Rituals on Bali
"On this Indonesian island everything is mystique, discovers Dagmar van der Neut - while she receives a unique massage, lets her tears flow freely, does yoga at a volcano and makes an offer to her room"
Built in a gorge by a small river with an open yoga pavilion, a spa, two swimming pools and ten bedrooms are all linked to each other with little stairs and passageways.
Throughout the lush garden, you can find splendid statues of gods and demons, candles and burning incense sticks. Kumara Resort is a magical place in the cultural and spiritual heart of Bali - Ubud. Each alternate Sunday in this beautiful location, a yoga retreat called “Escape the World” begins. Claude Chouinard, the creator of the retreat and Iyan Yaspriyana, yoga teacher and retreat leader, welcome us in their yoga pavilion. `This week is designed with you in mind. This retreat is only for you.
Claude originates from Quebec in Canada, but has lived in Indonesia for almost fifteen years. He met Iyan in Indonesia and they become business partners, and friends. Together they operate the splendid Kumara Resort in the cultural and spiritual heart of Bali - Ubud.
Kumara is not just any resort. It is the residence of the second prince of Ubud, who redesigned the land space into a courtyard filled with religious symbols. The prince, who is an architect, businessman and politician, is a much-respected traditional dancer. He performs the role of Rangda, the Evil one, a very complicated dance, which takes hours to perform and demands much concentration, Ketut, a receptionist at Kumara, explains. A number of the terrifying masks belonging to the prince are hanging in the courtyard. He never refuses a request to dance, and for this reason, he lives at Kumara, outside the town center, where he can meditate and remain in top spiritual condition.
I am fascinated as I am shown around the palace and the magnificent grounds. It does not take long to understand that everything here has a spiritual meaning. The daily life of the Balinese is about rituals, ceremonies and god worship. Not only do they honor the Hindu gods Shiva, Brahma and Vishnu, but also the sacred mountains, volcanoes and seas. Even the evil spirits must be pleased. “It is very safe here,” Ketut assures me. Then he tells me in an almost whispering voice: “They say that this place is being protected by supernatural powers. Should anyone enter with the intention of misbehaving, he cannot leave. It happened once that a bad person came to rob the palace, yet as soon as he was inside, he felt as though he was surrounded by an ocean. The next morning, he was found sitting on a table in the courtyard, thinking that he was at sea in a small boat!” Ketut is blushing as he nervously rubs the back of his neck. He gets cold shivers just thinking about it.
With a reassured heart, I go to my room, which I do not lock during my stay, although my expensive laptop lies there. From my terrace, I see rice fields on the other side of the river. I take a deep breath; I am going to have a good time here.
Our group is an international one: a Canadian who lives in the Philippines, a Singaporean living in New York, a Dutch woman who lives in Rome, an Australian and me. We’re all hard working people wishing to distance ourselves from the cares of the world for a while. The yoga retreat begins with a purification ritual in one of Bali’s sacred springs called Tirta Empul. During the day, it is crowded with tourists, but at night, there are only a couple of locals, three stray dogs and us. Wrapped in a traditional sarong and white shirt, we kneel first in prayer. A local priest presides. I have no idea what the man mumbles, but the atmosphere is soothing. We all have a small woven basket filled with flowers, leaves and one incense stick in front of us. During this ritual, we must put fragrant flowers behind our ears and in our hair. Then we lay the offering upon the hundreds of other offerings at water’s edge. According to Claude, rituals are important in life, because actually doing a ritual gives one an opportunity to reflect on the matters in life: what do you want and what you do not want, and lets you look at what else is there in life. ”The proceedings cause something to happen, much more than when you only would think about them. Thinking about meditation is not the same as meditating. The power lies in doing it.”
Some minutes later, only wrapped in white linen, I submerge into the healing water. Brrr, cold! From eleven fountains, crystal clear water gushes into the dark pond. According to the tradition, one must pass all the fountains, pausing with folded hands in front of each, to ask for healing or to make a wish, and then submerging three times. It matters not that Balinese Hinduism is new for me and that I do not know if I am doing it correctly! The adoption of a personal ritual makes a deep impression on me. The splendid location and the consummate ritual center on release and cleansing…meditating on the things that you would want of to get rid of, that you want to let go and that you want to be healed of, and then being bathed in the powerful flowing water. Ah-h-h!
Drumming little fingers
The next morning the yoga lesson starts at seven o'clock, in total silence. There is fruit and hot water with honey and limejuice for everyone. We start with half an hour of meditation. After that, Iyan gives a combination of Ashtanga and Iyengar yoga for an hour and a half. The Salute to the Sun is performed during the morning session many times, but also other assana’s such as the Tree and the Triangle make us kick off this day with vigor and balance.
Besides yoga, we have many different, wonderful treatments in the spa of the hotel. My first one today is a two and a half hour long ayurvedic Chakra Dhara massage…a special treatment, which consists of dripping warm oil on my energy points. Claude tells me: ”It is not only a wonderful body treatment but also an emotional and spiritual massage. It happens regularly that all kinds of emotions are being released.” A tad nervous about the possible misery with which my chakra's may be blocked, I walk to the spa. My masseuse is a petite girl with mighty strength in her arms! When the special oil is dripping over my body, I feel as if a hundred gentle, warm little fingers are softly beating my skin. When my whole body has been treated, the masseuse suspends a copper funnel above my forehead. From the funnel a tiny stream of warm oil steadily runs exactly on my forehead chakra, Ayna. It seems to last for ever, but gradually I am feeling that the tension is releasing from my face. Somewhat later, I am sitting half naked, shining of the oil, my feet in a warm bath with leaves and flowers, staring at the rice fields. The masseuse washes my legs with flowers. This is the most luxurious and special massage that I have ever had. Entirely charged and deeply relaxed, I stroll back to my room.
It was only a frog
During a private consultation with Iyan that afternoon, in which we talked about all the obstacles, I ran into doing yoga, suddenly tears were running down my cheeks. I had started innocently about the pain in my feet if I sit in lotus position for a long time. Soon we struck a deeper-lying topic - that I find it difficult to release the muscle tension and go further into some of the asanas. Iyan asks me if I feel a resistance if he corrects me during the lesson. Before I know, we are talking about my fears. Iyan has such a kind and gentle way of talking that I don’t feel ashamed of my tears.
Instead of giving me advice, he tells me about his own worries and fears. When he was a little boy of eight, he was once visiting his family in a small village in Java. He wanted to go home, but it was already late and to do so, he had to go through the woods. The jungle is a place where in the dark all kinds of evil spirits dwell, everybody knows. Nevertheless, the small Iyan wanted to go home so badly that he decided to overcome his fears. At each sound that scared him, he would in fact go to it, to see what it was. `And then it was only a frog or a lizard,’ he tells me. Without giving me a direct advice, I know what he is saying to me.
The evening lessons start at half past five and are in silence and restorative. We do a lot of shoulder and hip openers, gyrations and reversed positions such as standing on your head. Sometimes we finish meditating in a circle, where we pass on energy to each other and to the rest of the world. On Tuesday, we are having a silent day. ”Silence can have a very large impact”, Claude explains. “Your senses become sharper and you create more space to listen to your inner world. For the Balinese people, silence has also a special meaning. Bali is the only place in the world where a national silence day is kept each year, Nyepi. On that day no planes will land on the island, no cars will drive and no lights will burn. Even the dogs will not bark,” Claude tells me. Nyepi is the day on which the evil spirits visit the island. However, they won’t find anything. The Balinese disappear for a while and spend their day in meditation and prayer.
The warm, gentle sound of the gong sounds that morning over the slope signaling that the yoga lesson is about to begin. We avoid eye contact in order not to make it too difficult for ourselves to keep silent. All meals are served today on our own terrace. What a luxury! Anyway, it is striking how much attention is paid here to the details, which makes it even more enjoyable. When returning from the morning class, your bed has been made up and the curtains are open. After the evening yoga, the curtains have been closed and a candle is burning. Delicious food is served on banana leaves and beautiful plates. There is always fruit available. In your room, you can even find paintbrushes and paint if you want to be creative. You really don’t have to think about anything yourself. Today I hang around the swimming pool, take a nap in the afternoon, have a massage, write a little and watch a farmer working in his rice field. For me the silence could even last longer.
The next morning we get up while it is still dark. At five o’clock, we are leaving for the volcano Gunung Batur, to see the sunrise. Yoga with a view of the volcano, with a rising sun. It sounds fantastic and so it is. The morning light on the low hanging clouds is spectacular. It is as if the clouds are cascading over the mountain like a waterfall. When I breathe in the fresh mountain air deeply, while I extend my arms above my head, a euphoric feeling runs through me. ”It feels as if you are in heaven!” photographer Karin calls behind me. This is exactly the way I feel, too.
We conclude our stay with, how else could it be here in Bali, a ritual. We bring an offering to the temple of the hotel. Afterwards we bring an offering to our room, with thanks for the wonderful stay. Also, we burn notes on which we have written all the things that bother us, things that we want to release or things that we want to change. Everyone is quiet as we watch white scrolls of paper turn black in the fire. We cover the rest with flower leaves and walk to the river. Iyan throws the bowl with our smoldering worries into the water and we throw, from above, a handful of flowers behind it. What a beautiful farewell. There they go in the rapids - the worries of the past, the fears for the future. We leave them here, in paradise!