Author: Stefany Goldring
There’s some baggage you want to lose in transit, writes Stefany Goldring
At a time well before I am usually functional or have had a coffee, I’m at an airline counter at Sydney airport, checking in my backpack for the relatively short flight to Denpasar. At 11 kilograms, the bag is probably the lightest I’ve taken on an overseas trip. The same can’t be said for my mind, which is filled with concerns about the path of my desired career and the pangs of a lonely heart. Luckily though, my emotional baggage isn’t weighed because it’s probably considerably heavier than the bike shorts and singlet tops that I’ve packed for a week deepening my yoga practice at ONEWORLD Retreats, Kumara, in Ubud.
Boarding the plane, I check Facebook one last time and then turn off my phone to ensure that I’m completely present during my week’s retreat. The anxiety of being disconnected sets in almost immediately. But, mainly I’m energised and excited by the thought of a week in the warmth of beautiful Bali, an island long dreamt of but never visited, filled with new experiences and opportunities.
My excitement intensifies about an hour after landing when Wayan, the driver sent from Kumara to collect me from Denpasar airport, deftly navigates his way through the narrow stone gateway that hides the resort from the hustle and bustle of Ubud. Stepping from the car into surprisingly gentle heat, I’m welcomed by the smell of frangipanis, the sweet scent of incense and another Wayan at reception.
I’m shown to my room – with rice paddy views and palm trees surrounding the covered terrace, I’m convinced that of
the fourteen bedrooms in the resort, mine must be the best!I unpack and wander the stone paths and stairs of the
resort, well shaded by a canopy of tropical trees, and spend what’s left of the afternoon in the lower of the resort’s
two pools. If I had my time again though, I would rush back to reception immediately to make appointments for as many extra treatments at the onsite spa as they could accommodate – like a Mandi Lulur Floral Bath or an Ayurvedic Crown Massage. The bliss of a two and a half hour Ayurveda Chakra Dhara massage and even the shorter 75 minute herbal massage teaches me that there is no such thing as too many treatments! But I learn the hard way that spaces are limited and they will fill up before you’ve stepped out of your shoes at the door of your room.
A MIXED BUNCH
The first yoga class and the introduction to the retreat and my fellow attendees is held in the larger of the two yoga shalas or studios. The composition of the group is as diverse as the various schools of yoga we practise. There are 13 women and one man, from marine biologist to miner; mothers and daughters; honeymooners; friends; and solo travellers from as far afield as Norway.
The three-walled, open air practice space is already (and always) neatly set up with mats, bolsters, blocks and blankets – everything we could need during a session is at hand, including extras I didn’t know I needed, like the sun setting over the rice paddies opposite. And, after just one day practising in such a calming space, I realise very quickly that any anxiety I have over my yoga ability is completely unnecessary. While some of the poses are new to me, this session and the ones that follow cater to our different levels of experience. Some in the group teach; some want to. One is a longtime practitioner while another is about to undertake her very first session. And there’s me – a self-described “intermediate beginner” who, despite a few months of semi-regular practice, is still quite inflexible and tight as a result of sitting at a desk all day.
We’re given options to deepen poses or try alternatives and this first session of restorative yoga, facilitated by Janet Nicol – an experienced teacher from Canada who is currently living in Bali with her family – is a gentle start to the week’s activities. Over time the restorative poses in evening’s classes become longer and harder but, as Janet repeatedly says, “No pain, no pain”, we’re reminded not to push past our personal level of tolerance.
MELODY AND MYSTERY
The first yoga session is strenuous enough to build a hearty appetite and we all head to the dining room for dinner. More carnivorous than most, I am grateful the retreat menu isn’t entirely vegetarian. Those who are, or have specific dietary needs, are adequately catered for. The results are delicious – locally sourced, fresh and nutritious dishes for every breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The following day I wake in darkness to the sound of a bell ringing. I needn’t have set the alarm on my phone and I don’t again. In what very quickly becomes my morning routine, I lift the blinds in my room and get changed in the pre-dawn light. I pad down to the yoga pavilion, and sit cross-legged, wrapped in my sarong to hide from the mosquitoes, while I sip on a ginger and honey tea in the peace and quiet while everyone else arrives. The morning sessions are led by the other retreat leader, local Wayan Partawan. A former traditional Balinese dancer, his movements exude grace and strength. In contrast to Janet’s firm voice, he is softly spoken. Until we start chanting. Then his soothing voice resonates loudly and confidently. More physical than spiritual, I actually surprise myself with the ease to which I take to the chanting. It’s surprisingly melodic and tuneful.
After the morning’s yoga I follow the schedule provided in my Personal Retreat Agenda. With different activities available at different times, one of the first is to visit a traditional Balinese healer. While I lean more to mystified than mystic, I approach the experience with an open mind.
With curious fingers and some painful prodding of my baby toe, the healer recognises quickly that my mind and body are not at one with each other. His diagnosis is that I am healthy but anxious. I guess my emotional baggage does take up a bit of space! I’m grateful he doesn’t know the cause of my conflict, because during this intensely personal experience, I have no privacy. I am surrounded by a handful of my fellow retreatees who, like me when the situation is reversed, politely try and look elsewhere during the consultation. He traces runic-like patterns on my stomach, massages my head and prescribes a dose of yoga as treatment. I’m in the right place then!
I’m also in the right place to enjoy Ubud as Kumara is only a short car ride from town. There’s also plenty of free time each day.
But my natural urge to explore is dampened by the peace and tranquility of the resort. I decide not to check out the monkeys in the Monkey Forest, or shop at the markets this visit because I know, and I’ve known from the moment I landed, that I will return to Bali, and Ubud. When it’s only six and a half hours from Sydney, why wouldn’t I? Plus, the pleasure of a spa treatment, a yoga session with Janet or Wayan, or an afternoon nap prove more tempting than the noise and busyness of town.
IT’S ALL SO QUIET
I have always struggled to tame my monkey mind but I’m hopeful that one of the retreat’s scheduled events will help. It’s a day of silence, for personal reflection and meditation. The silence is to help us reach a different level of consciousness and a better understanding of ourselves. While we’re not expected to fast, we are to avoid conversation and distractions including listening to music or reading. To begin, we’re cleansed with the smoke from a traditional Balinese purification ceremony, Agnihotra, and to help us avoid the temptation of talking, our hot drink orders are placed in advance, those who share a room will be separated for meals and those of us alone will dine in our rooms. Then, with a final Om and Namaste, the period of silence and internal reflection begins.
It’s easy at first as I make my way from the yoga pavilion to my bedroom. After a full day, sleep comes quickly and I have no need for distractions. I’m soon woken by bells and through the morning’s routine I avoid conversation easily. During the long meditation and challenging yoga session I try to build the connection between my body and mind by concentrating on my breath. Breakfast is served on my terrace. I feel no need for conversation and I’m so determined to last the day without distraction that a text from my best friend goes unanswered.
I begin to write down the fears, bad habits and negative thoughts I would like to let go of on small slips of paper that I know will later be burned. I sit at the desk by the window and paint the scenery before me with the water colours thoughtfully provided for this exercise. It feels like hours have passed but I realise it’s not yet lunch. I start to write down my goals for the future and suddenly it gets harder to concentrate. My iPad, in its sexy silver casing and loaded with games, books and music, tempts me from my inner thoughts. The normally soothing sounds of the water fountains and stream lead to multiple visits to the bathroom. I’m distracted by everything and nothing. I crave a beer: I make a tea. I can feel my jaw tense as I am debating my future, and thoughts of friends and family fly in to camouflage the fear of uncertainty.
An amazing 75 minute herbal massage not only helps the time pass more quickly but soothes aching muscles I had long forgotten or perhaps never been introduced to. I can’t help but say “thank you” to my masseuse.
After the evening’s yoga practice and dinner on my terrace, the only way I know to still my mind for sleep is to read. I give in to the temptation. It seems the medicine man was spot-on about my body and brain being at odds with each other. I fall asleep, eager for the morning and a chat. I have a few hours more to wait.
BREAKING THE SILENCE
Waking earlier than usual, I watch the sunrise on the road to Gunung Kawi, an 11th Century temple complex in Tampaksiring, half an hour from the resort. Despite the hour, the roads are surprisingly busy with people sweeping, setting up stalls and making offerings to roadside idols. The resort is still silent as the veil of silence is yet to be lifted. It isn’t until after our meditative session in the shadow of the 10 rock-cut shrines that are carved into the cliff face of the temple complex that Janet utters the words we’ve been dying to hear (well, I have – the day of silence has been closer to 36 hours): “ The silence is over”. One brave voice speaks out, which quickly crescendos to 14 excited voices commenting on the day’s success, swapping stories with a common theme of being slightly bored by nightfall.
As hard as it may have been, it seems that by the afternoon session everyone is especially energised. I don’t know whether this is a result of the strong poses or a return to the familiar but people hang back after class to practise or seek guidance on particular poses. Over dinner the conversation is loud, passionate and entertaining, and people linger to chat like the unspoken words stored needed to be spent. This energy stays with us for the remainder of the retreat and I see improvement in my own practice.
The final day’s session is fun as we test out new positions and partner poses but it’s also tinged with sadness as we know it is coming to an end. After a moving goodbye ceremony where the fears, bad habits and negative thoughts we wrote down during a time of silence are burned from existence, we hug goodbye with promises of a five-year reunion.
The retreat program doesn’t just deepen your yoga practice, it gives you a taste of and for Bali. The experience was incredibly positive and rewarding for me, being surrounded by supportive and likeminded people, each on their own journey, who started as strangers but left as friends. Kumara is an oasis of calm and serenity, staffed by beautiful, thoughtful people who turn the shoes you leave at the door to the dining room around to face the direction you’re heading when you leave. While the questions around my career remain unanswered and a solution for my lonely heart still absent, I have stopped biting my nails.