At home just being me at Ashiyana yoga retreat in North Goa

Frances Trussell reviews this hidden gem of a yoga retreat near Mandrem Beach in North Goa and finds loyal staff, well taught yoga and life transforming holistic treatments

Achy from a long restless flight I passed out during my early morning taxi ride to Ashiyana yoga retreat in Goa, arriving covered in mosquito bites with eye bags heavier than my luggage. I was grateful to be led through lush gardens and met at a wooden reception amongst the trees by the dazzling smile of Nelson, the guest relations manager. He sensitively ushered me in my partial-sleepwalk state to a chill out area to get some rest whilst my room was readied.

I awoke some time later to the happy chattering of voices. Morning yoga had just finished and the post-session buzz was palpable. Following a quick attempt at freshening up in one of the spa bathrooms I joined the joyful crowd for some breakfast. It was a ‘help-yourself’ affair laid out directly in front of the kitchen; a colourful display of fresh fruits, porridge, omelettes, chapatis and curry. Tek, the Nepalese head chef continued to delight me for the rest of the week with his menu of simple tasty dishes, served twice daily; the chickpea curry in particular was a winner.

All the guests I met raved about the food; in fact, they raved about Ashiyana in general. A mixed crowd of mainly Western Europeans, many of whom had visited before, some several times, spoke with warm affection about the place. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and from that first morning I threw myself into the programme – or as much as my slightly rusty practice and dodgy neck would allow.

The group drop-in yoga classes were long, strong two hour sessions, morning and evening, held in beautiful open yoga shalas amid the vivid backdrop of tropical planting and birdsong. The rotation of teachers and styles kept things varied and interesting; my tight muscles and creaky joints soon began to soften and open in the Goan heat. I began to soften too, set at ease by the gentle vibe of this pared back, laid back place. It felt OK to go at my own pace and rest when needed, letting go of comparisons to my pre-childbearing flexibility and stamina.

Those smiling and sweating on mats around me ranged from complete yoga novices to teachers in training, a friendly bunch of men and women of all ages. An advertising executive, a physicist and a cyber security expert mingled with art teachers and dancers and I was pleasantly surprised to meet almost as many men as women.

‘I began to soften, set at ease by the gentle vibe of this pared back, laid back place. It felt OK to go at my own pace and rest when needed, letting go of comparisons to my pre-childbearing flexibility and stamina’

There were many other lone travellers, some stopping here for a week or two on their way to other Indian destinations as well as couples and a mother/daughter combination. We all seemed to bumble along nicely together, emerging from the greenery for classes and meals and then quietly slinking back into the privacy of the gardens to lie in hammocks or retreat to cool rooms.

My room ‘Jaipur’ was a large peaceful haven, I felt thoroughly spoiled with two outdoor spaces, both indoor and outdoor daybeds, an enormous curved stone bathroom and lovely antique furniture. Not that I got to spend an enormous amount of time there; I was busy. Between yoga classes, evening activities, leisurely meals, friendly chats with staff and guests and walks on the beach I had quite a few treatments to fit in.

These began with an epic ‘Ayurvedic Bliss Therapy’ which included a full body massage and steam as well as a weirdly wonderful ‘Shirodhara’ treatment which involves oil being poured onto the third eye. I was soon in a deeply meditative state, seeing all sorts of colours, lights and visions, until a vision came through of myself, covered in more oil than a deep fat fryer, before I was scooped up to slip and slide around the steam room, emerging rejuvenated with the softest skin.

Next up was incredibly peaceful Craino Sacral Therapy, with lovely George, who works together at the spa with his wife, one of several family teams on site. Followed by abdominal massage with wonderful Renita, earth mother figure to all of Ashiyana; one look at my tummy and she was able to diagnose a range of accurate things about my health and constitution. An uncomfortable hour of deep strong massage later, she’d released all sorts of discomfort, a ‘stuck’ feeling in my stomach had dissipated and I felt light and jubilant.

Then for ‘Rebirthing’; the two-hour treatment started with a talking therapy element moving through to some connected breathwork. I’m still unsure exactly what happened or how, but, as Renita began pushing on pressure points whilst I breathed into areas of pain in the body a release took place. Energy moved, memories and emotion began to tumble from me, tears, snot and even sick followed during the powerful session. I left disorientated but with the feeling that something quite incredible had taken place.

Shaking out the last of any tensions at an energetic ecstatic dance session was my most-loved of the varied evening activities. The site takes on a magical quality at night as pretty hanging lanterns shine along the pathways and lights on the wooden footbridge bridge are reflected in ripples on the water below.

Just a short skip along the little bridge over the river to the sand dunes, I walked on the vast, relatively unspoilt beach each day and swam in the warm inviting water. On my final evening, as I stood on the sand watching the sunset, I felt both physically and mentally stronger than just a few days before. Along with an acceptance of choppy wifi connection and frizzy humidity hair, an inner surrender had also occurred. Ashiyana means ‘home’ in Hindi and here, unfussy and relaxed, I felt very at home just being me.