June '08 India

The Birth of Purple Valley
By Annie Gurton

It is hard today to remember that less than ten years, there was virtually no yoga scene in Goa. Apart from a few casual teachers on the beaches, and a few hotels that offered ad hoc classes, there was nothing structured or organised, and only occasional teachers of high calibre.

Back in the 80’s it was different – teachers like Clive Sheridan, Rolf Naujokat and Derek Ireland regularly came to Goa for several months at a time, and held classes under the palm trees on the beaches. Many people were attracted to their classes, and they were responsible for ‘turning people on’ to yoga. But in the 90’s the yoga scene died away, and the parties took over.

I had been going to Goa for holidays since 1994, but in 2000 I took up yoga. I was 50 years old, had just had a full hip replacement, and started ashtanga with John Scott when he was living in Penzance, Cornwall, UK. The next time I went to Goa, in January 2001, I automatically took my yoga mat fully expecting there to be yoga available in Goa. This was, after all, India, the birthplace of yoga.

I was amazed to find that there was no serious yoga at all, and certainly no ashtanga. Apart from a few dubious hatha teachers and one Iyengar teacher many miles away from where I was staying, there was nothing. I thought at the time that it would be a great business opportunity for someone to open a Western-style Drop-In centre, but didn’t, at the time, think it would be me to do it.

I went back home to the UK at the end of my holiday, not really thinking much more about the idea. However, over the next three months I found that my work as a freelance IT and business journalist disappeared into a black hole of recession – in publishing, the freelances are the first to go when there are budget cut-backs.

I realised that I would have to do change my way of earning a living, and, suddenly one night when lying in bed thinking about what I would like to do, I had a moment of epiphany. I had a flash of enlightenment, if you like, when I knew at once what I had to do and how I was gong to do it. There was no doubt in my mind – in fact someone asked me what I was going to do if it didn’t work out and I realised that it hadn’t even crossed my mind that it wouldn’t work.

So, I went back to Goa in June, during the monsoon, and found the premises for a Drop-In Centre in the gardens of the Hotel Bougainvillea. Then back to the UK, where I started the business of marketing and promoting the business. I had to find a name. What to call it ? I had been in Kerala for a short holiday in Kovalem studying with Lino Miele, and remembed that there everything was something Valley. There was Happy Valley, Green Valley, White Valley, and as purple was my favourite colour at the time, it seemed a good name: Purple Valley.

I designed the website, and over email joined forces with Gabriella Pascoli, who at that time was living in Mysore where she had been working very closely for several years with the Jois family.

In October 2001, Purple Valley Drop-In Centre opened for business, with Gabriella as the teacher and me doing the marketing and running the shop.

It turned out to be a dream team – I had good organisational skills from years running editorial teams, and Gabriella is one of the world’s top teachers. We set up a programme of daily classes, including Mysore-style, led and beginners. There were many days in that first season when Gaby and I would just be sitting there waiting for students who never turned up, but gradually the word spread and by the second season Purple Valley was up and running. Classes got bigger, we took on more teachers, and Purple Valley was on the map.

After 18 months or so, I began to think that the Drop-In Centre was only part of the story. A Retreat Centre would make it complete. I was talking about the idea with my landlord one day, and he said he had an empty plot of land, and as he was a builder he would be able to build whatever we wanted.
The plot of land was perfect – stretching from a quiet backroad down to a quiet jungle area, bordered by a stream. There had been a building there many years before, so we would be able to build without going through lengthy planning permission.

Three buildings were designed on the back of an envelope, and from the first discussions in March 2003, Purple Valley Retreat opened in December that year. Anyone who has tried to do business or build anything in India will know that this timescale is a miracle – reinforcing my long-held belief that Purple Valley was always meant to be there, and I was only the right person at the right time to make it happen. It has an energy of its own, and finds the right people at the right time.

Our first teacher at the Retreat was John Scott, and with accommodation initially for 20 people, the first few weeks were shaky with lots of problems that we resolved as we went along. We had a great team: Mark, Craig, Sanjay, helped by Denise in securing some of the top names in the ashtanga world.

By the second season we had Sharath, Nancy Gilgoff, Danny Paradise and David Swenson, and over the next few years the list of teachers has read like a Whos’ Who of yoga: Ron Reid and Marla from Canada, Michael Gannon from Mexico, Manju Jois, Louisa Sear from Australia, Tim Miller, Chuck and Maty from California, Kino and Tim and many others. This coming season Dena Kingsberg will be making her first visit, and Sharath is now a regular with Purple Valley being the only place where he teaches in India apart from Mysore.

I retired from running the businesses in 2003. The Drop-In Centre was taken over by Julie Martin, who has extended and expanded the business hugely. It now has two shalas, offers teacher training and other forms of yoga such as Scaravelli. She also changed the name to Brahmani Yoga to differentiate it from the Retreat. See www.brahmaniyoga.com for details of the classes, teachers and courses.
The Retreat is still called Purple Valley, and is owned by Spanish businessman Hernan Cortes. He has completed the building work on a third accommodation building, and there is now residential space for 40 students. The shala (see picture) is at the bottom of the plot, and had mat space for around 60 students if the mats are up tight and close, or classes are run on a rolling-Mysore style basis. There is now a beautiful swimming pool, offering an alternative to the beaches which are a short taxi-ride away.

This season Purple Valley Retreat will be run by Jeff and Harmony Litchy, both authorised teachers, who will be taking classes in between the weeks when the big name teachers visit. For a list of classes and teachers, see www.yogagoa.com

These days, North Goa is a mecca for yoga and affiliated services. There are many kinds of bodyworkers and masseurs, a Watsu pool nearby (see www.watsugoa.com), counselling and psychotherapy services, and other yoga teachers and retreats centres offering broad range of yoga styles and retreat standards (see www.beyondtheasana.com and www.ashiyana.com) . Gabriella now teaches as an independent teacher, and Rolf Naujokat has returned to Goa with his wife Marci and offers regular classes.

The future? Well, Goa is already reaching the strange situation where there seems to be more teachers than students. Students are spoiled for choice, with interesting places to stay (see www.yogamagic.net ) and an absurdly wide range of world-class teachers and therapists.

Purple Valley Retreat remains the most interesting, still offering what was our first aim: Five Star Yoga, Four Star Food and Three Star Accommodation, all at an affordable price and with flexibility to suit the visiting yoga student. Each season brings more students and new big-name teachers, and the best recommendation of all: many visitors returning year after year.
For more information on Purple Valley Retreat please go to www.yogagoa.com. You can book online.

Annie Gurton, who wrote this article and was the founder of Purple Valley, is now retrained as a Counsellor and Psychotherapist. She offers a short-term counselling and therapy service for anyone in emotional pain or mental confusion. She can be contacted at annie@cix.co.uk or through Facebook.


Kevin said...

I had dabbled with yoga and went to India in 1993 to see where it came from, finishing up in Goa, hoping to find some yoga, without any luck.
I am currently attempting to fiddle my annual leave so I can come for Dena's retreat in January, it looks like Goa has changed, despite the bad press it has received lately here.

Anonymous said...

Get your facts right - Derek Ireland taught in Baga Goa for three very successful years in the mid-90's, not 80s, paving the way for teachers thereafter. Clive was also still teaching in Goa in the early 90s too, at Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary inland. Please do the basic research before you dash off an article!