bangkok Air

-Koh Samui to Koh Phangan one way ferry 300 THB  with Lomprayah

-If you have more time to spend and would like to save on transportation costs, take a Lomprayah fast boat from Bangkok to any of the islands.

Visa information:

-A free 30 day visa is granted to ASEAN nationals. More info on

Special thanks to the following yogis for making this feature possible:

Colleen of Island Yoga

Betti &Vadim of Vikasa Yoga

Villy of Ananda Wellness & Detox Resort

Have you tried yoga before? Which yoga shala are you interested to try? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Om Shanti,
Sole Sis Adi

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2 sole trails

  1. Adi, I signed up for 10 days of Bikram Yoga but it was too intense, I ended up attending 2 classes only! Hahahahaha! Reading your post makes me feel more challenged to have more yoga classes! Hahahaha! =)

  2. Hey Joni! Tell me about it. I tried hot yoga once. I sort of blacked out halfway through so I never returned! Try vinyasa/hatha/antigravity yoga first. Yoga is for everyone, we just really need to try what suits us the most. Hope you find your style soon!


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