10 Reasons To Go On A Yoga Retreat In Bali, Solo
In April of 2016 I quit my corporate job to set out traveling the world, alone. I didn't have every detail of the trip worked out yet, but I knew with great certainty that since it had always been a dream of mine to do a yoga retreat in Bali. kicking off the trip this way felt perfect.
I first learned about Bali in high school when I was given the opportunity to choreograph our spring musical, South Pacific and I only become more obsessed with visiting the island as its tourism received more acclaim. I also knew I needed to spend some time within, detoxing my body, my soul and my heart from everything I had been through over the course of the previous year.
It turned out that starting my trip around the world with this particular yoga retreat was one of the best gifts I could have given myself and one of the greatest ways to prepare for what a year of traveling alone had in store for me. For example, it was my first time to Asia, to Indonesia, to the southern hemisphere, on a flight over 13 hours long, and on a yoga retreat, to name a few firsts. A lot of lessons, but with big payoffs.
Whether you need to get away from it all, amp up your yoga practice, take in the place of a new exotic destination, or try your first go of traveling solo, a yoga retreat in Bali could be just what you need.
10 Reasons To Go On A Yoga Retreat In Bali
1. Realign and strengthen your mind, body, and spirit in a serene setting. It pays to take some time to detox, relax, and restore.
First, a word about Bali. Paradise. I'll get into more of the magic of this island and its essence throughout the post, but up front I have to make note that Bali is more than just a place. It is a feeling, a state of mind, and the epitome of a smile. If you are seeking a mental and physical escape or return to self love, as two examples, Bali is the spot for you.
Now, I have to introduce you to The Shala Bali. This remote compound where the yoga retreat was held, is nestled in a rice field about a 10 minute cab ride away from Ubud's city center and plainly, it looks and feels like a movie set. It is a treat in and of itself.
The grounds are comprised of a cafe, a cute infinity pool, small villas with multiple rooms, an office, a yoga studio - with equipment - and lush rice fields for as far as the eye can see. It's also home to amazing coconut trees and lively chickens and roosters; your local alarm clock during your stay.
This property, full of so much beauty, is the first thing you'll take in before practice starts and immediately your heart is filled with gratitude. It was a dream to get to stay at this location and be able to practice looking out at the fields.
I even had the chance to watch a man climb up a coconut tree to harvest huge coconuts.
This was my private little villa:
TIP: If occupancy is not full, you are able to stay at The Shala even if you are not traveling with a specific yoga retreat group. The manager, Jero is lovely and happy to assist you with any questions.
TIP: plane reading: to help bring awareness to yoga, meditation, and their benefits, I recommend Russell Simmons book on meditation, Success Through Stillness.
Another piece that's unique to this yoga retreat and The Shala Bali, is that the included cuisine is only vegetarian or vegan. If you're a meat eater, this can be a great opportunity to change up your digestive system and support your practice with fresh and vibrant ingredients. Plus, it's super hot and humid in Bali and having heavy food isn’t desirable anyway.
TIP: If you are arriving early or staying later and are picking options from the menu, I recommend the vegetable pizza, coconut water (you will want to hyper hydrate), strawberry lassi, the pumpkin soup, and the sesame tofu with vegetable skewers. DELICIOUS!
TIP: buy a travel yoga mat that folds up easily in your suitcase - manduka has great options.
2. Practice with new and informed teacher/students
Through the power of search engines and Yoga Works, I discovered International Yoga, and their retreats and this one to Bali with Yoga Teacher, Erika Trice. I didn’t know anything about her, but when I reviewed her bio and read that she too had a dance background, it resonated with me.
TIP: if you have the time/budget - plan to arrive early and stay later. For all the work you put into this journey, stay, get the most out of it and time the extra time to be present and relax (12 days)
While waiting at the gate during my layover in Taipei, I overheard a couple of women talking about yoga and as a solo traveler may have to do, I interrupted their conversation to see if they were traveling for this specific retreat as well. One woman was not - she was heading to teach a teaching certification course and the other one was. Ironically, we ended up having seats assigned next to each other on the flight and during our time on board together she told me I was in for a special treat with Erika!
On the first evening of practice, we sat in a circle and got to become a little more acquainted - state your name, where you’re from and what you are seeking from your yoga practice in Bali. It was beautiful to witness the number of women who came as a practitioner of Erika's.
TIP: whether you are newer to yoga or have been practicing for a while, there is something for everyone to take away during a week like this. Whether it is learning more about meditation and quieting the mind, or realigning your shoulders for a most effective downward facing dog, it is possible here.
Though the solid instruction and trust in both Erika and the group, I was able to conquer my fear of going upside down and managed to get up into both a hand stand and head stand successfully. Set a goal or intention and you can achieve!
A little bonus treat was that Erika arranged a single yoga practice at the Royal Pita Maha Resort and it was felt like practicing inside Jurassic Park. I’m afraid my photographs won’t capture the magnitude of this majestic place, but it was built into a mountain side and along a river. And our view of the most impressive and expansive greenery was out of this world.
3. Immerse in the culture and you'll fall in love with the Balinese people.
I found a quote by Alain de Botton in The Art of Travel that went like this, “It seems an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by whom we are with, we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely observed by a companion can inhibit us from observing others; we become taken up with adjusting ourselves to the companion’s questions and remarks, we have to make ourselves seem more normal than is good for our curiosity.”
This quote is of course applicable not only to Bali, but in the specific case of this island and the city of Ubud it resonates deeply.
TIP: Bali is a safe place for solo women travelers
When you jump on the back of a scooter or ride in a taxi or take long walks to and from town you can breath in the sights and sounds around freely and in a way that is most suitable to you. You have an opportunity to have a most intimate experience with the city and people, despite its super commercial aspect since the release of Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2010 book, Eat Pray Love. Traveling alone here can open you up than meets the eye.
TIP: Tipping is not expected or can be included in your bill, but feel free to give from the heart when you please. The exchange rate is about 13,000 rupiah to $1. The extra zeros make you think things are expected, but keep in mind something like 50,000 rupiah is only about $4!
TIP: use this currency app for your own money preparation and budgeting purposes. You can expect to spend between $200 - $500 US dollars during a week’s length of traveling to Bali.
The traffic in Bali can be intense and chaotic - people weave over lines, drive closely to each other and sometimes cut each other off, but you won’t hear any drivers raise their folks, throw up a middle finger or slam down on the horn for multiple seconds. Their is a method to the madness. Note: If you plan to rent a car or scooter, driving takes place on the left in Bali.
Whenever I would take a taxi ride some place the driver would always engage me in a friendly and warm conversation and thank me for visiting Bali. In all cases I would ask if he had ever visited the United States and the reply was always no. And in some cases the driver would ask me why they should ever leave Bali. Their love for their island is incredible.
The Balinese people maintain a strong connection with their spirit kingdom, mother earth, and each other all the time. The Balinese religion originated with their believe in water gods and eventually adopted portions of Hinduism, Buddism and Anasim. Several times throughout the day you can observe the creation of an offering placed on an alter or at the front of a store to feed both the gods and demons. They consistently acknowledge both the light and dark in the world and the roles it plays in their day to day lives.
4. The Massages
Bali is also well known for their massages. And they’re cheap too! They can range from 150,000 rupiah to 400,000 ($12 - $30) depending on the menu options. I don’t know about you, but I’m used to steeper prices in Los Angeles, so this was an extra special treat. Throughout our days of yoga practices, many women elected to get a massage nearly every day, if that’s any indication of how good they are.
I chose to get massages in two different places.
The first came recommended to me by a great friend, called Nur Salon located in town. I choose the two hour Venamese massage and was paired with Sandra - the sweetest, most nurturing woman. The massage was comprised of several elements - about an hour and a half of massage, 10 minutes of exfoliating scrub and rinsing off and then 15 minutes of a warm bath in a stone tub of oils, salts, and aromatic hyper-pigmented flowers. Simply beautiful and relaxing. Sandra made sure to bring me bottled water and encouraged me to drink it all.
TIP: you can’t drink the tap water in Bali. Make sure to always drink bottled water. This goes for brushing your teeth as well. ‘Bali Belly’ is common and can throw you off course for a day or two. If you are to have signs of it, seek a clinic right away where they can provide you an acute medication to address the bacteria. A broad spectrum antibiotic can also be prescribed by your local physician to travel with, but finding something specialized for it in town could be a faster healing process.
The second place where I went for massage was located in a hotel near our accommodations, Darshana. This was extremely convenient. They offered massages two at a time in this white tented area outside near a little river and it was extraordinarily peaceful. The breezes and rushing water were perfect elements to accompany the amazing work by the masseuse. Note: the Balinese massages are not the same as in the US in that, they are very comfortable with the human form and do rub you more freely than what you may be accustomed to. But its respectful and nice, so don’t hold back and take it all in!
5. The rice fields
The rice patty fields are not only a beautiful work of art, but extremely functional and community based. The irrigation system is set up so that the farmers can share water to nourish the crops. Rice can be harvested three times through-out the year based on their cycles and climates. And some fields can be as tall as a mountainside. You will often see alters wrapped in different clothes in a field to allow the owner of the crop to place his offering and support what he is looking for in the crop - yellow for prosperity, white for spirit and black and white checkered as a symbol of good and evil.
TIP: a gorgeous and worthy rice field of your time are the Ceking Rice Terraces in Tragalalang outside of Ubud. Arrive right at sunrise to beat the tourists, the heat for your climbing, and take in the magnificence in the early morning sun.
6. The sacred ceremonies
The Balinese Institute partnered with International yoga to provide us with immersive opportunities with local Balinese culture. Facilitated by Mangku Kandia, we received lectures on Balinese culture and philosophy as well as a trip to the water temple and an initiated visit to his house in his village for an opportunity to meet his family and participate in a fire ceremony.
(LINK to the bali institute and to his page on facebook) - they are very into social media
the Tirtu Empul Temple - holy spring water temple
the fire ceremony
We ask from the fire of god for guidance of life. The ceremony is to cleanse or purify ourselves so god can reach us.
The hug ceremony - often done at weddings.
TIP: Pack a sarong. However, if you forget there are plenty of places to buy one in Ubud.
7. The balinese healers
A variety of healers are available, including access to Ketut Leyer from the book Eat Pray Love.
TIP: Your hotel will help you with arranging how to get to his house and making an appointment. The popular healers from westerners book up often.
8. Balinese dance
So beautiful, intensely expressive, particularly with the hands and eyes, and fun! It's an ancient tradition worth taking in in person.
TIP: see the show at the Ubud Palace - offered nightly at 7:30 pm - 400,000 rupiah
9. The markets and activities
At the end of monkey forest road is the sacred monkey forest sanctuary. You’ll know when you get there because there will be stray monkeys lurking outside for food from tourists. It is only 40,000 rupiah to enter the sanctuary and you can be in there from 20 minutes to an hour on average if you wish. Its up to you how much you want to see and need.
TIP: Note these are wild animals in captivity and can act in a variety of ways. Always follow the rules they list before entering. Think about the way the animals are treated here. It might be upsetting to see the animals being constantly fed to draw them out to be seen for tourists.
The local markets take place early in the morning - starting sometimes at 4 am, but they only last until 8:30 am at the latest. This is a great time to buy local fruits, foods and souvenirs - essential oils, clothing, bags, coasters, you name it. It is beautiful to watch the harmony of the local vendors.
Shopping in town - you can find everything from dresses, purses, shoes, sarongs, jewelry, any kind of souvenier and the list goes on.
Toe sox - great in the heat for sweating. Buy them in the US or can buy them when arriving in Bali. The Yoga Barn will have them.
TIP: negotiating is expected. When visiting the market, know you can ask for a price that you are most comfortable with until they settle on what they are willing to sell the item to you for. [picture of the market place]
TIP: Try to find local Balinese artistry and goods, like the wood sculptures and masks or local fabric making. These purchases will be more helpful to the people of Bali vs. the stuff they end up cheaply importing from other parts of the world.
The batik factory, Sari Amerta
Bali Bird Park
Sanur and beaches
Rafting - Telaga Waja and Ayung Rivers
Desa Pengotan village
10. New life-long friends, the laughter and the dancing
As a result of Erika’s coordination with the Bali Institute we were able to enjoy the local culture in a more intimate way with each other as a group. This already opened up an opportunity for us to become acquainted quickly and freely.
Our farewell dinner was festive and balinese dancers (a couple from the same show we saw at the palace) came to perform and afterwards a group of us set out to Indus, a restaurant and bar across the street with an amazing view of a canyon, for some cocktails. Little did we know it was Salsa night, with a live band and a salsa group. They were good and fun to watch as well as the band.
When the band went off we still wanted to dance the night away. So I pulled out my iPhone and asked the manager if I could hook my phone up to their speaker system. And he said yes! Because that’s how amazing and sweet the Balinese are.
Some of us had an impromptu wine tasting in the Bintang market, one sweet marketing/tech guru taught me how to finally use Snapchat, we spent tons of time being silly and laughing Lotus Cafe laughter after the balinese dance, and in quiet moments after practice we took personal time to share fears and goals and learn to be more vulnerable and trusting. And one of my dearest memories was sharing the experience with Erika at the healer. How fortunate I was to be surrounded by such loving and fun and caring spirits that week.
I hope you're feeling ready now more than ever to give a yoga retreat in Bali a chance.
Have a great journey and let me know all about it!