So we were feeling pretty burnt out, like we had travelled too much and too quickly. Not something we were expecting to feel quite yet, but you can’t plan for everything. So at the last minute we decided to look into some kind of Ayurvedic or yoga retreat for the 8 days we had in Goa, for some rejuvenation. We had already been told about an amazing deserted beach, Galgibaga, just south of Palolem, so we focussed our search in that area in the hope that we’d at least be able to visit it. It just so happened that there is an ashram set just back from the beach that offers retreats as well as long term courses and training. Ashrams are like yoga houses or schools. We’ve come across a few in India so far but never been in any of them or even enquired what they do there, not sure why, maybe we should have! I always had the impression they were quite strict and foreboding.
It was by far the cheapest we looked at, offering us full board, accommodation, yoga, massage and other lessons; it promised to be an all-encompassing experience. We booked in for a week, not really sure what to expect but kind of knowing it would be good for us! We shared a taxi down through Goa from the train station with four Germans, one of whom asked whether ‘it was one of those ones where you have to take a vow of silence?’ We said we bloody well hoped not.
It was hippy and sometimes seemed a bit pretentious, at least on first impressions. Maybe because it was a group of white westerners (almost all American) educating a group of white westerners about an ancient Indian art and way of living, in India. We were supposed to do 5 hours of yoga over two classes a day, plus an hour of massage and a two hour lecture in the evening. So it was pretty taxing. We did all of it on two days I think and it was definitely fulfilling but incredibly tiring. The other days we’d duck out of one class or another, reminding ourselves it was meant to be relaxing, plus we had a giant deserted beach to enjoy.
What we realised after a few days is that the majority of people weren’t pretentious or preachy at all, they were just completely immersed in this way of life; focused on meditating, learning and enjoying being happy (and searching for their sacred self of course).
There are lush gardens surrounding the front of the building.
The yoga itself wasn’t like any that either of us have done before, and between us we’ve done a fair bit. The poses are called Āsanas, which literally means to sit still, and the point is to hold a stretch, while relaxing every part of your body that is not involved and then relax for a significant amount of time between each one. This style explains the length of the lessons; there’s no way you could do full-on fast yoga in the Goan heat! It’s a style that apparently a lot of people take a while to get used to, and decide if they like it, some people take weeks. We were pretty sold after a couple of classes; you come out feeling incredibly zen and you can tell that it has worked your muscles too. People that LOVE it tend not to leave, extending their stay again and again.
The yoga space on top of the building.
And the view out across the paddy fields from it.
Also, the aim of repeating the same set of āsanas twice a day (with changing additions at the beginning or end) in a non-stress environment, in a self-created relaxed state is to change the neuron map in your brain, deleting the connections that invoke stress and fear and build new ones related to calm and happiness. They don’t say people should go there to heal, they say they should go there to learn that you were already ok. I thought that was great, a great way to think.
The evening classes were definitely an unexpected gem. The lectures were so interesting and strangely correlated a lot with the things that we have been discussing, reading and experiencing on our journey so far. The guy, Whitney, who gave them was so well read and intelligent, but also a great speaker making things digestible and funny.
On two evenings there were performances. The first was a group of five amazing local musicians who played and sang repetitive chants which we all sang along with while a few of the long termers started doing their own interpretive swaying dances. Sounds pretty hippy right? It really was, and we definitely weren’t at the swaying stage(!) but it was an amazing atmosphere. The second was a traditional Indian flautist, who had never read sheet music (because it’s just not a thing here) and played us an hour of mesmerising night ragas from memory.
We also went to introduction lessons for the Sanskrit language and Ayurveda, which literally means science of life, both of which are ancient but have a surprising amount of relevance today. Especially Ayurveda, people in India still base their whole lives on it, the teachings are an entire ‘way of life’ and, to be honest, every experience of it we’ve had so far has been pretty spot on; those ancient folk knew what they were talking about.
All in all it was a pretty wholesome experience and a lot of things really resonated. We’ll take a lot from it. Maybe we’ll even go back some time.