Ashtanga in Crete with Yoga Plus

Trying to find a holiday somewhere warm, in Europe in late October can be difficult. I was lucky enough to come across a Yoga Plus brochure and booked for the last two week session of the season. A three and a half-hour charter flights later, I found myself squinting up to the Cretan sunshine outside Heraklion airport one Friday morning.
I had planned to spend my first day in Heraklion, and a friend had offered to drive me to Agios Pavlos. The other options to get to the remote southerly home of Yoga Plus are a ride in a taxi, which would set you back about £40, or a bus to Agia Galini at £5, and then a taxi for the last thirty minutes, at £18. Some guests also choose to take the boat from Agia Galini, which drops them on the sand in the bay, for about £5.

My friend left me at the Agios Pavlos Taverna that evening after an inspiring two hour drive through the Cretan countryside, and the precipitous hills winding down to the Yoga centre. As check in was not until 2:00pm on the Saturday, I booked a room at the Taverna and drifted off to the sounds of waves on the rocks below. I woke up the following morning as the sun was climbing over the hills revealing a vast, clear sky, and made up for check in, weaving my way through Aloe Vera plants and tall, swaying bamboo grass.

The Yoga Plus building looks like a typical Greek hotel. One of the staff showed me to my lower, terrace room, which lacked a view of the bay as it was tucked behind the bamboo, but seemed somehow more private and secluded. The rooms with the views are reserved by the upper, balcony rooms, and are a little more expensive for the privilege. 

The Yoga Plus building (uppermost) at Agios Pavlos

A welcoming, non alcoholic punch was served preceding a late lunch. The food was delicious, abundant, and colourful. Regular meals at Yoga Plus consist of brunch at 11:30, and dinner at 20:30. Brunch is a vegetarian offering and kicks off with a different porridge every day, a huge bowl of fruit, and yogurt. The main goodies appear later, as two main hot dishes nestle and elbow each other for space amongst salads, dips, and the eagerly awaited desert. Dinner is similar but without the dairy additions to keep the vegans satisfied. For those hungry guests unable to make it through without sustenance from brunch to dinner, lunch boxes are supplied. Those needing a meat or fish fix can satisfy theses unyogic cravings at the Agios Pavlos Taverna and Mama Eva's.

The Yoga starts on Monday morning. Those familiar with Ashtanga Vinyasa, and who can work through the series start around 07:30 am, depending on numbers. With only three months of hatha yoga experience, I was assigned to the 09:30 class with Radha, the founder of the centre, together with a mixed bunch ranging from complete beginners, to people with several years of experience of yoga, but unfamiliar with the Ashtanga form.

Yoga Plus was not designed as a Yoga centre, but has been adapted, rather poorly, for this purpose. The room used for my class was large, but long and narrow, with just enough space for two students along the width, which produced an annoying recurrence of hitting hands either on the wall, or the person next to you. Add to this three, strategically placed pillars, and a two foot step splitting the room, leaving just enough room for everyone to squeeze in, and you can understand why sometimes in the summer, guests having to wait for 30 minutes for people to exit their room so they could practice were a little annoyed.

Radha takes the guests through every posture in her own inimitable style, which some find direct or even intimidating. "Don't bring water into this class. This is Ashtanga, not an aerobics class" was the echoing reaction from Radha after an unsuspecting guest was spotted downing gulps of relief. And with that number of students, don't expect many adjustments.

After brunch, guests are free to do their own thing. Many made their way to the beaches or explored the surrounding area. Crete's landscape, a mixture of scorched grass, olive trees groaning under the weight of the seasons growth, and fire red earth, is ideal for walking. Other stayed at the centre for one of the many activities on offer: Tai Chi, Pilates, nutrition, various massages, even art and adventure walks, with usually three activities available each session to choose from.

On the last evening, sunk into a chair at the Taverna, sipping local wine and gazing out at the Cretan sun sinking below the hills, I pondered. Would I come back? Sure, there are better places to practice your downward dog, but where could I relax in a more laid back setting? Where would I find such clean, warm waters to swim in? 
Yeah, I'd come back….

Debbie Ashford & Caroline Hewitt in Virabhadrasana. Taken by Fozzie at Agios Pavlos, Crete