Martha of Martha’s Heli-Hikes, leading yoga in the Rockies

Martha of Martha’s Heli-Hikes

The best part about starting a new year is the chance to wipe the slate clean and achieve a fitter, slimmer, richer, smarter you.  If fitness, natural beauty and all-round relaxation are on your resolution “to-do list” for 2010, consider a trip to Canadian Rockies’ snow-capped mountains.  While they boast some of the world’s best skiing and wildlife viewing, this region is also home to an unusual tourist activity called heli-yoga, a practice that combines the meditative properties of yoga with a traditional helicopter sightseeing tour.

Just a short drive outside Banff National Park near Alberta’s Lake Louise, Icefield Helicopter Tours takes the conventional aerial experience one step further.  This helicopter tourism provider has partnered with Martha’s Heli-Hikes, an outdoor adventure outfitter, and together, they are offering a variety of high altitude activities, from hiking to snow shoeing, ice walking to yoga.

Tourists keen on connecting with nature may find themselves high on the mountain top, resting in “child’s pose,” overlooking some of our country’s most stunning scenery.  There’s nothing quite like “tree pose” at 9,000 feet.  There I was, balancing in this classic yoga position while taking in a panorama view of the Canadian Rockies’ snow-capped mountains.  One thing’s for sure, this certainly isn’t your average yoga studio.

A day excursion begins at the heliport with a brief safety lesson, a gear check and the distribution of tasty gourmet packed lunches.  After piling into the chopper and slipping on a set of noise-canceling headphones (complete with fighter jet style microphones), the pilot is ready for take-off.  The blades rotate faster.  The whomp-whomp sound crescendos.  The plane lifts off and hovers above the ground like a giant metal dragonfly. Even for the most jaded of flyers, there’s something truly exciting about cruising around in a helicopter!

We soared above The Rockies mountain range, keeping our eyes open for wolves, elk, grizzly bears and other wildlife found in the area.

Depending on the flight conditions, the helicopter can land in a variety of geographic landscapes, from the waterfalls of the raging Cline River to the ridge of Wedding Knoll, a grassy clearing and matrimonial hot spot.

The chopper found a safe pad to land and Martha, my guide and resident yoga-expert, hopped out, mindful of the deadly blades swooping overhead.  I followed her and braced myself as whirls of wind whipped up sand and dust.

I got into yoga gear and prepared for my Hatha yoga lesson.  Depending on the season, weather can change quickly and without warning, so it’s best layer your wardrobe and prepare for sudden variances in temperature.

As my yoga mat flopped and folded with every gust, I slithered into Cobra position. Breathing deeply, relaxing and stretching at the top of a remote mountain somehow made me feel more connected with nature, with myself and the world around me.

While I enjoyed the experience, I can understand why helicopter tourism is such a controversial topic in the area.  Critics claim that helicopter tours aren’t sustainable; that the noise and air pollution from the aircrafts can cause environmental damage and disturb the wildlife.  Martha herself admits the environmental irony of using a gas-guzzling machine to enjoy the pristine wilderness, but she maintains that “practicing yoga in nature bring us closer to the earth.  Fuel and yoga might seem at odds with each other but the benefits of coming out here, into remote parts of the Rockies, far outweigh the negative effects.”

After a series of poses and meditative moments, the lesson ended with a calm concluding “oooom,” a whispered “Namaste,” and a scenic helicopter ride back to the base.

Icefield Helicopter Tours offers day Heli- yoga trips in Alberta’s Rockies at $469 per person.  For more information visit

Can’t make it to Canada? Here are some other ideas for the World’s Best Places to Yoga.

1) Rishikesh, India – Dubbed the “Yoga Capital of the World,” this spiritual budget getaway is one of the most spectacular places to downward dog.  Located on the banks of the Ganges River it’s now famous for its ashrams, New Age meditation classes and delicious vegetarian cuisine.
2) 7 Centers Yoga Arts in Sedona Arizona offers week-long yoga retreats, day workshops and teaching seminars for those who want to take their Chakra training to the next step.
3) Create your very own Zen Den at home.  A little Ayurvedic Tea, soft music and flickering candles can go a long way and will cost you a fraction of the price…

Where are your favorite places to Yoga? Email me at