Travel — Eco-Tourism



Gabrielle Leung  /  Feb 10, 2019

This eco-retreat is a peaceful oasis located near the beaches of North Goa, India.

Once a record producer in London, Phil Dane left the UK for Goa, India, where he started YogaMagic Eco Retreat together with his partner Ishi. With tented eco-lodges and yoga and meditation classes, this retreat is a peaceful oasis located near the beaches of North Goa. YogaMagic uses its natural environment for building materials and self-sufficiency: it is built from canvas, bamboo and mud, powered by solar energy, and uses homegrown or locally sourced food. Phil and Ishi’s mission for YogaMagic is to provide a platform for transformation and a way to give back. They are creating a network of support, bringing alternative energy and sustainable building techniques to local families and community members in order to encourage a return to natural farming and restore independence, dignity, and hope. YogaMagic represents not only a tranquil retreat to inspire a personal yoga journey, but a way to live sustainably, kindly, and with others in mind.

Q & A with Phil Dane

Mood of Living: What is your hometown?
Phil Dane: I was born in Leeds in Yorkshire, England in 1961, though I would definitely call India “home” now.
MoL: Where did you go to school?
PD: Lawnswood High School, Leeds, a multicultural state comprehensive school which set me up pretty well for life, not so much the academic side, but the life preparation experience.
MoL: Your past in the music industry interests us. Can you tell us how you got involved in the music business and how that led you to open a yoga retreat? Was there a moment when you knew you were going to switch careers?
PD: Ha, this is a long one. I’d played the violin since age 7 and began playing drums at 12. I left school at 16 to join the Army as a musician on the advice of my uncle Trevor who had convinced me that it’d be better getting a musical education as a soldier than at civilian music college, and that I’d get paid for it too! At that time I was desperate for my first motorbike and so it was that in 1978 I became a junior bandsman in the British Army with a smart red uniform, shiny white hat, and a bright red Honda CB200…40 years ago! This satisfied me for a few years; the bikes got bigger, better, and faster but musically I wasn’t being pushed enough and I began to rebel against Army life, not so much the discipline but the mentality and attitude of the system and the people around me. I distinctly remember the moment in Osnabrück, Germany in 1983 marching along the parade square one day when I thought “stuff this, I want to be a record producer.” Though I didn’t even know what one was, it looked and sounded so glamorous. I wanted that, but I didn’t know how to get there so I set the wheels in motion to get out. I eventually managed to leave the Army after 5 years and 114 days and enrolled at Leeds College of Music to study Jazz and Light music with drums and percussion as my first instrument, because I misguidedly assumed this to be the best way to get into the music industry. Whilst practicing jazz exercises intensely at college, I developed a repetitive strain injury in my left wrist and had to stop playing completely for a while. Fortuitously, the college had a 16 track analog recording studio so I spent my college days in there, hands on, experimenting and learning as much as I could about recording and sound. This was in the very early days of electronic music production and MIDI. Whilst still a student I approached BBC Radio Leeds, just a mile away from college, for a position as a voluntary part-time intern and within a few weeks, I was driving programs from the studio or I was sent out in the radio car as a roving reporter and getting well paid for it. I’d regularly take a day off “sick” from college to work at the BBC only to get caught out on air by one of the lecturers! My first lucky break in music came when a friend of a friend managed to get me an interview for a job as an assistant engineer (or tape op as we were called back then) at the Roundhouse studios in Camden in late 1986. I got the job, left college before graduating, and never looked back. Within a few weeks I was in the studio assisting the overdubbing and mixing of Motorhead’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” album, enjoying beer, and playing pool in the pub over the road with Lemmie and the boys during the breaks. A year later our studio had a phone call one morning from Pink Floyd’s studio manager in Islington who’d heard I was “good” and asked me if I wanted a job, which of course I did! Probably to this day, this was my most memorable phone call; yoga came many years later.
MoL: What happened then? When did you discover yoga and why did you decide to open YogaMagic in Goa? How does that particular location affect the retreat, and thus the experience of those who come?
PD: From the end of the 80s through the best part of the 90s, I was working mostly with big name DJs from the British dance music scene (Bomb the Bass, Sasha, Digweed, Oakenfold et al) which was admittedly a fun time and an ego boosting experience but ultimately not musically or financially rewarding. By the end of the 90s I realized my only hope of making a lot of money and thus being able to afford to retire in comfort, was to write and produce pop records. I invested a lot of time and money into songwriting rather than engineering and production, and ended up co-writing four songs covered by Aaron Carter, a US child star of the time, selling 3.5 million albums. “Great, payday at last,” I thought. Only when it came to the record/publishing company paying out the royalties, instead of the promised high six or even seven figure number, they paid out a pathetic £15k and arrogantly told me, “audit us if you want to, but you have to pay for the audit,” which of course would cost more than the money they owed me — such are the morals of the music industry. Whilst this was personally devastating at the time, looking back it was truly a blessing and ultimately the trigger which led to the creation of YogaMagic and my personal upliftment, escape, and freedom. I had begun to practice yoga and reiki in London, March 2000, a belated millennial new year’s resolution, and very quickly I began to experience extraordinary things: metaphysical and spiritual experiences which my peers, parents, teachers, media, society, and wider culture in general had always led me to believe were impossible. I now knew otherwise! For the first time in my life I had found something (besides motorbikes) which was even more attractive and exciting than music — or money! I first visited Goa on holiday in ‘93 at the height of its party scene and loved it, so 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 stayed close to the only place I could find at the time providing yoga near a beach in the whole of India: Purple Valley Yoga Centre in Anjuna. I decided within days of arriving that I would return in the autumn of that same year to spend a full six months in Goa, the energy being so different to London. Despite the lowlife publishing company having pulled one over me, they still had me contracted to produce a number of songs each year. I decided to spend six months of the year in Goa writing more pop songs, then six months back in the UK punting those songs to artists, management, and record companies. I arrived in Goa in October 2002 with a load of portable recording equipment, set up a studio, turned everything on, and immediately had the blinding realisation that I just didn’t want to. I couldn’t do this anymore — I had become allergic to music! I had no desire to go back to the UK; I had finished everything there. I realised my future was in India now.

I once again distinctly remember the moment sitting on a hillside at sunset close to here one evening in early 2003, overlooking the ocean and Anjuna beach where the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, and others hung out in the 60s 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 realisation that “I am already there.”

Annie, who owned Purple Valley Yoga Centre, suggested I open a hotel for yoga students. There was no such thing available anywhere in India and only a small handful in the world, most notably Yoga Plus in Crete, at which I had stayed the previous year and been deeply inspired and moved. At first I thought her idea ridiculous. I was a musician and couldn’t “do” anything else — I never had. Then it suddenly clicked. Goa was the perfect place: tropical beaches, palm trees, and a “soft landing” into Indian culture. Yoga was clearly gaining popularity at the time and the idea very quickly seemed obvious. She already knew of a perfect piece of land available and introduced me to the landlord. The rest is history, as they say. Three months after starting construction work on the ground and on my birthday that year, Annie introduced me to Juliet (Ishi), now my partner in YogaMagic, who volunteered to help for a while. An incredible woman with a background in hotels and health club management, she has been here working tirelessly ever since and it could never have happened without her. She brought, amongst other things, the necessary softness and femininity required.

MoL: How has being in the music industry influenced how you run YogaMagic?
PD: I am now well into my sixth decade and I finally realise that everything is perfect and happens exactly as it’s meant to happen, when it’s meant to happen, however uncomfortable or inconvenient that may be or seem to be at the time. All experiences and skills are had for a purpose and are to be drawn upon later in life, or not. There are no mistakes. Primarily my military experience taught me discipline, a sense of duty, determination, responsibility, and robustness rarely found outside the services which has undoubtably influenced the way things are run here from cool, calm, and collected planning to scream like a sergeant major when the situation requires it. The music industry, perhaps surprisingly to those not in it, also requires considerable discipline, particularly self-discipline and great determination in many ways more challenging than being in the Army where everything is done for you.

Another aspect which greatly surprised me when I first started working in recording studios was the extraordinary attention to detail and the time and patience required to produce quality audio; it’s quite staggering. This same attention to detail we try our best to bring into YogaMagic.

Thirdly, it is the honesty required in the music biz which can be quite necessarily brutal at times. There is no point at all in playing a song to a wife or girlfriend, friends or family — they’re obviously all going to be biased. The most helpful feedback is absolutely unbiased honesty, not ego flattering ear candy. It’s the same here, both in our listening to the guests’ feedback and the guests listening to our advice and guidance.

Finally, it’s the sense of performance, of putting on a show. It’s all about the whole experience: we have two suites in the main house which are open all year round but the seven tented eco-lodges are only open November to April. On May 1st we begin to wrap everything up for the monsoons. Early September we begin the rebuild again which takes over two months each year. We just completed that process again for the 16th time, though it’s more like preparing for a six month long dinner party with friends than actual work!

MoL: The eco-lodges are built from natural materials, powered by solar energy and the open air bathrooms are composting. What was the inspiration behind this and why is environmental sustainability and responsibility important to you?
PD: When the idea first surfaced for YogaMagic, I had a very clear intuition that guided us. 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. This only inspired us further. It was becoming quite obvious to us even then that our major priorities should be to generate our own power to reduce reliance on the grid, to build using natural, sustainable materials, and to grow as much of our own organic food as possible; self-sufficiency was clearly the key. Of course today these concepts and terms are commonplace with huge media and classroom exposure.

Before beginning construction, we visited CAT (The Centre for Alternative Technology) in Powys, mid-Wales, who were extremely helpful and decades ahead of everybody else in their alternative lifestyle thinking and solutions. What’s really funny now is that we ourselves get approached many times each year by students of architecture and sustainability from all around the world who actually consider us now to be experts on the matter!

MoL: Who helped to construct the retreat?
PD: Here we were so lucky. Neither of us knew anything about construction and prior to 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 and cow dung (the way it has been done here for thousands of years) and how to use bamboo, grass, and leaves. We also discovered photovoltaics (solar energy) and composting toilets using Effective Microorganisms. It was a steep and fascinating practical new experience curve, blending new technologies with ancient tried and tested techniques.
PD: As my love of music diminished, the love for architecture and design increased. Back when I was a musician I had heard this term “architecture is frozen music” which I never quite understood until we began to design and construct here. Form, harmony, melody, space, movement, and stillness all have their place in both mediums; both have a profound and subtle impact on the way we feel. The great thing about architecture is that we can pause in and reverse the experience, neither of which is possible in music which always moves along with time.
MoL: Tell us about the food served at the retreat. Vegetarian and vegan meals seem to be important in truly experiencing YogaMagic. Are the ingredients locally or sustainably sourced? How does this impact the community?
PD: Yes, once again, back then being vegetarian in the West was much more unusual and people thought us quite weird, though in India being vegetarian is very common. I stopped eating meat myself in 1987 and yet even I am surprised by the massive recent surge in veganism which, of course, we cater fully for. Ishi is responsible for the food and has done an incredible job working with our lovely extended family of local women and all of the wonderful chefs, developing and adapting local recipes to appeal to foreign health conscious palettes: less oil, less spice, more greens and salads, and alternatives for all “free from” diets. Goa has some wonderful organic products available now and we do try to grow as much food as possible organically ourselves, having had different degrees of success over the years. We are growing, or have grown in the past, rice, coconut, banana, pineapple, papaya, watermelon, mango, pomegranate, chickoo, lemon, lime, aloe vera, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, galangal, coriander, black pepper, and basil along with rocket, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, capsicum, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, chilies, and ladies’ finger.
MoL: Do you enjoy cooking? If so, do you have a favorite recipe you would like to share?
PD: Yes, well I used to love to cook. But here’s the funny thing: at YogaMagic I am not allowed to. If I go in the kitchen and try to do anything, the girls stop me immediately and take over, so I haven’t cooked anything for 16 years and have barely even made my own bed in that time. C’est la vie! As it happens, the one request we have had more than any other over the 16 years is that we produce a recipe book which, I am finally delighted to announce, is on its way very very soon. We’re compiling and finalizing content now. There’ll be seven full dinners, 108 recipes in all, and we’re perhaps six months or so away from completing. Since veganism is becoming so popular today, I’ll share a delicious recent discovery which will be going into the book: vegan chai. My homeopathic doctor recently recommended that I stop consuming dairy products altogether. It’s no big challenge for me apart from one thing: masala chai (Indian Tea) to which I am totally addicted! Normally this requires boiling 50/50 water and fresh creamy buffalo milk, and finding an alternative plant-based milk which maintained the creaminess and texture without curdling or doing strange things were proving a daunting challenge until we tried cashew milk. It’s amazing and now I can’t see myself going back to real milk. This is a real treat: Vegan Masala Chai recipe: 1/ To prepare the cashew milk: soak a bowl of unsalted raw cashew nuts in a bowl of cold water for around 8 hours. Pour off the water, add a little fresh water and thoroughly liquidize into a smooth cream. Add a little fresh vanilla to taste and a tiny pinch of salt. 2/ Put 1.5 cups cold water into a pan. Crush about 12 fresh cardamoms (add an optional small piece of crushed ginger if desired) and add to the water. Cover and bring to the boil. 3/ Just before boiling, take 1/4 cup of hot spice water from the pan and put into a blender/mixer along with a tablespoon of cashew cream and whisk thoroughly again for a minute. 4/ Add 2 teaspoons of tea powder to the boiling water in the pan and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes until the liquid has darkened and the cardamoms are beginning to fall apart. Using the cheapest tea available seems to be the key to a good cup of chai! We use tea “powder” in India which is probably the sweepings from around the machines in a tea factory and not for export, however, most Indian shops around the world will supply this. If not available, I would suggest grinding regular tea leaves — Assam is probably the most suitable. 5/ Remove the black tea and spices from the heat, gently stirring in the cashew milk to taste. 6/ Pour to serve through a large tea strainer or sieve.
MoL: Can you tell us more about your own personal yoga journey?
PD: Accepting impermanence and constant change whilst being the willing instrument of “Life” in its unfolding, unattached to the fruits of action. Yoga, or Yog as it is in Sanskrit, literally means to yoke, the connection between the ox and the cart, or the (mistakenly) perceived individual and the Divine, the All, Life itself. As I mentioned earlier, I began to practice yoga and reiki on the same weekend in March 2000, or more accurately, I did a weekend Reiki attunement course and began yoga classes on a Monday morning: ashtanga vinyasa Mysore style with Hamish Hendry at the Homeopathic hospital in King’s Cross, one of only two ashtanga studios in the whole of London at the time. Like I said, very quickly amazing things began to happen to me, physically and spiritually. Quite extraordinary things actually, totally mind blowing. However, within a couple of years I realized the inherent dangers of such a physically demanding dynamic practice as ashtanga or power yoga and I began the inward journey of yoga, coming “home,” which proved to be infinitely more rewarding and enjoyable, continuing to this day. My physical yoga practice nowadays consists pretty much of either sitting motionless in devotion (bhakti yoga) or active in my duties (karma yoga) with physical exercise kept quite separate. I have a personal trainer three times a week at lunchtime when the rest of India sleeps and I recently rediscovered bicycling which I am thoroughly enjoying. I was deeply blessed around 12 years ago when I was 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 15, 2018. He was a true Yogi and high vibrational being 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. He said, “I give my devotees what they want, in the hope that someday they will want what I want to give them” which of course is spiritual insight, knowledge, and experience. I would highly recommend anybody who is interested in yoga to research Shirdi Sai Baba. Here’s another funny thing: about five years ago I got called to our reception to meet a woman. She had been traveling in a taxi and had asked the driver for information about Shirdi Sai Baba. He knew me and told her I was the man to talk to on the subject. I arrived at reception to find Delphiris, the English woman who had introduced me to Reiki in North London some 13 or so years earlier, and with whom I had completely lost touch. She had no idea I was in India nor any idea I was a Shirdi Sai Baba devotee. There’s a good chance without her, YogaMagic might not have happened in the first place — extraordinary. Shirdi Baba, in turn, introduced me to 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 the Soul: all answers will arise from within, again like Jesus in His simplicity and humility. I go to see Him and sit whenever possible — it’s like plugging into a cosmic recharger!
MoL: What is the most difficult aspect of meditation?
PD: Finding the time is the excuse most of us give! It never ceases to amaze me how many people in the yoga world have no problem getting up early every day to push or abuse their body through some demanding physical yoga practice for two or three hours, but will run screaming from the idea of sitting still and doing nothing in silence for just thirty minutes!

Meditation is not something I or anybody can “teach” you and it is not something you can “learn.” Despite what they might tell you, it’s not even something you can “do.” Meditation is what happens when you stop the doing; meditation is the consequence. There is a huge current trend towards something called mindfulness today. I personally would suggest that our minds are “full” enough already. What is truly required is mindlessness or mind emptiness: an undoing, an acceptance, becoming a witness of the perfection of all that is including yourself in all your perfection, nothing to change, and nothing to improve — as crazy as that might sound!

MoL: What is the mission of YogaMagic and how do you envision it in the future?
PD: This is where it gets really exciting. We are right now, as we speak, in the process of negotiating a lease on 76 acres of land by a lake surrounded by mountains and stunning scenery just 2.5 hours from Mumbai! We plan to build a bigger, permanent version of YogaMagic, a spa, a purpose-built yoga teacher training center for teachers to bring their own groups, and eventually a yoga retirement village. The project is 100% off the grid and will grow as much of its own food as possible. All buildings are made from compressed and stabilized earth blocks under guidance from the Auroville Earth Institute close to Chennai and all transportation will be electric or biodiesel. We’re hoping to begin work on the ground by early 2019 and construction should take us around two years. Our mission is to continue to provide a platform for transformation, having already hosted over 6,000 guests, and to use the profits from the project to give back. In particular, we want to reach out to the families of the Maharashtrian farmers. You may or may not know these last five years or so have seen one of the largest massed suicides in world history as a result of farmers going bankrupt from reliance on GMO crops in Maharashtra, a complicated and heart-wrenching story. More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in the same way: by going out into their own fields and drinking Monsanto’s infamous weedkiller “roundup” to save their homes and lands being taken by the banks, in effect killing themselves to safeguard their own family’s future. It is our intention to create a network of support, bringing solar power, fresh water, and natural building techniques to these families in an attempt to restore some kind of independence, dignity, and hope, encouraging a return to natural farming and a shift away from corporate slavery. This is our mission now for life.
MoL: What is the greatest risk you took with your business?
PD: Many people have said to me over the years, “Wow, you were so brave to give everything up in the UK and emigrate to India .. what a risk you took,” yet I maintain it would have been a far greater risk staying in London and trying to wring an income out of the diminishing music business. Risk is merely a state of mind, an attachment to the moment or the money. It is essentially a fear and I don’t do fear anymore!
MoL: If you hadn’t opened your own retreat, what would you be doing now?
PD: Ha! I have absolutely no idea and I’ve never really thought about it . It’s so much harder to earn money from music these days I doubt that would have been possible. Perhaps I’d be a car park attendant or working in an Amazon fulfillment center!
MoL: How do you balance work and personal life?
PD: I don’t. There is no separation, because “work” isn’t working to me anymore. However, I do get plenty of time for adventure, my favorites being either an expedition on motorcycles in the mountains with friends or a silent meditation retreat at Janglidas Maharaj’s ashram in Shirdi.
MoL: Who has been the greatest influence in your life?
PD: After my parents, undoubtedly my Guru, Sai Baba of Shirdi. In truth, it is the Guru Principle itself expressed through Him which is the great influence — the Guru being in essence not a person, but a principle expressed through certain individuals: Jesus, Buddha, Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Yogananda, Sri Anandamayi Ma, my living Guru Janglidas Maharaj, and many other special light beings over the years. All express this and are not different from it. A true Guru knows that He is not; He is actually nothing.
MoL: What is the greatest advice you’ve been given?
PD: To go within or go without, to begin the journey home, the inward journey of discovery, to let go of attachment to the outcome and accept all in this crazy world as perfect in it’s unfolding with endless Faith and Patience, to be the “instrument” rather than the performer, and to return simply to our natural state: love.
MoL: Words of wisdom:
PD: As shocking as this may sound in this world of achievements and gain, there is actually nothing to achieve and there is nothing (no thing) to learn. UNlearning is the requirement of the day. In the words of Paul Simon “When I think back On all the crap I learned in high school It’s a wonder I can think at all And though my lack of education Hasn’t hurt me none I can read the writing on the wall.”
Photography courtesy of YogaMagic

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