How a Goan retreat got me over my empty nest – and my broken relationship – The Telegraph

Plus five other tropical retreats to help you navigate life, including magical Mexican ceremonies and the world's first "wellbeing island"
It’s been two years since I last visited the heavenly, restorative Ashiyana yoga retreat Mandrem beach in Northern Goa – my annual go to for 10 years. It’s the place that always connects me back to ‘me’, that puts things into perspective and keeps me rooted and connected with what’s real.

It’s also the place from which I was ushered out of in a frenzy and panic, when the pandemic painfully struck the world in 2020. I had no idea when – or if – I was ever coming back.

But I was determined to return, and this spring, through some lucky timing, I flew direct to Goa restriction and hassle free. I left a grey, grizzly England, feeling pretty desperate and broken.
The last two years have been challenging and full of uncertainties. Like so many other people I have neglected my need to practice positivity and give myself lots of self-care. I felt at an all-time low with huge change in my personal life: my children leaving home, a break up from a long-term relationship and a different path in my career. All these things happening in my mid fifties left me feeling directionless; not just empty nest syndrome but feeling like I actually had an empty life, which I certainly wasn’t prepared for. I needed a total reset.

Yet just eight hours later, I landed, already feeling trouble free and excited for what was in store.
Ashiyana is a one-stop destination, with yoga, healers, amazing food and a positive philosophy all under one roof. It’s nestled between the sea and a beautiful river and next to a small friendly village, called Mandrem. I had no idea what to expect post pandemic. Would it still have the usual flowing infrastructure and the usual hubbub of excitement filled with yogis and students all on teacher training courses, milling around in total ecstasy on the heavenly property?
In fact I was the only Western guest at the property; in the whole two weeks I was in Northern Goa I didn’t see one other person travelling from the UK. The only other guests were Indians (who see Goa as their South of France), Ukrainians and Russians – who very sadly left a few days into my stay as the brutal and pointless war broke out. Until then, in Goa Ukrainians and Russians were living harmoniously.
It was a strange feeling; as if life had stood still here or even gone back 20 years, to the Seventies when peace-loving tourists first came in droves and lapped up the simplicity and lush environment – no sign of the permanent fixture of westerners of the past few decades. The honesty and beauty were astounding. What used to upset me about a little plastic on the beach or an odd flip-flop washed up didn’t upset me anymore as the planet is obviously facing more major problems. But I also felt guilty for being able to experience this when everyone at home was so miserable. As I sat on the deserted beach I did wonder why no other tourists had wanted to come, despite the lack of restrictions. 
The economy has been deeply affected by the lack of tourism, and everywhere people are struggling, supermarkets are very low on supplies, businesses have closed down and a generation of the Goan dogs, which are usually fed by tourists, have been wiped out. This slightly fading beauty had an inherent sadness that rubbed off on me. 

But as I stayed longer, and looked deeper, I realised that it’s what was underneath that matters. Ashiyana still had the same heart and ethos – that everyone has the possibility to become a better version of themselves.

As so this became my focus. I practised yoga everyday. I had an ayurvedic cleanse, and saw the on-site emotional behavioural therapist to help my empty nest syndrome and some PTSD issues. 
Travelling on my own can sometimes be daunting but on this trip I was far from lonely. I relished in the ‘ME’ time. I spent time in the fulfilling company of locals. I found a companion in a local dog – called Banksy. I realised a certain completeness on being on my own. 
An Indian friend took me to an ecstatic dance night where drinking, phones, talking and smoking were strictly not allowed. Everyone was having ultimate fun without any highs from anything else but being truly present. We danced for hours. It felt safe and expressive away from life’s frequent inhibitions. It was liberating.

I met a man recovering from cancer who felt living a holistic life was the biggest deterrent to getting sick. So many of us are stuck on the hamster wheel, the freedom of just being able to watch the sunrise and the sunset, making sure that you can move your body daily and create inner-awareness, absorbing the positive sensations followed by a meditation you can achieve total acceptance and serenity.
As I reconnected with myself, as with Ashiyana, I realised the beauty is all still there. It just needs a little TLC. Ashiyana is ready to take the world by storm with a retreat that never ends, where they focus particularly on sleeping well and calming the mind, and supporting you after you leave. From this place of relaxation you can allow your creativity to flow and your spirit to smile. To be the ‘best you’. And as I said goodbye to Banksy, and walked over the bridge from Ashiyana to the village, I felt my best ‘me’ return. 
Eco Lodges from £399 based on two people sharing in low season (April 1-Oct 14). Includes brunch, dinner, two yoga classes, and selected non-alcoholic drinks (ashiyana.com)
Despite it being a river hop from Bangkok, there is a sense of the clandestine about this hush-hush island retreat, and for winter sun, Thailand is worth holding out for if you want a full-body MOT. A long-Covid programme has even been introduced. Guests are pretty much guaranteed to leave here feeling healthier, thanks to the food (nutritionists work in sync with doctors and chefs), cleansing tea lounge, gym, hydrothermal spa and relaxing villas spread around a lake and surrounded by lush jungle.
Three-night long-Covid programme from £3,172 (00 66 2055 3100; rakxawellness.com).
Joali Being is the first “wellbeing island” in the Maldives, focusing on sound therapy, hydrotherapy, herbology and fitness. It comprises 68 over-water or beach villas with butler and private pool; and bespoke nutritional programmes are available. Facilities range from a Watsu pool to a “discovery sound path”. Food comes courtesy of Kuntal Kumar, founding chef of the below-mentioned Vana in India; dishes include roasted broccoli and cauliflower with feta and sunflower seeds, seafood nasi goreng and a coriander and prawn wrap at Mojo, the casual eatery overlooking the tiered swimming pools and the ocean.
Five-night programmes from £1,259 (00 960 658 31 00; joali.com).
BodyHoliday in St Lucia is a resort with a four-point manifesto of relaxation, exercise, therapy and nutrition. Its mantra? “Give us your body for a week and we will give you back your mind.” Some 50 sporting activities are offered alongside meditation, metaphysics, motivational lectures, sunrise salutations and spiritual therapies. Overlooking the resort is an Ottoman-esque pink palace of spa pleasures; a daily massage, facial or one of the other 170 treatments on offer is included. Meanwhile cuisine, whether fine dining or Asian fusion, is healthy but scrumptious, with not a tofu cube in sight. “Theme months” include the likes of October Yoga, while a range of new pandemic-focussed retreats features a Boost Your Immunity programme.
Doubles from £296, all-inclusive; five-night retreats from £611 (020 3096 1605; bodyholiday.com).
Chablé Yucatán’s magical Mexican retreats take the emotional side of wellness to another level. The Happiness Programme is tailored to a “Bliss List” guests complete prior to arrival and features bespoke itineraries designed to release endorphins; Stress and Anxiety targets those in need of a better work/life balance, and there’s even one for the broken-hearted, You Are the Love Story, which focuses on renewing self-worth. Sunrise and sunset yoga sessions take place in the jungle, there are seaweed body wraps and massages in the spa, and there’s even a Temazcal Ceremony – a ritual performed in a steam house where physical, mental and spiritual levels are said to converge.
Casita with private pool from £790; retreats are tailor-made (00 52 55 4161 4262; chablehotels.com).
This sophisticated wellbeing retreat in North India is gentle but staggeringly effective. Vana, which translates as ‘forest’, is a luxury destination spa hotel in Dehradun in the Doon Valley, a much-romanticised destination thanks to its prominence in the Sanskrit poems, Ramayana and Mahabharata. The state-of-the-art facilities include an outdoor pool, an indoor hydrotherapy pool, various studios and pavilions, and scores of treatment and consultation rooms, with Ayurveda, Chinese and Tibetan traditional medicine practitioners on hand. Cuisine is expectedly nutritious, cotton kurta pyjamas are provided, and morning mountain treks are offered.
Forest rooms from £450 per night, minimum three-night stay, including all food, consultations, treatments, wellbeing activities and attire (00 91 135 351 1111; vana.co.in). For more inspiration, read Telegraph Travel’s guide to the best hotels in Goa.
By Amanda Statham, Mary Lussiana, Kathy Lette, Suzanne King, Juliet Kinsman
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
Explore hotels that have been tried, tested and rated by our experts
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