As January settles in and resolutions give way to good intentions followed by niggling guilt, booking a Yoga retreat holiday for the Easter break may be the perfect way to motivate yourself to stick to the new, healthy course you’ve plotted, writes Ellie O'Byrne.
Goa, a west Indian State with long, glorious beaches on the Arabian Sea, may have made its name as a party paradise for a whole generation of hippies in the seventies, but if psychedelic trance and hedonistic beach parties sound like a far cry from the “new you” you’re aiming for in 2016, the regimen of communal exercise, diet and meditation offered by one of the countless Yoga centres offering retreats in Goa may help you find inner peace along with a healthy glow and some spring sun.
For the dedicated yoga practitioner, the chance to practice their discipline in India, the birthplace of yoga, is in itself a draw, but with an average daily temperature of 28 degrees in March and April, the promise of some warm sun would also make an incentive to bite the bullet and sign up.
Yoga, from the Sanskrit word Yuj, means to unite. Its practice is not indigenous to Goa but more likely originated in the Indus Valley Civilisation in antiquity, before spreading to other areas of India and then the world. Whether you see it simply as a way of keeping fit or if you embrace the philosophies and are aiming for spiritual attainment, yoga’s benefits are well-documented; increased suppleness and muscle tone are two that even the most prosaic and materialist amongst us can understand, while a little enlightenment might also not go astray.
If you’ve never done so much as a shoulder-stand and have nightmarish visions of being the least flexible and most out-of-breath member of a cohort of bronzed and toned Gwyneth Paltrow lookalikes, or struggling to keep up with a diet bordering on starvation, shop around, ask the right questions and be honest about your level of experience; there are many centres that welcome beginners and provide a gentler approach. Hatha Yoga is perfect for beginners as it allows rests between asanas, or postures.
Goa can be breathtakingly beautiful; colonial villas, many run-down or derelict, dot hillsides swathed in lush tropical forest overlooking the sea, and inland, rice paddy steppes are interspersed with cashew and coconut plantations. India’s smallest state has a higher GDP and better standard of living than other parts of the country and it also a decidedly eurocentric feel, moulded by 450 years of Portuguese rule. Along with the exotic hustle and bustle of streets and markets in true Indian style, the colonial architecture, churches, names and food (Goan “choriz” cured sausage is a familiar Iberian addition to the local cuisine, which tends to be pretty spicy) will make anyone who has holidayed in Portugal feel at home.
Goa is divided into two districts, simply named North Goa and South Goa. Although there are some direct flights to Goa’s only airport, Dabolim, most flights connect via Abu Dhabi or Mumbai in Maharashtra State to the north of Goa.
The official language of Goa is Konkani, but as is the case with most tourist-friendly countries, basic English is widely understood for trade. Portuguese is also spoken by some of the older generation who remember the end of Portuguese rule in 1961.
Of course, Yoga on a full stomach is ill-advised and all retreats will cater to their guests to a schedule that fits in with their classes, but for evenings, the beach-shack restaurants dotted along Goa’s 75km beach coastline serve up often excellent dishes based on the Goan staples of rice, coconut, fish, pickles and spices. True to Goa’s hippie influences, if you’re still chowing down on vegan, raw or specialist fare by Easter, you won’t be short of options; at Tamarind Café in Pernem in the North, Japanese Chef Kaoru Kawabe serves organic, vegan macrobiotic meals with a menu that changes daily, and they are attached to the Samata Holistic retreat centre, which offers Yoga retreats as well as other holistic courses and workshops.
Goa still maintains a decidedly hippie vibe, which is a tourist draw for many of the young Europeans and Russians who still congregate in areas like Anjuna or Arambol beach to party. Goa is also famed as one of the birthplaces of techno music and many of the bar-lined beaches simply turn into large, outdoor parties at night. Goa is India’s hottest tourist destination, attracting 12% of all holidaymakers to India and at least 400,000 foreign visitors visit Goa each year, so you’d better resign yourself to sharing your enlightenment with the presence of others, but peak season is in December and January and by March, as the weather grows hotter before monsoon season, it’s markedly quieter. It’s also nice that so many of Goa’s tourists are domestic travellers; Indians from other states who choose to holiday on Goa’s sparkling shores.
Three Goan Yoga getaways:
1. London-based Chaya Yoga Retreats will be running their next Goan retreat from the 6th -16th March at a purpose-built centre 10 minutes inland from Ashwem beach to the north of the state’s largest city, Vasco Da Gama. Although Indian tourists have started to complain about Ashwem becoming busier in recent years, it’s still possible to find quiet patches, a far cry from the throngs and thongs of Baga and Calangute beaches, which are south of Ashwem. Chaya Yoga’s offer includes two buffet meals a day, and with “Nourish” the retreat’s title and nutritional specialist Lucy Hill on hand for classes in “wellbeing food”, you can expect some top-quality fare based on fresh, local ingredients.
2. The Chaya Yoga schedule includes a Vinyasa flow class each morning and Hatha Yoga in the afternoon, with plenty of time each day to soak up the Goan scenery or go on organised trips to cultural hotspots like the famed Mapusa spice market, as well as massage, meditation and various other classes. The schedule is not designed to be taxing and all levels of experience are welcome.
3. Ashiyana Yoga and Spa Village has an idyllic location in between the mouth of the Mandrem river and the adjacent Mandrem Beach in the far north of Goa, a truly unspoilt outpost surrounded by coconut palms. They run a week-long residential “Urban Antidote Yoga Rejuvenation” retreat periodically throughout their season, designed with burnt-out city-dwellers in mind, but they also do themed retreats with different guest practitioners, as well as Stand-up paddleboarding and, not for the faint-hearted sybarites amongst us, a series of Ayurvedic cleansing retreats. They will tailor classes to your level of experience and also run two 200-hour Yoga Alliance certified Yoga Teacher Trainings per season.
3. - If the full retreat experience sounds too cloistered and solemn, YogaGypsys, right next to Ashwem beach, offers daily hatha yoga classes suitable for beginners, and a flexible schedule of classes in a relaxed and informal atmosphere; rather than sign up to a full retreat, a morning class each day could be integrated into a broader holiday making full use of other opportunities for water sports, wandering the beaches and trips inland to see some of the lush tropical forests and exotic wildlife in one of Goa’s many nature reserves.
Chaya Yoga Retreats information and bookings for “Nourish 2016”: http://www.chayayogaretreats.com/retreats/india-2014
A full list of Ashiyana Yoga’s upcoming retreats available at: http://www.ashiyana-yoga-goa.com/yoga-retreats-at-ashiyana-india.shtml
To arrange stays or make enquiries on classes at Yogagypsys at Ashwem beach: http://www.yoga.in/centers/yogagypsys-176.html
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