The land of sun and sand, Goa is arguably one of India’s most popular tourist destinations. Buzzing with activity — from adventure sports to all-night parties — and speckled with scenic beaches, thousands of travellers from all over the world head to the destination for their share of sussegad, flea markets and vindaloo (among other things). Lawyer-turned-yoga teacher Varun Singal is one among the state’s countless fans, and he is setting up a unique space for budding yogis here.
Varun is the founder of Simply Yoga in the sleepy hills of North Goa, said to be the world’s first LGBTQ-friendly yoga retreat.
Hailing from Chandigarh, Varun discovered yoga somewhat late in life. A lawyer, working with the Attorney General’s office in Australia, he began to look for ways to break out of his mundane life. “I tried activities like swimming and running, but everything felt monotonous after some days,” he says.“Then I tried yoga at a local school and I was instantly hooked.”
He went on to take a sabbatical from work to travel to Europe and work with immigrants and refugees. However, when that did not work out, he enrolled himself into a traditional yoga course in Nepal. It was a life-changing experience.
“During the first class, my teacher asked me why I wanted to learn yoga,” he recalls. “I said I wanted to help people.”
Varun is now a certified practitioner and trainer and his training paved the way for him to start Simply Yoga as an inclusive space that moved away from conventional studio-based yoga practice to a more holistic approach.
Housed in a restored Portuguese mansion, Simply Yoga aims to be a platform for the LGBTQ community to be themselves and mingle with like-minded guests.
“Goa is the only place in India where East truly meets West,” Varun says. “The people here don’t interfere in other’s lives, the weather is stable though the year, and the Portuguese vibe of this place has always fascinated me.”
With high tourist footfalls, the destination is an ideal fit for the property. Varun has supervised all the details of the property himself, right from the architecture and decor to the daily operations. His upbringing in Chandigarh has also influenced the restoration process — the new design incorporates wide use of glass, exposed concrete and industrial-inspired architecture.
Among its most defining features is the retreat’s emphasis on providing a safe space for LGBTQ guests. As a member of the community, this former lawyer is well-acquainted with the challenges faced by the community. Simply Yoga not only offers a non-judgmental reception for the community but also aims to offer them sustainable means of employment in the hotel.
Varun says, “It’s not just about equality but also equity. In India, the community faces a lot of isolation. Even in hotels, a pair of boys or girls asking for a room together can lead to so many questions. I really want it to be an open space, for people of all walks of life whether they are guests or employees.”
“I want the guests to feel like a community,” he adds, saying that he hopes to invite guests to spend their days with each other, grow their own food and enjoy the local produce in the property, and learn yoga with each other while enjoying the singular charm of the state.
With the first phase of the building complete, Simply Yoga is slated for a post-monsoon opening in tandem with the start of Goa’s peak tourist season.
While overseeing the finishing touches of the building, Varun hopes to find the right people to join him at the property who will understand the inclusive ethos of the space. Unlike most hotels in Goa, the yoga retreat will also have permanent pricing, that is the tariffs will not change depending on peak and off seasons. “I want people to be able to visit Goa at all time of the year,” he says, adding that the off-season monsoon time in Goa is actually the perfect time to practice yoga.
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The possibilities of expanding the scope of the property in the future are endless, from franchisee options to city-based institutions. But Varun is quick to emphasize that his belief in offering a hospitable space and holistic yoga practice will take precedence over profits.
Here’s to showcasing both yoga and the LGBTQ community in a new, positive light!
For more information on Simply Yoga, head to its official website.