Return to India

Last month I had the luxury of visiting Goa for some much needed ‘me time’. This was to be the first solo trip I had done in a while, and I set about it with a mix of fear and excitement. Having experienced a life changing trip to North India in 2014, it was with mixed emotions I took in my first few breaths of Goa’s tourist vibe.

In our always on, always busy, always connected times I think the biggest luxury we can give ourselves is space and time. So this trip was to be all about that.

Staying in Agonda, one of the quieter beach towns in South Goa, I quickly established a routine. Electing not to do a formal yoga retreat on this trip due to a combination of the cost, the often restrictive food and schedule and my longing to be alone, I cobbled together something of a DIY retreat. The Sampoona yoga centre offered twice daily 90 minute ashtanga, rocket or vinyasa classes. Each morning the birds would wake me and I would go to the 8.30am vigorous (and sweaty - it was already 30’) class. You can’t beat starting your day with a semi outdoors yoga class, enjoying a long shavasana to the sounds of nature.

Breakfast at the Mandala cafe next door was a daily highlight, sweet chai, fresh fruits and pancakes, cool staff and a great yogi vibe. Then off to Agonda beach for podcasts, reading and writing. These mornings were so peaceful, nourishing and calming I felt my stresses and worries melt away. A long lunch at Zest, a nap, then a curry for dinner and reading my novel in bed by 9.30pm most evenings. Bliss.

I went out on a few excursions - Cola beach (amazing) and Patnem (ok), but otherwise the above was all I did for 9 whole glorious, relaxed days. The sun shone down on me and I felt myself uncurling, unfurling and the long winter and the ‘beast from the east’ in the UK become a distant memory.  

The trip was life affirming rather than life changing. What I saw of Goa was that it is very, very touristy. This can be good; it’s safe, clean, easy to get around and avocado on toast is widely available if that’s your thing. There are hot showers, AC, constant electricity and people wander around the streets in swimwear and nobody bats an eyelid. Goa was nothing like the India I had experienced before. That was crazy, noisy, dirty, smelly, dangerous and incredible.

All the yoga teachers I found in Agonda were Westerners, and whilst the standard of asana teaching was high, in 8 yoga classes I heard one OM. This made me feel sad. If you are seeking a spiritual journey, are interested in more traditional yoga or learning about Indian culture, I cannot recommend Goa.

But for me, this time, the trip was exactly what I needed. Space, reflection, time to myself. When I went to India the first time, my friend told me “India will give you what you need”, and again, she was right.

And as I made my way back to the airport to go home, in a brand new car with air con, I ended up with cow dung splattered over my face and clean clothes. I sat in the taxi laughing. Goa may have been India-lite, but it was still India.

Seeking Inner peace in Amsterdam

Last weekend I had the pleasure of travelling to Amsterdam for the second year of the Inner Peace Conference. Organised by the Delight yoga studio this was a two day conference spread over four grand venues across the city.

Amsterdam may not be the obvious place for a wellness break but the scene there continues to grow; every time I visit there are more vegan cafes, cold pressed juice bars and yoga studios. And it’s always fun to rent a bike and cycle around this charming city.

The conference consisted of 90 minute sessions covering all things yoga, meditation, coaching, yogi lifestyle, workshops, talks and debates. With four venues there was always choice as to what to attend to suit your preferences. The big headline names included Eddie Stern, Max Strom and Kevin Sahaj.

If you have been to the UK Om yoga shows, this couldn't have been more different. Om is great for doing short taster yoga sessions, buying leggings and trying vegan snack bars. But there are many pushy salespeople, stalls and a commercial feel. It's also so busy - I find it more hectic than zen!

At IPC there were no stalls, no selling or pamphlets thrust in your face. The 90 minute sessions meant there was really time to experience and enjoy each session fully. This was a conference focused on all parts of yoga, not just the physical postures. In fact I was surprised at how little yoga asana was on offer-after hours of sitting I would have loved more opportunities to stretch out!

Sadly there can be a darker side to the yoga world, and I liked that a few speakers acknowledged this. As yoga teachers we are in a privileged position to work with people, and it's important to recognise that boundaries are being crossed. I think by acknowledging this it keeps raising awareness. However, I did find some speakers at the conference to be positioning themselves as gurus...always interesting to observe. I continue to believe we can all learn from each other but that we are our own expert or guru. The answers lie within, not with-out!

Highlights for me were a talk on ayurveda, a workshop on energy awareness and a session on Forgiveness by Max Strom. I have been a fan of his for a while and often recommend his books and TED talks but this was the first time I had heard him speaking live. It was such a fascinating and emotional session at one point it seemed most of the people in the room were in tears. This was a practical, straight talking yet moving session - a week later I am still thinking about the impact.

I left Holland feeling relaxed with a lot of things to reflect on. If you're interested in yoga philosophy and self development in a vibrant city then this conference is for you. See you next year Amsterdam!