The Unlikely Yogi: A week on my Balinese Yoga Retreat

By Sam, @Burpees and Balance 

Escape the World

The gentle tinkle of a brass bell rouses me from a deep and pleasant sleep. I’m awoken to the scent of burning incense simmering to my room from the open-plan yoga studio below, and upon sleepily opening my heavy-set, wooden sliding doors, I’m greeted pleasantly by a simple porcelain tea-for-one, hand-brewed lemon juice, ginger and honey dwelling inside. This is just one of the many humbling gestures offered unconditionally on a day to day basis by the creators of One World Retreats – whole-heartedly inviting you to Escape the World.

When I saw a tarot reader back in September 2016, in the not-so-luxurious shopping centre complex of Warringah Mall, I hardly expected that my so-called “spiritual awakening” as the psychic described it, would come to fruition on an Indonesian holiday, booked on a whim to coincide with my mandatory annual leave dates. Primarily found at the weights rack, I didn’t consider myself the ideal candidate for a week-long Yoga retreat, particularly given my typical-Cancerian impatience and aversion to 5+ minutes of stationary silence. Despite these qualities, I am a seeker of challenges, regardless of the level of difficulty I might encounter. One World Retreats Kumara had a strongly reviewed, extensive list of programs, the Escape the World retreat intriguing me with its renowned benefits. The psychic’s voice rang in my head as I hesitated on the 6th tab of the 14 open on my desktop – could this be the trigger he was referring to?

As it turns out, it was.

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For myself and 17 others on the retreat, Yoga was a blissful pastime that many of us didn’t have the privilege of getting to as often as we would like. Most considered themselves beginners, one or two intermediate, and one incredibly-talented expert – a 68-year old Washington-reigning sassy lady who had been practicing yoga daily for over ten years. I wasn’t sure what to expect on meeting my fellow participants, but I was relieved at the grounded level of expertise across the group, and relished the fact I was only one of four Australians (Bali tends to attract Aussies like mosquitos to a UV lamp). The group of equally ambivalent Yogi’s reigned from all over the world – America, Africa, Germany, Holland and New Zealand to name a few. And as I learnt further on in our journey, despite the drastic stretch in mileage between the places we each called home – we shared an identical yearning for inner peace. And whilst I asserted to the men and women that it was ‘our group’ that made the retreat the special experience that it was – more pointedly, it was not without the guidance and leadership of Iyan and his team that we could have achieved such an incredible energetic connection.

Three and a half to four hours of yoga are divided into a morning and evening session – combining the methods of Pranayama, meditation, Vinyasa flow, Hatha, Savasana and Asana to improve both our spiritual awareness and physical strength. A challenge for both the beginner and the expert Yogi, Iyan – Yoga Master (my word, not his) and assistant, Wayan – offer movements to suit all levels of experience. It is rare to receive such focused physical attention from an instructor of any class, particularly those found in gyms or designed only for aesthetic improvement. Iyan gently guides his students into understanding and practising the link between calmness of mind and folding into each pose. He and Wayan physically and mentally guide the class to develop patience and balance – and will even indulge the participants by taking a few snaps at the critical moment of heightened shoulder stand. But Iyan’s powerful lesson that the class collectively understood by the close of our retreat, was that the achievement of a head or shoulder-stand was simply a bonus by-product of reaching the timeless reward of inner balance and peace.

The program is well-designed and allows for relevant immersion in cultural experiences, without overloading the participants in hour-by-hour planned agendas. From trekking through long-stretching rice fields to sun-saluting a sunrise emerging over the active Batur Volcano – the integration of Balinese lifestyle and culture adds to the experience’s authenticity. Iyan asserts a representation of yoga in it’s traditional sense – the connection of one’s mind with the body, and its connection to a higher power, offering daily thanks for the simple privilege of life. While my Mum was always one to parrot on and say, “Samantha, some people don’t even have feet”, should I complain about cold toes in Winter – I never truly understood true gratitude until this week-long escape. Perhaps it was the energy of the open room, or the ambiance created by trilling gecko each yoga session. Maybe it was the hot, sticky Balinese air, resting heavily on my chest, creating the need to breathe with slow, deliberate purpose, counting to five the way we’d been instructed. Or perhaps it was the combination of everything, down to the finest detail to ensure we felt loved, nourished, unique – that changed each of us so emphatically. This wasn’t done by accident, these details have been finessed with love and effort – and the appreciation goes beyond any words we could muster at the close of the retreat.

One of the most challenging, yet critical items on our agenda, was the Day of Silence. The ‘Art of Nothing’  is said to aid in the contemplation of self and provide meditative reflection on the things we really want in our lives. Our silence commenced from the waking moment of Day 3 – friendships only barely formed and conversations still bobbing on the surface of small-talk. Confrontingly, we each sat in the privacy of our villas consuming breakfast, lunch and dinner in the deafening quietness of a theoretically pleasant empty space. Suggestions were offered to fill time, like jotting down our goals, fears, and the things we wanted to let go of, to be burnt in a traditional ritualistic ceremony on our final day. While the tropical stormy rain dripped heavily over my patio – every minute seemed to move like an hour; my thoughts overcrowding, each individual consideration fighting for attention to be heard, like seagulls squawking over a plate of fish and chips. I couldn’t tell whether my anxiety (ironically, it seemed, the key catalyst for booking said trip) was throwing only me into a frenzy or whether the experience was affecting others in the same way. It was only as seconds progressed into hours, and hours into evening, the silence became friend over foe. I began to clear the clouds of negativity using Iyan’s method of meditation, breathing and stretching. I sat down to eat my final meal of the day after sunset yoga and picked up my pen for the first time that day. 24 hours with myself in repetitive soliloquies and I was finally, with confidence and authority, able to write.

It wasn’t until 8am we were able to speak again, over breakfast – and the group chattered excitedly about the day’s forthcoming activities. It was clear that the connections made between one another were fuelled by this collective intuition for what each of us had experienced. Without saying anything for 24 hours, the silence spoke for us. We knew each other on a deeper level now, and by default, we knew ourselves in a way we hadn’t been enlightened to before.

No Balinese holiday is complete without ritualistic pampering. Complete with two spa treatments, Escape the World leaves no opportunity of detail untouched. Their signature spa treatment, the Ayurvedic Chakra Dhara Massage is a two and a half hour experience, with hot oil kneaded deeply into the muscles, and the dripping of oil onto key energy points (or chakras) to balance energy flow and purify the body. Aruveya is said to be one of the oldest holistic therapies focusing on health prevention longevity and healing of life, according to Kumara’s Spa description. I can only say that whilst I may not feel ‘healed of life’, the method of massage certainly was enough to make half of the group go back for round two, and leave me fighting in desperation for a second session amidst the other participants. I would have gotten in as well, except Kumara’s Spa is so unbelievably good that the word spreads far and wide, and getting into a treatment last minute is competitive to say the least.

The food provided is fresh, healthy, and artfully constructed. Taking each individual’s dietary requirement very seriously (this is a Yoga retreat after all – Vegans, Vegetarians and Cavemen run far and wild) the skill of the chefs is certainly to be applauded. Integrating the elements of both traditional Indonesian cuisine and Western-inspired favourites, each meal is a buffet of guilt-free delight – even luxurious desserts like decadent chocolate/avocado mouse can’t be faulted. Diabetics needn’t run for the hills with all meals promising fresh, organic ingredients – sugar-free unless specifically noted otherwise. Fresh fruit, tea and coffee are provided at the incredibly prompt attention of staff, or a quick visit to the dining room where Wifi can also be found (not that you’re supposed to be using it). Food is often shared across the length of a Last Supper style-table – brunches and lunch in buffet-style, by default encouraging conversation and lively interaction. The dining room is a place we all associated with positivity and happiness. It wasn’t long after the day of meditative silence that we began to open up about our journeys to Bali – what brought each of us here to this moment together. Time, a western-developed cognition, played no factor in how long we stayed to hear these stories out, yearning for more, learning from each other’s insecurities, vulnerabilities and fears – and reflecting upon our own. We found comfort in each other’s tales – cried, laughed and shared energy and pain. It was a beauty invisible to the naked eye, and indescribable to the impartial observer. But it’s a sacred moment of many that I’ll cherish from this life-changing trip.

The Escape the World Retreat was a once in a lifetime opportunity that genuinely changed me. I am hardly the gullible consumer – I prefer strategy over ideology, I prefer action over words. But for those 6 days, I paused, and took a second to open my eyes for what seemed like the first time in 20 years. These were real world strategies that catered to the most unlikely yogi.

One World made me grateful for life at the very ground-level level, from the earth we walk on to the air we breathe. It made me realise, once stepping away, Western society has implanted a subconscious need to rush through life, often leaving us wondering where each day escaped to. Not just a retreat, but a journey of self-discovery and enlightenment, I truly seized this profound opportunity to Escape the World.

Finally, I invite you to escape too, but advise getting in quick – I know 18 eager and seasoned attendees already signing up for round two.

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img_1130 copySam attended the Escape the World retreat. You can also read about her retreat experience on her blog Burpees and Balance (www.burpeesandbalance.com) –  a website developed out of a passion for great-tasting food and a love of fitness, keeping our bodies moving and ultimately, maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Sam hopes that her blog will not only document her own progress but inspire others to find joy in the natural pleasures of life.


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