The best advice I can give to someone who is looking to book a Goa yoga school for their 200 or 300 ttc is to be careful. It’s hard to know what you’re getting. I walked away from my first one and they did not make it easy on me. I spent my first week in Goa dealing with harassment, bullying and threats before finally deciding I was willing to walk away from the 1900 euro I had already spent. I signed away my rights to give them a review or publicly share the name of that yoga school, and it took me a while to feel like I could really share the experience, but here it is. We will call it Yoga School A for the sake of this post. And I’m happy to tell you that after I walked, I discovered a second Goa yoga school that made all my yoga dreams come true. That one I can share names about all day long: Kranti Yoga School is the way to go if you’re looking for a Goa yoga school. Now, here’s the <long> story:
So there I was in India. I’d finally gotten some sleep and woke up happy. I’d been dreaming of this yoga retreat for months and almost had to pinch myself. Today was the first day. It was actually happening. I left my house and started my walk to the shala, about 10 minutes away, passing dozens of cows on the streets on my way- I felt like I was literally walking on air. I was still a little bit confused about why I wasn’t staying at the shala, but they had told me when I signed up that I was getting the last spot, so maybe the shala was just full. They capped the classes at 30 and I’d been counting my blessings for the last two months that I was the 30th to get in contact, if I’d waited one more day it might have been full!
When I reached the shala (the first time I was seeing it by daylight- the night before they had driven me by so that I could pay my balance: 1400 euro in cash) my first thought was, “I’m in the wrong place.” There was a man standing outside a bunch of apartments, shirtless, smoking a cigarette- but no sign of yoga students. He saw me, mat tucked under my arm, and pointed at a stairway. I walked up two floors and my yoga journey began.
The school was not terrible. I made some great friends and had some very interesting experiences. I’ve talked to friends since, who felt they were in the right place for them, and I whole heartedly believe that everyone’s journey is different and for some, Yoga School A might be a good fit. But it was not for me.
It was also not what was advertised and I was definitely not the 30th student. There were twelve of us, including me. Oh well, I thought as I stretched my mat out. It was time to go with the flow. My classmates all made me smile. There was a good strong breeze. We had a teacher named Megan who inspired me immediately. Everything about her sparkled. I remember laying there in savasana on my first morning after finishing a pretty intense Ashtanga practice and even the sound of traffic and horns directly below didn’t bother me. Would it have been nice if the teachers didn’t have to use a microphone to speak to 12 of us over the sound of rushing traffic? Sure. Would the sound of waves (as it was written on the website) be a plus? Of course. But here I was in India. With a fabulous yoga teacher. One. One fabulous yoga teacher. The other two were cold and difficult to connect with. But man, that one… I felt like we’d connected. She made it worth it.
Our shala was a bit smaller than I had imagined, and there was no beach front location, which was a bummer. I wondered how I had misunderstood what I saw on the site. I went back to the website during our lunch break to see what I had misread. Strange. Sure enough, it said (direct quote) “Yoga School A allows one the space to revitalize and rejuvenate by providing the unique mix of practicing yoga to the sound of the waves, the view of the sunrise and sunset over the sea, and the feel of soothing sea breezes.” When I say direct quote, I mean, I took a screen shot the moment I read it, because I decided I hadn’t actually misunderstood anything… This was a misrepresentation at best and a flat out lie at worst. There was no soothing sea breeze. As far as I could see there just the sound of traffic and the occasional cow. I finished my lunch at the restaurant, which was also about 10 minutes away from the shala. Yeah, we weren’t eating at the shala as I had assumed. And no one was staying there. In fact, there was no where there for us to stay. No bungalows, no rooms. We were all spread out in different houses, apartments and rooms all over Patnem. We just all came together to practice yoga on a third floor rooftop shala above a bunch of apartments.
On our first full day, one of my new friends asked where she could rent a bike. Her apartment was over a 20 minute walk from the shala and she wanted to be able to get back and forth at lunch time. “You can’t have a bike,” the boss told her. “I want you to lose 5 pounds (or did he say kilo? can’t remember. not the point.) while you’re here.” My jaw all but hit the floor. I spun around to see if he was joking just in time to see her cheeks go red. “In fact, I want all of you to lose 5 pounds while you are here. So before we go on, please come into the office and weigh yourself and write that number down. If I have done my job at the end of your course you will have lost 5 pounds.” People started shifting their eyes back and forth. I couldn’t deal with the silence so I said, “I’m afraid if Kristina loses five pounds, she might be dead.” Everyone laughed except for ‘the boss’. But he wasn’t kidding, so we took turns going into the office to weigh ourselves. I would have been fine with losing 5 pounds, or even more… but did he have to say it like that?
The next day we were welcomed with a lecture. It was unacceptable the way we had left the shala. Many of us had washed our feet in the water basin at the top of the stairs (guilty! I thought that’s what it was there for!) and we hadn’t swept properly after our last session. It was a disgrace. “You’re lucky you are hearing this from me,” one instructor (not the sparkly one) told us. “If it happens again, you will have to deal with ‘the boss’ and he won’t be so nice about it.” I looked around the room, feeling about 10 years old. I was surrounded by beautiful, talented people, some who were maybe three times the age of this girl and she was talking to us like disobedient children. I made up my mind in that moment that I needed to talk to ‘the boss’ about how I was feeling. Maybe if I just aired my feelings I would be able to put it behind me and move on.
I tried to talk to him, but he said I needed to make an appointment. Have I mentioned there were 12 of us? But he went on to say that in addition to running a successful yoga school he was also a doctor, and had already performed three surgeries that day. “What?!” I remember being very puzzled by this, but I went with it. I decided to talk to his assistant who, as it turns out, is also the marketing guy. Very good, I wanted to explain why I felt the website was a little misleading anyway.
I sat on the bed in the office to try to express myself. Yes that’s right… there is a bed in the office. Immediately after I started talking he became defensive and angry, denying that they make any such claims of being on the beach. I showed him the screen shot, and he said, “Well that’s just an expression.” I could immediately hear Jim Halpert saying, “I don’t think you know what that word means.” But I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t want to fight, I just wanted to be heard. That didn’t happen. He told me if I wasn’t happy I could leave. At that point I figured I’d made my bed (and I was no longer comfortable on theirs). There was no way that I was going to be able to go back to class and have a good experience, so I left.
That day during lunch I went to Kranti yoga school. Which was on the beach, and I don’t mean that as “an expression”. Several dozen beautiful bungalows surrounded the garden campus and the beach front campus. The two campuses were connected by a little path. Each bungalow had it’s own hammock. There were four beautifully unique shalas where classes rotated, two in a garden and two on the water. When I arrived, all of the students were sitting under fairy lights eating from a buffet that was cooked on site. I’ll tell the whole story of falling in love with Kranti later, but for today’s story- let’s just say I immediately knew that whether or not Yoga School A was the right place for some of my classmates, it was not the right place for me.
I came back that evening and sat down with ‘the boss’. At first he was really nice. Really nice. “I hear you want to do more yoga on the beach,” he said. That was no longer the only problem. After I’d been told that ‘I could leave’ I had started feeling very uncomfortable. Not just with the way it was handled, but also with every ‘lesson’ they were trying to teach us about the Yoga Sutra (or the ten ethics of yoga). I just no longer felt that it would be possible for me to learn ethics at Yoga School A. But I didn’t say any of that, I just expressed that I know longer felt it was the right fit for me, and asked if it would be possible to get half of the money back. I said I understood that I had to forgo the deposit. And I knew that they had already paid for my meals and lodging so I didn’t want any of that money back either. I said I would be happy with 700 euros, if they thought that was reasonable. All the nice guy stuff went out the window at that point.
He became aggressive, yelling that I would never see a cent of that money again. I wish I could say I held my head high and was not intimidated, but I’d been in this foreign country for three days, I was still exhausted, my arms were sore, and I don’t do well with confrontation even in the best of situations. I felt tears forming in my eyes. Then he was nice again. “Even if I wanted to give you your money back, I couldn’t,” he told me. “I’ve already sent all of the money to our NGO. Come back tomorrow and if you still feel like you want to leave, I will talk to our board of directors and see what we can do.”
So I agreed. One more day. On the walk home I felt that I had been bullied into not being true to myself. I wanted to leave. I no longer wanted to be there anymore. But I’d just agreed to come back for another day. On my way home, I stopped at Kranti again and we talked specifics. If I wanted to leave Yoga School A, I had to come to terms with losing my money. So how much was it going to cost me to come to Kranti? Without lodging (since mine was already covered) we were looking at about 1600 euro. I called Dane. I can’t make decisions like this when it comes to money. I just stress out too much about how much I’m spending.
“Ten years from now we are not going to be worried about the $2000 that you’d have to give up,” he told me. “But you are always going to remember the month you spent in India. Follow your heart. You know best where you need to be.”
I slept well that night, comforted by my convictions. The next day I would go for morning yoga class, and unless I was hit by a bolt of peace lightning that told me to stay, I would “tender my resignation” after class and leave.
The next morning, I knew I was going to face a battle. I knew that I was going to hurt some feelings and make some waves. “Speak your truth, even when your voice shakes,” was the mantra I repeated over and over on the walk. All throughout practice I repeated the same words.
My hands were shaking when I entered the office that morning, but my voice was clear. My exact words, (I remember all of this because I was a very VERY diligent journaler though out this whole experience, and I had written it all out to avoid getting in there and freezing) were: “Thank you so much for giving me this experience. I wish you the best of luck with the rest of the yoga season, but one of the things you have taught me (I figured a little flattery couldn’t hurt) is that I have to be true to myself, and my heart is telling me that this is not the right place for me. I understand that I am forfeiting the money, but I’ve decided that I can’t let money dictate my journey.” ‘The Assistant’ just looked at me with wide eyes and nodded. I turned around and walked down those three flights of stairs with shaking legs but a light heart.
Part 2: the begging, the bargaining, and bullying comes tomorrow. ;)
In 2013, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Thailand. After four months of backpacking I returned to the States and fell in love with a guy whose job sent us straight back to Asia. Nothing has gone according to plan... and it's been absolutely magical.
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