Yoga in Istanbul is not as common as you would think; there are only a bunch of places you can get your yoga on.
I recently decided that I would start doing yoga. Not just once or twice a month, but for real. Three or four times a week kind of thing. I researched some places around Istanbul, found one that looked both good and close (Cihangir Yoga), and then walked for an eternity to find it. Once I finally stumbled into it I realized that there was a much shorter, more convenient way of getting there – a fairly usual occurrence in a city with such an extensive maze of hills, roads and hidden alleyways. Anyways, I thought I had hit the jackpot. And maybe I did. But something pretty cool happened afterwards.
As I was walking back home and journeying through some streets I had never been on before, I noticed a tiny little sign that said ‘YogaAkademi’.
When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.
-Hatha Yoga Pradipika
It just so happens that the founder of and principal teacher at YogaAkademi is the world’s 5th greatest yoga master – Paramahamsa Yogacharya Maha Yogi. People from all over the world attend his retreats, and people from all of Turkey and neighboring countries (Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, etc.) come to Istanbul on the weekends to take part in his one and a half hour class. And there I was, some amateur, naive kid who randomly decided that yoga might be interesting. However, they say that when a student is ready to start yoga, he will find a teacher. I don’t believe in coincidence. When you put a thought out into the world, when you voice it and act on it, doors open that never would have otherwise. If you’re serious about it, then that thought will come back to you in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.
I have now been to three classes in each yoga center. The majority of the classes at both centers are in Turkish, but there are always English speakers among the students (and sometimes the teachers themselves) who are more than eager to help with the translation.
Having studied yoga under the real Yoga Masters of the Himalayas, YogaAkademi’s ‘Great Yoga Master’, as they call him, teaches The Original Yoga system. This, based on my very limited knowledge, combines body movements with breathing techniques and meditation. I could tell you more about him, but I would essentially just be copying everything that they say on their website, so I’ll just put the link here YogaAkademi. However, I would like to highlight one portion of what is written, that is particularly applicable to those who don’t speak Turkish, “Like many early Great Yoga Masters, much of his teaching is imparted nonverbally; it is said that students can feel the truth and make rapid improvements simply by being in his presence”.
Classes at the YogAkademi are 40 Lira and you can drop in whenever you feel like it. The Grand Master teaches on Thursdays and Saturdays at 12:00 and English classes are offered on Mondays at 1:00 and Wednesdays at 5:30.
Cihangir Yoga has a wide range of classes that are offered everyday. Drop-in classes cost 35 Lira and there is a first month only offer of 100 Lira. I’ve really enjoyed the teachers here, and their classes as well. (I’m doing a one month trial at both of the yoga centers right now and then comes decision time!)
Yoga has a sly, clever way of short circuiting the mental patterns that cause anxiety.
If you are after some stretching and flexibility improvements, then Cihangir Yoga will definitely satisfy your needs. If you enjoy the spiritual, meditative, original aspect of Yoga, then YogaAkademi may be more up your alley. If you want to say that you have taken a class with one of the world’s Great Yoga Masters, then I guess the choice is an easy one…
By the way, is pilates for girls only? I went to a pilates class at Cihangir Yoga and felt somewhat out of place. Like an apple in a basket of oranges, or a polar bear in the middle of the dessert. Or simply an American guy who doesn’t speak any Turkish and has never done pilates in a room full of Turkish girls who do speak Turkish and who do do a lot of pilates.