After discovering Yoga and Reiki in 2000, Phil Dane’s life changed completely. Having spent 16+ years as a recording engineer/record producer in London, Phil left the UK in October 2002 for a new life in India, settling in Goa without a plan.
The idea for YogaMagic surfaced in early 2003. Currently, it is celebrating more than 16 successful years of operations in Goa, India.
Here, in an Interview with EcoTourism EXPERT, Phil Dane speaks about his journey from London to India; his days during establishing YogaMagic Eco Retreat in Goa.
- Life must have quite different before coming to India. Can you give us your background for our curious readers? Were you associated with the Tourism industry in London as well?
Life was different in every way. I was in the music industry, I had no experience in tourism or hospitality besides being a tourist myself, having been a music studio sound engineer/record producer for 15 years in London, working with many artists on a wide variety of musical genres from rock & dance to chart pop music. It was great fun whilst it lasted but it’s a tough, vicious business, and I was looking for more. I discovered Yoga & Reiki in 2000, which changed everything, quickly realizing that this was the direction I wanted life to take me.
- When and what made you come to India? And, how did YogaMagic happen? What are the sustainable goals you have followed to reach where you are today? Tell us your story…‘From London to Goa’.
I first visited Goa on holiday for a month over Christmas & New Year back in 1993 at the height of the Goa party scene and loved it. Over the following 8 years I visited many other tropical paradises around the world but I always held a special place in my heart for Goa. So having discovered Yoga and rekindled a yearning to come back to India, I decided to return for a week’s Yoga holiday in February 2002 to try and figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was at a turning point. I decided within days of arriving that I would return in the autumn of that same year to spend a full six months here, the energy is so different from London. By that time I was writing commercial pop songs & I had lost my love for music, however, I was still contracted with the publishing company to write several songs each year for the next couple of years so I decided to spend 6 months in Goa composing, then 6 months back in the UK promoting those songs to artists/management/record companies etc. I arrived here in October 2002 with a load of portable recording equipment, set up a studio, turned everything on and immediately had the blinding realization that I just didn’t want to, and actually couldn’t do it anymore. I had become allergic to music. But what to do now? I simply switched it all off again. On top of that, I had no desire to go back to the UK, I had finished everything there. I realized that my future was in India now.
I didn’t know what to do, but I do distinctly remember the moment sitting on a hillside at sunset close to Anjuna beach where the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and others hung out in the sixties thinking ‘I could give another 10 years of my life and energy to the music business, trying to make enough money to enable me to do exactly what I am doing now. Living in paradise, sitting here on this hillside watching this sunset, it was the shocking realization that ‘I am already there.’
It was Annie, the owner of Purple Valley Yoga Centre in Anjuna where I practiced, who first suggested that I open a hotel for yoga students. There was no such thing available anywhere in India and only a small handful in the whole world.
At first, I thought her idea was ridiculous. I was a musician and couldn’t do anything else. I never had. Then it suddenly clicked, Goa was the perfect place to attract Yogis, with its tropical beaches, palm trees and bohemian atmosphere providing a true ‘soft landing’ into Indian culture. Yoga was gaining popularity at the time, as was the interest in Indian spirituality & culture, so the idea very quickly seemed to be obvious. She already knew of a perfect piece of land available in Anjuna then introduced me to the landlord.
Very shortly afterwards she also introduced me to Juliet (Ishi) an incredible woman from the UK who had left background in health club management to pursue Yoga and her spiritual journey in India. After volunteering to help me for a while, Ishi became so fascinated and committed to the project that she gave up everything in England, invested all her savings & became my partner in YogaMagic working alongside tirelessly ever since. YogaMagic could never have happened without her. She brought, amongst other things, the necessary softness and femininity required, great design skills, an indescribable passion for food excellence & enthusiasm and understanding of Yoga, rarely seen. And as they say, the rest is history.
Back then, barely anybody was talking about sustainability or alternative energy. People thought us quite crazy and many people said the concept wouldn’t work, which only served to further inspire us. It was becoming quite obvious to us even then, that our major priorities should be to build by using natural, sustainable materials, generating our power to reduce reliance on the grid and to grow as much of our organic food as possible. Self-sufficiency was the goal. Of course today, thankfully these concepts and terms are common places around the world with huge media attention and classroom exposure.
Before beginning construction, we visited CAT (The Centre for Alternative Technology) in Wales, who were extremely helpful and decades ahead of everybody else in their alternative lifestyle thinking and solutions. Neither of us knew anything about construction and before this, had not even built so much as a garden wall. As the ideas and opportunities came, so did the people to help us execute those ideas, mostly from the villages surrounding us. We were introduced to constructing with earth & cow dung, the way it has been done here for thousands of years, how to use bamboo, grass & coconut leaves, we discovered solar water heating, photo-voltaics (solar electric energy production) and composting toilets using Effective Microorganisms. It was a steep and fascinating new practical experience curve, blending new technologies with ancient tried and tested techniques. What’s funny now is that we now ourselves get approached many times each year by schools, colleges & students of architecture and sustainability from within India and all around the world who consider us now to be experts on the matter!
- Give us an overview of YogaMagic right from its inception till now. How has it fared till now, given that Goa is a Tourist centre but crowded with Resorts/hotels? What is YogaMagic’s USP?
When we began our first season in 2003, the set up was very simple: just seven tents in a field with barely any vegetation. Over the following 3 or 4 years, we built the house and pool, developed the gardens and gradually expanded the tents into the 3-room luxury eco-lodges they are today. We were also very lucky that the land we chose, or I should say, the land which chose us is perfect, being well away from the roads and surrounded by paddy fields which, despite the growth in tourist traffic over the years, has kept YogaMagic quiet and peacefully isolated from the rest of Anjuna but close enough to beaches and markets, but not too close for comfort.
From day one we didn’t know what we were doing and pretty much made it all up as we went along… the food, the service, and program. As we evolved we developed the healing aspects of our service to include Ayurveda & Homeopathy alongside a carefully considered, uber-healthy and tasty vegetarian or vegan diet. What we found very quickly was that the guests loved it all. Here we have been so lucky. Our guests have been amazing & we have made many hundreds of really good friends around the world. YogaMagic does attract incredible people. I could easily count the number of difficult guests we have had in 17 years on the fingers of one hand!
As our business journey unfolded, so did our spiritual journey. In 2006, I was deeply blessed to be ‘introduced’ to India’s most celebrated saint, rarely heard of outside India, Shirdi Sai Baba (Circa 1845 to 1918) the centenary of his Maha Samadhi (leaving His body) being quite recent on October 15th 2018. He was a true a Yogi and high-vibration being, a Jesus/Buddha-like in his words and actions. He said quite simply that ‘all is that is required is endless Faith and Patience to cross over this sea of illusion’. He became famous for granting the temporal wishes of His devotees, even after His leaving His body. I also met an incredible living Master, Janglidas Maharaj (Atma Malik) who is living in Shirdi today, a small town in Maharashtra close to Nashik. Known affectionately as ‘Babaji’, he is said to be around 135 years old, speaks very little and just encourages His devotees to meditate as much as possible on Soul (Atma in Sanskrit). It is this deeper understanding and experience of Yoga which we share with as many guests as possible. The ultimate reward is being a witness in the transformation of guests. It is incredible to see people change as they walk into YogaMagic and to watch their unfolding during their stay, inevitably to leave glowing and re-vitalized ready to return to their lives.
Besides, we have upcoming project near Mumbai. We are right now in the process of raising investment to buy 45 acres of land by a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and stunning scenery close to Igatpuri, the home of Vipassana meditation, just 2.5 hours from Mumbai.
The plan is to build a bigger, more permanent version of YogaMagic with a spa, a purpose-built yoga teacher training centre for teachers to bring their groups and to develop alongside it, a fully serviced Yoga retirement eco-village. The whole project is 100% off the grid and will grow as much of its food as possible. All buildings are made from rammed earth, cob or compressed and stabilized earth blocks under guidance from the Auroville Earth Institute. And all transportation will be electric or biodiesel.
We chose this district not only because of its proximity to Mumbai and its quiet, natural, un-spoilt environment, but because the region has such a deeply spiritual history which is tangible there. And also the fact that Maharashtra is such an exciting new destination for tourists. Everybody knows of Goa, Kerala and Rajasthan, but very few have ventured beyond Mumbai in Maharashtra. It presents a whole new world to discover.
- Right now, because of COVID-19 outbreak tourism is the most hard-hit industry the world over. How has it affected tourist-arrivals in Goa till now? Eventually, when things normalize, what are your plans to restore tourists’ visits to your Retreat?
All our guests had to cancel or postpone this season’s holidays but we remain very optimistic about the future. Once flights are operating again we feel confident that wellness & Mind/Body/Soul holidays will be in higher demand than ever, especially for us here in India, the home of Yoga.
This worldwide experience of pandemic lockdown has prompted most people to re-evaluate what is most important in their lives. Also, the importance of a healthy body, quiet mind and happy soul has also been recognized as being paramount. This is what we do best at YogaMagic Eco Retreat.