Back in Costa Rica, once having booked my flights to Bali, I started browsing the pages of bookyogaretreats.com to find, well, just that. A yoga retreat. Many options came up, however many were for the traveler with a far larger disposable income. And that’s ok, I mean if someone were to tell me they’d be going to a yoga retreat in Bali, I’d too think of big white beds, and fresh pressed juices, being waited on at every opportunity, whilst enjoying the whole experience with their beautiful other half, sharing a salad whilst laughing intensely. These were the OTT stock photos coming up in my searches, with the prices to match.
As I scrolled the pages I found an option that was totally within my budget, in fact the deal was wonderful; 7 nights, breakfast every day, two yoga classes a day and on top of that, one lymphatic and one deep tissue massage, all just outside of Ubud. I seem to have misread the part about me staying in an ashram.
An ashram, by definition of Google, is “Traditionally a spiritual hermitage or a monastery of Hinduism”. So as you can imagine, pretty intense to abide by and to stick to rules that are set down, rules which I wholeheartedly respect, however I just wish I’d maybe prepared myself a little better beforehand. An example of this would have to be abusing the free whisky slightly on the flight over from the Americas. I followed the instructions and got a taxi to a resort called “Om Ham”, which was across the street from where I’d be staying.
I was delighted with everything as I clambered wonkily out of the taxi, as my bag was taken by the beautifully dressed Balinese staff, and I was thinking of how much I’d lucked out. Maybe I would be staying here at Om Ham Retreat. No. “Follow me Miss Kate”, and I was shown across the road, and through a beautiful gate, down big steep steps and into a jungle liked wonderland, with Balinese locals all dressed in white, chanting in conjunction with one another, as they slowly walked in line around the grounds and up into the gates of the temple.
I was shown up to my room, which was a dormitory consisting of three beds, female only, with a shower, toilet and sink attached. There was only one other student staying at the ashram; a very intensely devout Christian – turned – Hindu, from France, who now splits her time between this ashram, and one in India. I later learned that this French chick gets so into her chanting, she actually often passes out at the shrines. Now, I can respect other faiths and religions, but that does seem a bit much. Surely you don’t need to chant that hard and get so into it? It struck me instantly that maybe we were very different people, and I already felt a little guilt that I knew I wouldn’t be taking this experience as seriously as her.
However, as it turns out her family were visiting from France, and so I ended up not having to worry about her catching me not going to prayer (puja) at 6am each day, as she spent most of that week with them.
Other than the awkwardness of realising that this was certainly no hotel I’d chosen for my retreat package, everything was perfect. The dorm was not crusty and horrible like a hostel dorm, it was airy and spacious, with a balcony to sit at. There was a yoga studio in the center of the grounds, made from natural materials, with a woven leaf roof. There was the Holy spring from which you drank, and cleansed in before going to prayer. You would then follow the path up to other shrines of different Gods, and bow and pray, before moving to another. Once inside the temple you’d enter a cave, and follow the path round to again, visit the different Gods. I wish I was able to take photos to really show how beautiful this all was, however with it being inside the temple it would have been rude for me to do so.
The best part of this, was seeing the beautiful Balinese people going to prayer, holding incense and offerings for their Gods, all wearing white sarongs, and the women with lace tops, and the men with cloths wrapped round their heads, known as Udengs.
They would do this at night, when the sun had gone now and it wasn’t too hot, as they’d chant the mantra; “Om Namah Shivaya”. It was beautiful, however also slightly reminiscent of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, with the way they all moved together to their shrines in a trance. Luckily these guys were way nicer than Mola Ram and his Thuggee cult, and no one had their heart removed, so all was pretty peaceful.
When I wasn’t observing others praying, (I felt this was a nice balance of not faking my religious beliefs but respecting theirs through observation) I’d be practicing yoga for four hours a day.
This type of yoga was unlike anything I’d ever practiced before. I’ve been doing a hell of a lot of yoga taught by white chicks with great, toned, bottoms, however this was more of a spiritual type of yoga. We’d start and finish with chants and mantras, but other than that, it was very intense.
All classes were taught either by the Guru himself, a crazy but loveable bearded character who reminded me of Yoda, or by a number of his students; all of whom were slight Indonesian boys who had the frames of young teenagers, however were immensely strong and fit.
The classes I attended lasted for 1.5 – 2 hours, and were twice a day. My first experience of such a class; I thought I was going to die. They are so intense and you push your bodies for such a long amount of time, however it’s great at the end when you can feel it. For the first time in years I can actually touch my toes. What a depressing achievement.
Ubud itself is a really cool little town. It’s totally taken over by the obsession with yoga, I feel that was massively to do with the Julia Roberts movie, Eat Pray Love, being filmed here. I’d looked online and had seen there was a place called the Yoga Barn, and decided to pop down and check it out, as it promised to be every yogi’s dream; a yoga studio set up with treatments, a shop, a juice bar, and raw vegan restaurant. I arrived there and was instantly struck with fear and the sheer size and scale of the place. There were all these vegan-looking models wearing designer yoga brands, sipping on wheatgrass smoothies, whilst standing on one leg. Almost.
I quickly made the decision that this was far too much of a pretentious place for me to practice yoga at, and for some reason, I did the most pretentious and middle class thing I’ve ever done, and decided to book in there for a colonic irrigation. Have water squirted up my bottom for a reason I’m not entirely sure of, except for it helps put a spring in your step? Sure sounds great.
So I was guided away from the hoards of irritating, fake hippies, and taken to a little hut. I was left on the porch of said hut, to fill out a questionnaire about my digestive health, whilst on a rocking chair, next to a big sign that read “Colonic Healing”. Awkwardly I smiled as beautiful men that resembled Jesus, walked past me and smiled sympathetically, with their gorgeous, toned and skinny female companions, who looked like they’d just hopped out of a sportswear catalogue, as I sat there, hoping that no one read the sign, and certainly didn’t see that the questionnaire was asking me to draw pictures of my own stools.
The next hour consisted of the most awkward small talk of my life, as I laid on a table and spoke to a very nice American lady, around my age, whilst she held a tube in place, and massaged my stomach, as I whined in pain and discomfort. I left that hut knowing that no amount of promise of “spring in my step” will ever make me put myself through that again, and I gladly left the Yoga Barn to return to the safety of Ashram Munivara.
I spent the next few days exploring Ubud, and its’ beautiful little shops and cafes, and visiting the rice terraces, which were just stunningly beautiful.
On my last days I met up with two friends who I’d met whilst teaching in Thailand, who were holidaying in Bali. It was so lovely, and was such a comfort to feel so relaxed and happy to see them, showing that travel really does allow you to have friends in the unlikeliest of places, wherever you may be.
I’ve since left Ubud to travel to the coastal town of Canggu. I’ve checked into a place called Serenity Eco Guesthouse. There’s several yoga classes a day, and the whole place is eco friendly, from the bricks of the building to the natural “soap nut” used to wash the floors. And I’ve just written this whilst sat on a bamboo floor, enjoying a slice of raw vegan cheesecake and a spinach and cucumber juice. Talk about pretentious.
However, in all seriousness, this place lacks a pretentious vibe, and seems like a place that is genuinely just trying to make a positive difference with its footprint, without being too wanky. Perfect.