What Is a Yoga Retreat in India Really Like?

A yoga retreat in India.

I recently finished an eight-month trip around the world, which included a two-month stay in India (split fairly evenly between north and south).  Now that I’m home, one of the things I get asked most often is where I did my yoga retreat in India, and what I thought about doing a yoga retreat as a non-yogi.  I’m here to tell you about my own experience doing a yoga retreat in Goa, and why I think it’s a great option for everyone traveling to India, even if they’re not exactly “yogis”!

Why I Did a Yoga Retreat in India

When I arrived in India I had already been traveling for three months and was just coming off a three-week group tour that was a pretty major disappointment.  I was about two weeks into my India trip when I realized I wanted a break from the “backpacker” lifestyle.  I wanted to feel a bit more settled and spend some time in a more normal routine.  A yoga retreat seemed like a great idea, and I was drawn to the many different yoga retreats in Goa because of their proximity to beautiful beaches and beautiful tropical weather.

My Yoga Retreat in Goa – Lotus Nature Cure

I decided to schedule a yoga retreat in Goa at Lotus Nature Cure, an intimate yoga retreat owned and operated by an Ayurvedic doctor named Dr. Patel.  The retreat is based in his own purpose-built family home, and at the time of my visit there were only four guestrooms, meaning the program had a maximum capacity of eight participants at any time. Since I visited they have slightly expanded their facilities and I believe there are now six rooms that can host up to twelve guests.

Lotus Nature Cure is located in Orlim, a small town located about fifteen minutes from Benaulim, one of Goa’s most beautiful (and least-known!) beaches.  I used the retreat’s transfer service to pick me up from the Goa Airport, and when the retreat was over I also had their driver take me further south to Palolem.

Lotus Nature Cure tends to attract people who are new to yoga and Ayurveda, and who want to learn about these healing practices in a non-threatening environment.  During my visit there was one couple from Europe who came for two weeks to learn about yoga and other de-stressing techniques, a twenty-something man from Scandinavia whose friends went partying but he wanted to give yoga a try, and one American woman who was actually a yoga teacher and who was there mostly to take part in the Ayurvedic treatments on offer.  As someone with little yoga experience I never felt judged by the other guests and really appreciated the intimate, personalized environment that you might not get a some of the larger yoga retreats in India.

A Day in the Life of a Yoga Retreat

6:00 am – Rise and Shine!

Private Room at Lotus Nature Cure in Goa

I set my alarm for 6:00 am each morning so that I would have time to wash my face, use the toilet and get dressed before our daily sunrise yoga practice.  My private room had two beds, a balcony and a private bathroom (yes, with a hot shower!).  Coming out of that three-week group tour, I really liked having my own comfortable space for the full week of the yoga retreat, and it was especially appreciated on the early mornings.

Before beginning yoga we all started our day with a small glass of hot water and lemon juice (a practice I introduced into my life more than ten years ago and try to maintain daily, especially in times when I need to be intentional in practicing self-care).

6:30 am – Sunrise Yoga

The outdoor yoga shala at Lotus Nature Cure in Goa

Our morning yoga usually took place on the outdoor yoga terrace.  Lotus Nature Cure teaches hatha yoga, which is focused on building a strong foundation in the basic yoga postures and will leave you feeling more flexible and more relaxed after every class.

Morning yoga was about ninety minutes long, beginning just before sunrise and ending once the sun was up.  Because the group is quite small, Dr. Patel is able to provide individual attention during each class and he can suggest props (like blocks and straps) to help you get into each position more deeply and comfortably.  I have taken a few drop-in yoga classes before, but this was the first time I’d committed to doing a daily yoga practice.  At first it was difficult and tiring, but by the end of the week I found it slightly-less-difficult, slightly-less-tiring and incredibly rejuvenating and reinvigorating.  I could not believe the difference I felt in my body by the seventh day!

8:30 am – Breakfast

Breakfast at a Yoga Retreat in India

After yoga we’d have a few minutes to relax before meeting on the upstairs terrace for a group breakfast.  All of the food served during my retreat was vegan, and a typical breakfast started with a big bowl of fresh fruit (the seasonal fruit in Goa is amazing) followed by some kind of flatbread and chutney.  There was always herbal tea, bottled water and purified water on hand.

(Sorry for the bad quality of the food photos – my phone was stolen after the retreat and most of my food shots from my whole trip were lost!)

10:00 am – Ayurvedic Treatments

I spent seven days at Lotus Nature Cure, and the seven-day yoga retreat package included five Ayurvedic health and beauty treatments.  During my visit, Dr. Patel employed two certified Ayurvedic practitioners who administered daily treatments including massages, body scrubs, herbal steam baths and acupressure.  The treatments were intense and I usually felt exhausted and hungry immediately afterwards, until a few hours later when the relaxation and detoxification kicked in and I felt a million times better than I did before the treatments!

Ayurveda Treatment Room at an Indian Yoga Retreat

One thing that you should know is that Ayurveda relies heavily on Indian herbs and spices, which can be quite… fragrant.  It didn’t matter how well I showered after each treatment – the smell of the oils sank right into my clothes and stayed there until I was able to do my laundry after the retreat.  For that reason, I suggest packing one outfit that you’ll wear every day after your treatment, until you can get back to your private bathroom for a proper shower.  Wear it every day, let it get spicy and musky and tangy, and keep the rest of your clothes smelling lovely.  I also recommend that you pack a strong body wash and loofah or shower sponge, as you’ll need them to get the Ayurvedic oils off your skin.

1:00 pm – Lunch

Lunch at a Yoga Retreat in Goa

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day at Lotus Nature Cure, and it was also my favorite.  A typical lunch consisted of a big portion of salad (made in the local style with lots of carrots and cabbage rather than lettuce), a different kind of flatbread and then some curry with lots of vegetables and legumes.  All of the meals at my yoga retreat in Goa were freshly cooked on-site by the retreat’s cook, and were designed in accordance with sattvic principles.  This means they were vegetarian (or vegan during my visit, as most of the other guests were plant-based), well-balanced and healthy for the digestive system.

2:00 pm – Excursions Around Goa

Excursions from my yoga retreat in Indian included this spice plantation in Goa.

Goa Yoga Retreat Temple Excursion

Monkeys at a Goa Yoga Retreat in India

After lunch we always the option of relaxing in our rooms (there was decent WiFi and awesome air-conditioning), but I preferred to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in (free!) excursions in the area around Orlim, Goa.

The excursion in the top photo is to one of the two main spice plantations in Goa.  Dr. Patel takes his guests to the ethical spice plantation – not the one with captive elephants.  Here, you can see how spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg are grown, purchase spices fresh from the plantation, and even have a typical Goa-style thali lunch (the doctor doesn’t mind if you cheat on the yoga retreat’s meal plan once or twice… he’s a realist!).

The second two photos are from another excursion.  Technically, this one happened in the morning, in place of our scheduled yoga session.  We got up extra-early and drove to a nearby mountain, where we hiked an hour (up a very slippery, rocky path… perfect for practicing mindfulness and gratitude each time we didn’t fall!) to this temple, which was full of curious lemurs.  At the top, the doctor led us down a completely overgrown, unmarked path to a viewpoint with spectacular views of the entire region.

The other excursion that was available every day was a trip to nearby Benaulim Beach. Benaulim isn’t particularly well-known, meaning it doesn’t have the crowds you’d find at Palolem or Anjuna.  Instead, there are two beachfront seafood restaurants with sun loungers and lots of local fisherman hauling in their nets.  If the weather is nice, you can stay at the beach into the evening and do your sunset yoga right on the beach.

6:00 pm – Sunset Yoga

Yoga Shala in India

Just like you greet the sun with yoga, you also say goodbye to it each evening with a second ninety-minute yoga class.  As I mentioned, if the weather is good you may do your evening yoga at Benaulim Beach.  However, if showers are in the forecast, you’ll probably head to the indoor yoga shala at Lotus Nature Cure.  It’s just a simple room with windows on three sides (for a fresh breeze) and a fan to keep you cool.

Even though evening yoga started around 6:00 pm each day, I always felt like it was the beginning of my bedtime ritual. By the time the class was finished it would be dark outside and I would be feeling completely relaxed and ready to sleep… as soon as dinner was over!

7:30 pm – Dinner

I’ve always been someone who eats a big dinner, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed dinner at Lotus Nature Cure, where it is by far the smallest meal of the day.  Before any food was served we would all have a glass of mangosteen-infused water, which aids digestion.  After that, dinner typically consisted of a bowl of fruit followed by a pureed vegetable soup and spicy crackers for dipping.  It was light and refreshing and I could really feel the difference when I went to bed after a small meal rather than a large one.

9:00 – Bedtime!

I loved going to bed each night feeling like I’d made the most of my day.  Between three hours of yoga, a rigorous ninety-minute massage and several hours spent exploring Goa, I felt productive and deserving of a good night’s sleep.  I often slept for nine full hours, and thanks to Lotus Nature Cure’s semi-isolated location I slept straight through the night, never awakened by honking horns, crowing roosters or other Indian city sounds.

Booking a Yoga Retreat in India

I reserved my yoga retreat at Lotus Nature Cure directly through Dr. Patel. It’s possible to book through third-party sites, but they charge the retreat a big commission and since Lotus Nature Cure is already one of the most affordable yoga retreats in Goa, I wanted to know that my money was going directly to the retreat, and not to a third-party website.  If you’re thinking of booking a yoga retreat in India, I encourage you to book directly through the Lotus Nature Cure website.  You will be asked to pay with a direct bank transfer – this is perfectly safe and it is how I paid.

(Did I mention that I paid in full for my retreat?  I did, and I didn’t mention that I was a blogger during my visit.)

Indian Yoga Retreat Packing List

I’m not big on packing list posts, but there were a few things I regretted not having with me when I did this yoga retreat in Goa.  Orlim is not a big city and it’s not easy to find products locally, so I highly recommend that you pack the following essentials:

  • Loose cotton clothing.  I packed tight, stretchy athleisure-style leggings and workout tops, thinking that I’d want to look sporty-chic at my yoga retreat.  I was so wrong.  It was too hot and humid for tight clothes, even when they were supposedly “breathable”.  I ended up having to get a ride to a local clothing store, where the only loose cotton clothes I could find were pajamas.  I bought one pair and wore them to every yoga class for the rest of the week.  Don’t make the same mistake as I did!  Pack some loose cotton pants and a loose cotton top (size up in the top – you’ll thank me later)!
  • Organic insect repellent.  During the dry season, there is minimal risk of malaria in Goa.  Still, mosquitoes are annoying, especially when you’re doing yoga outside and trying to concentrate on your practice.  An organic bug repellent helps keeps mosquitoes at bay.
  • Shower essentials for after your massage.  You’ll be slippery, slide-y and smelly after your Ayurvedic massages.  The practitioners will give you a bar of Ayurvedic soap to use in the attached shower after your treatments, but it’s not enough to get all the oils off your body.  Bring a natural loofah and a oil-busting shower gel to use in your private bathroom (unless you want to smell like toasted cumin all day).

Do you want to do a yoga retreat in India?  Do you have any questions about my yoga retreat in Goa?  Let me know in the comments!

Have you ever thought about doing a yoga retreat in Goa, India? I'll tell you what to expect, including the accommodation, food, yoga classes and excursions around Goa.Should you book a yoga retreat in India? This guide to yoga retreats in Goa, India, will help you decide if a yoga retreat or yoga class in Goa, India is the right holiday for you.

 

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