After a late night arrival into Denpasar, I’m already engaged in an intimate liaison in Ubud. As my arms embrace my puffy pillow, the song of the jungle outside serenades us. Weary face to pillowcase, we are bathed by the mountain breeze that filters through the balcony doors from the rice paddy beyond. I drift to and from dreams until a gong reverberates at dawn, signalling that our first yoga class is about to begin.
I’ve escaped a blustery, wintry Adelaide to a health retreat run at Kumara Sakti, a 14-room hideaway in Ubud: the South East Asian hub for yoga and meditation. My aim? Just to be in the moment.
Beneath a canopy of coconut palms, I head to the yoga pavilion via a sun-dappled maze of steppingstones tiling the tiered terrain.
The only other souls I meet en route are the Hindu deity statues, which sit moss-coated in Dharmachakra Mudra pose, peeping from the foliage. And beneath it all, at the foothills of the property, runs the mollifying trickle of the Mumbul River.
Iyan begins the session, as we become one of the millions of groups around the world about to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga. Waking before Europe and the USA, we will be among the first to do so.
We begin with pranayama, aligning our like minds and breaths. Guided towards an awareness of our natural surroundings, we absorb the pungency of the forest.
I cheat a little when all eyes are shut, watching the swirls of warm incense-smoke dance in the cool of Ubud’s misty morning air. From this open-sided bale, I feel that not only could I hug the trees, but also they could me—such is their proximity.
With my inner fire ignited, my olfactory system detects the aromas of breakfast. They travel from the kitchen to my terrace with that classic Balinese hospitality of a genuine smile on a graceful face.
She lays a feast of nutritious muesli, gluten-free bread, scrambled eggs, a fresh fruit platter and a fibre-rich juice to boot.
Healing continues when I splay across a therapy table for an Ayurvedic Shirodara treatment. My therapist asks me to take in three deep breaths.
As I exhale, she timely recites three extended oms. With her warm hands on my back, we connect.
Preceded by a massage to the chest, neck, shoulders, face, and head, Shirodara is incorporated into daily life in India.
The therapy encourages and deepens self-awareness. By calming one’s nervous system, it strives to help the body reach a state of homeostasis.
Warm oil is then poured onto my third eye: the sixth chakra point on the forehead. The aim is to stimulate the pineal gland, and the journey is somewhat transcendent.
Visions of me wading underwater form during my dreamy state, until I am returned to land through a gentle, yet firm head massage.
Returning to my room, the oil burner, next to a statue of the Buddha, releases aromatic essential oils. And before them, I find a card inserted into a picture frame.
It reads: “To lose our connection with our body is to become spiritually homeless. Without an anchor we float aimlessly, battered by the winds and waves of life.” Anonymous.
I feel both anchored and connected.
This morning, the drive to Kintamani, near Bali’s volcanic heart, takes in fine fields of barley blowing in the breeze like a hair advert.
The area is also home to an abundance of exotic and common fruits and vegetables. And in particular, chillies, which grow from the island’s fertile volcanic soil courtesy of Mount Batur and Mount Agung.
Reaching the village of Bayung Gede, our guide, Tekok, begins our walking tour to meet ‘the real Bali’: the 400-strong indigenous Bali Aga farming community.
Entering a narrow cobbled lane (the village’s main thoroughfare) reveals pint-sized homes roofed with bamboo and corrugated tin. Within these intimate family dwellings, up to five generations reside.
Tekok stops by a family residence of three buildings. The farthest is constructed with 100 pieces of bamboo, containing the kitchen and master bedroom.
The middle building houses the son’s bedroom. And the third building is a store for crops.
“The north-eastern corner of the complex is the most important space,” says Tekok, “reserved for the family’s holy temple. It’s purposely designed to capture sunrise.”
All of the village homes are aligned parallel with a mountain/sea, upstream/downstream (rather than north/south) orientation.
Tekok explains that the Balinese are more animist than Indian Hindus, worshipping the omnipresent holy trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu, (all manifested in the one god: Ida Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa).
Traditional, centuries-old customs and rituals continue to be practised in Bayung Gede. Locals believe that relatives are reincarnated through the birth of babies.
As part of birth rituals, the placenta is worshipped as the newborn’s ‘brother’, who has protected the baby while in the womb and through birth.
In other parts of Bali, the placenta is buried in the family compound so that offerings can be made. But in Buyung Gede, the placenta is cleaned, placed with an offering inside a white cloth, and tucked into a coconut shell.
This is then hung in the nearby placenta forest. At the end of the lane, we reach Setra Ari-Ari graveyard. Tekok points out the coconut shells, hanging from the branches of bungkak trees.
Continuing through the village, a group of spirited, giggling children lead us into a street revealing workers, busy on their haunches.
From a stack of bamboo trunks strewn across the lane, hands are hacking, chipping, bending and shaving this versatile and sustainable timber at incomprehensible speed.
The men are weaving baskets, mats and fences with nothing but nature’s materials. Their dexterous use of cleavers and saws, evidence of a craft handed down through generations.
Balinese offering class
On our final morning, the gong echoes once again, and we congregate, seated in a circle in the yoga pavilion. This time we are here for a lesson in Balinese tradition.
Before us is a collection of gifts from nature, which we will weave and assemble to prepare a canang.
The Balinese prepare these offerings daily to thank the gods for nature, their faith, good fortune, and others, and also to ward off bad spirits.
Today, our gesture is to show gratitude for our experience here, and to make a wish for someone else.
Items enclosed in Balinese offerings include: rice, fruit, nuts, rice-crackers or token coins. But today, ours will be made up of leaves and petals.
Through intricate instruction delivered by Wayan, we hand-make the canang by weaving coconut leaves.
We stitch them together with a bamboo splinter, creating a tray-like box. We then fill them with a variety of flowers from the baskets before us: ylang ylang, hibiscus, frangipani, marigold and magnolia petals — each colour representing a god.
Emotions begin to surface from our group, as Wayan asks us to handwrite onto paper our private wishes.
We join the Kumara Sakti family and our yoga teacher by softly singing Om Navah Shivaya.
One by one, our paper wishes are put upon the fire that kindles within a mandala flowerbed at the centre of our circle.
With incense sticks, Wayan stokes the gentle flame as we silently offer our prayers.
Our deeply bonded group follow Wayan down to the stream—today, flowing fast. We take a final moment to gather our thoughts.
Wayan then throws the group’s posy of cremated offerings to the stream as we all cast a handful of petals into the current.
As they flow downstream, a wave of emotion rushes through me. Tears appear as quickly as the flowers disappear. And it’s a sensory end to a spiritual week of healing in Ubud.
Marie Barbieri was a guest of ONEWORLD Retreats.
ONEWORLD offer weekly retreats in varying themes throughout the year at Kumara Sakti. The property shares grounds with the Royal Palace in Ubud.
Bali water rafting is a fabulous experience if you’re looking for a thrill.