Little Cove Yoga Retreat, South of Goa, India: Inhale Belly Out….Exhale Belly In….

1 Apr

Few things are more pleasing to the traveller than striding through the exit doors of an unfamiliar foreign airport to be greeted by a person holding a sign with your name on it. Conversely few things are more unsettling than the dawning realisation that the airport reception you checked and rechecked isn’t there. You wish you were Mr Terrence Clarke but sadly you’re not.

Such was my fate at Goa airport bound for a yoga retreat 75k south of Goa. After travelling all day and night from Geneva via Dubai and Mumbai to arrive in Goa at 6am the shower and bed I longed for was getting further away as the minutes ticked by. A call on a borrowed local phone to the yoga retreat’s owner manager/yoga teacher Mr Mahendra Pardeshi illicited the response, ‘Driver must have overslept or be drunk’. Not an encouraging introduction. I bought a ticket for an airport taxi and set off in a Suzuki Swift driven by a septuagenarian who, though he said he knew, had no idea where Little Cola Beach was and who, more worryingly, couldn’t read street signs. He seemed to think this was funny as he giggled every time he got it wrong. We must have asked eight people for directions and gone down more than one wrong turn before hitting the red dirt road to Little Cove Yoga Retreat. At the turnoff Majendra’s man, Sunil, was waiting for us under instructions from Mahendra to direct the driver to the drop off point. Sunil, all five foot nothing, heaved my 20.3kg suitcase onto his shoulder and set off at a trot. The taxi driver asked for more money because it took so long. He had Buckley’s. Not a very yogic way to begin.

It was 9:30am by now and the morning yoga session was just finishing in the beachside open sided pavilion. Eight guest huts are arranged under coconut trees in a half moon configuration facing the beach. My hut was still occupied by Jed who would be leaving at 11:30am. That shower would have to wait. I was able to change into cooler clothes in Jed’s hut and crashed on a pile of yoga mats. Eyepads and ear plugs are wonderful things. A bell woke me for the vegetarian brunch at 11am. Things looked up after that.

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This week was a 58th birthday present to myself and a healthy way to break the journey home from Europe. I’ve never experienced the spa thing in Australia as the cost put me off. I also didn’t want something as spartan as an ashram. Little Cove has the right balance for me. Seven days of delicious vegan food (they omit the dairy dishes when they serve me and a few times made special dishes), two yoga sessions a day, as many ayurvedic massage treatments as I want (pay as you go – I had three plus a shirodhara treatment) and a beach hut of my own with daily maid service and low cost laundry service. No coffee, alcohol, secondhand smoke, internet (they have wifi but I’ll use it for emergencies only), mobile reception or added sugar. With six friendly staff on hand the 8-16 guests want for nothing.

Most of our international group are on their own and have various levels of yoga experience, some at instructor level and others absolute beginners. Mahendra at 36 is a walking advertisement for yoga. He looks barely 20 except for a grey lock in his thick, black hair.

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Most people come for a week or so but minimum stay is three nights or as long as you want during the December to mid-May season. At 66 euros a night for a sea-facing hut with a fan and cold water en suite shower and toilet, two meals, a choice of teas, fresh salt or sweet lemon soda drinks and a fresh fruit plate twice a day plus the yoga sessions it’s a fantastic deal.>

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My basic routine each day starts with fresh ginger and lemon tea served on my verandah when I get up, then yoga asanas instructed by Mahendra from 8-9:30am. Fruit plate and chat at the communal outside table follow. 11am brunch India veg style is served in the yoga pavilion. Afternoons are for reading, sleeping and floating in the warm sea. 4pm tea and fruit plate. 5:30-6:30pm Pranayama (breathing meditation) on the rocks as the sun sinks slowly into the sea. 7pm dinner and lots more chat or you can retire if you want solitude. No one judges here.
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Variations included two dawn boat trips in a traditional fishing boat to look for dolphins and to watch the sunrise over the mountains. The first time we found at least twelve grey dolphins in a pod. They seemed happy to see us as they stayed around and leapt out of the water. One also did amazing forward flips, two in a row. The second time we were treated to a show on the horizon, at least five fantastic heart stopping leaps. We shouted with joy to see them at play.
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Setting off with Sheena and Co.
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Ayurvedic massages take place in a screened off area in the afternoons. Ram and Sunil administer the massages and you can have strong or very strong.
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Nicola in a Sunil induced state of relaxation.

It’s easy to organise a taxi share to go shopping or have beauty treatments at Agonda Beach twenty minutes away and eight of us also went there one night to see it come alive with lights.
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Left to right Pauline, Nicola, Alex and Emma in Agonda>

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A few times I observed and assisted with brunch preparation in the kitchen. I cooked all the chapattis one lunchtime and since no one could tell the difference they must have been ok. I’ll post the complete recipes for two delicious vegan lunch menus in the next blog.
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Another daily ritual was a fifteen minute walk down our dirt road and along the beach to the next resort area to swim in a freshwater lagoon behind the beach. And as the yoga studio was free most of the day I could use it to do my own flamenco exercises minus the noisy shoes. Joanna and Kirthi joined in once each. At night we’d talk over tea after the meal and a couple of times had impromptu dance jams in the yoga studio. My fellow guests were talented people.
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Sunday nights a local traditional dance troupe of women perform after dinner accompanied by a type of piano accordian, bells and voice. The most dramatic was the lamp dance. Inevitably we joined them for the final two dances and everyone got into the spirit of it.>

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The Yoga
Mahendra trained in an ashram in Gaytri Dham in Yempi and instructs in the classical Patanjali style. His own yoga story is inspirational but he prefers I don’t reveal it here. Suffice to say it transformed his life and we are the beneficiaries of his effort and vision to set up this wonderful beachside yoga retreat.

For me the pranayamas proved the most helpful. I had just begun meditating ten minutes daily at home after my morning exercise session before we started travelling again but I’d never seriously attempted yoga breathing. My hips need a lot of work before the standard cross legged yoga position becomes comfortable for me, but with Mahendra’s focus on teaching the five breathing techniques until they becomes automatic rather than perfect poses, I don’t feel self conscious sitting in whatever position is comfortable for me. Some sublime moments occurred towards the end of the sessions on the rocks when I’d take a break and just watch kites circling and soaring overhead, listen to the waves crash on the rocks and feel the sun increase in intensity as it dips towards the glistening sea.

The other surprise was chanting. Having only seen Eddy in ‘Ab Fab’ chant I had no idea what I was in for. The first time Mahendra asked us to follow him and chant to commence the yoga session all I could manage was an off key wheezy croak. Six days later and I can sustain my breath in tune and ‘Om’ with the best of them.>

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The People
Guests from all over the world came and went during my week at Little Cove but there wasn’t one person who wasn’t pleasant company. I hadn’t realised beforehand but of course a yoga retreat attracts nice people. We borrowed from each other, offered advice and empathy, laughed loads (we called it Yoga Laughing) and generally got on extremely well.>

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The Place
Little Cove and the coastline around it is a special place. White quartz, red and black rocks thrown up by ancient volcanos are worn by waves into fascinating shapes. A seated Buddha just off the point keeps a friendly eye on the boats coming and going from the palm treed beach. People in Agonda are easy going too, no hard sell in the shops. I bought a small gift for a neighbour and was fifty rupee short. The shopkeeper, Shanti, said, smiling, ‘Don’t worry, take it and bring me the money when you come to Agonda again’.
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Kirthi shoping for her meditation bowls and receiving free instruction.>

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In publishing this I feel quite protective of Mahendra and his enterprise. Little Cove is only in its second season and is already popular. My fear is that it will change to become more slick when what is most appealing is its simplicity. I guess I’ll find out when I come back next year. At least I’ll know where I am going!

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P.P. To answer the obvious question, ‘Do I feel any different?’, the answer is ‘Yes’. The yoga has made me stronger and more supple but more significantly I feel a lightness in my body and the usual tension I hold in my jaws and shoulders is gone. I have not missed alcohol or coffee at all. More importantly my chakras are aligned and my Sushmanadi has equal flow, indicating I am balanced in sun/heat and moon/cool. Now to sustain this state of harmony! Thank you Mahendra and team for putting me on the right course.
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Left to right Shoba, Sangita and Barti
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Driver and coconut harvester Govinda.

The rest are photos taken at the local Hindu Temple which doubles as a playground.>

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Nadia demonstrating perfect posture and calm.

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2 Responses to “Little Cove Yoga Retreat, South of Goa, India: Inhale Belly Out….Exhale Belly In….”

  1. rachwass December 5, 2014 at 7:11 am #

    Loved your review of this. I’m trying to go in March/April of 2015 and your post has definitely inspired me to look more into Little Cove. Thank you!

    • Sharon Tickle December 5, 2014 at 7:59 am #

      Good luck with your plans Rachel. May see you there! ST

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