Bali Yoga Retreat – January 2011.
When most people hear the word Bali, images of rice paddies, exotic beaches and monkey chant dancing comes to mind. For me, it’s the smiles, creativity and laughter of the children at the Bali Children’s Project. In January 2011, I led a yoga retreat with Erin Fleming of Yoga Deva to Bali in January 2011. We had a wonderful group of yoga practitioners join us from all over the United States. Most of the participants had never been to Bali, so we made sure to include all kinds of adventures in our itinerary.
Bali Yoga Retreat Adventures
Bali is an exquisite island with so much to see and do, and the Balinese are so welcoming, gracious and kind. They have maintained their strong Hindu beliefs and customs despite being a part of Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world. Balinese ceremonies, sacred rituals, and festivals are as much a part of their daily life as brushing their hair and teeth. When we were not practicing yoga, or attending a Balinese ceremony, a favorite pastime was walking in the rice paddies. The paddies are so beautiful, lush and green, and there are walkways amid the paddies that lead to remote villages, temples, even delicious restaurants like Sari Organics café. This became a favorite activity, after leading yoga participants through an invigorating morning yoga practice, we would head out on long walks, enjoying the magnificent Balinese scenery, finding different pathways to Sari Organics, which served fresh juices and delectable cuisine, nestled deep in the heart of the vivid green paddies.
Sometimes as you’re walking along in the paddies, or venture into the lush jungle of Bali, you’ll encounter monkeys. Not to far from where we stayed when first arriving in Ubud, there was an area you walked through to get to town where there must have been hundreds upon hundreds of monkeys! As far as my eye could see. And the monkeys are playful. Just don’t have a snack in your hand when there is a monkey around. They will come up and yank it right out of your hand. I learned the hard way!
One of the most unique things I’ve ever done in my life happened in Bali. Fish-feet cleaning! There is a place you can go and stick your feet into a clear tank full of fish- that nip at your feet and clean your feet. It is the most bizarre sensation in the world to look down at a tank full of flesh nibbling fish and willingly stick your feet in. A cross between tickling and tingling- once you got used to it, it was actually quite pleasurable! Submerge your feet into a pool of finned therapists for an exotic exfoliation by a team of tiny mouths. All you do is sit back, relax and enjoy the tingling sensation as the tiny Garra Rufa fish feed on the dead skin cells found on the surface of your skin, leaving your skin smooth and healthy. And all of the bottoms of our feet got incredibly clean as a result.
Volunteering with The Bali Children’s Project. Yoga Seva.
This worked out perfectly because shortly after getting my feet nibbled, I left my group to go and visit the Bali Children’s Project. When I had originally contacted the organization back in the US months ago, I explained I was leading a yoga retreat to Ubud, and wanted to volunteer with the organization. I heard back from the organization, and they were delighted, as many Westerners visit Bali, but its very rare that people reach out to volunteer. They were especially excited for the kids to learn yoga. With yoga’s rising popularity and presence in Bali, she wanted the kids to see firsthand what a yoga class was like. Before leaving for Bali, I purchased some kids yoga books and flashcards.
After arriving in Bali, I contacted Eka, the Balinese Director of the Bali Children’s Project. In Ubud, its easiest, although perhaps not the safest option, to hop on the back of a taxi motorcycle. In broken English and Balinese, pantomime to the Balinese driver where you want to go. And then hang on tight. We weaved in and out of the streets of Ubud, and he delivered me to the doorstep of the Society. I was greeted warmly by Eka. She spoke great English and kept thanking me for coming.
After showing me around the office and the center, Eka brought me into a room where all the kids were playing. The kids immediately stopped what they were doing, and jumped up and surrounded me with the biggest grins and hugs. They then greeted me with a Balinese song and dance, which was absolutely adorable. The kids were so adorable, about 20 in number, ranging in ages from 4 to about 12 years old. Eka explained to the kids that we were going to be doing yoga, and the kids got so excited, literally jumping up and down.
We gathered in a circle, and sat down in simple cross-legged position. Smiles abounded. I led the kids through a very animated yoga class, making all kinds of animal sounds as we mimicked the animals. We purred and moved like cats, barked and stretched like dogs, and emulated all kinds of other animals. Pure joy! The Balinese children taught me how they make their own unique and different sounds to emulate the animals.. for instance, when we hopped around like frogs, and I said “ribbit. ribbit.” the kids giggled, and said “click. click”, using their tongues to make deep frong sounds. The kids thoroughly enjoyed the yoga practice and were so respectful. Often when you teach kids yoga, its difficult for them to be quiet, and focus on their breath, especially in the more relaxing poses. These children were so earnest and dedicated to being in the yoga moment.
At the end of the practice, the kids gathered around me, everyone wanting to give me a hug. Then, they had me come to the front of the class, and sang me another song and performed quite a complicated dance. Afterwards, they stood in a single file line, and each kissed my hand. So very sweet and thoughtful, as well as initiated by the kids. I could not wait to come back and bring my yoga students! We scheduled something for the following afternoon.
Meanwhile, Eka began attending our morning yoga classes at the Balinese resort we were staying. She was so excited and inspired by what she and the kids had experienced, that she wanted to learn as much as she could while we were there. My yoga group welcomed her warmly, and loved having her join our morning and evening sessions. Throughout the rest of the week, the yoga participants took turns and joined with me to volunteer at the Children Society. It was definitely a highlight for everybody.
Balinese Festival My Yoga Group Attended
Eka invited our group to join her one evening for a local festival in her community. Bali is a country that is filled with daily rituals, prayers and celebrations. You never know when you are going to turn a corner and see people dressed up in traditional Balinese clothing, with fruit piled high upon the women’s heads, clutching ornate umbrellas and singing and dancing to the unique Balinese instruments. We were so excited to join, and went and bought traditional Balinese clothing for the occasion. The shopkeepers were so excited by our outfits, and helped us get into them properly. There is quite a ritual involved in wearing traditional Balinese clothing.
The festival was spectacular, and nothing short of remarkable. Located in a quaint village, about 20 minute walk outside of Ubud. We met Eka in the early evening, and walked about 30 minutes down a short pathway nestled in the rice paddies. We then joined a procession of her neighbors- all wearing the traditional clothing- singing, dancing and marching up to their neighborhood temple. Once at the temple, there were more people dancing and singing, ornate altars surrounding filling the temple with food piled high in a ceremonious and ornate way.
We stayed at the festival with Eka for about 3 hours, and witnessed the most beautiful and unique rituals. In Bali, traditional dancers wear ornate and intricate costumes of the region, and their dancing is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The women dance with not only their whole bodies, but use their eyes in ways I’ve never seen before. Widening their eyes – they move to the music in incredibly intricate ways, and then find complete stillness in their bodies, and dance solely with their eyes. Its captivating. There was so much going on during the festival, and everywhere you gazed was magnificent. People of all ages attended the ceremony, and we felt so honored to be at such a lovely festival.
Meeting Balinese Royalty
During our trip, we partnered with Marcia Jaffe from The Bali Institute for Global Renewal, an organization dedicated to preserving cultural heritage of Bali as well as global education about Bali. Bali Institute is moving towards its 10th year in offering workshops, retreats, global forums, university programs and leadership training to people of all ages from around the world. Marcia organized some enriching and unique experiences for us, including having lunch with Balinese Royalty at their palace. We spent two hours at their palace, and had wonderful conversation with Prince Wayan about his life in Bali- and how to create a sustainable life where the heritage and culture remains in tact.
Balinese Full Moon Ceremony
My favorite evening was our final night, which the Bali Institute organized for us. It just so happened it was a full moon. From my experiences in Bali so far, the Balinese are completely in harmony with nature, and they tend to have rituals for everything! The night of the full moon, at 7pm we went to the outdoor museum. We were ushered into these lush tropical gardens, with torches lighting the way to the outdoor stage. We got wonderful seats up front.
The show began with hundreds of Balinese boys and men, all wearing loincloths, emerging from the sides of the stage, chanting and moving together in unison. Half of the men sat cross-legged in the circle, continuing to chant, as the other half danced around them. Fire was everywhere, with many of the Balinese men wielding torches, as well as fire dancing. The things they could do with their bodies was spectacular, quite acrobatic in their feats, as well as very playful and fun dancing. As the show was going on, the full yellow moon was rising up through the trees. A few of the dancers left the stage during the show, and came right up to the front row where we were seated.. Their faces were black with the combination of fire ash and smoke. One of the Balinese performers stopped in front of me, kneeled down, and presented me with Balinese flowers. As he handed the flowers to me, I was so touched and grateful for a beautiful moment in time.
I will continue to return to Bali again and again. The participants we brought to Bali had the time of their lives. I look forward to bringing back more yoga students to Bali to visit this sacred and beautiful country, and visit the festivals and rituals. Most importantly, I look forward to spending time with the adorable children at the Balinese Children’s Project, and continuing to teach the kids yoga.