Purple Valley in Goa is a renowned Ashtanga Yoga retreat with the best teachers in the world.
I often get asked about good yoga retreats abroad. They’ve been my favourite way to travel for years, offering the perfect chance to concentrate on the practice without the usual humdrum of daily life getting in the way. These days, I’m only interested in holidays that focus on wellbeing, relaxation and nature.
I’ve dedicated myself to Ashtanga Yoga, and my yoga retreat experiences are mostly confined to Ashtanga Yoga retreats. One of these is Purple Valley in Goa, India, which specialises in Ashtanga with the best teachers in the world. I’ve been to Purple Valley twice, most recently in December, and I’m planning to go twice in the coming year.
I’m not so fascinated by India otherwise, but the setting of Purple Valley is like no other and the visiting teachers top-notch, making it virtually impossible to find an equivalent retreat anywhere else in the world. You can check out courses on offer here. It’s worth mentioning that teachers include e.g. John Scott, Petri Räisänen, Mark Robberds, Laruga Glaser, Ty Landrum and David Robson. I took part in John’s two-week retreat in December, who has become a dear teacher to me, and in April I will begin John Scott Yoga Teacher Training in the U.K. instructed by Sandra Howling.
I’ve been bombarded with questions about Purple Valley, Goa and travelling to India, so I decided to write a blogpost based on the questions.
Is Purple Valley suitable for beginners?
It totally depends on the teacher. The Purple Valley website provides a detailed description on individual courses offered by different teachers. Some are designed for advanced practitioners, some for all levels, including beginners. I took part in Petri Räisänen’s course in 2014 along with a few people who were doing Ashtanga Yoga for the first time in their lives. If you are unsure whether a course is suitable, email Purple Valley directly. They respond to queries really quickly.
In my view, the best thing about retreats is the chance to get to know people from all over the world, with different cultural backgrounds. After taking part for years, it’s fun to see how yoga brings familiar faces from past retreats together in surprising places. Ashtanga Yoga connects people in an amazing way regardless of background, home country, occupation or age. I’ve made friends ranging from the ages of twenty to seventy plus.
Is it tough for someone who isn’t used to practicing yoga every day?
Out of all the yoga retreats I’ve visited around the world, I’ve found Goa to have optimal humidity and temperatures. You might even need to wear a long-sleeved top when you cross the yard to the yoga shala in the morning, and it doesn’t get stiflingly hot at any point when a class begins at 6 am. The later in the day you begin, the hotter it gets, but in my experience, temperatures have remained pretty humane without stuffy heat and humidity robbing away energy. Purple Valley has its own wonderful yoga shala with a ceiling height of at least five metres, which adds to the airy, energetic feel.
Early mornings can be tough if you’re not used to practicing early. Some courses divide practitioners into two groups, the later beginning around 7 or 7.30 am, but it’s worth checking the individual programme. Practitioners are responsible for listening to their own bodies and energy levels, and practice accordingly. In any case, after the yoga practice, there’s time to lie around at the pool, head to the beach or take Ayurvedic treatments, so it’s pretty safe to say it won’t be any tougher than the daily humdrum back at home.
What’s the accommodation like?
Accommodation is in shared rooms with one or two other people, as is common also at other retreats. Single rooms are available at an extra charge, but shared accommodation offers a chance to make new friends. I’ve found Ashtanga yogis so chilled, calm and easy-going that I’ve never felt I’ve needed my own space.
Purple Valley doesn’t offer 5-star accommodation (only one yoga retreat I’ve been to has had accommodation to die for – in Kenya), but I’ve had nothing to complain about either. I’m after a chance to practice yoga rather than a luxury holiday, and have used my room mainly for taking a shower and sleeping. Of accommodation on offer at Purple Valley, Savasana House is really nice, but located next to the road and if your room happens to be facing it, even earplugs won’t help. The sure bet regarding noise levels is to ask for accommodation in The Cottages. Pack along your earplugs anyway, as dogs in Goa are noisy in the night time.
What is the food like?
Almost all yoga retreats, Purple Valley included, serve vegetarian or vegan food, but also butter and cheese might be on offer. Quite a few have asked about my eating during retreats, as I follow a ketogenic diet. The answer is simple: I eat what’s in front of me without making a fuss. You can get through a week or two even if it means leaving usual routines aside. These days, I pack along my own Warrior Coffee, and I’ve noticed that it’s also worth taking some protein powder along, as the food is so carbs-based. The price includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s worth showing up at the table on the dot, as food tends to often run out – the kitchen is very conscious about zero waste.
During the retreat in December, we didn’t have lunch at Purple Valley during the whole time because we would pack our beach stuff every morning after breakfast and take a taxi to Aswem Beachfor the day. A wonderful resort called Palm Grove is located on Aswem Beach, with excellent food that makes it even possible to follow a ketogenic diet, if fancying a break from vegan food. Coconut water and vegetable juice are also available to buy after the morning practice in Purple Valley.
What is Goa like?
I’ve been to Goa twice. The first retreat was held in February, when nature was dry and wilted. In December, it was gorgeously luscious. Nature and the fabulous sunsets are some of the highlights in Goa, even if it isn’t the most incredible paradise in the world. I enjoy the relaxed, colourful vibe, which sweeps you along in a different way compared to a luxury holiday on a paradise island, where everything is top-notch. Aswem is my favourite beach. It isn’t crowded with tourists, and even the most persevering vendors will leave you in peace when you clearly explain you won’t be buying anything.
Purple Valley has 24/7 security, and it’s safe to wander by yourself in Assagao (where Purple Valley is located). It’s easy to take a taxi to the beaches, restaurants and shops, which Goa abounds in. I’m not really the right person to give a comprehensive list of recommended restaurants, shopping places or other activities, as for me a holiday at Purple Valley consists of yoga and relaxing, rather than day trips. I have to mention the ecstatic dance sessions on offer in Arambol, though, a fun thing to attend on a Friday night (7 -10 pm), as there’s no yoga classes on Saturdays.
How can I avoid a tummy bug in India?
In 2014, I got such a bad tummy bug at Purple Valley that I thought my days were over. I vowed to never travel to India again, but thanks to John, ate my words. I decided never to go through the experience again, and the next time round began preparing my gut in good time. I ate masses of homemade sauerkraut and took probiotics for months before the trip. I also started a course of Saccharaomyces Boulardii, available at pharmacies, about a week before my journey, continuing throughout the retreat first with three capsules morning and night, then two, and finally one. My ketogenic diet has improved my gut and immunity in the last year, which may have also kept my tummy working perfectly during the trip in December, with no sign of a tummy bug this time. I will continue to vouch on Saccharaomyces Boulardii also in the future and recommend it to anyone with a sensitive stomach. Avoiding an Indian tummy bug seems to depend a lot on the lucky stars, though.
What’s the best way to travel to Goa?
Here’s a question I’m still trying to solve myself. If your flight is via Delhi or Mumbai, I’d recommend Mumbai, as the airport in Delhi is much more chaotic and the city is often covered in fog, meaning flights are often cancelled or delayed.
It’s good to reserve at least three hours for catching a connecting flight in India in case of extra hassle or delays. Instead of an online visa, it’s good to get a visa stamped in your passport, as the online visa queues can be incredibly long and slow. I had a very strange experience when catching a connecting flight to Goa from Mumbai once. I wasn’t given a boarding pass for the Goa flight back in Helsinki but was advised to pick it up at the transfer desk in Mumbai instead. When I got to the desk in Mumbai, I was told I wasn’t allowed to board the flight without a boarding pass – yet my friend got on without. There was no use explaining I’d been told in Helsinki that I’d receive a boarding pass in Mumbai, which should have been the normal practice. It seemed to be down to the fact that in India, they like everything to be printed on paper. Jet Airways staff were incredibly rude and simply ignored me. I was left on my own in the wee small hours, without water, access to the toilets in the transfer area or information about a connecting flight.
After waiting around for two hours and being told to go to various desks, a member of staff finally agreed to put me on a flight to Goa, which left ten hours later than the one my ticket was for. Suddenly there was no problem printing my boarding pass at the desk, even though the task was apparently impossible two hours before. I was glad I had the ten-hour wait in Mumbai rather than Delhi, though. It’s one of the most pleasant airports I’ve had to spend hours on end, and could even have a peaceful sleep on a comfortable sofa. I still have no idea how I could get on the connecting flight without going through check-in again – if someone knows, do tell. If this happened again, I would get out of the building and re-check myself onto the connecting flight normally, reserving plenty of time, as just waiting for suitcases took 45 minutes.
If travelling to India, make sure you have a printed copy of your passport, visa and flight details – you cannot even access the airport in Goa without confirmation of your booking and tickets in English.
Purple Valley is incredibly beautiful and comfortable, and the fact that everyone from kitchen staff to gardeners and the owners practice Ashtanga Yoga makes it extra special. The place, the yoga shala especially, have a unique, powerful energy, and I love how the authenticity of Ashtanga Yoga has such a strong presence there. They also take care of the environment: all waste is recycled, and guests are handed reusable water bottles they can refill at the water dispenser, so no one has to buy plastic bottles. Wash water is reused for watering the garden.
For anyone fancying a wellbeing holiday with extra activities and India feels too far, the yoga and swimming retreat I arranged last September with FitPit will take place again this coming autumn between 21-28 September 2019. More information on this holiday that combines yoga, swimming and delicious Italian food coming soon!
Have you been to a yoga retreat and how did you find it? If you have any further questions on Purple Valley, I’d be more than happy to answer!
Photos Richard Isaac, group photo Lotta-Julia Lehti
Translated by Rebecca Watson