Satsanga, Goa, February 26, 2012 This Sunday afternoon I sat down to interview Jodi Boone, yoga teacher, fellow American, and lady of the house here at the Satsanga Retreat Center. Underneath bright pink bougainvillea we chatted about Satsanga, her yoga style, and her favorite spots in Goa. Part way through our conversation we were joined by Luciano, the big black cat that never has a shortage of laps to nap on.
What was your first experience in India? When did you first come here and what is the story behind Satsanga? I first came to India in December of 2006 because I had heard about an amazing philosophy and pranayama teacher named Emil Wendel, as you know, and so I came to Satsanga, studied with him, and met Olaf Starick (the owner of Satsanga). We fell in love and got married. That was the very first season that Satsanga had a retreat. Olaf bought this property in 1996, the first year foreigners were allowed to buy property in India.
About 10 years ago he got into yoga and his teacher was Emil. Emil was doing retreat in Baga (a village close by) and there was a festival going on. The music was so loud people couldn’t sleep and they couldn’t hear him during the lecture so he said asked Olaf if they could come over. After that Emil suggested to Olaf, whose dream it has been to live and die in India, that he build a few more guest rooms and a yoga shala and open a retreat center, “And when you do,” he said, “I will bring the first retreat group”. And so I came on that first retreat and that is how we met.
So there is a bit of a romance in it. Yes! Now we are in the sixth season of Satsanga. The first couple of seasons we didn’t have a website and it was just word of mouth. Then we got a website and have never needed to do any advertising. People come because they heard of it and we have our web presence.
What sets Satsanga apart from other retreat centers? Most people say because it is family run. We are all physically here all the time so it has a homey feel. It is one of the more intimate centers, we only have 16 guest rooms and so we can’t hold really large groups. I think Mani (the chef) is really special, you know everyone just falls in love with her cooking and she is just such a special presence. Value wise it is the least expensive retreat center in Goa. So all those things together, it is simple, it is not fancy, but it is warm.
Did you have a hand in choosing the color scheme? Yes! The thing is the colors can change because of the monsoon. We have to repaint each year. We are always playing with color. When you have to repaint you can change it up. You have no choice.
Why don’t you tell me about the animals roaming the grounds (as a big black cat jumps on my lap). We have five cats: Luciano, Kali, Davie, Vindu, and Mr. Big. And Shanti and Priya, the two dogs. The thing about the animals is they have all come to us through animal rescue or through friends who call up and say “I found this kitten on the side of the road can I bring it over?” They are a big part of the place here.
The thing about cats here, we have had many many cats, is that since we live so close to the jungle sometimes they get snatched by snakes. As long as they stay on the grounds they are safe. This guy (petting Luciano) has been with us a long time.
When is the best time to come? Weather-wise December to February, when it is not too hot. It is warm and dry November to April and we are open October to May. So we open the first in Goa and we stay open the longest! I usually do my retreat at the end of the season, in May. This year we are doing an eight day holiday and then right after, a teacher training.
NR: Where do you spend the other months of the year? Two to three months out of the year I go to Japan to do some teaching. Italy, the past two years, and Switzerland because we used to live there together. And always home to the U.S. to see my family.
How did you first get into yoga? I don’t know why I was drawn to it, I was about 18 and living in Seattle and I opened up the yellow pages and there were two yoga teachers. Back then I did yoga like I went hiking, you know a couple times a week, not part of my daily life. In my late 20s I really got into it. I am almost 43 now. I was going through a hard time then and I really went to my mat a lot and I heard the teachings in a different way, the philosophy really spoke to me. I didn’t grow up in a religious household and I really felt like this was the first time anything spiritual made sense.
So how do you describe your practice now and what you teach? I practice vinyasa flow and restorative yoga and that is basically what I teach, I also specialize in pre- and post-natal yoga. I have studied with so many different teachers, think most teachers do this, that I have taken my favorite bits and blended.
NR: Tell me some more about your training? Who are some of the teachers that really inspire you. Because I love vinyasa and I was in the U.S. I studied with the famous vinyasa yoga teachers Sean Corn, Shiva Rae, and Baron Baptiste. Gvandev Mccord has a really special place in my heart. I studied at a place called Ananda in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, they are devoted to the teachings of Parahamsa Yogananda (Autobiography of a Yogi). They have a very special way of practicing hatha yoga, gentle devotional hatha yoga it is called. So every posture has a mantra, you do the posture and then the teacher will say the mantra and you repeat it to yourself silently. It is really beautiful. I am getting older now and I am not so into the power yoga I used to do, my vinyasa has really softened.
What are some of your favorite spots here in Goa? Ashvem Beach. I love because it is very tranquil and peaceful. I also like Calangute Beach because it is busy and colorful and we have a favorite shack that we go to. It is so nice you can get a 400-rupee massage on the beach or a pedicure on the beach, it is amazing!
Shopping-wise I love Fab India, it is beautiful because it is fixed pricing, excellent quality, and it also supports social causes. That is the beauty of that place, it is not just a corporate endeavor, it is like an NGO [non-governmental organization, or nonprofit] in a way. Also India Story, you could walk there from Satsanga, it is a beautiful complex with a cafe, clothing, books; one of the people in the family is a Santayana devotee, so they have a lot of great bihar (school) books.
Thanks for sharing, Jodi!
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Nuria Reed graduated with a degree in anthropology from UC Berkeley before returning to her hometown of Santa Barbara. She is blogging for the Santa Barbara Independent while traveling and studying in India.