YIS Yoga in Salento

»More than a yoga retreat - a yoga community«

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At Yoga in Salento (YIS), people come for the stunning natural setting and stay for the powerful yoga. While often billed as a good accommodation choice for non-yogis, there is much more to YIS than just rustic good food and a charming ambience. There is an entire community at work here, creating a harmonious living space that calls on the strengths of all involved. Together they work, eat, play, and breathe yoga, sharing their happiness and quiet satisfaction with others who stay here.

When is a retreat not a retreat? When it’s a home. YIS is a community first and foremost, its residents living and working together. This place is a chance to open doors to anyone looking for some peace, and possibly a deeper insight into Ashtanga and a more traditional way of living.

In the so-called ‘belly button’ of Italy is Yoga in Salento (YIS). YIS is dedicated to providing a service to yoga teachers and students who want to deepen their practice and understanding of Ashtanga primarily, but any and all yoga styles that are dear to the hearts of the visiting teachers.

YIS is made up of two separate entities. There is Yoga in Salento proper, which is the umbrella name for the whole estate. This is a not-for-profit organization that includes the extensive organic farm that has led to its classification as an official agroturismo. Within YIS is Samadhi, the accommodation branch, which began as a typical Bed & Breakfast but now also offers affordable, healthy holidays with a twist of yoga.

Guests can book yoga-based or non yoga-based holidays at Samadhi. Bookings are taken by the week and all include accommodation, half-board (two meals per day), and the option to join Francesca, the founder and owner of YIS, in daily Ashtanga sessions at no extra cost. Participation in a retreat run by a guest teacher is additional to Samadhi’s packages and varies depending on the fees that teacher has set.

Room sizes come in double or triple options, with single and family rooms available on request. The time of year makes a difference to the price, with the winter low-season attracting the least expensive rates. At any time of year, YIS is excellent value. In the high season (July - August) a double room with two meals a day, yoga with Francesca, and full use of the property amenities comes in at a very affordable 700 Euro per person per week. In the low season, a bed in a triple room along with all that lovely food and yoga will set you back just 340 Euro.

The agroturismo classification means that YIS can host WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). WWOOFers are given bed and board in exchange for participating in tending and extending the organic harvest produced by YIS, as long as they are able to commit to at least a month-long stay. WWOOFers have the option of participating in yoga sessions with Francesca, but a place on a course run by an outside teacher is an additional cost and they need to book a spot themselves.

Flexibility (no pun intended) is the underpinning principle at YIS. The owner and general manager of YIS is the charming and charismatic Francesca Maniglio, who is a long-time student of Ashtanga yet holds no particular style in higher esteem than any other when it comes to her guests’ personal path. “It’s not called Ashtanga in Salento” she says with a smile. “Yoga is the best gift that life gave me. I would like everybody to share that gift.” This means that depending on who is teaching here, a yogi may participate in sessions drawn from Sivananda, Kundalini, Jivamukti, Iyengar, Yin Yoga or any other.

The sessions run by Francesca herself are often divided up into two groups: one completely self-led which runs first thing in the morning, for more experienced students, and a semi-led session for beginners. This varies a great deal depending on the day and the group dynamic however and if a single combined session is the best way to create a positive experience, then combined it shall be. When guest teacher John Scott is on-site, there is an additional led session as he pitches in to share the Ashtangi love.

Teacher Training Courses are regular occurrence at YIS, although this varies from year to year. As YIS’s heart belongs to Ashtanga, teacher training courses are likely to be in the Ashtanga style. This means there are no certifications as such, unlike the Yoga Alliance 200 and 500-hour certificates. An Ashtangi must simply practice, practice, practice until they are given dispensation from KPJAYI (the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India) to teach the style. For an Ashtangi to be given dispensation to teach the teachers is a deep honor, and not a level of achievement that is easily attained.

The food is a type that Maniglio calls “loosely macrobiotic” and is exclusively vegetarian. Meat-eaters take heart - many omnivores have left YIS with a new appreciation for the flavors and colors of slow-grown southern Italian vegetarian cuisine. As many ingredients as possible are taken from the on-site garden. Those that can’t be grown in the grounds are sourced carefully from local suppliers who tend their own cottage gardens and are equally careful with organic growing techniques. There are no processed foods on the YIS menu, so guests won’t find white sugar for instance and whole grains are the star of the carbs on any plate. Only chefs who specialize in vegetarian food work here - the ones who truly understand that a good vegetarian diet means much more than simply leaving out the pork chops and adding more potato. The dishes here are a visual feast as well as a literal one. Italians take their food very seriously and YIS is no exception, proving that vegetarian cooking can hold its own among the big boys of the kitchen. Food is served twice-daily. Brunch and dinner are on offer, with meals usually being taken at communal tables for those who are not in the mood for a solitary meal in the gardens or bedrooms.

Although Samadhi is a full-service venue, it is heartening to note the number of guests who routinely clear tables and generally pitch in. There is no karma yoga here, and absolutely no expectation of chores - there is a full staff like any other retreat - but something about the family atmosphere of YIS lends itself well to community.

Yoga in Salento is a community that lives a simple life dedicated to yoga. Their work growing organic food and being involved with community outreach on a not-for-profit basis is testament to their guiding principles. This is a place of retreat that is accommodating enough to adapt to the needs of any guest, no matter their age, yoga experience, or personal background.

About the area: Salento

In the south-east of Italy is the Puglia (Apulia) region. Within Apulia is Salento, the heel of the Italian boot. Known for its rolling hills and picturesque southern Italian beauty, it is also handily located near the popular nearby towns of Lecce and Otranto. While these coastal towns are often the visitor's destination of choice, Lecce is a must-see for it's complex Baroque architecture and rich culture. Zollino is a highlight of the area. It is another small town within Salento and is one of the nine pockets of the Grecia Salentina, a small Greek ethnic minority who have their own unique dialect of Greek (Griko). If using Google Maps, look for Lecce rather than Salento, which will return a result that is on the other side of the country in Salerno.

Image credit: YIS Yoga in Salento

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