Bali, Indonesia: 8 Can’t Miss Experiences for the Traveling Yogi

bali

As originally published on YogaTravelTree.com.

People from all over the world flock to Bali for its lush landscape, crystal blue waters and to connect with its long history as a healing and spiritual center. It is a soft, safe place to land for the spiritual seeker and offers many opportunities for the international yogi and yogini.

Find Your Center in Ubud

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Rich in art and culture with a long history as a hub for natural medicine and healing, Ubud is the spiritual center of Bali. It is the perfect place to restore from long hours of travel, begin your journey, find your footing and ground back into your uprooted center of self. Gamelan music performances, cultural dances and leisurely strolls along the avenues watching the grinning Balinese working on their art and crafts are perfect ways to get into the spirit of the island and begin to understand its rich culture. With the excitement and energy you bring to the beginning of a trip, you’ll enjoy wandering through Monkey Forest, hiking around the area and visiting local artists in working studios. Make sure to spend some time sipping coffee or a smoothie at one of the many cafés backing up to the lush and peaceful rice paddies. There are also a wide variety of yoga classes available in Ubud and Yoga Barn is a notorious stop for yoga inspired travelers.

Get quiet and go Within at Balian Beach

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This rich, black sand beach is off the beaten path and offers its low key travelers majestic waves, long beaches, sacred waters, lush tropical forests and a peace perfect for meditation and self reflection. There is a drastic separation here from the commercialism and tourists you’ll find in other parts of the island. Come here when you’re ready to go deep within and have some peaceful alone time. Yoga classes, healthful meals and retreats are close by at Shankari’s Bali Retreat.

Take in a Spiritual Sunset at Tanah Lot Temple

One of seven sea temples around the island of Bali and one of the most important temples for the Balinese, Tanah Lot brings in a large number of tourists in the high season. As one of the most recommended places to go, you’ll want to make sure to bring a little cash and a lot of patience for the local vendors and their wares. There are many opportunities from the surrounding areas to go for a day trip and take in a stunning sunset. Wear your water shoes, you’ll have to get your feet wet to get to the little rock/island temple, but the excursion is well worth it.

Let Your Spirit Soar Atop Mount Agung

When you’re ready to take your spirit to the next level, book a guide and hike up this ancient but active volcano. It is the highest mountain on the island and the place with the most spiritual significance for the Balinese. The Besakih temple on Mount Agung miraculously survived the devastating eruption in 1963 reinforcing its spiritual substance for the island population. Begin your climb in the lush forest at the base and make your way up through the barren volcanic rock at the top giving way to spectacular views. There are three intermediate to advanced climbing routes, guides should be organized in advance.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Padangbai

This port town is the perfect point to intersect with other travelers on their way out to the exterior islands. This small backpackers spot is a high energy and transient place to go when you’re ready to get moving and need direction; come to Padangbai and let it launch you into your next adventure. Spend the day at Blue Lagoon Beach then charter a small boat out to the Gili Islands or Nusa Lembongan. Make sure to negotiate a snorkel as part of the ride.

Return to Civilization by way of Kuta & Seminyak

Kuta is a bustling city with the best nightlife in Bali. When you’ve been secluded on a quiet island for weeks, it’s just the ticket to get you back into the swing of civilization and get socialized and ready to re-integrate into the world. There are many interesting spots where you can spend your remaining rupiah on a hot shower, some fresh seafood and a live show during dinner on Jimbaran Beach.

Spend a Day at the Beach in Sanur

When you’re ready for a break from adventuring, this upscale resort town offers one of the biggest and best beaches in Bali. You can sit in a lounge chair on the beach or swing in a hammock, frozen cocktail in hand. There is a long stretch of oceanfront boardwalk, ideal for gift shopping or a romantic stroll. The sand in Sanur is white and soft, not rocky underfoot like most other beaches on the island. There are lots of places in town for healthy eats and a beautiful spot for yoga on the beachfront at Power of Now Oasis.

Get Back to Basics on the Island of Nusa Lembongan

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Escape the main island and ferry or charter a boat out to Nusa Lembongan to experience the simplicity of island life on this speck of map. You’ll spend easy days napping, diving, doing yoga, sipping smoothies and watching beautiful sunsets. Rent a bicycle and cruise through the mangroves to the Beach Club at Sandy Bay for lunch, a cocktail and a swim overlooking a stunning ocean view. On Lembongan you’ll witness the simple life of locals who work as seaweed farmers in this small working town. If you’re a diver, spoil yourself in the crystal waters with instructors and masters at Big Fish Diving and get to a yoga class with Yoga Travel Tree writer Caroline Layzell at Yoga Shack.

When traveling in Bali, it’s important to take advantage of the balanced experience the island allows for. Spend some quiet, healing moments in reflection, meditation and yoga and then explore her many opportunities for adventure, diving, climbing, snorkeling and surfing. Bali is a special place. Enjoy your exploration of her countless treasures.

Off the Beaten Path: A Bali Yoga Retreat

bali retreatAs originally published on YogaTravelTree.com

315704_10150425029770086_1095314045_nI left the bustling art town of Ubud and rode for 2 exhausting hours in a non-airconditioned van in sticky hot temperatures. I was on my way to Shankari’s Bali Retreat in Suraberata, a place so off the beaten track, not even my local driver knew quite where we were headed. Exhausted as I was, I arrived at the retreat and felt immediately at peace. The sprawling compound sat in the middle of a tropical jungle, a short walk to a rushing river that opens into the sea over a wide black sand beach. This place held a sort of spiritual magic and presence; it felt sacred and I was anxious to get settled and regroup after my travel across the island.

The Balinese are always smiling and a helpful staff member with a familiar broad grin showed me to my Ganesha Yin Yang bungalow. The room was decadent compared to the backpacker accommodations in Ubud and still affordable on my budget, although only for a couple of nights at the $30 off-season special rate.

My bed was draped in white mosquito netting and I had a private patio overlooking the jungle below. I unloaded my heavy pack onto the wood floor and went to sit out there, letting the ringing in my head soften with the jungle’s heavy sense of peace and quiet stillness. It was the first peace I’d had since my journey began.

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I headed down to the beach and held up my loose pant-legs as the water rushed across my shins and my heels sunk into the heavy black sand. An ancient part of me wondered at the audacity of wearing white pants to a black sand beach on a rainy day, but the new part, the free part, laughed and her heart pounded with happiness and liberation. I’d never seen the river meet the sea before, though I’ve seen it many times since. It felt so indicative of my life at the time, like a metaphor. It felt as if the current were trying to take me to a bigger and broader set of experience and I was in awe that I’d never seen the expanse of opportunity laid out before me this way.

Here in this quiet retreat, off the beaten tourist path, Bali was beginning to heal me. It was working to shape this new version of myself and I was letting the rapid current soften the hard stones around my soul and erode the walls built up to protect my heart. I felt the place working on me like a masseuse and I knew, standing there in the river, looking out at the Balian Sea, that I would never be the same and that was exactly why I came; to be changed.

Vrksasana: Balancing Life On and Off the Mat

On a blustery day there is movement in everything the wind touches. Even the river seems to be carried faster by the rushing air. Nothing in nature is still except the trunks of the strong trees; they are solid, constructed by God and the universe to withstand the torments of nature. We are built this way too. Through experience, the roots of who we are become deeper and stronger making us more resilient to the major blows as we age and grow. These roots hold us steady when the winds of change and challenge arise. Our roots, an ever expanding system of support, allow us to stand alone and stand strong in the face of judgment and adversity. Our roots keep us balanced and provide the spiritual sustenance we need to learn and grow and experience the world using our full span of branches, blooming above ground.

Photo Credit: SAMsāra Yogā.

Photo Credit: SAMsāra Yogā

In yoga, the slow and concentrated movement into Vrksasana simulates the growth of a tree. If the foundation and roots are solid, the tree will stand healthy and strong. This is the same way we feel in Vrksasana (tree pose) on the days when we are mentally and physically balanced. Achieving this state is hard though, whether you’re balancing on one leg or juggling kids, job, spouse and a social life. As in yoga, balance is about practice and using your tools of focus, concentration and determination which are key in achieving results on or off the mat. When the mind is single-pointed on a purpose, all the distractions fall away and your full energy lies with your intention. One success leads to another and another and next thing you know, you’re standing on one leg, one arm, your head or you’re done with work by 5:00 with kids in bed by 8:00 so you can snuggle with the hubby or get a glass of wine with the girls. The first step is seeking balance in whatever area of your life feels like a runaway train.

You don’t need experience in yoga to practice Vrksasana. The biggest challenge of this pose, is being nice to yourself by not getting frustrated when you fall out of balance…and you will fall out of balance. We fall out of balance in more ways than one every day. Your efforts with Tree Pose will help curb this sense of frustration on a mental and physical level so you can fall back into step, keep moving, keep trying, and keep growing. Remember that as you experiment with Vrksasana.

As with all postures, be mindful of the limitations of your body. Be careful if you have weak ankles and stand next to or against a wall if you are prone to dizziness, have vertigo or if you feel unsteady for any reason. Choose a space that has firm flooring and that is unobstructed by furniture or other objects. Read the instruction completely before moving into the posture.

Begin growing into Vrksasana by standing with both feet together, visualizing them rooting through the floor into the earth, the four corners of each foot evenly holding the weight of your body. Lift your toes and feel the firm pressure in the balls and heels of your feet. Replace your toes on the ground and lift your kneecaps. Feel the strength growing upward as your quadriceps are engaged. Visualize that strength moving up through the roots you planted with your feet. Tuck your tailbone under and engage your core, feeling yourself rise and grow taller. Roll your shoulders down your back, elongating your neck. Your chin is level with the earth and your face is relaxed. Your arms are relaxed at your sides and your hands dangle at the ends like the leaves on a branch.

Feel the way you are planted and balanced, yet flexible as a tree which might sway with the wind. Close your eyes and spend some time here tuning into your body. Trees need oxygen, so remember to take in deep breaths, expanding your belly like a balloon and sending the air up through the ribcage of the thoracic region and into the chest. When your body is full of oxygen, compress the air out from the chest down through the ribcage and use the abdominal muscles to press it out.

Once you feel firmly rooted, bring your hands to your hips. Reach for your right ankle with your right hand and place the sole of your right foot on your inner left thigh, as close to your perineum as possible with the right knee pointed out to the side. If this is too difficult, you can bring the sole of your foot to your calf, but never against the inside of your knee. For an easier modification, flex your toes against the floor and place your right heel against your left ankle like a kickstand.

Wherever you begin, as your foot rises up your leg, visualize yourself energetically growing, as a tree, from your roots firmly planted on the earth. Imagine the steadiness being initiated from under the ground and up through your planted foot and standing leg. When you are balanced, bring the hands to prayer, palms pressed together, at heart center. Remember to keep breathing and not to hold your breath. When you are steady here, slowly begin to grow your arms overhead, keeping the palms pressed together and straightening your arms next to your ears. As with all things in our lives, it helps to have a point of focus. As my yoga teacher said during my training in India, “Find your coconut.” Find something in front of you to concentrate your gaze and focus your energy toward. As you stand with strength and purpose, maybe on your first try, maybe on your 50th, imagine yourself as a tree standing strong against the rain, wind and snow, transforming with the challenges of every season; standing strong, alone and powerful against them.

To come out, inhale deeply. As you exhale, slowly begin to lower the raised arms back to heart center. As you release your arms to your sides, slowly let your right foot slide back down to the floor in a controlled manner. Take a few deep breaths, shake your legs out and attempt the other side.

A tree represents steadiness. It’s hard to imagine a tree being unbalanced or having a scattered mind. When you’re feeling at your most restless, unsure, worried or out of control, envision yourself as a tree. Regular practice of Vrksasana helps us develop poise, concentration and single-pointed focus. You can practice this same concentration while sitting at your desk by closing your eyes and turning your awareness to your breath. When you concentrate on that one thing, your breath, your mind begins to become still. In quiet and stillness the mind is reset and the answers to life’s problems become clear as you become mentally and spiritually balanced.

Thanks to Kru Sam and SAMsāra Yogā in Bankok for the beautiful image in this post. Visit www.facebook.com/samsarayogashala for more information and photos.

This article was originally published in Soulwoman eMagazine. Visit the Soulwoman Sanctuary online to find the current issue at www.soulwomansanctuary.com.