While I was working at YogaLife, I contacted Chandra about her yoga retreat in Jamaica so we could include it on the ‘Upcoming Retreats’ page. Chandra emailed me details about her June dates and I replied saying it was a shame there weren’t any retreats in July as I was planning to be in Kingston for a few weeks visiting my brother.
She called me five minutes later – she was planning two retreats in July. We arranged to meet for breakfast one morning and talk about it. Chandra’s enthusiasm and passion for what she was trying to create were infectious – and I decided I would attend her seven-day retreat in July.
My schedule until that point had been hectic and I told myself I’d have to fit in some yoga classes before I travelled for the summer so I could make the most of the retreat (never happened). I’d taken one yoga class in six months. I got to Jamaica and joined my sister-in-law in one of her classes so by the time I got to Old Fort Bay, I’d had a grand total of two classes all year. Brilliant.
After a two-hour car journey from Kingston (through the mountains and Fern Gully – a former underground river bed – with some stunning scenery), I arrived at Old Fort Bay. By the time I got there, I’d already spent two weeks in London and Ibiza, but I considered this my real holiday. We pulled up outside a large cottage, painted in a watermelon colour, with a lush lawn.
Chandra showed me around the six-bedroom cottage. I was sleeping in the blue room – I had a double bed, fan, mosquito net, closet space, a refillable water bottle and my own bathroom. Chandra explained that the property had belonged to her parents for about 40 years and sadly was empty most of the time – she was hoping to inject some life into it by organising yoga retreats.
“The blue room in a six-bedroom cottage.” Image by Yoga by Chandra.
My fellow vacationers and I spent the first evening getting to know each other. We were four in total: an acro-yoga instructor from Abu Dhabi, a newly-qualified yoga instructor from Ohio, one of her friends, and me. After our dinner of stew and dumplings, we decided to take a walk along the beach.
We strolled, talking, but soon fell silent as we took in the smell of the ocean air, the sand under our feet, the sound of the waves and the brightness of the full moon, each of us alone with our thoughts. We walked back to the house and discussed what we’d each experienced.
Yoga by the Beach: Invigorating, Restorative, and Fun!
The following morning (and every morning after that) we had a yoga class on the beach at 8:30 a.m. It was an energising Vinyasa flow class and I was thrilled I was able to keep up with the others. As the week went on, the pace got more challenging, but Chandra was able to suggest modifications to help me along. By the end of each class, there would be sand everywhere – all over our yoga mats, in our hair, all over our clothes – and we would take our mats into the ocean and rinse them (and ourselves) off.
We soon discovered that if you roll up the mats they act as floats so we’d bob around in the waves for half an hour before heading back to the house for breakfast. The sea in Old Fort Bay had the bluest and clearest water I’ve ever seen; even standing neck-deep in the water I could still see my feet! And on most mornings we had the beach to ourselves.
“I was thrilled I was able to keep up with the Vinyasa flow class!” Image by Yoga by Chandra.
Our meals were cooked by the lovely Miss June who made sure we were all fed properly, vegetarian or otherwise. Breakfast usually consisted of porridge, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, soursop juice and other fresh juices. We tried a traditional Jamaican breakfast of ackee and saltfish, plantain and dumplings. Coffee and tea were also available if you needed them, but I think I only had one cup of coffee in the entire week.
Breakfast would be over by 11am and we were free until our evening yoga class at 6pm. Our evening class was more restorative compared to the invigorating morning class. It was usually on the beach, but one evening we decided to have the class in the garden instead. Our evening class was followed by a quick swim/rinse and dinner. Every evening, the wonderful aromas floating out of the kitchen would make our mouths water in anticipation. Stew and dumplings, coconut breaded chicken, sweet and sour fish, callaloo (leafy vegetables), rice and peas, and a variety of salads.
“A hearty breakfast after a beach yoga session.” Image by BookYogaRetreats.com.
Between 11am and 6pm we were free to do whatever we liked, whether it was napping, reading or experiencing the local attractions. There is lots to do in Ocho Rios (Mystic Mountain, Dolphin Cove, Turtle River Park) – and it would have been possible to be out and about every day but I think we found a good balance of adventure and relaxation. On day 2, we relaxed at the cottage, went to the beach for a swim and just eased into the rhythm of the next few days.
On day 3, we went to Laughing Waters, the original beach from the James Bond movie Dr. No. It took about 20 minutes to walk there from Old Fort Bay, through some fields and along another beach. We spent the afternoon at the waterfall, sitting in ice-cold whirlpools and playing in the sand. It was incredible that when you walked into the ocean on this side of the beach, the temperature of the water was cold because of the waterfall, but moving just one inch further in would take you back to the warm currents of the ocean.
On day 4, I stayed at the cottage but on day 5, we went to the Blue Hole, a series of waterfalls along the White River. It’s not considered an ‘official’ attraction but local people keep the banks clean and ask for a small contribution when you arrive. The waterfalls and pools are breathtaking, but I’d never done anything like it before and was entirely out of my comfort zone, jumping off the banks of the river into the freezing water and swinging off a rope (and by that I mean falling) into the water! It was a really fun day out though and everyone had a great time.
“Chandra’s enthusiasm and passion were infectious!” Image by Yoga by Chandra.
On our way back to Old Fort Bay we stopped at the Ocho Rios Craft Park, the largest market in Ocho Rios, where you can pick up all sorts of souvenirs: carved wooden figures, T-shirts, hats, paintings and even coffee. On day 6, we spent most of the day at the beach, lamenting the fact that our week was almost over! It flew by so quickly. That evening, before our last dinner together, we went to Evita’s, an Italian restaurant in the hills overlooking Ocho Rios. Chandra had told us about the organic coconut, kale and sweet potato soup that they had and we were all keen to try it. It was fantastic and well worth the trip.
Not My Last Week in Paradise
Day 7 came all too soon. We had our last yoga class on the beach (taught by the yoga instructor from Ohio), our last swim and our last breakfast together. And then it was over. I left feeling relaxed and refreshed – something I hadn’t felt in a long time. What were the highlights of the retreat? Being in a new place, getting to know new people, getting to know myself a bit more, not even thinking about turning on my laptop the entire time I was there, going to the beach every day, trying different foods.
And a personal highlight for me: getting into crow pose for the very first time. I’d tried it at various times over the last four years – I was so close on day 4 I could taste it, and finally got it on day 6! I had the biggest smile after that! Would I go back? Definitely. I’m already trying to figure out how I can work it into my travel plans for next summer.
“I left feeling relaxed and refreshed – something I hadn’t felt in a long time.” Image by Yoga by Chandra.
Join Amreeta this summer and have a relaxing and energizing yoga retreat in Jamaica with Yoga by Chandra!