Not Your Average Yoga Holiday: Practicing on an Antarctic Expedition

March 24, 2017

Written by Elly MacDonald

Life onboard the Ocean Endeavour is exciting and fast-paced--there are Zodiac cruises and shore landings to prepare for, expert lectures to enjoy, delicious meals to enjoy with new friends, and so many amazing sights to see from the open decks. Practicing yoga on your Antarctic expedition is an excellent way to relax, heighten your senses and really open yourself to the experience.

Antarctica is the ultimate destination for restorative yoga.

Photo Courtesy: Sarah Hrdlicka

As a yoga and wellness guide with Quark, I take passengers out into the pristine Antarctic waters and onshore to explore, and also teach yoga on a daily basis. Yoga is an incredibly popular optional activity onboard, but what should you expect of the experience? In this post, I’ll answer the most frequently asked questions about Quark’s yoga program and hopefully provide all of the information you need to make the most of your Antarctic yoga practice!

Who is Quark’s Yoga Program For?

This is probably the most common question I get from passengers. Our yoga program is for everyone! Passengers from all over the world and of all levels of experience take part, from people who’ve never tried it before to those who’ve been practicing every day for years.

You might think of yoga as a warm weather or beach activity, but Antarctica is the perfect destination for yoga holidays for those of all skill levels.

In Toronto, where I teach yoga at Y Yoga, I’m known for vinyasa and power flows but teach introductory classes, as well. There’s another element I add to Antarctic expedition classes: restorative yoga. You’ll have a chance to open your body and really get into it before heading out on expedition, but then when afternoon classes are offered, can make sure you’re limber, stretching and relaxing those muscles you might not use as often at home.

The rhythms of the ocean make onboard yoga a whole new experience, even for seasoned participants.

Photo Courtesy: Elly MacDonald

Yoga is like the fountain of youth! When you keep your spine limber on expedition, you might find that your posture improves, you sleep better, and you’re more comfortable pushing yourself to new heights as you explore Antarctica. Excitement and adventure are guaranteed on the 7th continent, but we really want you to have relaxing vacations and have time to decompress, too.

Who Teaches Yoga Onboard?

Myself and a few other incredibly lucky yoga teachers. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure this incredible experience is real! My home studio is in Toronto, Ontario, and thankfully they’re supportive of my leaving for months at a time to share this powerful experience and deepen my practice in Antarctica.

Elly MacDonald, one of your Quark Expeditions yoga guides.

Photo Courtesy: Elly MacDonald

I’ve practiced yoga a long time and it’s taken me all over the world, but I really got serious about it when I lived across from a studio in China. I was there teaching English but discovered that the yoga offered in that studio was the most challenging I’d encountered to that point in my life. I met a lot of gymnasts and acrobats there who used yoga to really get further into their bodies and was inspired to move on to teaching yoga, then teaching teachers. In all, I’ve been practicing yoga for over 20 years and teaching for 10, with over 500 hours in teacher training. As well, I have the privilege of being part of Lole women’s ambassadorship program.

Elly MacDonald teaches yoga and also guides Zodiac cruises and shore landings.

Photo Courtesy: Elly MacDonald 

If I’m not your yoga guide, you’re still in excellent hands with my colleagues like Sarah Hrdlicka, who created our onboard wellness program. In her twenties, Sarah studied yoga in India and has dedicated her life to inspiring wellness in others ever since. When she’s not in Antarctica with Quark, she owns and operates a sea kayak, standup paddleboard and yoga company in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Whether you see yoga as a fun complement to your Antarctic expedition experience or are looking for yoga holidays in an extremely restful, dynamic environment, you’re going to find what you need in Antarctica. You’ll have expert guidance and support, too!

How Does the Yoga Program Work?

You can sign up for onboard yoga while you’re on the ship, so you don’t need to worry about booking it in advance. As with all Antarctic expedition activities, the timing depends on where we are in Antarctica, what the conditions are like, when you’ll be heading out on excursions, etc. However, I try to offer a class a day and often schedule a second class if the first fills up and there are more people who want to participate.

We usually start in the morning between 6am and 7am and practice for 45 minutes. Typically, the class is 15 people, although we do have room to expand it up to 22 or so if needed. Sometimes we’ll offer a late afternoon or evening class, as well, and these tend to run longer, up to 90 minutes.

If you’ve practiced yoga before, you’re going to notice an incredible difference between doing it on solid ground and practicing on the ship, especially on our at-sea days! Don’t worry, we stay low to the ground to ensure your safety. This gives us a chance to get into some really deep stretches that are great for limbering you up for your day of hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, mountaineering, kayaking or Zodiac cruising.

A group snowshoes up a gentle incline in the Antarctic.

Photo Courtesy: Miranda Miller

Practicing yoga in Antarctica changes everything. There’s a special energy in Antarctica that’s indescribable--It changed the way that I teach and my entire practice, really. Beginning your day with a class looking out over the spectacular Antarctic peninsula and outlying islands is incredibly rewarding. It’s like nothing else on earth.

What Equipment & Clothing Do I Need to Bring?

Everything you need to enjoy a restorative yoga class is provided, including bolsters, straps, blocks, and eye pillows. While leading restorative classes, I also do light massage using oils from the spa, to help passengers recuperate from their travels.

Don’t worry about packing special clothing for onboard yoga. People show up in jeans and they are totally fine! You can even wear your baselayer tights, if you aren’t bringing special workout gear. If you have room to pack a pair of shorts or yoga pants, that’s great, too. You’re going to be practicing indoors, in a room accessible via indoor hallways from your room.

What’s important is that you’re there. There’s a whole lot of compassion in my classes and among passengers.

An Antarctic expedition is such a powerful, almost overwhelming experience; yoga really helps you open up to it, take it all in and really appreciate what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling. Practicing this kind of self-care on your expedition is incredibly rewarding and makes it one of the most relaxing vacations you could imagine, too.

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