After the stresses of moving out of our home and selling everything we own, the first stop on our world tour was Varkala, in Kerala, South India for some grade-A relaxation. We chose Varkala for two reasons; its gorgeous beach backed by red sandstone cliffs and its yoga. Oh yes, the yoga.
The only real experience I’ve ever had with yoga is a few YouTube tutorials with Erika in my pokey little flat in Balham, so the opportunity to learn the basics from an authentic yoga centre in India was too tempting to pass up.
Before I left London I did a little research into my options and found Yoga Sala, a beginner’s class starting every Thursday for 2 hours a day (from 10.30am until 12.30pm), however it wasn’t very clear exactly where I could find the centre, or exactly what I would be expected to be able to do, so I thought it would be useful to share all that information here so you can find it too.
Where is it?
The Yoga Centre is found at the very north end of Varkala’s North Cliff, through Puccini Lala Eco Wellness Resort, so it’s a little hidden away. It’s a beautiful enclosed studio made from bamboo and palm fronds and feels like a million miles from anywhere. There’s also an Ayurvedic massage centre within the grounds if you fancy a pummeling!
What’s the score?
The class is run by Swami Sanathana (Swami meaning ‘sir’ or used as a mark of respect and ‘Sanathana’ meaning eternal life in Hindi) who is an expert with over 30 years’ experience in teaching yoga, having studied the discipline all over, but notably the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre and the Art of Living Foundation. It starts on a Thursday and ends on a Wednesday each week, and costs 2,500 rupees (about £25) per person. There were just 4 people in our class but Swami Sanathana tells me that in high season (December to January) there are a few more in class. In April and May (low season), the class takes a break whilst the rains come in.
The course is serious but very relaxed, and although he encourages you to follow a vegetarian diet and to limit alcohol during the week long course, this isn’t enforced as it is in some ‘retreats’ throughout India. I actually chose to follow a vegetarian diet during the week as the veggie food in Varkala is beyond incredible, so it was really no biggie.
Who’s it for?
The course is ideal for anyone with limited or no experience with yoga as it’s a real ‘back to basics’ approach, starting with learning proper breathing and relaxation techniques. Don’t worry if you’re not super flexible… Neither am I, and I managed it! The emphasis is definitely more on getting the techniques right, rather than testing how strong or flexible you are. Your teacher encourages you every step of the way and constantly reminds you that whatever you can do is just fine, and the rest will come with practice.
After a week of daily yoga you’ll definitely see some improvement too. I could barely lift my legs off the floor whilst lying on my back at the beginning, but by the end I was lifting them fully with ease, and I was even completing shoulder stands! You’ll also be a pro at the sun salutations! 🙂
I loved Sanathana’s teaching methods too. He often compared the human body to a car, in that it needs proper fuel, recharged batteries and a sane driver! He also spun stories and old Indian tales which I thought often likened him to a wise guru, giving you little nuggets of information and allowing you to reach your own conclusions on life. I really enjoyed these little lessons, as after 4 years of living in London I’d definitely got used to a fast pace of life, always working late or out at the pub with friends, so it was just perfect to slow things down a little and learn about a different way of doing things.
Try to take some time to ask questions at the end of the lesson too. A few minutes of talking to Swami Sanathana was truly fascinating. He first learned about yoga through his mother and father, but after a visit to Arunachala, a sacred mountain in the southern tip of India, he sat and meditated all night and realised that this is what he wants to devote his life to. He is also hoping to open a temple in Varkala in future too, so watch this space!
I’d highly recommend taking this course if you have a week or more in Varkala, it’s such a perfect way to start the day, and I truly feel like a more chilled out, refreshed version of myself. It’s given me a solid understanding of the principles of yoga, and I’m hoping to be able to carry this on throughout my travels in India. Here’s hoping!
So what do you think? Would you try a beginner’s yoga course here in Varkala? Leave me a comment, or let me know if you have any questions!