ecoYoga

»Truly one of the yoga world's hidden gems«

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A couple of hours drive from gray Glasgow brings you to the Scottish highlands. Here is where the mournful pipes reminiscent of the Braveheart soundtrack can be imagined echoing through the mist. It is also where a family of four have established their yoga center devoted to sustainable living. Fifteen cozy double rooms house small groups of yoga devotees, many of whom come from all over the world to enjoy the teachings of a small handful of notable returning teachers. The thick green forest is dotted with naturally occurring bathing pools, and the Japanese Sento House is well populated each evening as tired and relaxed yogis warm their bones and mull over the big topics of the day. A kilt is optional, but one look at the lush dewy landscape crispy in its frost coat and you may wish you'd packed one.

  • What we love
  • The chance to relax in a bath beside a waterfall
  • The raw beauty of the Scottish highlands
  • Intimate yoga experience in a dedicated retreat
  • What to know
  • Yoga retreats run from April to September
  • Self-catering accommodation is available year-round without yoga classes
  • Hebrew is a language option
  • Self-catering holidaymakers need to buy their supplies before arrival
  • Why go
  • Be able to say 'I was there before it was famous'
  • World-class returning teachers
  • Sustainable ethos

ecoYoga is a family estate with a difference. Tucked away in the moss-covered crags and forests of Argyll in Scotland, this sustainable retreat is dedicated to yoga and yogic living. A regular destination for some of the finest yoga teachers between April and September, the center is also open year-round to holidaymakers who simply want to retreat from the world, perhaps with a little added yoga provided by the owners Nick and Rachel in a group session.

Although this is where the Loening family live, it is a custom-designed yoga retreat with plenty of well-appointed accommodation. The shala benefits from under-floor heating whenever yoga sessions are held, which is a major plus in the sometimes-chilly highlands, and its regal expanses of glass let the delicate local light flood in to the comfortably roomy space. Sleeping quarters are housed predominantly in the main house which has ten double bedrooms, each with its own partial ensuite. A stone bothy (akin to a cottage) is home to a further three bedrooms that share one toilet, and the dining area has another two double bedrooms built off it. Also off the dining area is a specially designated kids room, with bunk beds, making a visiting child's vacation at ecoYoga a little like a sleepover with new friends.

The rooms are not equipped with baths. This is deliberate as bathing at ecoYoga has been elevated beyond the realms of mere ablution and into something approaching divine. The traditional Japanese bath (or Sento) is essentially an enormous hot-tub covered by a clear dome, with a rainforest shower thrown in for good measure. The Japanese approach to cleansing is ritualistic, and anyone who thought that a bath could not be a spiritual experience has never been to ecoYoga (or Japan!). There are two other baths at different spots along the river, called appropriately the Upper Gorge Bath and Lower Gorge Bath. Deep baths that would look perfectly at home in a modern house sit atop wooden platforms at the edge of waterfalls. No need to suffer for the experience of open-air bathing – both baths are supplied with hot and cold running spring water and privacy is a naturally occurring luxury. These magnificent bathing opportunities almost make the sauna seem mundane, but there is one nonetheless, a little downriver from the Sento Dome. It's also accessible via secret passageway, just for fun.

Although it would seem that all of these facilities would drain a lot of the planet's resources, ecoYoga is rightfully proud of its low-footprint existence. Solar power and hydro power make this gorgeous retreat completely off-grid while other forms of energy – dubbed “more esoteric” by ecoYoga – are explored in a series of ongoing experiments. Using Earth's own magnetic field is just one of the experimental power sources being toyed with by this family that seems to be one part yogi, one part organic farmer and one part mad scientist.

The yoga retreats that are held in the height of visitor season are varied. Each of the teachers who hold retreats here are part of the close-knit yoga network that has developed as a result of the owners' own yoga experiences. The 'family' feel of yogis will be familiar to those who have been practising for a long time, and the invitations extended by the Loenings mean that those who do arrive here to hold retreats are basically hand-picked. This is not a retreat run for financial profit, but rather for spiritual gain. Hamish Henry is one of these guest teachers. He is one of a small handful of Certified Ashtanga yoga teachers in the world, qualified to teach students beyond the first series. Experienced Ashtangis will understand the significant difference between 'Certified' and 'Authorized' within Ashtanga, while for those less familiar with the stringent rules, it is enough to understand that Certification is a rare thing, and a sign of irreplaceable knowledge and skill.

Food at ecoYoga is predominantly vegetarian, although the occasional fishing trip can yield a protein option. Served in the communal chalet in a naturally lit and warm dining area, meals are part of a retreat package and the ingredients are often organic when the garden is offering up its largest harvests. There is a cafe as well, an intimate little space that has a range of tasty treats available as well as coffee. This is also where self-caterers can prepare their meals. Off-season, when the retreat is not holding structured retreats, ecoYoga is still available for self-catering holidays. This can be with or without yoga and a booked session costs 50 pounds for a group, regardless of the number of attendees. Open access to the yoga studio is included in the basic accommodation fee, ideal for self-led sessions.

Other activities at the retreat are understandably nature-based. Help on the five-acre property is always appreciated, so gardening and wood-chopping are easy and productive ways to get the blood moving. Hikes, river-walks, fishing and generally lounging around are also popular with both adults and children. ecoYoga is a very child-friendly retreat. The Loenings have children of their own and happily care for visiting children over three years old. For younger children, especially babies, they have a nice network of trustworthy sitters who live locally.

ecoYoga is a retreat that should be famous, but has somehow retained its mystique and is still something of a hidden gem. It has quietly become one of the best places to go for physical, spiritual, and emotional rejuvenation and those who visit here may be torn between wanting to share the retreat with the world and wanting to keep it secret for themselves. An eco-conscious getaway with some of the best yoga teachers in the world, all wrapped up in a breath-taking natural setting, ecoYoga is the complete package.

About the area: Argyll

Argyll – or Argyle, like the diamond-shaped pattern that originated in this region, often seen on socks – is a craggy region in west Scotland. Despite being very handy to major urban centers like Glasgow, this is a wild, windy, and rugged place that feels almost as isolated now as it has for centuries. Lonely Planet calls it the region that “makes cartographers sweat” as its complex coastline bends and tucks through contortions that create some of the most dramatic scenery in the country. The mountains and forests keep accidental wanderers away and getting to parts of this ancient region can be notably difficult. This is a compliment to the region rather than a discouragement to would-be visitors. Anyone who spends time here has a chance to experience the kind of peace that only comes from being far from crowds. The ancient Scots were known for lots of things, but a good tan is not one of them. This region's climate tends towards cold and rain so sturdy warm clothing is a must. The hottest part of the year is July and August, and even then the temperatures will barely nudge 18 degrees C (64F). January is the bleakest month, with temperatures in the 0C – 5C range (32F – 41F).

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