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Article about… Are You Ready for the Island? Yoga and Belly Dancing Vacations at Büyükada Island / Istanbul

Every year in springtime, I start longing for Istanbul, the only city in the world stretching over two continents. I feel the call of this fascinating metropolis with its multitude of intriguing faces. Once you have been there, you will want to experience it again and again. The experience can be exhilarating or relaxing, depending on which part of town you have chosen to stay at. Many visitors are attracted by Sultanahmet on the historical peninsula, only two steps away from world famous sights such as Hagia Sophia and the enchanting blue mosque. Others prefer Beyoglu, an area with both historic buildings, trendy shops and nightclubs.
As for me, having experienced Istanbul from all of these different sides during previous stays, last year I felt “ready for the Island”. And that is how I found not only Naya, an intercultural retreat centre on Büyükada Island, but also the yoga and belly dancing vacations.

Büyükada is the largest island of the “prince islands” archipelago in the Sea of Marmara, reachable by ferryboat in 40-90 minutes. Already when you start spotting dolphins – which happens quite often – from the boat, you will feel yourself beginning to experience inner peace. The sound of the sea, the salty air and the tea served in typical small, tulip-shaped glasses will do the rest.
Last year I followed a hunch and spontaneously booked the yoga and belly dancing vacations at Büyükada. Since then, I have been enthusiastic about the combination of yoga and Oriental dance, the meticulous organisation, and the beautiful accommodation at Naya with its individualist touch.

The face behind the yoga and belly dancing vacations is Sandra Bicker, a yoga teacher from Heidelberg, Germany, who founded her own business called “yoga natura“ in 2009. Yoga natura offers a plethora of yoga vacations at some of the earth’s most beautiful spots, and always in combination with different activities: Hiking, mountain biking, dolphin swimming, or kinesiology, to name just a few. The combination of yoga and Oriental dance, often simply referred to as belly dancing, is a perfect match for Istanbul.
The daily course programme of the yoga and belly dancing vacations included yoga class with Sandra in the mornings, and dancing class with Bambi Sahab in the evenings. Bambi Sahab runs TARAB, a centre for Oriental dance, in Heidelberg, specialising in belly dancing and various other folkloristic forms of Oriental dance.

“Yoga is visible on the inside and works its way to the outside. Belly dancing is visible on the outside, and works its way to the inside.“
I had read the motto of the two teachers, who are passionate about what they do, in the course brochure, and during the vacation, I experienced it first hand. Both yoga and belly dancing affected my body, my mind and my soul.
Yoga enabled me to disconnect from my hectical routine, to feel my body again consciously, and to relax deeply. I was very impressed by how the yoga asanas worked on several levels. Oriental dance, in contrast, helped me rediscover my femininity, activate muscles I did not even know existed, and feel a surge of sensuality and joy of life, that had been painfully missing from my fast-moving daily routine for a long time.

But it was not yoga and Oriental dance alone that affected me, but also the respectful atmosphere created by Sandra and Bambi, and the unique choice of accommodation. “Naya“ is a wooden Victorian mansion, lovingly renovated by Ludwig Lehner. Depending on the season, it is bathed in a scent of mint, sage or lavender, surrounded by the sounds of horse-drawn carriages, sea birds and crickets. Ludwig’s creativity and love for detail are omnipresent. Whether you look at the individually designed rooms and tent houses, or the canopied yoga platform that easily transforms into a beautiful dance hall, Naya is a welcoming place for both the humans and the animals who live here.

During the yoga and belly dancing vacations, our day began with yoga class, followed by a fantastic breakfast, and ended with a tasty dinner in a homelike atmosphere, with animated conversation and beautiful music. After dinner, we would often linger at the shiny wooden table in the cozy dinner tent, drinking cup after cup of tea or a good glass of wine. One evening, Bambi Sahab, who happens to be a trained fairytale- and storyteller as well, told us gripping stories. Often we would listen to Sandra sharing experiences from her numerous travels, or to Ludwig and his friendly co-workers talking about life at Naya. Ludwig also took us on great excursions around Istanbul, to places we would never have found otherwise, and always made us feel welcome as guests, taking our individual requests into account with great kindness. On the last evening, we had a big goodbye party, and after watching an inspiring dance performance from Bambi, we joined in ourselves to dance the night away.

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