Last April I decided to spend two weeks in Goa. I was travelling alone and wanted to enhance my basic yoga practice in the country of India, the heart and home of yoga. After researching various yoga retreats I decided the best option for me and my budget, as a beginner to yoga and meditation, was Swan yoga retreat located in Assagoa. Nestled inland amongst greenery, away from the tourist beaches and resorts, it seemed an ideal location.
I booked their one week ‘yoga holyday’ package online, you can see a typical schedule of activities on their website. Communication with staff online was clear, and my queries were answered promptly. I had attempted communication with other yoga retreats who were far less friendly and less accommodating so I was sure that I had made the right choice in booking with Swan yoga retreat. I also liked the fact that this retreat didn’t solely focus on the physical asanas, but also on the theory behind yoga, the meditation and the benefits beyond the physical.
Accommodation was simple and quaint. I chose the cheapest option of staying in a the budget cottage on site. The wooden huts were simple but had everything you need, surrounded by greenery it wasn’t unusual to encounter the odd frog, or in my case rather large spider in the bathroom!!
Each morning we would wake up in the dark before sunrise to meditate together in the chalet at the top of the steps overlooking the trees. As a newbie to meditation, I personally found staying perfectly still for half an hour very challenging, my joints would ache and I would be shifting position a lot so I found it difficult to clear my mind. As the sun rose, the insects and birds outside began to get noisier, and when you opened your eyes at the end of the meditation the sun streamed inside. It was a beautiful place and a perfect way to start the day. We also went to the beach for one of our morning meditations, also a lovely experience.
After our meditation we would have a small portion of fruit for breakfast. We would then go back up to the chalet up to practise morning asanas. After this we would either have free time or an activity before our afternoon yoga session. I must admit I found two yoga sessions per day too much for me and I did skip a few of the sessions. Although the yoga was quite challenging for a beginner, one of our members who was very advanced in her practice did not find this retreat or the yoga teachers to be up to her standard, and she left the retreat in search of a less touristy/beginner style and for one where she could really deepen her already advanced practice.
However, some of the activities seemed slightly gimmicky for the tourists and I didn’t find it as authentic as I had hoped. Some of the chanting and candle gazing for example. Also some of the herb worshipping I found a little strange- they really worshipped the basil plant and we had to walk around the basil plant chanting.. not sure why the basil plant received all the glory, what about the other herbs?! The coriander for example?!
As you may tell I found some of it difficult to take 100% seriously, and this was reinforced by some of the others who found everything ‘amazing’ and ‘awesome’ and ‘so spiritual’. Cue some eye rolling from the cynical Brit, oh dear. There was also a session to ‘purge’ everything out of you- basically drink salt water until you vomit it all out, err no thanks!! I chose to pass on that one.
We had time in this afternoons in which we could get massages. I highly recommend the Kizhi massage– for me it was a little unnerving as I had to strip off…for a reserved Brit who feels awkward in a bikini at the pool, this was excruciatingly awkward, and tensing up isn’t exactly the ideal result of a massage! But once the lady started to massage my back and legs with these herb filled pouches which she dipped in hot oil, with which she kneaded my body, I managed to relax, and the next day all aches and pains from the yoga had vanished!! If only I could get this treatment every day at home!
On Wednesday afternoon we had some free time to visit the famous Anjuna market. This place made me feel so alive- hippies on scooters with their dreadlocks flowing behind them, locals chattering away, stray dogs roaming the streets… I was glad I was leaving the resort the next day-it had gotten a bit claustrophobic for me.
At the market you could buy a wide variety of tea, spices, sandals, cushion covers, bedding, jewellery, clothes….I was in shopping heaven and because April is the end of tourist season the traders were selling their goods at lower prices! Yes I did pick up a few things and I revisited the market in my second week in Goa to pick up more!!
So in summary, I did enjoy the retreat and I felt a lot healthier after it, with all of the amazing fresh vegetarian food they made for us, the daily yoga and meditation. The meditation was something I had been looking forward to trying, I hoped it would benefit me, but in a week I didn’t get much out of it- unfortunately my focus was more on trying to sit still, than to clear my mind. But in a week what more can you expect- basically this is a taster course for those who have an interest in yoga practice rather than for those who are practitioners.
My overall review is that for beginners it is ideal for a week or two to escape from the stresses of life, and you may pick up some positive ideas and habits to bring into your daily routine. I don’t think I would personally recommend staying longer than two weeks as it would get very repetitive, although some people on the retreat had been there for three weeks and didn’t want to leave so it depends on your individual personality and what you want from it.
Although they recommend staying for two weeks, I found that in the second week a lot of the activities were simply repeated, and so I was happy with my decision to stay for one week and then to go on to relax on the coast in my second week.
Overall, a good budget option for beginners!
Have you been on a yoga retreat before? How did you find it?
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Hi, I live and work in Dubai. I enjoy getting out and about and seeing what Dubai has to offer, travelling in my holidays and spare time – prepare for blog posts about this, and cooking vegetarian recipes. I am passionate about travel and animals.