The Sanctuary on Head Tien Beach: Yoga’s Original Home on Koh Phangan

Back in the early 90’s, Ko Phangan was a very different place. It felt like a lost island, cut off from the world and removed from its problems and difficulties. The island itself was far less developed and Haad Rin was the main centre for Hippies, Jungle freaks, Spiritual tourists and parties. The main spiritual attraction was a popular Tai Chi school that ran in Head Rin for many years.

Eventually, a few of the Head Rin crew gravitated over to an extremely remote beach called Head Tien and built a (nearly) secret resort called The Sanctuary. The life at The Sanctuary at that time was much wilder and more challenging than it is today. There was a lot of jungle and not so many amenities. Power only came on in the evening for a few hours and there were few restaurants and no shops. There was no road at all; all traffic came through the occasional taxi boats or people walking through the jungle and over a mountain to get to Haad Tien.

One thing that The Sanctuary built, along with some bungalows and the restaurant, was a small yoga hall. The place was built sometime around 1989. The yoga hall was extremely simple, consisting of just a concrete floor, roof and mosquito net. It was into this situation that Randall O’Leary stumbled into The Sanctuary and its yoga hall while he was exploring in the Phangan jungle, way back in 1991.

Being a yoga enthusiast and committed practitioner at a fairly young age, when he found The Sanctuary, he felt like he found paradise. It was the perfect dynamic for good, deep yoga practice. There was nature all around: miles of jungle surrounded Haad Tien (and does so to this day). There was a peaceful atmosphere, clean air, empty beaches and some really amazing people. Plus, the yoga hall was ready and waiting to be filled with enthusiastic yogis who wanted to learn and practice in this magical place.

Over the next decades, Randall continued to come to The Sanctuary and install himself in the yoga hall for months, teaching daily yoga classes and workshops. At this time there was almost no other yoga programmes on Phangan and quite possibly none in the rest of South Thailand. It was to The Sanctuary that people who wanted to practice yoga flocked. Each season, from December to April, there was a thriving community of yoga people practicing together, living together and being in nature. It’s hard to describe how ideal and perfect the life was in so many ways. People could immerse themselves in the yogi life without the distractions and difficulties of the outside world. There could hardly have been a more perfect setting for yoga anywhere. Eventually, The Sanctuary started some of the first Yoga Teacher Trainings on the island as well. Truly, The Sanctuary has blazed the yoga trail on Phangan for many decades.

Year after year, The Sanctuary’s yoga programme has grown to include other teachers, styles, classes and approaches, but their commitment to quality yoga has never diminished. True to its original spirit of authenticity and the pure love of yoga, today’s yoga programme at The Sanctuary is better than ever. Amazingly, Randall continues to teach daily yoga at The Sanctuary as well as workshops and trainings. In fact, he is now resident yogi and director of the Sanctuary Yoga programme on a full time basis. At the time of writing, Randall has been teaching yoga for over 30 years and has no intention to stop any time soon.

If you want to immerse yourself in this legendary yoga tradition on Ko Phangan and study with some of the best and longest serving teachers in South Thailand, come to The Sanctuary. Get involved in the beautiful jungle and beach setting, the isolation and peace of this remote bay, and the transformative yoga that has its history in the very roots of the island itself.

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