Banyan Tree, Goa - yoga holiday - Yoga on a Shoestring

Finding a lovely corner away from the treadmill of life at The Banyan Tree, Goa

Queen of Retreats website April 2019

Sharon Walker reviews a magical week with Yoga on a Shoestring at the Banyan Tree eco-retreat in Goa and finds brilliant teachings with UK teacher Jess Horn, oddles of moreish veggie food, affordable local shopping and her grin.

Our hosts at the Banyan Tree, Annu and Chinu, are waiting for me in the reception when I arrive at the Banyan Tree, Yoga on a Shoestring’s venue for their Goa retreat. After an energy-sapping night flight I can barely stand, let alone talk, yet their megawatt smiles cut through the fog of my jet-lag like bright rays of sunshine and I immediately have a good feeling about this retreat.

Annu leads me through a maze of pathways through the lush palm-filled garden to my grass-roofed eco-hut, my home for the next seven days. I have no idea how I’ll find my way back to the yoga shala, with just thirty minutes before the first class, I need to get organised.

‘Right,’ I think, ‘I’ll just have a very quick lie down.’ And promptly pass out.

When I wake up two hours later the adaptor I’d requested has been left on my table and I’ve missed the class. Never in my life have I been more thankful for a nap, or more thankful that I’d been allowed to rest. A more militant yoga retreat might have rapped smartly on my door (or knuckles), but this is not that kind of retreat.  There are no hair shirts here, just easy- going hospitality and empathetic service.

In the morning it was off to the open clay-covered yoga shala my first yoga session with British instructor, Jess Horn, who explained that she teaches Ishta, a scientific form of yoga that marries Tantra philosophy with Ayurveda and Hatha. We were to learn about the eight limbs of yoga, a kind of code for living and ‘way to find our way back to our true nature,’ as Jess put it. Our focus will be on the breath rather than yogic acrobatics. Jess’s hope is that we will find balance.

Warm, friendly and funny, Jess could easily pass for one of the young mums at the school gates. In spite of her flaxen hair, glowing skin and stellar yogic credentials, there’s nothing intimidating about her, as she chats away in front of the class imparting a deep dollop of yogic philosophy tempered with a lovely light warmth and humour. ‘Oh God I’ve been talking away with my eyes closed for hours, you’re probably all in agony, and thinking: “Get on with it!”’ she says at one point. We are working on our connective tissue, holding each pose for several minutes, but actually none of it is too painful. Or too much like hard work.

The morning classes are more dynamic, the afternoon class more restorative. Everyone is welcome and the adjustments are given without any song or dance. ‘Jess is so good. I never felt out of place even though I’d hardly done yoga before,’ one of our group noted happily, as we lay chatting by the pool, between sessions.

We were a friendly, arty crowd of women, from early thirties to mid-fifties, with two well-travelled retired couples. Among us were a fashion designer, actress, corporate PR, art consultant and an entrepreneurial former academic with her own cleaning business. Our days follow a relaxed pace beginning with meditation at 7.30am followed by a yoga class and finishing with yoga nidra, a deep meditation or yogic ‘sleep’ after the 5pm session. On a couple of the days Jess started the class early as a show of hands revealed a few of us would like to see the sunset on the beach.

Dinner was served at 7.30pm and was really something to look forward to. The food at the Banyan Tree is spectacular. ‘The best I’ve had in India and I’ve been here five times,’ was one fellow YOAS guest’s assessment. I had to agree. On hearing the dinner gong I would sprint to the table and had to restrain myself from going back for thirds. Tomato and bean stew, delish organic salads (washed in filtered water), coriander rice, okra masala, light crispy spinach pakoras that were so moreish I did actually go back for thirds, roti and poppadoms all served with herbal tea and filtered water. Every night there was a small delicious dessert.  Though, incredibly I lost a couple of kilos, which was an unexpected bonus.

After an almost Dry January, I welcomed the Banyan Tree’s alcohol-free ethos and found the complete lack of plastic a relief. I didn’t see a plastic water bottle in my whole time at the retreat apart from the one I’d bought at the airport. Instead free filtered water is on tap from a clay urn next to the dining room. They don’t even put plastic bags in your bin. The whole place is earthy and natural.

By day three I’d jettisoned my sandals to walk barefoot on the cool clay and mud pathways, through the jungle palm garden and could practically feel the negative ions in my cells sigh with relief and realign with the elements.  I loved my hut with its cool clay walls and especially the outdoor bathroom. It was nice to stand naked and feel the breeze and warm sun on my skin after a shower. I even loved the squat eco-toilet, where I was occasionally joined by
a small frog. Would it smell? I’d worried, when I was shown how the how to ‘flush’ with sawdust. The answer is ‘nope’, not at all, and there’s the added bonus that your business ends up on the compost heap which is used by the
local farmers.

Our hosts Annu and Chinu were always at hand, smiling and efficient, oiling the wheels of this lovely retreat. Their commitment is impressive and I was intrigued to hear their story. The pair met while working at another yoga resort and built the Banyan Tree with their own hands, using traditional building methods, after drawing the plan for the retreat on the beach in the sand with a stick.

After a nail-biting first season, with just three bookings, they’re now six years along and their hard work has paid off with sell-out reservations. It’s easy to see why. They’ve intuitively understood that this is what we busy city-dwellers so often crave, a lovely corner away from the treadmill of life, a place to sit back and reflect, surrounded by nature. That was one of the great things about this week for me, it was a moment to step back from the everyday busyness to simply take stock and do nothing.

If it’s absolute quiet you crave rather than inner peace however, you might want to bring some earplugs. I’d wake in the morning to a chorus of birds and a cockerel who took his job quite seriously. Or the beeping horn of the bread man.  On the Saturday I’d dropped off to the sound of Hindu chanting which carries from the Monkey Temple, all adding to the colour and sense of being somewhere exotic.

The dogs would occasionally go crazy. ‘It’s the monkeys,’ said Annu. ‘They like to tease the dogs.’ I didn’t see a monkey but they arrived in one guest’s bathroom running around the top of the wall. As we made our way under the fairy light strewn arches back to our huts, we’d worried they would they jump out of the trees and bite us. ‘Oh don’t be silly what would monkeys want with us?’ said one guest sensibly. ‘Unless you’re carrying a great big bunch of bananas.’ But Annu and Chinu do love their animals, with three friendly dogs and, when I was here, a litter of adorable three-week old puppies, all running amok at the retreat.

It would be easy to retreat into Banyan Tree’s delightful compound and never see the outside world, but there’s plenty to entertain on the doorstep, from gong baths with a man who resembles ‘Iggy Pop in a loin cloth’, as one guest described him, worth the excursion for the theatrical entertainment as much as the good vibrations, through to the elegant, but affordable shopping at the Rangeela boutique, a place we came to call The Shop, so many of us had fallen for it’s nice quality, inexpensive dresses. Think Isabel Marant meets Helmut Lang on a budget plus chic earthy toned Eres-style swimsuits. I didn’t feel too guilty about flexing my credit card as the clothes were so pretty and it’s fine to have nice things, Jess had assured us in the course of her sessions, as long as you don’t feel like you need more and more to be happy.

After the retail exertion we’d walked along the vast expanse of Bora Bora beach and stopped for lunch in a pretty beach front restaurant, La Plage, eating carpaccio of beetroot and mango under the coloured parasols. After a dip in the ocean you can enter into rigorous negotiations with the beach traders who hawk everything from massages and threading to silk scarves and dresses.

The day before I left the Banyan Tree, Jess guided us through a smile meditation. We smiled with every part of our bodies, from the tips of our toes to the top our ears. It’s an exercise from Tantric philosophy, which she’d considered a little cheesy when she first heard it, but soon came to see the benefits. A week ago I might have thought it cheesy too. ‘Smiling with your toes? Really?’ But after a week here at the on the Yoga on a Shoestring retreat at
the Banyan Tree, top-to-toe smiling seems perfectly natural. I mean why wouldn’t you? I defy anyone to leave this place not grinning like a Cheshire Cat on steroids.

To see more of Jess’s retreats, click here.

Yoga holiday - Cocoon, Portugal - Yoga on a Shoestring

Perfect positions: 20 best yoga holidays worldwide

Guardian newspaper, Sunday 7 October 2018

Cocoon, Portugal

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced yogi, these retreats offer the chance to improve your practice in a beautiful setting.

Start the day with meditation under the pine trees and end it with an (optional) skinny dip in the lake. Cocoon Portugal is a new retreat on a 275-acre coastal farm near the fishing village of Zambujeira do Mar. Co-owner and yoga teacher Anton Brandt has hosted retreats around the world. The converted farmhouse has room for 24, with indoor and outdoor shalas. The vibe is distinctly carefree. Sheep and goats roam the fields and chickens provide fresh eggs. There are homemade granolas and yogurt for breakfast and Mediterranean stews, Japanese curries and pizzas from the wood-fired oven for dinner. On the roster of yoga teachers from 2019 is Jess Horn from London who favours a slow vinyasa flow (3-10 August with Between daily classes guests can hop on bikes to explore the Atlantic coast, which is 10 minutes away, or hike the stunning Coast Vicentina trail.

To see Jess’s next retreats click here. 

Ibiza - Moving Arts - Yoga on a Shoestring yoga holiday

Perfect positions: 20 best yoga holidays worldwide

Guardian newspaper, Sunday 7 October 2018

Yoga on a Shoestring, Ibiza

Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced yogi, these retreats offer the chance to improve your practice in a beautiful setting.

Ibiza Moving Arts, an old farmhouse surrounded by forest, makes a beautiful base for Federica Clemente’s week-long retreat. Mixing yoga styles, from ashtanga to Iyengar, Federica brings a sense of playfulness and a wealth of knowledge to her classes. There are two free afternoons – allowing time for the pool and beach.

To see Federica’s next retreats click here.

Ithaca - Yoga holidays - Yoga on a Shoestring

Downward dogs on a stylish isle

The Telegraph newspaper, June 2018

Top Ten Great Yoga Holidays
The Telegraph newspaper, June 2018

At this super island retreat just five minutes from the Ionian Sea, on the island of Ithaca, luxury accommodation is split between a Venetian-style house and five Mongolian yurts. Practice two classes a day on a platform overlooking the sea and between times enjoy relaxing and organic, veggie meals. Between May and October, retreats are led by different teachers such as Jodi Boone.

To see Jodi’s next retreats click here.


Poundon House Oxfordshire UK - Yoga retreat - Yoga on a Shoestring

Stretched and strong on a Yoga on a Shoestring weekend at Poundon House

Queen of Retreats website April 2018

Jane Dunford reviews a Yoga on a Shoestring weekend at a gorgeous manor house in the Oxfordshire countryside and finds all she needs to return to her life calm, clear and strong.

“Close your eyes and I’ll tell you when to open them,” says my taxi driver. A slightly strange request as we approach Poundon House – a short ride from North Bicester station in Oxfordshire – but the big reveal makes sense. There at the end of a long drive bordered by snowdrops and bare-branched lime trees stands a striking country pile, the Oxford sandstone glowing gold in the late afternoon sun.

I’m here for a weekend with Yoga on a Shoestring (who run a full programme around the UK and abroad), led by south London yoga teacher Tania Brown.

Yoga teacher Tania Brown is something of a legend in south London and she encourages everyone to leave their journeys behind as we start our first flow class. Her strong but light-hearted approach is welcoming yet professional – and inclusive of everyone.

Read the full article on the Queen of Retreats website.


Finca Argayall, La Gomera - yoga holiday - Yoga on a Shoestring

Loosening up on a commune with Yoga on a Shoestring on La Gomera, The Canary Islands.

Queen of Retreats website April 2018

Sharon Walker reviews the enriching yoga holiday at Finca Argayall on La Gomera in The Canary Island and finds an experimental community, a chef to fall in love with and wondrous yoga with the Sparkly Lisa Powell.

It takes a bit of effort to get yourself to the Yoga on a Shoestring venue on La Gomera. A flight. A taxi. A boat. Another taxi. So a journey, but worth it. I’ve never much fancied the Canary Islands before, too many Brits for my liking, but Finca Argayall is a million light years from the burnt beer bellies and crowded concrete of South Tenerife; a secluded palmed oasis cradled between soaring volcanic cliff and the inky Atlantic, at the end of a dirt track. It’s a unique spot and a unique set up.

Read the full article on the Queen of Retreats website.

To see more of Lisa’s retreats click here.

Tigmi, Marrakesh, Morocco - Luxury yoga holiday - Yoga on a Shoestring

The Relaxing Yoga Break

Psychologies Magazine February 2018

Yoga on a Shoestring at Tigmi, Morocco

‘Dive into the grooves, cracks and crevices, and explore the unfolding of the “waves” and breath from within,’ says Lara Stapleton during her immersion week of Scaravelli yoga at this laid-back hotel near Marrakech. Space, breath and gravity are key, as the body is expanded. Classes focus on holding postures to release the fascia and loosen the spine so it becomes something more like Lara’s ‘waves’. Morning and evening sessions fly by, interspersed with chanting, pranayama and meditation. Days are free for the delights of the hotel, which has sweeping desert views and enchanting spots to sit beneath swathes of bougainvillea. There are two pools to cool off in after a walk into the lunar landscape of the Atlas mountains, or the sensory overload of a trip to the souk half an hour away, and a little hammam where you can have a scrub and massage.

Be swift to the buffet lunch of vital, colourful ingredients. Supper is a la carte, with whole fish or spiced lamb or chicken tagines – specify in advance any dietary requirements. Expect to leave feeling ‘taller’, with open hips and shoulders and a renewed enthusiasm for life.

Kefalonia yoga holiday - Yoga on a Shoestring

Seduced by the sea with Yoga on a Shoestring on Kefalonia

Queen of Retreats website July 2017

Sasha Bates reviews this uplifting yoga holiday on Kefalonia with Yoga Teacher Dory Walker and is seduced by the beauty of the sea and contact with the locals.

As a big fan of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin it was hard to resist the prospect of a week of yoga on the island on which it is set. One of the Ionian island off Greece’s west coast, Kefalonia is hilly, largely undeveloped, and surrounded by clear calm waters lapping rocky bays. For nine weeks a year Yoga on a Shoestring set up home here at a small family-run venue, Vigla Village, overlooking Spartia beach in the South West. I join long-time Yoga on a Shoestring teacher, Dory Walker, on a week of her own blend of Sivananda, Krishanamacharya and Iyengar-based practice.

Read the full article on the Queen of Retreats website.

To see more of Dory’s retreats, click here.

Itha108, Ithaca, Greece - Yoga retreat - Yoga on a Shoestring

11 Under-the-Radar Yoga Retreats You’ll Want to Book Now

Yoga Journal, February 20 2017 - Rebecca Tolin

Yoga and Serenity on the Island of Ithaca, Greece

Bow to the azure waters of this mythical island with little more than passing sailboats and grazing goats to distract you. Home to legendary hero Odysseus, some say this sleepy isle hasn’t changed much since Homer’s epic poem. Ithaca is, perhaps, the perfect place for yoga. There are only a few thousand permanent residents on the wild, jagged patch of land, and the elegant Itha108 Yoga Retreat & Creative Resort has no traffic to speak of.

Seattle teacher Jodi Boone is leading two back-to-back retreats for sunbathing, stargazing yogis who want to step back in time. Start the day with meditation and an active Hatha practice from the wooden yoga platform, and wind down with yin and restorative from an indoor shala. In between, dive into the silvery waters of the Ionian Sea, get a Thai yoga massage, or cozy up in an Indian daybed on the veranda. The lodge is carved into a rocky hillside with a crisp white minimalism, every object handpicked with a globetrotter’s flair—Indian artifacts dotted around the stone fireplace, for instance. Indulge in mushroom polenta tarts and cinnamon-butter griddled peaches, all seasonal, organic fare straight from the island (or the one next door).

Read the full article on the Yoga Journal website.

Yoga on a Shoestring - Kefalonia yoga holiday

Best Yoga Retreats 2017

About Time Magazine website, February 2017

Searching for the best yoga retreats 2017? From alpine retreats to Greek island adventures, here’s our favourite yoga retreats all around the world this February 2017. Man, we love yoga.

What: Greek Island Yoga Holiday with Maurizio Marmorato.

The Lowdown: For a slice of paradise, sun, sea and gorgeous sunrise practices on the stunning yoga platform, you need to get yourself booked onto a yoga holiday with London based teacher, Maurizio Marmorato on the Greek island of Kefalonia. Warm breezes, unbroken sea views and a good dose of recharge…read the full article on the About Time website.

What: Goa Yoga Retreat with Belle Greenwood.

The Lowdown: If you love nature, simple living and yoga, whilst looking for an escape from the winter chill, then the beach and the beautiful surroundings of The Banyan Tree in North Goa are for you. It’s a real gem and must be seen. Join London teacher, Belle Greenwood, for yoga, sunshine and Goan vibes from 22-29 March 2017…read the full article on the About Time website.

What: Luxury Yoga Holiday with Jaya Jaks

The Lowdown: The chance to practice yoga in an idyllic setting at the stunning Masseria della Zingara in Puglia, Southern Italy. This farmhouse has been lovingly restored with a stylish interior that is luxurious and comfortable with the highest attention to detail. Set in over 20 acres of land with olive, fig, cherry and almond trees, the views are stunning at all times of the year…read the full article on the About Time website.

Swaffham Manor - YOAS retreats

New Year Yoga retreat, Norfolk

The Guardian, 29 November 2015

Healthy (and fun) retreats for New Year

If you think New Year’s parties are over-rated, escape the mayhem on a healthy retreat and start 2016 feeling zen.

This retreat is in a bohemian Georgian manor near Swaffham, in gorgeous grounds with stream, water meadows and lakes. Rooms range from a budget mini-dorm to luxury en suites. The programme includes twice-daily meditation and yoga. Food is homegrown, organic and vegetarian, with a special meal on New Year’s Eve.

Read the full article on the Guardian website

Tigmi, Marrakesh, Morocco - Luxury yoga holiday - Yoga on a Shoestring

World’s Top Ten Yoga Retreats

Yoga Magazine, December 2015

Jane Egginton handpicks the best yoga retreats in the world for 2016

Yoga on a Shoestring. This yoga operation offers something unusual and much needed: affordable yoga holidays that provide a touch of luxury. Don’t expect slick, five star accommodation, but do expect experienced, committed teachers who provide a reasonably priced yoga retreat to remember.

Choose a magical beach-side retreat with masterful yoga teacher Ali Gunning, or a luxury new-year retreat in Morocco. Other inspiring locations around the world include the unspoilt Italian coast, a tiny island in Greece and the pretty Norfolk countryside.

Jane Egginton is a yoga teacher and highly experienced travel and health writer. She writes about yoga for a range of publications, including Yoga Magazine and Huffington Post.

Masseria della Zingara, Puglia - yoga holiday

Yoga in Puglia, Italy

The Guardian, 8 May 2014

Top 10 activity holidays in Europe

Yoga on a Shoestring aims to make yoga holidays more affordable by gathering a variety of teachers in a host of locations running yoga holidays throughout the summer.

Its September trip to Masseria della Zingara (the house of the gypsy) in Puglia houses you in a beautiful and restful 18th-century building surrounded by olive groves and cherry trees and offers two yoga classes a day as well as opportunities for bike rides, beach time and the chance to explore the area.

Read the full article on the Guardian website

Ithaca - Yoga holidays - Yoga on a Shoestring

Itha108, Ithaca, Greece

Yoga Magazine, December 2015

Jane Egginton handpicks the best yoga retreats in the world for 2016

ITHA108. This is not just a yoga retreat, but a creative resort created with love. ITHA108 is a Grecian island retreat on Ithaca, one of the smallest Ionian islands and home of Odysseus.

In an area of incredible natural beauty that is very much authentic Greece, here guests get to relax amongst the oliver trees, swim in the warm blue water and enjoy yoga from dedicated teachers from around the world

Huzur Vadisi, Turkey - YOAS holidays

Suleyman’s Garden, Huzur Vadisi, Turkey

Guardian newspaper travel, 5 January 2013

Best bargain beach holidays by Rhiannon Batten

On this new, week-long yoga break at Huzur Vadisi’s second venue, Suleyman’s Garden, you stay in cute, rustic cottages surrounded by terraced vegetable fields and flower-tangled gardens, overlooking the sea.

Morning and evening yoga classes mean there’s plenty of time between sessions to explore the coast. Less than 10 minutes’ walk away is a small rocky cove great for swimming.

Read the full article on the Guardian website

yoga on a shoestring - la gomera yoga holiday

Top five affordable yoga retreats

Greener Ideal website, 25 May 2012

Yoga and Dance at Finca Argayall, La Gomera, The Canary Islands

This is a seven night yoga retreat where Sue Pendlebury teaches yoga, dance, voice meditation and pranayama to free your body, open your heart and find your inner dance of joy.

Finca Argayall is a magical venue set on the gorgeous island of La Gomera, nestled in the cliffs in a secluded bay.

The schedule includes morning meditation, two asana classes each day, free time and creative workshops.

Masseria della Zingara, Puglia - yoga holiday

Top five affordable yoga retreats

Greener Ideal website, 25 May 2012

Yoga at Masseria della Zingara, Puglia, Italy

This yoga retreat takes place by the beautiful Italian sea. Masseria della Zingara is set in over 20 acres of olive trees, figs, cherries and almonds and is located near Polignano a Mare, the ice cream capital of Italy. The yoga classes focus on movement, breath, relaxation and meditation.

The week long retreat starts at $646.64 to $1,333. The price includes accommodations, three meals a day and morning and evening yoga classes.

Read the full article on the Greener Ideal website.

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