Finding your voice with Chaya Yoga Retreats in Goa

Jane Dunford reviews a Finding Your Voice yoga retreat with Chaya Yoga Retreats in Goa and finds a lush eco-hotel, remarkable therapists and yoga, scrummy food and lessons with an opera singer

Beyond the gates of Kaju Varo, an eco-hotel in north Goa, the lush garden was dappled with sunlight, plentiful trees providing shade from the afternoon heat. A far cry from India’s bustle, it instantly felt cocoon-like, the energy calm, a place conducive to kicking back.

I’d left behind a freezing London winter to come for a reboot and sunshine boost – and had signed up for ten days with Chaya Yoga Retreats, who run several holidays a year here.
Chaya’s founder Lucy Hill chooses a theme for each retreat, related to something that’s arisen in her personal practice – perhaps Opening the Heart or Creating Magic or, in this case, Finding Your Voice.

The basics are always the same (twice-daily yoga, delicious food, lots of treatment choice) but our schedule also included (optional) singing lessons with an opera singer – interesting and a little daunting – as well as kirtan (mantra chanting).

As Lucy welcomed the group at dinner on our first night, she touched on her theme – the idea of listening to our authentic voice and speaking our truth. Around the table it soon became obvious how many repeat guests there were – always a good sign – as people greeted each other like long-lost friends. There were three guys in our group of 12, with ages ranging from mid-20s to mid-60s (one lady from Essex was on her second retreat with her mum), the vibe friendly and fun.

Accommodation is in converted Goan houses around a central courtyard and pool – all surprisingly modern and minimalist. My two-floor suite was beautifully light and spacious, the bedroom upstairs, a living area downstairs, with bathroom and outdoor shower. Other options included a twin room with its own indoor plunge pool and a two-room treehouse – or smaller duplex suites for three with twins upstairs, plus a bed on the ground floor.

In keeping with the theme, our yoga teacher for the week was Durga Devi, a former New York rock singer turned Jivamukti specialist – a style which includes plenty of chanting. “It’s lazy man’s meditation,” said Durga, who’s now based in London (she opened the Jivamukti centre there). “It allows us to drop from the head into the heart. It’s asana for the heart.” Sure enough, once you cast any reservations aside it’s meditative and uplifting.

‘Our theme was the idea of listening to our authentic voice and speaking our truth. Although there was undoubtedly deep work going on with the yoga and workshops, the overall atmosphere was one of joy and fun.’

Mornings began with more energetic classes, held on the shaded outdoor shala, the sounds of birds overhead. In the evenings classes were more meditative and chant focused, but still often included a strong physical practice. One night there was a gong bath, and on another live musicians accompanied a yin session. I loved the mix – and felt my body unwind and strengthen as the week progressed.

Food is a massive part of a Chaya retreat. It’s a big passion of Lucy’s and it shows – meals are designed to boost wellbeing and are organic, sugar-free, plant-based, utterly delicious and constantly Instagramable. There’s a two-hour food and wellbeing workshop with Lucy included too, with tons of great tips and nut mylk making demonstrations.

We’d sit chatting for ages over endless brunches – overnight soaked oats, fruits, homemade breads, nut butters and eggs cooked to order. Dinners were another feast – the vegetable curries and multi-huge salads with plates of tofu and paneer were a favourite. Best of all were the raw food desserts (the chocolate cake’s amazing). In short, it’s worth coming for the food alone.

On day three, voice coach and opera singer Andrea Finke held a singing workshop with breathing and movement exercises to open the body and vocal chords, before we practised harmonising. There’s countless research into how singing boosts wellbeing – and it felt playful and uplifting, rather than scary. A second session followed later in the week – and I even signed up for a private class, which had me skipping around the room singing Hallelujah (badly but lots of fun).

In down time, I headed to the beach, a five-minute stroll away, or just lazed by the pool. But there are so many brilliant therapists and treatment options on offer it was hard to resist filling days with additional pampering. Everything was top quality – from kinesiology to deep tissue massage and an ayurvedic consultation.

One standout was a group breath workshop with practitioner Nicola Price, founder of Inspirational Breathing (included in the price). Nicola analysed our breathing patterns and we practised belly breath, letting the diaphragm move naturally – a simple technique to aid relaxation and release tension. I loved it and booked a private session, going deeper to help unblock stuck emotions. It’s powerful stuff, I sensed energy moving around my body, and left feeling lighter and elated.

There were forays to Goa’s night markets and plenty of time to wander the shops that line Ashvem beach. And although there was undoubtedly deep work going on with all the yoga and workshops, the overall atmosphere was one of joy and fun. I loved the kirtan evening, when we raised our voices and energy in Sanskrit chants, accompanied by live music.

Did I find my voice? I definitely used in ways I hadn’t before and felt calmer and more in-tune with myself. But more than anything, I left with a sense of having been nurtured on many levels – restored and renergised – and sure that I would become one of those repeat visitors.