The Story Behind Goa’s Upcoming LGBT Yoga Retreat
By Varun Singal
As I stand in front of this uniquely Portuguese Goan 70 year old villa with a cup of T2 Creme brûlée in my hand, I can’t help but think back to this day three years ago. I was in Melbourne, with an Australian-Canadian green eyed boy and we were fast approaching five years of monogamy. I was living the Aussie dream, and not just living it but by all standards at the epitome of it. I had an amazing social life, I was pretty, the youngest national manager of two teams in an executive agency with the attorney general of Australia and an apartment a block from Kyle Minogue’s childhood abode. Yet it was the unhappiest I had ever been.
I asked him as we sat with a picnic on a gloriously rare sunny blue sky day in one of Melbourne’s parks, what are the top three things in your life that you would want to change, the things that bring unhappiness? My answer was clear – job, home and him. Except I couldn’t tell him that. A few months later and I was taking a year’s sabbatical, was single again and planned to leave Australia for good. Except most of us struggle with the easiest of choices- a flat white or a skinny soy latte with a muffin of the day or a pretzel? My colleagues at the time said, “Varun, everyone talks about this but you’re the only one we know who’s doing it! We’re so so proud of you as you are truly made for bigger things than a 9 to 5 pin striped prison.” We all have choices to make, some of us just choose not to choose. When we do, these choices define who we are and what we become.
I went from city to city and country to country in Europe starting with London. It was all the same to me- vanity, drugs, bareback sex and this shadow of depression lurking at every corner. If it is what I wanted then why leave Melbourne at all… after all it has been the most liveable place on the planet for a while now. I mean what do you think of when you think of Europe? Opulence, art, fashion, flower shops, smiles, PDAs.. now replace that with bad economy, grumpy locals, homeless Syrians, sightseeing overrun by mainland Chinese and their flags and now they come with speaker systems!
Yoga was my only escape from that mundane 9 to 5 life and weekly pho dates. Those 90 minutes made me feel more alive than dancing a whole night in my underwear. I decided to pursue it. I enrolled myself for a teacher training course in an exotic location away from the shadows of the west. Twenty five days of abstinence and intense but rewarding training later we were almost at the end of our course and nearing that certification, except the earthquakes struck and I was in the midst of it all in Pokhara, Nepal.
It is not easy to talk about what I went through when I did. Why Nepal and that changing point? A month before that I had lost my best friend and an angel whom I had set on the same path of trying something fun and free in a country like Germany. The German wings plane went down and took him and his mum with him. I still remember being woken up by a close friend from Singapore with the news. I still cry to this date for the loss that is truly mine. He supported and touched me in more ways than one, he did not even get to be thirty. I had one and only true purpose, to make this happen and make a difference where it is truly needed. As someone asked, why not go and work in India where people need help the most than try so hard in a continent where you are not wanted? Why take the harder path?
Today, I’ve quit a prestigious job for an executive agency with the attorney general of Australia, a gorgeous SATC kind of apartment in the heart of inner Melbourne city, my group of beasties and settled in the simple and quite surround of northern Goan hills.
Why Goa? And why yoga in Goa? The answer is simple, Goa is my paradise. Goa is my Bali from Eat Pray Love. It is at the end of that book. It is where I find solace. It is where the change can begin and I can truly shine. It is not saturated, it is balanced, people are lovely and there are smiles and sunshine and generosity everywhere I see. As my dad exclaimed when I announced it to them last year, it is perfect for you!
Where else could a find such an aesthetically beautiful old Portuguese villa and also manage to get a whole new residence designed exactly to what I envision. Whilst there is an old Portuguese heritage villa being restored to its previous glory after being abandoned for over thirty years, I’m using neutral yet luxurious tones for the furnishings. I have even commissioned the world famous Athanguddi tiles that are a dying art and only have two remaining industries left in the world, both being on the east coast of India. They are uniquely baked using glass and terracotta and the patterns are hand painted.
As it is a one man show. I am reaching out to the NGOs and local LGBTQ communities to help find me people who are from the community or friends of the community who are passionate and driven to make a difference and empower the people to really drive the car of change. I want every person who walks in through the door to feel a sense of belonging as is in line with the yogic principles. After all that is why I’m here, to give hope. Hope is all we can wish for.
What really drove me to my vision of traditional yoga is this studio styled westernised power yoga that derives the postures from yoga but fails to capture what yoga is truly about. This is how I started too five years ago in Melbourne. But now having learnt the art and science in its truest form I can not help but share it with the rest of the world. Especially as the World Health Organization suggests that 80% of modern day diseases are psychosomatic. And what is the only cure? Therapy, drugs and more drugs? The answer, I believe, lies in yoga that aims at striking at the root cause of these diseases. All this has to be combined with good diet and lifestyle obviously.
Having this retreat in India comes with its own sets of challenges yet I believe that this is where we can truly start to make a difference. We aim to not only let individuals be who they are, but also get more in touch with who they could become.
The retreat is set for a phased launch with the first part opening its doors to casual community based classes and a yogic diet based bistro. The main launch will be in the first half of 2017 and would feature the ensuites, laundry, a rooftop swimming pool and various yoga spaces.
(Varun Singal is an Australian writer who is opening an LGBTIQ yoga retreat in Goa, India in a few months time.)