In the fun-loving city of Tel Aviv, finding time to slow down and breathe has become an important lifestyle choice. Culture Trip explores the sports and wellness trends that are inspiring urban dwellers to action and helping them find their inner zen.
With endless parks, outdoor gym stations and 120 kilometres (75 miles) of cycling routes, Tel Avivians are surrounded by opportunities to get moving. Add to that a rich and varied Mediterranean diet, a world-famous vegan scene and more than 300 days of sunshine, and access to healthy and mindful living is omnipresent and, oftentimes, free. However, it’s not just about being physically active, but about focussing on inner well-being, too. With the restless pace of development and smart working philosophy, the need for balance and boundaries is in big demand.
In a quest for urban wellness, locals on yoga mats can be seen at seafront ports and meditation groups sprawled across the boulevards. Udi Sahar, founder and owner of the organic, plant-based restaurant Urban Shaman, talks to Culture Trip about how Tel Aviv offers an interesting recipe for living well long-term.
“Tel Aviv is a city where ‘healthetarians’ unite. But people are still hesitant to commit to one practice whether physical or culinary; instead the status quo still prefers to experiment and experience,” he says.
In Tel Aviv, almost everything happens outdoors, and all roads lead to the seashore. In a city full of entrepreneurs, heading out for a run is often more efficient than a brainstorming meeting, and for the seasoned traveller a midday run can be as engaging as a sightseeing tour. Slide into comfortable trainers, rent a bike, challenge your core with pilates on surfboards or experiment with functional training classes (now one of the most in-demand group classes in town). Functional training is the term for intentional workouts where exercises enhance and support the body in dealing with actions performed in daily life.
“In this seaside city, people love to be seen. The social element is part of wellness in Tel Aviv, and working out together encourages a sense of community like the kibbutz mentality, which is why functional training groups are really popular right now,” says Sahar.
Those in search of fully equipped studios can sign up for functional training classes at Space, one of the most popular clubs in Tel Aviv with six locations. Different memberships are available with classes on offer at least four times per week, as well as Les Mills and ultimate stretching classes to ease stress and tension. Similar studios include Locker Room, which offer athletics classes that place functional training at the forefront. Pilates students will also appreciate the advanced reformer equipment as well as the TRX and body-sculpting training sessions.
Along the shores of Hilton Beach, hop onto a floating paddle board to salute the sun and tone up with SUP yoga and pilates exercises. In this unique waterfront class, students challenge their balance, focus and inner strength without experiencing the common issue of overlapping mats and cramped space. The traditional Savasana practice reaches new heights, too, floating on the Mediterranean underneath a picture-perfect sky. Private and group classes are suitable for beginners and experienced yogis. The season runs from March to November, and sessions can be booked online.
One of the most powerful ways to snap back into the moment is to stop in the middle of the chaos and breathe, especially in Tel Aviv. “Everyone is constantly on the move and super stressed,” Sahar says. “To me, mind, body and soul are one and the same.” Whether one-on-one or in a group, the host of yoga styles will not just strengthen the body but help to silence the mind, too.
Yoga remains one of the deeply ingrained and most popular practices, with free sessions on offer by the municipality. ‘Yoga by the Sea’ takes place every Friday at 8am at the Tel Aviv Port. The Community of Mindfulness in Israel meets weekly in members’ homes and invites curious minds wanting to follow the traditions and practices of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village Community. The group also organises retreats throughout the year.
In many ways, this young city is like a sponge, absorbing new trends and ideas – eager to experiment but not quite ready to commit. Yet, the rise and rise of yoga studios is a constant.
Located at the port in the Old North district, Ella Yoga was among the first urban yoga studios to open in Tel Aviv and offers a great combination of seafront location, experienced, multilingual teachers and a wide range of classes including Iyengar, Vinyasa, Integrative, and Ashtanga. The studio is open seven days a week and welcomes guest instructors from around the world.
The first space of its kind in Tel Aviv, Sahar’s Urban Shaman wellness café also launched Teepee, an urban healing studio connected to the café that offers holistic workshops and an infrared sauna. “We essentially built the studio with the intention of having wellness experts come in and curate content for clients. It’s like the WeWork of wellness. Classes include piano meditations, esoteric readings, men’s circles and full moon yoga. There is no membership fee; clients can simply drop-in and pay per class.”
Ikigai wellness studio is one of the newest meditation spaces in Tel Aviv and introduces new yet practical ways to achieve peace in a turbulent environment and where the ultimate goal is to find your happy zone and connect anytime, anywhere. Founder Reut Reuvani has designed a holistic experience with wellness practices including meditation and the art of chi kung to illustrate the symbiotic relationship between body and mind. The weekly class schedule is also available in English.
Shraddha Yoga Studio is a creative wellbeing studio where international instructors lead weekly yoga and holistic movement classes to heal, support and liberate its students. The highly aesthetic interiors and warm lighting create a harmonising and energising ambience. The studio also hosts exclusive Ikebana classes, prenatal yoga and restorative yoga for stress relief, as well as workshops on nature-sourced skincare, vegan delicacies and drawing. Experiment with additional yoga practices at Orha Yoga, the Yoga Dharma School and Studio Naim with an interesting events schedule that includes yoga on the beach.
Culinary standards in Israel are impressive, with a smorgasbord of cross-cultural recipes based largely on vegetables and an abundance of produce grown on formerly barren desert land and swamps. The rise of veganism has caught on in Tel Aviv and has earned it the title of ‘Vegan Capital of the World’, with more than 400 vegan-friendly restaurants.
“For me, wellness means getting eight hours of sleep, practicing movement, drinking clean water (we serve reversed osmosis water) and eating a plant-based diet,” Sahar says, sipping a mushroom latte. Urban Shaman serves the highest quality produce sourced from farmers around Israel – everything is organic, plant-based, sugar-free and gluten-free. Vegan cuisine “calls to the people who want it and ask for it,” he says.
Sahar makes juice cleanses for clients and offers personal consulting and detox programs on request, with recipes available online, too. He created the Urban Shaman menu, and the café has earned a reputation for having the best super bowls in Tel Aviv, complete with plant-based ice cream, perfect for summer power lunches. His favourite? The Cacao Ceremony. Bestsellers include the coconut yogurt and the gluten-free pancakes made with bananas and ‘almost’ milk, topped with organic maple.
With a focus on high-quality vegan cooking, chef’s kitchen Opa pays tribute to the beauty and abundance of the plant kingdom. Chef Shirel Berger has studied the functionality and contribution of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and works her magic to create recipes that bring out the best of Mother Nature’s offerings, bringing a refreshing perspective to ‘haute veganism’. Each dish is named after the central ingredient, served with unusual, bold accompaniments. Try the plum served with a black mustard compote, almonds and dill, or blueberries served with fermented potato and pickled mustard seeds.
Young and trendy locals flock to Café Anastasia for its bold and colourful menu designed for the curious and health-conscious. Founded upon an ecological ethos, free-trade farms source the coffee beans, and four different varieties of plant-based milk are available. The cafe’s vegan cheese collection has received accolades from the most dedicated vegans. Each ingredient is freshly cut and prepared per order, and each dish is packed with superfoods to enhance taste, freshness and experience.
To experiment at home, head to Neroli Health Food Store & Diner in the chic district of Neve Tzedek where buying organic products is only half as fun as trying them on location with locals who share the same passion. Pre-prepared meals are artistically composed and are packed with wholesome goodness. Be sure to order one of their fresh shakes and power health shots to boost the immune system, metabolism and infuse energy. Try lemon-cayenne pepper-ginger, goji and red fruit packed with antioxidants, or wheatgrass rich in iron, magnesium and calcium.