By Michele Cempaka
As I entered the small tunnel which led to my room at Kumara, I was reminded of the monasteries in Europe tucked away in small villages in the mountains. I instantly felt the powerful energy of the place that I would be spending the next six nights and five days.
I had heard about ONEWORLD retreats from a friend who had recently participated in an intensive yoga program there. She had loved every moment and highly recommended that I treat myself to a truly magical experience. With my hectic schedule which included work and taking care of two small boys, I wasn’t sure that I could find the time to ‘Escape the World’, but my husband encouraged me to take time out for myself, so that I could reconnect with my spiritual practice. As I stood on my spacious balcony overlooking the verdant landscape and lush tropical vegetation, I instinctively knew that this would be a wonderful retreat.
In the evening, we all gathered at the open-air yoga pavilion and sat in a semi-circle while the retreat leaders, Iyan and Claude, explained the program to us. Great attention to detail had been paid from the beautiful bowl filled with flowers, to all the tea candles lit up and thoughtfully placed on the railing behind Iyan. I marveled at the myriad of colors streak across the sky as the sun went down behind the hills.
After a delicious feast of Mediterranean cuisine, the five of us were invited to have dessert at the palace of Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardha Sukawati which is just next door to Kumara. We all sat down on Victorian style furnishings where we were served desert and ginger tea while our host gave us a thoughtful explanation of Balinese customs. He explained the three important Hindu ceremonies on Bali, which include the celebration of a baby’s 42 days on earth. In Balinese, this is called Tutug Kambuhan. He also elaborated on Balinese weddings and cremation ceremonies which every Hindu follows to honor the dead. These ceremonies are celebrated with great fanfare as often hundreds of Balinese parade through the streets carrying lavish offerings piled high with a variety of fruits. It was truly a fascinating talk that gave everyone a deeper understanding of this unique and rich culture.
My first morning began with an early morning wake-up call for our yoga and meditation session. The sun had just arisen by the time I entered the yoga pavilion where Iyan quietly sat cross legged. The air was crisp and the sky was clear as we all began with sun salutations; bending consciously, one leg back, and then the next leg following until our bodies were suspended in air. We all pushed down into a plank position, then arched our backs into a cobra and reversed the movement into a downward dog with our heads dangling between our extended arms. The rhythm was soothing, yet I felt my body resisting the fatigue of holding the downward dog position for an extended period of time. My shoulders ached, but I felt myself smiling on the inside.
That afternoon I was rewarded with an amazing 2.5 hour Ayurveda Chakra Dhara massage. The therapy began with herbal oil which was gently dripped on my seven main chakra points in order to balance my energy flow and purify my body. My mind drifted off as I was pummeled into a state of bliss.
In the early evening we all practiced restorative yoga and meditation while the sun set over the Valley. After another healthy dinner, we readied ourselves for our journey to Tirta Empul, one of Bali’s most sacred temples where we would experience a purification ceremony. Coincidentally, the day we went was also the holy day for honoring water according to the Hindu religion. When we arrived at Tirta Empul, there were many Balinese already doing Malukat – purification of the mind, body & spirit.
As I entered the cool water I prayed for my own healing and for clarity of purpose on my spiritual path. I dunked under the spring water three times and then arose allowing the water which poured out from a vessel in the wall to shower down upon my head.
The next morning I awoke to the realization that this would be our day of silence, giving us all an opportunity to go inward and truly be with ourselves. We were instructed not to read, but to write about our thoughts and perhaps paint a picture. A set of water color paints and paper were thoughtfully left in each of our rooms so we could do just that. I found myself sitting outside on my veranda painting a small portrait of the garden view. My mind was silent as I focused on the colors and textures of the greenery just a few feet in front of me. The hours seemed to tick by slowly, so I began writing down my thoughts in my journal. My lunch was served at my room so there was no temptation to talk with the other guests. In the early evening we all gathered together for restorative yoga in silence and returned to our rooms for dinner on our own.
I was a bit disoriented when I received my 4:30am wake-up call to head out for our sunrise yoga session at Mt. Batur. I have never been a morning person, but I was excited about the prospect of watching the sunrise over Mt. Batur while doing yoga. We arrived at a well selected location that had a large veranda facing Mt. Batur – the perfect spot for us to set up our mats. The clouds still covered the majestic mountain peak as we began to slowly stretch our limbs and move into a sun salutation. By the time we had finished our yoga session, the peak of Mt. Batur was just breaking through the clouds. I could only imagine how amazing it would be to see this great mountain on a sunny day.
A beautiful breakfast had been laid out for us inside the restaurant which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Afterward, we got on our bicycles navigating our way down the steep mountain. It was an easy ride as most of our trip was down hill. Along the way we stopped at an Aga village – one of Bali’s traditional villages where original Balinese still live today. Walking through the village felt like stepping back in time. The houses were tiny and many still had grass roofs. Most of the village people were away farming their land which is the main source of income for them. We wandered further a field discovering a special graveyard where the people house their placentas inside coconut shells that dangle from trees until the placentas rot and fall to the ground. It was truly a remarkable sight to behold.
Time had gone by slowly, yet day five was already upon me. I went to morning yoga as usual, but this time my body seemed more open and the asanas came more easily to me than before. Something had shifted and the pain in my body was not as prevalent as it had been after my first day of yoga practice.
After breakfast we all took a nature walk which led us through the village of Sakti where we saw several traditional Balinese compounds, temples and a school. The walk continued through verdant ricefields which were flourishing from the abundance of rain in Ubud. Our walk ended at a lovely warung named Sari Organic, where we enjoyed a delicious feast of organic salad, tofu falafels and more.
On our last evening of restorative yoga, Iyan showed us several fun yoga positions that we all took pleasure in. The five of us had all bonded over the past five days, even though our ages ranged from 25 to 44, so there was a natural camaraderie between us.
After class we met for a goodbye cocktail at the living room across from the second swimming pool. Claude made a lovely toast, thanking all of us for taking part in their retreat and wishing everyone the very best on our journeys through life. It was our last dinner together so a special feast was prepared for us. The table was beautifully adorned with candles and a stunning Balinese hanging ornament which had been gracefully wrapped in tiny white lights. There were many oohs and ahhs as one by one we all admired the intricate work of this incredible centerpiece.
On my last day I awoke and had a light breakfast with my four lovely women friends. I returned to my room and dressed myself in a sarong and long sleeved shirt in preparation for the Balinese offering’s class. Everything was beautifully prepared for us to learn how to create offerings for the Gods. I made two simple but pretty offerings filled with flowers and moss. Following the class, we all did a ritual of letting go of our unwanted emotions or attributes which we had written down on small pieces of paper. Iyan made a fire and quietly burned all of our papers in a small offering basket which was carried to the river. It was a powerful experience to watch the basket float by me with all of my unwanted feelings that were now just ashes being carried away down the river. Afterward, we all silently walked up the steps with our last remaining offerings and gave these to the temple at the resort.
Our retreat ended with a sumptuous brunch which had been kindly prepared with healthy and delicious offerings. Everything I had experienced at ONEWORLD retreats at Kumara up to the very last moment gave me the feeling that I was truly an honored guest. There is no doubt that I had been treated to an unforgettable experience that provided me with all the tools for getting in touch with my body as well as pampering my soul.