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A Yoga Excursion to Turkey

By G. Lincoln McCurdy

As an American who has traveled extensively within Turkey and has had over 25 years of Turkish experience in the diplomatic service, private sector and the non-profit world, Turkey has a special meaning for me. There’s a mystical bond that keeps me coming back. As a long time yoga student of Amir Tahami at the Sun & Moon Yoga Studio, I was pleasantly surprised one day when Amir spoke fondly of his travels through Turkey.
Amir’s enchantment with Turkey sparked the idea within me of having Amir lead a yoga trip to Turkey. Instructors typically organize tours to the Caribbean, to the Pacific and Latin America. Why not Turkey?  Turkey may not be your usual destination for yoga retreats; however, it is the center of Sufism and home of the Whirling Dervishes. As Amir has frequently highlighted in his classes, although they may not realize it, people of various faiths practice elementary yoga on a daily basis through their acts of devotion and rituals. From this perspective, a yoga excursion to a Muslim country seemed only natural.

I was also thinking that such a trip could be a mission of goodwill promoting people to people diplomacy since relations between the US and Turkish governments, traditionally one of mutual admiration, had deteriorated over differences concerning Iraq. Furthermore, such a yoga excursion to Turkey could be a model for the Turkish travel industry to promote yoga tourism. I was delighted that Amir shared my enthusiasm.

This year, we realized this vision and journeyed to Turkey for ten days of yoga, reflection, exploration of a new culture and, of course, sightseeing and shopping. This special trip was more than a yoga tour. It demonstrated that despite uncertainty, turmoil and violence in the world, individuals can make a difference by promoting peace and harmony, showing appreciation for diversity and honoring different religions. On this trip, Americans and Turks shared a bonding experience through yoga, and I am most fortunate to have played a key role in organizing this journey.

Turkey is a predominately Muslim but secular country. The richness of her religious and spiritual heritage, her extraordinary history and the beauty of her natural wonders make Turkey ideal for a yoga excursion. Furthermore, the sincere hospitality exemplified throughout Turkish society and the exquisite Turkish cuisine provides another dimension that must be experienced. Yoga is beginning to blossom in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul—one of the greatest and most enchanting cities in the world--a city on two continents and the capital of three empires.

Our group of pioneering souls spent seven days in Istanbul and three days in Bodrum on Turkey’s Aegean coast. I was able to work out a special arrangement with The Marmara Istanbul Hotel, a trendsetter among the five star hotels in Turkey for its natural health center and programs, to accommodate Amir and the group. The hotel was especially interested in having its Turkish clientele and the hotel’s health club personnel included in the week-long yoga program with the Americans.  The hotel provided its beautiful studio that overlooks Istanbul’s Taksim Square for both the morning and evening workshop sessions.

The hotel was not only the perfect spot for holding the yoga classes, but also a great location base for us to explore the enchantments of Istanbul. It seemed as though everywhere along the way, we found correlation with the Turkish world and yoga. This was explicated one afternoon at the Blue Mosque when Amir and our Turkish guide explained described the similarities of the Islamic Prayer with our Sun Salutes and how people from differing parts of the world come up with very comparable rituals.


Amir, as usual, took a creative approach to teaching us yoga for the week. He entitled his workshop “Yoga for the Whole Body.”  Each day Amir targeted a specific body area presenting a brief introduction to the anatomy and mechanics of the chosen areas and then followed with a yoga practice specifically designed to explore the areas from different perspectives including how the body parts relate to each other. Along the way, the students were taught about common ailments and structural problems that affect the area and how yoga could be used as a self-healing practice. For example, we learned that common knee ailments can be the result of having tight hip joints. Each day focused on a new body area and progressed from the ground up with the first class examining the feet and the last class exploring the head, neck and shoulders. At the end, we had a pretty good understanding of how our bodies functioned in and out of yoga class.

The Marmara Hotel was most accommodating in providing for the class’s needs. The hotel purchased the yoga mats, blocks and straps and provided from its inventory numerous pillows and blankets which Amir put to novel use during class (restoratives using a half a dozen luxury-grade hotel pillows is heavenly.)

The Turkish students who joined us at the Marmara looked to yoga in the same manner as we do as a way to achieve balance in the hectic life style of modern-day society, cope with stress from work, as well as heal physical ailments. Language was not a problem since English is widely spoken in Turkey.  Like us, the Turkish participants appreciated Amir’s gentle teaching style and his guidance in bringing mindfulness into daily life.

Amir’s workshop has had a multiplier effect in the understanding and promotion of yoga in Turkey. The hotel’s yoga instructors, for example, were able to enhance their teaching skills by their participation. Amir also received great press coverage on his workshop thanks to a dear friend of mine who works at a public relations agency and believes in the principles of yoga. Two major national daily newspapers carried articles about Amir and the workshop at the Marmara. One reporter even took a class.

An interesting coincidence was that the World Heart Foundation was having a special seminar on yoga for heart patients at the Marmara Hotel on the day of the group’s arrival. Before he had a chance to rest after the long flight from the US, Amir was addressing an audience of several hundred people on the health benefits of yoga.  Was this really a coincidence?

Our biggest challenge, however, was to find a place to continue our yoga sessions for our last three days in Bodrum, a bohemian resort town on the Aegean Coast. Our hotel which was conveniently located in the center of Bodrum didn’t have a proper facility.  Fate provided a creative solution. A local carpet merchant, Sayin Burku, heard of our plight and offered his shop so that we could practice yoga during our stay. What an experience it was to use a Turkish carpet of unique beauty and worth thousands of dollars as one’s mat and use a stack of folded carpets as props. Even Sayin couldn’t resist trying yoga, and Amir was in heaven as an instructor. So for three days, we performed yoga and meditation in a Turkish way!  Maybe our dedication to yoga was paying off—surrendering to the moment and going with the flow. What could beat this as a finale to a fabulous trip?

I was pleasantly surprised in seeing how yoga positively impacts group dynamics.  All members of our group commented that yoga helped them adjust to the time change and deal with jet lag. During the course of our stay, we found that yoga in the morning was a great way to start off the day in a positive and cheerful mood whereas yoga in the evening helped us to recover from a rigorous program of sightseeing.

The daily yoga sessions undoubtedly helped all of us, especially me, to drop the pretence of being in control and go with the flow. Consequently, I believe that yoga enhanced the sensitivities of my travel companions and enabled all of us to take in the flow of history that radiates in Turkey, to enjoy the intensity of interacting with the Turkish people and to fully appreciate the sensual pleasures that are prominent in Turkish culture such as a ritual of a Turkish bath and for a man, a Turkish haircut and shave.

The sensation of Turkey experienced on this journey has established new mystical bonds and is luring the group for a return in 2006.  There is already talk among Amir and his students about revisiting Istanbul--to swim in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean in Antalya, to feel the spirituality of ancient Capppadocia, to walk in the old forests in Camili along the Georgian border and to practice yoga in a Turkish way in all those wonderful places.                                     
Lives in Arlington, Virginia, and was the Consul for Commercial Affairs at the US Consulate General in Istanbul in the early 1980s. He was with the American-Turkish Council from 1989 to 2004 and served as its president for the last five years. He is currently an independent consultant and senior advisor to the Turkish-American Chamber of Commerce & Industry in New York.

(August 2005, 18th Issue)
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07