Last updated 29 December 2020
I sat in the dappled sunlight on a white daybed, looking out over the jungle. My hair was drying in the gentle breeze, my muscles were gently aching and I absently wondered if I had enough time and energy for another swim before my next yoga class. I’d been enjoying the silence – I was the only one outside – while writing in my journal, reflecting on my week to date. Looking down at what I’d written I realised that, for the first time in a very long time, I was in a place of perfect clarity and peace. And it was only taking five hours of yoga and meditation a day to make that happen.
I was on day four of a yoga retreat in Bali. It was my first solo trip that wasn’t work related, so I’d chosen something accessible, relatively luxurious and not too intimidating. The result was a week-long retreat with Blooming Lotus in Ubud learning about yoga, meditation and Balinese Hinduism.
When we came back from a six-month trip to Europe in late 2013, I found myself worrying that we’d just go back to work and lose some of the meaning in our lives. I didn’t want long-term travel to be the one exciting thing we did every few years. Instead, I wanted to incorporate more interesting things into my daily life. So, I made a list – 100 dreams – with the intention of making sure I did at least a couple of items on the list every year.
Fast forward a few years, and I was looking through my list one December. One item jumped out at me: do a yoga retreat. I was getting older, and I knew a baby was probably going to be on the cards soon, which would make doing this sort of thing much harder. I decided that it was time to make it happen.
We’d already booked a trip to South America that year and I’d recently started a new job, so I knew a week was probably the maximum amount of time I’d be able to stay on a retreat. I started off researching yoga retreats in New Zealand. There were a few which looked beautiful – luxury retreats on clifftops overlooking the ocean, or tucked into the bush – however they were more expensive than I had expected and, to be honest, more than I could justify. A one-week yoga retreat in New Zealand was going to cost me more than my trip to Argentina and Chile, including flights. In fact, I worked out it would be cheaper for me to fly to another country and do a yoga retreat there than do one in New Zealand. So, when cheap flights to Bali popped up in my inbox, I did exactly that.
The retreat was nestled in the jungle about 10km out of Ubud. My first impressions were of white stone, dark wood and trees. We were greeted with a cool drink before being taken down to our rooms. There were a number of villas at the retreat, all with small infinity pools overlooking a water temple in the distance. At our villa, the rooms were set around the pool, with a communal lounge and kitchen. Everything was spotlessly clean. My roommate was British and a former dancer (like me) and though I’d had some concerns about sharing a room, as soon as I met her, I knew my worries were unfounded.
I think one of the most memorable things about this retreat was how looked after I felt. In terms of accommodation, I don’t think anywhere I’ve stayed has ever anticipated my needs so well. Everything was there, restocked and available as it was needed. The food was all vegan and delicious. We went out for lunch if we left the resort, but otherwise all meals were eaten there and they were colourful, healthy and interesting.
The yoga sanctuary was a covered room, walls open to the jungle with tinkling water close by. Everything was immaculate, which was good as we spent a lot of time in that space.
Our mornings started with a two-hour yoga and meditation practice, followed by breakfast. We then had a workshop focusing on some aspect of yogic philosophy. After that, the afternoons we had the afternoons free. A shuttle ran to Ubud daily, and once a few of us decided to go out to visit the Tegallalang rice terraces. Our next yoga and meditation session started at 4.30pm and continued until dinner. Our evenings were generally free for swimming, chatting and lounging around the resort, although on our last night, a small group of us went to a bar in Ubud for some drinks (we felt like we were bad yogis for doing that).
This schedule meant we were practicing yoga or meditating for upwards of five hours a day, which was considerably more than I was used to. While the physical practice was at a beginner – intermediate level and easier than I was used to, I found the simple movements reassuring and they helped me to maintain a meditative frame of mind throughout the sequence. I’ve meditated since I was a child, but I really valued the opportunity to set aside that much time for meditation – it’s not something I’ve managed to do very often in my life. Usually I just snatch 20 minutes or half an hour for meditation in the mornings or before I go to sleep.
The workshops in yogic philosophy covered the fundamentals. We started with the four paths of yoga: Karma Yoga – the yoga of action and selfless service; Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of devotion; Rāja Yoga – the yoga of meditation; and Jñāna Yoga. From there, we went to examine the eight limbs of yoga in more detail.
We were taught and became comfortable using two mantras, numerous pranayama and meditation techniques and were given the basics to practice asana by ourselves on a daily basis. We also had a number of discussions about how to incorporate this sense of the divine into our everyday lives and how these paths of yoga were apparent in the practices of Balinese Hinduism. We also practiced a number of different yoga styles including hatha, vinyasa, yin, yoga nidra and restorative yoga.
One of the highlights of the retreat was our visit to the Tirta Empul water temple. We arrived relatively early in the morning, and a local monk explained the significance of the temple and the ritual to us. Then we were invited to participate in the water purification ritual, making our offerings and following the monk through the pools and cleansing ourselves in the seven fountains. It was a beautiful and peaceful experience, the temple almost empty when we were there. As we left, the space was starting to fill with people, and I was grateful we’d had that quiet time to connect with the place and its history.
After a week of yoga and meditation, I can honestly say I’ve never felt that zen before in my life. I was happy and free. Nothing bothered me. It didn’t matter if the yoga classes were too easy, or if the heat and humidity in Bali made me bloated and uncomfortable (it was winter in New Zealand). Everything was peaceful and everything was perfect and all I wanted to do was take that feeling and those intentions home with me. And that’s exactly what I did… and it even lasted for a month or two, until I became pregnant and started a whole new rollercoaster of hormones and emotions.
I also maintained my yoga practice, almost on a daily basis, a habit I had had, but fell out of earlier that year. That was something that continued through my pregnancy, although it has become a bit more sporadic as I’ve started to juggle motherhood, work and the other distractions of life. When that happens, I try and find my old cue cards from the retreat and pick things up from the beginning again.
After spending that time in Bali, a couple of things became very clear to me: next time, I want to do a silent meditation retreat and I want to do my yoga teacher training (preferably in a residential course). These goals are still on my list, but aren’t practical at the moment, as my son is still very little. When he gets older, though, I know I’ll be back.