Eat, pray, Namaste: what to expect at a yoga retreat in Bali
Want to pair your holiday with your headstand practice? This life-changing yoga retreat in Bali helps restore body-mind balance in unexpected ways.
- March 2020
Sweat slowly runs down my face as the smell of incense floats through the sticky Bali air. I’ve contorted my body into the most taxing version of Warrior II that I can muster and my quads are shaking, my outstretched arms trembling, my mind buckling. I’m about to admit defeat just as I hear over the speakers, “Baby! I’m hot just like an oven. I need some lovin’…” I smile and stay with the pose.
When I signed up to Power Living’s “Uncover & Transform” yoga retreat on Bali’s east coast a few months prior, I had not envisaged sweating it out on my mat to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. Nor did I expect to be balancing on my head in a tripod headstand to Dirty Dancing’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”.
I quickly discover that while some elements of a yoga retreat are predictable (lentils, chanting and multiple “Oms”), the days are filled with small – and significant – surprises that turn out to be exactly why I booked the retreat in the first place, held at the beachfront Komune Resort, about a 45-minute drive from Denpasar. The one-week immersion promises “a journey of radical self-discovery”.
Why wellness travel is such a big trend
Health and self-care retreats in all their forms – extreme fitness, silence, sleep, intensive detox, healing, weight loss, meditation and the rest – are on the rise and form the foundation of the booming $941-billion-a-year wellness tourism industry. And while travellers may be swapping their annual beach or city holiday for more meaningful and transformative experiences, the humble yoga retreat remains hugely popular. Like the Mountain Pose, it’s an unflinching wellness stayer.
Later, I’m sweating it out and smiling to unexpected tunes. On our first day I end up chatting with the retreat’s main facilitator and Power Living founder, Duncan Peak, who tells me earnestly, “This week will change your life.” I can tell he really means it.
Retreat attendees – about 80 of us – quickly fall into a routine. Rising groggily at 6.30am, days begin with morning meditation, followed by two hour-long sweaty asana practices in the spacious open-air yoga shala. Next, we sit down to a communal breakfast which is, unsurprisingly, all veggie but still delicious. Mid-morning, propped up on bolsters, we learn about anatomy and dive into more than 5000 years’ worth of yogic philosophy. Breaking for lunch, we have free time to swim, soak up some sun or relax with a massage before we return to the shala for more yoga practice – another Vinyasa practice or a more relaxing Yin – followed by dinner and then evening playtime.
One night we have a group kirtan (sacred chanting) singalong and another, a Pitch Perfect-style dance off. Normally, dancing sober in public would be my idea of hell on earth, but by this point I have already stepped well and truly outside my comfort zone. Shaking my booty and beaming like an idiot, I actually enjoy myself.
But it isn’t all highs. Over the course of the week my emotions ride a rattling roller-coaster – I swing from feeling elated and energised to exhausted and deflated. This is due, no doubt, to one of the main elements of the retreat: an exploration of how the mind works to reduce the suffering caused by our “negative core beliefs”, as Duncan calls them. The bulk of our afternoon sessions are spent working on this and there are tears. Lots of tears.
A yoga retreat is a digital detox too
While not an intentional outcome, the tight schedule also means that I’m able to unplug from tech, allowing me to focus on my inner connection rather than one related to Wi-Fi. I find I connect with people on the retreat in ways I never have before. My fellow students are a constant source of emotional support. Warm and open, we find ourselves having deep, honest conversations throughout each day, admitting our character flaws and weaknesses, sharing hopes and dreams and revealing things that even our closest friends don’t know.
By Day five, I feel lighter, brighter, full of energy. I’m excited about heading home to tackle new challenges and incorporate what I’ve learned – both about yoga and myself – into my daily life back in Australia.
“The reality is no-one but you can make you feel anything,” Duncan tells us. “You are accountable for how you feel.” It’s a liberating idea and it’s one that I’m already putting into practice. The same day during morning yoga I fall spectacularly out of a pose. But rather than berating myself internally, like I would normally, I laugh. Laughter is essential on a retreat.
On our final night, we break the retreat’s booze-ban and have a few celebratory Bintangs. The next morning, following our final yoga class, we jump en masse into the swimming pool for one last moment of togetherness before drying off, swapping numbers and emails and exchanging lengthy hugs before going our separate ways.
A truly transformative experience
Pulling out of the driveway in the taxi, I consider my week. In its simplest form, a retreat allows a complete break from life. In our 24/7 culture, the act of taking time to check in with yourself and test your physical limits offers, for me, more of a recharge than a week spent poolside in a tropical location.
Every other attendee I chat with seems to have undergone a change in perspective or had an epiphany, big or small. We’ve spent a week dedicating hours daily on the mat and our practice has grown in leaps and bounds. We’ve also been nourished by good food and the company of good people. I feel better physically and mentally than I have for years.
With retreat world behind me and the real world in front, I’m reminded of Duncan’s words: “It will change your life.” He was right. And while I’m far from an enlightened Yoda-like sage, I do know that changing your life, and developing your yoga practice, is never-ending. I also know a yoga retreat can spark the beginning of such a journey – if you let it.
Even if you're a first-timer, it's easy to discover wellness in Bali - here's how.