Wow, we've just returned from an amazing adventure to India, beginning with a fabulous yoga retreat at the beautiful Satsanga retreat Centre in Goa.
I know I'm biased as I was leading the retreat, but it was a fabulous retreat with an amazing bunch of lovely ladies with beautiful souls who called themselves "the Marigolds", and with good reason too as they shone as brightly as this sunny flower.
Satsanga is yoga heaven for me, a paradise then, where you're safely held within a space of love, care and kindness. It's really like nothing else. The staff are amazingly friendly and helpful, always smiling and keen to do all they can to make you feel at ease and able to enjoy your retreat.
The owners Emma and Olaf are beautiful souls too and my eldest, Elijah, loved playing with their eldest, Lomax, and one of the local boys, Rihad, It was a joy to see, happy in each other's company. In years to come my youngest, Eben, will no doubt forge a friendship with their youngest, Leo too.
It's the family aspect that makes this retreat centre so welcoming. It's real life lived in a spiritual context, with tractors and diggers, but also the most beautiful yoga space. You can even drink wine by the glass with your meal, which is refreshing from the olden days where wine and yoga were never encouraged to mix. It's all about balance after all.
The yoga studio is incredible and I am pining for it now! It's got it's own uplifting energy, containing the vibration of all that practice, which has taken place in there over the last ten years. There's a huge statue to Shiva too, and this has no doubt had an impact on our experiences in the yoga studio and beyond. Bringing Shiva into our lives is to be welcomed, but he likes to destroy...so that we can recreate...
We practiced four hours of yoga every day except for one day where we enjoyed a break in the afternoon and the ladies made the most of the opportunity to go and watch the sunsetting from the beach. The classes whizzed by, and we covered an awful lot of ground, and with it being such a beautifully intimate group, everyone was able to advance their practice somehow.
For some this meant learning how to practice a headstand or a handstand, for others it was more about the other aspects of yoga, so perhaps chanting Bija mantra for the first time, or Kirtan, or embracing the diversity of breathing exercises and gaining an understanding of how they change the way we feel, or perhaps the opportunity for a yoga nidra every day, and using props in a way that we don't do in Guernsey due to lack of yoga studio space.
Each morning began at 7.30am with a two hour asana practice, each day having a different theme, maybe one day we looked at fear and how that showed up in our practise and maybe another looked at love, or clarity, or whatever it may be. We practiced as many different postures as possible, sometimes using the wall for alignment awareness, and sometimes flowing, and being encouraged to adapt as necessary to allow for any body issues arising during the week. This class always finished with a relaxation and me channelling Reiki to everyone in turn.
After class we enjoyed a scrummy breakfast. There were bowls and bowls of freshly cut fruit, homemade gluten free granola, homemade peanut butter, a plethora of breads, and a hot Indian dish. We were spoilt for choice and Ewan and I always washed this down with homemade chai made with homemade coconut milk. Bliss!
Free time followed, perhaps a swim in the beautifully deep, long and refreshing pool, a lie on a sun lounger in the peaceful space protected from the rest of the world, with beautiful pink flowers and occasionally a sighting of a monkey swinging in the trees, and the dragon flies which are abundant here, or maybe a treatment with the Ayurvedic ladies.
Lunch was at 1.30pm and was a help-yourself affair, perhaps a vegetarian or vegan curry, with rice and a salad, or there was humous one day with falafels. All the food is made from scratch using the finest ingredients sourced locally as much as possible. The head chef, Hannah, is incredibly knowledgeable about the healing power of food, she also a trained nutritional consultant and most of the ladies saw her for this service on a one-to-one basis and said she was incredibly intuitive and helpful
The afternoon was again at your leisure, before the class at 4.30pm. Often Ewan, the boys and I would disappear after breakfast and head to the beach in a taxi. However if Eben decided to nap, we'd go late morning instead, skipping lunch. It was very easy to get out and about. Satsanga provide a list of mobile numbers for their pool of local taxi drivers from the village, and there's even a free phone to use.
We happened upon Isaac on our first outing and he became our taxi driver for the whole week. It'd take him ten minutes to arrive from calling him, and he was always available for us. Sometimes we'd venture to one of the closer beaches such as Anjuna (15 minutes away by car), although I preferred it when we ventured further up the coast to Mandrem (35-40 minutes by car), as the beaches were cleaner.
We're spoilt for beaches in Guernsey and I certainly wouldn't go to this area of Goa just for their beaches. The popular ones like Anjuna were dirty, and we quickly learned the best areas to go along this stretch to avoid glass on the sand and rubbish in the shallows. This was probably more of a concern to us than for most, simply because we had the children and Elijah likes to run around.
The beaches farther away like Mandrem were clean, and they had better shore break which made for lots of fun with Elijah in the water. Furthermore they're quieter without the loud disco music so we'd get a couple of sun beds in the shade and Ewan would sit with Eben while Elijah and I played in the sea. It's sun bed service here and lemon soda quickly became the perfect refreshing Goa drink for us!
We were generally the only ones going to the beach as the ladies preferred to stay by the pool, swimming, reading books, chatting, and enjoying treatments with the Ayurvedic-qualified girls. I went for a few Shirodhana sessions where warm oil is poured over the forehead and third eye and found this deeply relaxing. The ladies also arranged sessions with the Ayurvedic doctor and with Hannah. They popped out for shopping purposes but they were all happy to chill out as much as possible.
The afternoon yoga class was a relaxed affair, including pranayama, meditation and a yoga nidra. Sometimes there was some gentle movement, other times restorative yoga, sometimes Bhakti yoga with some singing, and other times the chanting of Bija mantra, and then the use of mudra. It was certainly the more introspective part of the day and also an opportunity to truly tap into the energy of the practice beyond the asana and see how that made us feel.
Dinner followed at 7pm, and we were again spoilt. All of the local ladies who assist in the kitchen are very skilled in producing quality home-cooked Indian vegan and vegetarian food and they catered superbly for all our dietary requirements. There were yummy Indian curries and one time we had Burmese and another Thai, and on the final night it was Friday pizza night using the proper pizza oven that Emma and Olaf have recently installed, and a Spanish friend who used to run his own pizza place back home in Barcelona was on hand with the cooking.
Many times I thought we'd died and gone to heaven. If it wasn't the meals it was the snacks, the raw cacao balls were amazing, and then the homemade juices and smoothies which you could order throughout the day, the yoga studio and the pool, and the rooms which were spacious, at least for us, and the fans that helped to keep us cool.
One night I arranged for Emma's teacher, Om, to come and lead a kirtan session. It was a hilarious hour as we tried to tune into his wife's pitch and chanted the Hare Krishna mantra at some pace. None of us dared to look at another for fear of giving rise to the giggling we felt was near! Om and his wife brought their daughter with them and they were so lovely in there sharing, it was a fab night!
Another night Emma arranged for one of her friends, an Italian lady called Chiara to come and share a very ancient, deep and dynamic style of singing called Dhrupad with us. Dhrupad is the mother of all hindustani music evoking the ancient veda and more ancient nada yoga chanting. It was amazing, you could really feel the essence of this ancient mystical music and Chiara was so passionate and inspiring in her sharing.
It was a Taurus full moon the last day of the retreat so the night beforehand we Marigolds swam in the pool with the moon shining brightly ahead and howled up at it for holding us so safely over the week. This was a lovely way to spend our last evening together!
The retreat finished after breakfast on the Saturday and we all felt heavy hearted saying goodbye. Some were headed directly home and others, like us, onwards to other parts of India.
Ewan, the boys, Vicki and I flew up to Delhi and took the train the next day to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, before taking a train back to Delhi and visiting the Red Fort. It was a crazy few days after the peace and calm of Satsanga and I wouldn't do this again!
I'm already looking at dates to return to Satsanga and would go back next week if I could. It truly is one of those magical gems that you find from time to time during your life and I'm grateful it's been in mine!
Thank you to all of you at Satsanga and to you beautiful Marigold ladies, and of course to Vicki for being child-helper extraordinaire on our adventures to Delhi and beyond.