I saw the poster advertising the yoga retreat in Bali with Soulfit Adventures on the wall of the Newcastle studio Yoga for All, an ultimate haven for philosophical back bends and philanthropic downward dogs. I was craving experience and adventure that was totally mine, but more so, an extended period of clarity and quiet, a nut of calm in the turbulent sea of a busy and all-consuming life. I needed time to curl up, space to dream, a moment to be still.
Would a yoga retreat to Bali, in all its madness and magnificence, give this to me? Was I a yoga retreat kinda girl? For many going on a trip like this would be as simple as riding the bus. But I had no crystal ball, I wouldn’t know a soul on this trip, what if omming in groups wasn’t my thang?
Regardless, I took a deep breath, squeezed my eyes and booked my place on the trip. Just me, myself and I. Denpasar is a heaving whirlpool of colour and noise. Emerging from the cool, safe arrivals, the heat hit me like a fist. The city swelled and pulsated as I passed through the shouting of “Taxi! Taxi!” to reach my driver, catching snapshots of Balinese city life from the cool confines of the car. Ribby dogs casually trotting through the shambolic traffic, children perched on a wall to watch, a winged rooftop silhouetted against a hot blue sky.
Families of four ride past on one motorbike, chubby brown legs peeping out nestled between parents, the soft black on their worryingly bare heads ruffling in the breeze. The traffic is manically mad, drivers seemingly impervious to traffic rules, if there were any to start. Weaving and beeping the beetling motorbikes play games of chicken with overtaking trucks like Russian roulette. There is a particular smell to Bali, simultaneously pungent and ripe, an underlay of rubbish sweetened with incense and fresh flowers and fragrant greenery, all shimmering under the humidity like a perfumed fecund soup.
Slowly, the city melted away, rice fields making their serene appearance on the side of the road. In the distance jagged mountains stand guard, mist starting to roll down their sides as dusk descends. We followed the coastline, the sapphire sea winking intermittently around the road bends, the passing villages shrinking in size. Tiny wizened women squat on the side of the road, watching the world pass, large silver fish resting on their scalloped sides in baskets beside them. Children play bare chested and feet, scrawny chickens scratching the dust.
Pondok Pisang, translates to ‘Banana House’, stands between a banana plantation and the sea. It’s open aired; bamboo walls meet cool tiled floors and high wooden beamed ceilings. The sound of waves breaking fills every corner of the homestay, salt heavy on the air. Mismatched furniture, heavy set antique wooden couches and carved four poster sofas are covered with bright throws and faded cushions, patterned blankets and beautiful, handmade wall hangings of all colours. Enormous dream catchers, intricately woven and adorned with trinkets, are made by the quick fingered and ever smiling women who always seem close at hand. Heavy with bohemia, the small resort is an oasis of calm, cooled by a gentle sea breeze and like a tonic after the bustle of the city and the journey. The young girl who welcomed me sashayed ahead silently – long-dark hair swinging like a rope down to the small of her back. By now night had well and truly fallen and, bleary eyed with travel and thick limbed with inertia, everything loomed new and novel.
Through the grounds we walked, thick with tropical greenery, garden lamps lighting up corners, throwing long leering frond shadows. Along a pebbled path we came to a series of two-storey bungalows, again open aired and filled with the night’s noises. My room held a heavyset four-poster bed swathed in mosquito netting, large wooden furniture from another time. Each room and their bathrooms styled differently, eccentrically complete with coral mosaicked bathtubs and dream catchers, faded linens reminiscent of eras gone.
And so the week began. There were 12 of us together, an eclectic bunch and all the better for it – ranging in age from 23 to 65, of all backgrounds and yogi abilities, hailing from Australia, America, the Netherlands and Germany. Lawyers, students, retired professionals, travelers and gypsies, farmers and psychologists, we all held the same wish. To be immersed in a week of physical reconnection, to be bound by salt, sun and sea and perhaps, if lucky, to learn something about ourselves.
Every morning began with a strong class of power yoga, enjoyed in the open aired yoga studio perched high amongst the tree tops, affording sumptuous panoramic views of the ocean below. The food predominantly vegetarian and so fresh, much of it grown and all prepared by the effervescent staff, red saronged and perpetually smiling. It is delicious and I relished in the absence of meat and sugar, my body thanking me for the alcohol-free days (however strongly my brain suggested a gin and tonic would be nice!). Every second day offered activities – a hike through local rice terraces where the humidity shimmered on the horizon, sweat sliding down every inch of my skin, passing small brown skinned boys washing exotic, doe eyed cows in streams, mothers peddling wares holding babies to their breasts. Trips to the frenetic bohemia of Ubud, boating around the coast, snorkeling in deep, cold waters.
But it was the days spent nestled in resort, soaking up the sun and punctuated by massages and reflexology treatments, that afforded ultimate relaxation and the chance to truly unwind. Swimming in the mornings straight off the rocks at high tide, the water still and clear like glass. Floating on my back, the perfect water like a warm caress, all thoughts slipped out my ears and into the current below.
The evenings would blink shut the same way the day opened – with yoga. I had never been a fan of Yin Yoga, normally too busy thinking of what I had to do after the class to reap its therapeutic benefits. However, the classes we closed our days with changed my mind. Deeply quiet, the sky blushing from blue to rose gold and finally a midnight blue, the palm trees offering a faint silhouette as we breathed and deeply stretched our way through an hour. Something unfurled in me during those hours. Emotions hidden and lying low for years were allowed to flow free, languidly lapping in my veins. More than anything, it was the quiet, the deep satisfying quiet, appeasing every fizzed nerve and smoothing tense apprehensions and everyday worries, that wrapped me in its embrace. It was in a place that Yin afforded that an old rosy contentment came back to sit with me. How glorious.
Reluctantly bidding adieu to Bali I came home carrying a kernel of peace in my chest cavity and a realisation the magic of serenity and self-discovery is closer than we think. But first, seeking it, asking for it, welcoming it, remains the challenge.
We are thrilled to feature Emily Herbert as our guest blogger this month. Emily is a television reporter and journalist and hails from regional New South Wales, Australia. Emily also writes for various regional magazines and in her spare time is a blogger (https://emilyherbertsays.com). Emily was a guest on Soulfit Adventures yoga holiday in East Bali last September and she recently penned the above musings about her time in Bali with us. Thank you for your beautiful words Emily. We could not have said it better ourselves.