A Week in the Life of a Yogi in Bali Quick disclaimer: thank you for reading. I am not an efficient blogger. In fact, I don't consider myself a blogger, more of a creative writer, a lover of life attempting to make sense of my experiences and hope they resonate with others. As a yoga teacher, I feel I use my words well, I'm economical and efficient, allowing the class to feel like a poem, with meaning resonating differently with each individual. Only when I write a poem am I brief. I've not had much chance to write here in Bali so please know that describing a week of adventure here (feels simultaneously like an hour and a year) deserves more detail than a normal blog would allow. There are pictures for those who don't wish to read girthy material and prefer some snap shots. I take no offense either way. I'm grateful the cosmos has connected us, regardless how well we know each other. In short, Bali is joyful loving beauty. You should visit.
Week 1: A journey inward, that's precisely what Yoga is. And what better place to delve into that inner space than one of the most mystical, soulful, enlightened places of the planet? I'm fortunate to be living a dream, a dream of my own and one borrowed by many other envious and deserving souls. As I reflect on over a week in this majestic land I can't help but feel guilt for all those who'd love to live this dream along with me. I so wish I could snap my fingers and place the dream of Bali into the hands of others but I cannot; so my hope is to share in my sincere and deep gratitude for what has been an unbelievable and transformative experience thus far.
My expedition to Bali started first with a big move cross country from Chicago to Los Angeles. A long road trip full of camping, tears, beauty and near danger moments led to us finding a home, moving into that home and settling for about twenty breaths until the reality of my adventure to east Asia was thrust upon me. I barely had time to fantasize about it, even less time to prepare, so all moments leading up to my arrival in Denpasar were surprises beyond even my wildest imagination.
I flew to Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, then to Denpasar, all smooth sailing. I met my lovely driver, Made (pronounced Ma Day), and we wheeled through busy, narrow Balinese streets together, an hour and a half to Ubud, to my home for three weeks, where I'd dive into a 500 hour graduate level yoga teacher training with a dozen or so strangers, Soulshine Bali.
When we finally pulled into Soulshine, I couldn't believe my eyes, nose, ears and mind. I'd seen pictures, read books, watched films, but nothing outside of real life experience can prepare you for the beauty that is right in front of your face, accosting your being with vibrance and pleasure. Geometric patterns of cascading rice patties, tall coconut trees, large banana leaves, coy ponds, the sounds of roosters, geckos (oh yes, geckos make some crazy ass sounds!), Bali dogs, and flowing streams, the sweet smell of ripe fruit and fresh flowers, and the feeling of a warm, comforting breeze surrounds you the minute you step out of the car and into real life in Bali. It is astonishing, breathtaking, drastically unbelievable, overwhelming from the start.
The walking path to Soulshine is paved with mosaic stone, every few feet a sweet word welcoming you home. Be Free, it says. Let Your Soul Shine. Okay! Sounds great.
Sensory overload continues as I maneuver around the grounds, open air, paths carved in stone, gorgeous wood doors and furniture, a spectacular view from every window. A crew of beautiful and kind women greets you from an open kitchen, the smell of fresh juice wafts through the air, a large family style table just feet away, and just below that, the most beautiful infinity pool I've ever seen. All I kept thinking was, is this real life?
The awe and disbelief continued as I was given a tour by Wayan (every first born Hindi In Bali is called Wayan) through the three floors. Large, vibrantly colored and comfortable furniture inviting rest on every floor, exquisite paintings of Balinese traditions on the walls, a breeze following you on every step, ornate doors, sinks and corners of bedrooms pass until you reach the top, the sacred space, the Yoga studio. I've never practiced in such a place, nearly 360 degree views of lush, fertile grounds, temples, skyline and life surround you. At the top of the space Ganesha greets you, there to see you through any obstacles you may face, and behind him, a bed, should you merely want to lay and marvel at the magnificence that surrounding you.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor I settled into my room and without plans or people, I opted for a juice and swim. It was there I met Helen, Amanda, Kristy and Lee, some foundation 200 hour and elective yogis. I briefly traveled back to NYC, to my first TT, my nerves and excitement, all the unknown, and I smiled at the joy of getting to mix with both new and old teachers, all here to deepen their practice, branch out further into Yoga and see what Bali had in store for us.
We excitedly discussed what may be in store for our training and options for excursions on our days off, one of which was the following day. We decided on a breakfast overlooking Mount Batur, a dormant volcano surrounded by lush land and a calm, reflective lake. 7 of us left early Saturday morning to a day full of variety in sights and sounds, the beginning of our journey in and out.
On the way we stopped by a dazzling maze of rice fields unlike anything i'd ever seen. Nearly as lovely and wonderfully interesting was our next stop to a coffee plantation. We were given a tour, a maze of natural beauty in and of itself, and then provided with a free taste test of truly delectable coffees and teas. A delicacy in Bali is Luwak coffee, made from the coffee filled excrement of mongoose, no lie. I did not try the coffee, I don't even like coffee not made from shit so my interest was low. Nonetheless the experience was great, glad we went.
Breakfast was spectacular, I barely remember the food because I couldn't get over where I was, sitting on beautifully painted furniture, on a cliff, with views I'd never enjoyed before. We got to know each other, took photos, sat in awe and then left excited for our bike ride. We hopped on mountain bikes with our sweet guides, some on bikes, some in cars, and rode mostly downhill through villages, rice fields, jungles and temples. Again, I couldn't believe my senses, was this real life?
After our ride, we stopped at the home of our guide for a traditional meal and tea. It was all so charming, full of love and ritual. It had me missing my family and yearning for tradition. The sight and smell of Hindu offerings surrounded us at every turn, their devotion and faith was humbling. As one who struggles with faith, especially dogmatic faith, I felt no cynicism in witnessing theirs, only respect and admiration. They are kind, loving people living with the simple moral code of karma: what you reap, you sew.
We returned to Soulshine and immediately jumped into some yoga clothes, walked the steps to our glorious space for our first practice. Tears welled as reality hit me again and again, I was so stoked to move and breathe consciously, with others, in Bali. We had a first meal together, almost all had arrived, and the eagerness to learn and grow set in. An early morning awaited us, and who knew what else.
Practicing during sunrise after some intense and focused breath work made for the most memorable yoga I'd ever encountered. Something just clicked right away and I was so thrilled this long awaited moment had finally arrived. After we had our first breakfast all together, fresh juice, the ripest fruit, homemade coconut yogurt and granola, and Balinese crepes awaited us. Pinch me again, the flavors in my mouth and scents in my nostrils were too much to bear. I struggled to accept the pleasure.
We dove right into learning, asana, pranayama, sutras, philosophy. I felt renewed putting on my student hat again. I love the discussions, the back and forth between teacher and pupil, feeling like a ripe peach. Lunch and dinner were spectacular, conversations and laughter flew, bonds began to form, goddess love was in the air. Our Mukti Yoga School teachers, Julie and Christy, created such an amazing space to be, to dive in, to share, to learn, explore and extract.
Our first venture into downtown Ubud was more sensory overload, this time in the form of man made chaos and beauty. It's astonishing how you become almost desensitized to the architecture, temple after temple, shop after shop, no big deal. But it is a big deal, a big fucking awesome deal. We stopped into some yoga shops, I bought a mala, 108 white beads, the largest turquoise in the middle, below Ganesha rested, protecting me, encouraging me, urging me forward.
On Monday I had my first massage, an experience I shared with my new friend, a person I knew I'd like as soon as we met, fellow graduate yogi Jen. The uber sweet and friendly masseuses greeted us, handed us these strange throw away panties, baggy bloomers was what they were. Jen and I had a whale of a time putting on our new lingerie and then proceeded to enjoy one of the best massages either of us ever had. Not sure why I even wore those weird panties, Komang was all up in my butt regardless, my stark white crack exposed the entire time. I loved it. Again, I felt guilt, did I deserve such joy and pleasure? Why me?
A recurring theme in my practice and excursions was receiving, surrendering to joy and soaking up every second. I'd feel radiantly alive one minute but then sabotage my happiness the very next. On my journey from Chicago to LA I kept clutching and praying to my Lakshmi necklace, a gift from a dear friend and yogi in NYC. I dreamt and hoped for the same success I somehow fostered in Chicago to follow me to California. The unknown frightened me and in the throws of transition, I found my vulnerability disabling. So many of my students and friends told me over and over that I'd have no problem, LA would be lucky to have me, and other similarly encouraging and loving words. I appreciated them but negated them entirely by resisting, I couldn't fully receive them.
On an exercise during our first week's practice we were prompted to draw/write intentions and vision boards, working on manifesting personal and professional goals on and off the mat. I wrote Give and Be Open to Receiving. Upon pulling from a selection of goddess cards after a morning practice, I flipped over Abundantia, reminding me verbatim to "Be Open to Receiving." The reflective and intense inward experience was throwing lessons at me already. I made the decision to let go and allow myself to truly embrace the fruits of this experience, knowing my goodness and dedication brought me here, and my devotion to yoga and a life of love would take me out.
On Tuesday afternoon, one of my beautiful fellow students, Erum and I went to visit a man named Kerga. He's a well know physical healer in Ubud and after hearing about some of my fellow yogis experiences, I was quite curious what he'd have to say. He had a beautiful Balinese home with well cared for dogs (major sign of wealth here). Immediately upon meeting us he asked why we were there? We were so young and beautiful, he said, what can I do for you? Since we were mostly there out of sheer intrigue, we asked that he simply give us an overview and go from there.
I'll leave Erum's experience for her to share but for me, I merely sat grounded with my back to his knees as he sat in a chair. He engaged different pressure points all along my scalp, face, jaw, eyes, neck and ears. I had no reaction, which he led me to believe was a sign of good health. He then had me lie down as he took the stem end of a small wooden spoon and applied pressure to very specific parts of my left toes. One corresponds to your kidneys, one to your pancreas, one to your hormones, one to your mind/ psyche, one to your heart, etc. I'd heard and watched others shudder or even yell in pain after a fairly light push into a particular section, signifying an imbalance or issue in that area. For me, nothing. No pain, no sensation at all. Again he said, what can I do for you? You're healthy in mind, body and heart, he said. Sweet. Thank you, Yoga.
We took a photo, he then proceeded to give me a quick and tight pinch on my ample bottom, asked if my husband would be jealous and then bid us a fond farewell. Not sure why but I wasn't offended, I was amused. Dozens of other yogis had very uniquely powerful experiences with him, some deep physical and emotion issues they were working out, and he has been a catalyst for their healing. A short number of others had similar experiences to me, no issues, fortunately. So as I tend to be skeptical of these ventures, the more stories I heard, the more it legitimized him and my experience at his home. I feel good knowing that at least in Bali I am quite healthy;)
On wednesday I ventured into town to have dinner with one of my best friends and one of my favorite students from Chicago, an experience I still can't believe. We ate at the modern and delicious Clear Cafe, shared our TT experiences and marveled at the fact that we were actually in Bali. Between meals, drinks and cabs I still managed to only spend under $20.
On Friday we practiced prenatal yoga, taught by one of our lovely teachers who herself had two kiddos and a lot of experience teaching pregnant women. Two of our yogis were with child, so in an effort to truly understand the challenges of practicing with a belly, and to show solidarity, we all placed pillows under our shirts. We had such a great practice together, stopping to ask questions, give insights and check for modifications. My body wants baby big time right now, regardless what my mind says or how my current life circumstances don't support it, so it was a deeply emotional experience for me. I cried throughout the class, my fellow yogis' kindness and support really helped, and made me excited for that time in my life, whenever it happens.
Immediately after the emotional practice a few of us set off into Ubud to check out the monkey forest. It was spectacular and bizarre to walk into this gorgeous, topical abyss with hundreds of monkeys just walking, climbing, playing, resting and cavorting all around you. No cages, no partitions, they are all up in your business. We were surrounded by spectacular trees, fountains, sculptures and primates! It somehow only confirmed my desire for children. Loved every second of it.
Saturday was our day off, and boy did we take advantage. 6 of us slept in until 715 (when you've been rising at 530, 715 is a real treat), gobbled up some fruit (the mango here is so good it makes me cry) and met our driver. We set off on a rafting adventure down the Ayung river. We walked down roughly 500 carved steps, into the jungle, out to the river to meet our guides and get cozy on our raft. Our guide was called Gudai (like how Aussies say good day), he gave us simple instructions (literally forward and stop) and we were off.
There were tons of people rafting on that beautiful day. We stared up in awe at the overwhelming beauty around us. A narrow weaving river path in front, surrounded by slate gray rock formations, dense trees, and thin waterfalls around every turn. Again, is this real life? We stopped for photo ops around some of the bigger falls, studied the intricate carvings in the rocks, astounded by the artistry and dedication, one of the few examples of humans adding beauty to natural existence, rather than taking away from it. The rapids were easy, random bouts of speed and challenge along the way, parts where we got to hang on and yell "weeee," but mainly the experience served as a vessel to absorb our amazing surroundings. And amazing they were.
After 500 steps back up (want to strengthen and improve your calf muscles? Walk barefoot up many stairs, that'll do it quick!), we ate lunch surrounded by more beauty and then proceeded to what I predicted would be the highlight of the day: an elephant safari! This is an experience I'm having difficulty articulating now, as if words somehow cheapen the experience, but I can say unequivocally it was one of the best days of my life. I love animals, I love nature, I love Bali, what's not to love?
I was concerned going in it would feel like a zoo, and elements of it did. But we learned the elephants were all rescued from ivory hunters in Sumatra, and then saw and felt first hand their bond with the kind and loving Balinese people who worked with them, so the day echoed nothing but love. It was beautiful. I knew I'd get to see them roaming around, working with their caretakers, playing with their elephant friends, and I knew I could look forward to hoisting my tiny body onto their large backs and taking a slow ride around the grounds. What I didn't realize was how much time we'd get to interact with them, feed them, touch them, listen to them.
Being hugged by an elephant was by far in my top favorite hugs of my life. I'll never forget the soft, rubbery, sturdy feelings of their trunks; the sharp, spikey, orange whisps of hair; their warm, kind eyes; their smooth, hard tusks; their large, adorable, flat feet; their sense of humor; their tenderness; their playfulness; their gigantic, sticky tongues (yes, I touched their tongues!); and their ability to translate love from one being to another, no language needed. Beautious. The ride was fun, slow, fascinating (they eat 250 kilos a day! All veggies), and heart warming. I'll never, ever forget it.
On the ride home I felt my heart softening more, the weight of the week hitting me, ready for more growth and further awakening in the weeks to come. The people, animals, foliage in Bali all live with a karmic ease. They are calmer, kinder, more loving than any beings I've ever known. I truly haven't encountered an angry or cranky person yet. They live yoga seamlessly, they've taught me more than I could ever teach them. And the journey has only begun.
I'm grateful and eager to share more...please stay tuned :)
OM Swastyastu - Namaste in Balinese