You might be thinking, Katie, this is a weird article for you to write, since you’re not particularly into yoga (or retreats). However, you stand corrected, dear readers- read on for clarification.
Eat, Pray, What?
After organising a pretty last minute trip to Indonesia, I settled on spending a few days in the town of Ubud, followed by a few days on the Gili Islands. You might have heard of Ubud, thanks to its prominence in the novel, Eat, Pray, Love. If so, you’re two-thirds ahead of me. I hate to admit, but I found the book too self-righteous. I made it through the eat and the pray, but gave up before the love, which was set in the town of Ubud.
The novel and subsequent movie (or so I’m told) put Ubud on the map, so to speak. It’s a charming hillside town in the heart of Bali, one of the more well-known Indonesian islands. It’s a place rich in art, culture, and history. I decided to spend some time there as I wanted to avoid the beach and party scene that Bali is known for, and I liked the idea of a few days of relaxing and hiking amongst the countryside and rice terraces.
In Sydney, I do a lot of Pilates, specifically Reformer, and am a massive advocate for it- it will make you stronger, improve your balance, and does wonders for your abs. Literally, I’ve never had ab definition until I started Pilates, even after training for a half-marathon. But I digress. I decided to check out Pilates studios in Ubud, and noted there wasn’t much happening in the area. I was slightly disappointed, as I liked the idea of turning my trip into a bit of a health and exercise ‘reset’. However, I did know that yoga is massively popular in Ubud, with several studios in the area. It’s a popular place for both yoga retreats and yoga teacher training.
I’m embarrassed to admit, I have previously been the first to put down yoga. It’s just stretching, it’s boring, I prefer ‘real’ workouts like running, etc. But, a voice in the back of my head said, ‘When in Rome…’, and the seed was planted. I had tried yoga several years ago, and was not overly impressed, but maybe I could give it a second chance.
One of my faults (or strengths) is that once I have an idea in my head, I need to see it out, for better or worse. So, while not the same as my beloved Pilates, I started doing research on studios in Ubud and yoga styles. After some research, I cam across Radiantly Alive, a beautiful, purpose-built studio in Ubud. I should add I have no affiliation to them, I just thought they were awesome. Plus, they had great reviews online, so I decided they would be my studio.
Not one to waste time, I booked a five-class pass, as I was only in Ubud a few days, and thought, what the hell, I can’t mess this up too badly.
Katie v the downward dog
Feeling a little intimated, I arrived about 20 minutes early for my first class, something called Vinyasa Flow. It seemed to be a fast moving style of yoga designed to raise your internal temperature. (Turns out this is yoga code for ‘you will sweat like you are literally on fire’.) The studio and facilities are huge, part of a purpose built wooden structure, set in a dense jungle atmosphere, with large open-air windows and a vaulted roof, almost reminiscent of a Polynesian longhouse. This provides for a peaceful, gorgeous, and relaxing setting, complete with tea candles and strangely pleasing creaking hardwood timber floors.
Other than yogis from all over the world, Ubud also attracts another slightly unique creature- the mosquito. I had noted on Radiantly Alive’s website that the studio thoughtfully provided natural repellant, especially timely as my first class was at twilight.
In an effort to not obtain any blood-bourne diseases while in Indonesia, I decided I should apply some repellant. Near the mats and yoga blocks were several bottles of spray. Since the bottles were different sizes, I was slightly unsure as to what each bottle contained, and had a bit of an Alice in Wonderland red pill or blue pill moment. The dim twilight lighting didn’t help with this clarification either. Not wanting to make it any more glaringly obvious that I didn’t know what I was doing, I confidently selected a bottle and started to spray.
‘You may wish to try the other bottle’, a friendly grey-haired women mentioned as she passed by, ‘as that one is cleaning spray to wipe down the yoga mats.’
Cringe-worthy moment number one achieved, the hour and a half class began. I like to think I am in fairly good shape, but Vinyasa Flow was a challenge like nothing else. I downward-dogged like no one has ever downward-dogged before, warrior posed until my arms wobbled, and tried my best to ‘take a vinyasa’ when required, which was often. (This turned out to be a series of poses, or positions, that flow into one another. They all involved a downward dog, of course.)
At the end of the class, I felt relaxed, invigorated, and calm, a really surreal but peaceful feeling. The class really did heat up your body in a way different than traditional cardio, which was amazing. Not just hot in terms of sweat or physical temperature from being in a tropical climate, but warm as in the heat seemed to be radiating out of me. I still don’t quite understand, but I loved it. I had the best night sleep I have had in a long time, and I woke up the next morning aching and sore all over, but in a satisfying sort of way.
Continuing through my five-class pass, and tried a few different class styles, including zen, vinyasa, and morning flow. All were challenging in their own way. I’d hoped to try something called aerial yoga, which involved hammocks and suspension, but ran out of time.
The teachers at Radiantly Alive were incredible, all with beautifully calm demeanours that provided near instant relaxation, and classes were suited for all ranges of abilities. It’s hard to explain the allure of this place- the beautiful smells of fresh fruit and sweet incense, or the mindfulness and relaxation provided by the classes, which contrasted nicely with the physical challenges of the poses performed in the classes.
How to Plan a DIY Yoga Retreat in Ubud
I know yoga retreats are a popular thing these days, but they are also very expensive, even in Bali. My five-class foray into yoga really left me wanting more, and I started thinking how incredible it would be to come back to Ubud for several weeks, do yoga twice daily and write. Ah, bliss.
My five-class pass was very reasonably priced, at about $50 AUD. However, a one-month unlimited class pass works out to $230 AUD, great value if you were to go once or twice a day. (There are several yoga studios in the area, and all operate on similar pricing.) This, combined with very low cost of living in Ubud, means you could easily come over for a month for probably less than a week-long yoga retreat in Australia.
Below: Incredible veggie meals from Bali Buda and Earth Cafe, both in Ubud.
I stayed at a guest house for approximately $30 AUD per night, which included breakfast, however cheaper options are available, as are longer-stay discounts. Food could be done for about $10 AUD per day, less if you had a kitchen. At $40 AUD per day, plus $230 for the class pass, you could live and practice yoga for a month in Ubud for about $1430, which is pretty incredible.
It’s safe to say I ‘get’ yoga now, and will definitely try to attend classes in Sydney on occasion. It really creates a strong mind-body connection, and a focus on your own ‘being’ that removes all other stress or worry from your mind. It is a very holistic approach to health and wellbeing. I’ve since decided to keep up the vegetarian diet I adopted in Ubud, as I think there is merit to the idea that achieving inner calmness is easier if you are feeding your body with plant-based food, not to mention the numerous health and environmental benefits.
My first love may still be Pilates, but variety is the spice of life.