Alex’s yoga retreat on Koh Yao Noi becomes more than just a welcome break from solo parenting.
When Mr P headed off to Singapore only to return alternate weekends, I had not anticipated how all encompassing and draining it is being the solo parent for every twelve out of fourteen days. I know many people all over the world for one reason or another do this, but within the expat lifestyle it a relatively rare phenomenon. Of course we have help, Sabel covers all the household chores and arranges breakfast while I hustle the kids out of bed and into their uniforms and cooks the evening meal whilst I oversee showering and pyjamas and then later bedtimes and for all this support I am immensely grateful. But the real parenting, the emotional support, the positive disciplining, the real work rests completely on my shoulders and it is relentless, hard graft.
So when Mr P suggested he would return for the first week of the Songkran school holidays and I should take some time off I have to say it took all of about 10 seconds to realise I needed a break. A quick search on bookyogaretreats.com identified several options in Thailand. After reading the reviews, looking at locations and prices, yoga styles, classes, workshops, accommodation, I settled on Island Yoga in Koh Yao Noi.
Why? The price was reasonable. I did not want to spend the same as I could have spent for us all to go away; the reviews were good; they have rolling start and end dates not set dates and you can choose between, 4 day, 6 day and longer retreats. The resort offers a choice of no frills authentic wooden accommodation from shared dorms to private huts with either fan or a/c. There are two yoga classes a day, in the morning and in the late afternoon and the style of yoga is mostly centred around vinyasa flow and yin yoga. There are additional workshops and other activities around the island to participate in, as well as bikes and motorbikes on site to hire to venture further afield.
I knew a little bit about Koh Yao Noi having ventured briefly here en route to Koh Yao Yai. It is the smaller of the two islands floating between Krabi and Phuket and easily reachable by long tail boat from ports in either destination once a songtaow or taxi has transported you to the correct launching point. Both islands are largely Muslim and as such delightfully not so developed or commercial. The island is charming and peaceful offering kayaking and rock climbing in addition to beautiful beaches, great restaurants and massage.
Island Yoga nestles just off the beach amongst the mangroves and is a, relaxed, serene venue. After traversing the island I came to the conclusion they have one of the best locations, set off the ‘main’ road that skirts the island and overlooking a quiet stunning beach shared only by one other ‘resort’, Sea View Bungalows. This being the place to stay if you are travelling with your kids, just purchase a yoga package from Island yoga, so the serenity and peace is not ruined by the rambunctious energy of children.
The sun rises on the beach and you can enjoy a 45 min tai chi moving meditation before the morning yoga session. The cicadas dawn chorus is deafening and vibrant and ensures you won’t miss the freshly brewed coffee prepared to accompany the sunrise if tai chi doesn’t appeal. I did the class several times and it is truly a beautiful way to start the day. It is amazing how you can really feel the energy, the chi, in the palms of your hands. It was my first experience of tai chi and I feel inspired to explore more back in Bangkok.
The morning yoga class is two hours of flow vinyasa style yoga but it begins with meditation and pranayama, breathing work, so it is not two hours of pure asana work and there was not too much focus on sun salutations. My first morning class began with moving and shaking and dancing round the room to get the body moving. It was an unusual start to a yoga class but a lot of fun and I couldn’t help thinking it was similar to a sober full moon party.
The yoga throughout the six days I was there was pitched perfectly: not too strenuous, not to easy, just the right amount of stretch (pardon the pun) physically, mentally and spiritually. The teachers are all young and incredibly knowledgeable and I learnt lots of different things that I look forward to putting into my own practice and even exploring with my own clients.
I was there for the Pink Full Moon, the spring full moon and that day both sessions worked on channelling the energy of the moon. Given that the moon can move oceans and that our bodies are 70% water, it makes sense that the full moon can dramatically impact our own bodies. It can leave you feeling unbalanced, energised or out of sorts. Since this particular full moon was especially powerful combining the spring full moon with a number of planets in alignment, creativity and new beginnings were ripe for harnessing.
The late afternoon sessions are more gentle yin style classes where, similar to restorative yoga, poses are held for several minutes to open up fascias, encouraging healing and improved movement. On arrival you will generally begin the retreat with this class and it is a perfect introduction. All classes finish with savasana which is the most important pose of any yoga class and a time for blissful serenity.
The resort is owned by a local lady Khun Ning who runs the restaurant that offers a buffet style breakfast straight after the morning class and other Thai dishes from lunchtime onwards which are both delicious and reasonably priced. David who heads up the yoga side of things saw the potential in the 3 hut resort 8 years ago and after six months of climbing, tai chi and yoga on the island never went home. The resort can now support 55 guests with 2 salas for yoga practice. In high season groups are split into beginner and intermediate to advanced. He has plans to open next high season with a third state of the art 180m yoga hall, three therapy/treatment rooms, a meditation hall and a sound healing chamber with many of the existing team returning to teach. By high season 2018 there will be additional accommodation.
If you need more between the classes than just relaxing by the pool, there is enough nearby within walking distance to entertain: Arita massage has some wonderful treatments; Bay View restaurant offers spectacular views of the bay and yet more delicious Thai food, their Panang curry is especially good; La Luna, 500m away offers the best pizza I have tasted in Thailand, wine and a lovely vibe; Chaba, around a km’s walk or bike ride away, offers real coffee, an amazing gluten free chocolate cake (which essentially makes it free of calories, right?) and organic delights.
Bikes are available and the island is small enough to cycle around if you wish to explore or motorbikes if you are brave or lazy or both. I took a bicycle with grand plans to explore the whole island. Heading first to Buddha Beach, so called because the monks used to meditate there, I missed the turning and ended completely off piste in the forest. Retracing my steps I found the narrow track behind a shop leading to the bridge over the estuary and followed the path up the hill discovering a concrete tiled sala, where I presumed the original monks had meditated. It afforded stunning views around Phagnan Bay. As I approached what I assumed was the beach, I had to climb over a chicken wire fence to get there but I have never been one to let a fence get in the way of a mission and I was determined to find this beach because whenever I shut my eyes in the yoga sala’s I had been seeing bright white outlines of monks, which I took as a sign. Unfortunately the tide was high and the beach almost nonexistent but that did not distract from a sense of achievement.
I made it to the very south of the island and sat on the dock of the bay Thai style but the intensity of the heat was such that when I came across Kaya restaurant past the rice paddies and next door to the Muay Thai boxing stadium I parked up and enjoyed one of the best massaman curries I have had in Thailand, abandoning plans to circumnavigate the island. One of my yogi colleagues joined me and her Tom Kai Gai was delicious too. Another must try when you get to Koh Yao Noi.
The other guests on the retreat were lovely as you usually find when you are sharing a similar interest. We varied in ages, backgrounds, cultures and countries and there were even some blokes. Some lived, like me, in Bangkok and were escaping the city madness for some peace and tranquility, one gorgeous lady had flown in from LA just for the 5 day retreat, so far to come but I absolutely love that she had.
This was my first yoga retreat and I can honestly say I absolutely loved it and really hope to return, depending of course what the universe has in store for us. I even considered embarking on this kind of teaching myself and pulling the kids out of school and homeschooling them in order to do so but whilst I relished every minute of it, I am not sure I am ready quite yet to take it that far. But I would really recommend a yoga retreat and in my limited experience Island Yoga offers a completely authentic, beautiful opportunity to immerse yourself in yoga, serenity, peace and calm in surroundings that are rare to find the days in Thailand.
Island Yoga closes in May and September.
Alex Bannard and her family have lived outside the UK for more than 10 years. Alex teaches yoga to private clients and group classes and can be contacted at [email protected]