Here’s What REALLY Happens at a Yoga Retreat [My Own Experience]
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Though I have been practicing yoga on and off for the past decade or so, I’ve never really been all that ‘serious’ about the practice. Nevertheless, it has always intrigued me, which explains why I kept on returning to it time and again.
Truth be told, I’ve always wanted to go to a yoga retreat but excuses kept getting in the way. I tell myself that I don’t have the time and so forth but a part of me was also a bit fearful about going through with the experience.
One of my prevalent fears is “what if it turns out to be not at all what I expected it to be?”. This is usually followed by thoughts such as “it’s going to be a waste of time”, “it’s going to be too intense”, and “what if you injure yourself?”.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that these negative thoughts gradually faded away. My visits to the BaliSpirit festival in 2017 and Yoga Barn in Ubud the following year also played a role in evolving the fear I once had to something more positive – curiosity.
So, when an opportunity to partake in a yoga retreat in Bali presented itself, I simply couldn’t grab it fast enough.
Fast forward to my flight to Bali, I was utterly brimming with excitement. But rather than having all sorts of expectations, I decided that it’s best to kick all expectations to the curb and go into the experience with an open mind (and heart) instead.
Bali is, without a doubt, one of my favorite travel destinations and though this trip marked my 12th, this is the first time that I would venture to remote parts of Tabanan, a regency located in the west part of the island. This region is where the yoga retreat is held.
As I sat back and took in the beautiful landscapes along the scenic route from the airport to Seksadan village in Tabanan, it became clear to me that there’s still much that I have yet to explore in the Island of the Gods.
The Yoga Retreat Experience
It may sound overly optimistic but as soon as I stepped out of the car, I just knew that I was going to have a wonderful time.
While the views of the lush paddyfields were even better than what I had seen in photos, what gave me this reassuring feeling was the warm and genuine smiles I was greeted with both from the Balitrees staff as well as the retreat’s attendees.
Once I dropped my suitcase at the lovely and cozy villa where I would be staying at for the 4 days and 3 nights retreat, I sat with Dewi, the friendly Balitrees manager. She gave me a 10 minute ‘orientation’ on the retreat agenda and informed me of the next activity – an afternoon yoga session was to begin in 5 minutes.
I was still a bit tired from the early flight and had yet to settle in, so I decided to forgo the session. “Don’t worry, we’re very flexible, you can pick and choose what you want to do while you’re here.” Dewi said with a smile. I couldn’t help but smile back and sigh with relief upon hearing that I’m not mandated to follow a set schedule.
After a quick rest at the villa, I headed back out to get myself more acquainted with the retreat’s facilities. The ‘main’ area of Balitrees comprises of 5 villas, a shared semi-outdoor lounge and dining area as well as an office & a kitchen. There are also additional accommodation options in the form of homestays and a stand alone house located within walking distance of the main area.
I took in a deep breath as I enjoyed the spectacular views of the paddy fields surrounding me. From where I stood, they stretched as far as my eyes could see and I literally felt any stress I had on my body slowly melt away.
Image credit: Kirrilee Sunderland
Before long, the other retreat participants returned from the yoga session and it was time to decide on the next activity. Most of us, myself included, opted for getting a massage off site while the rest prefered to have free time to read, play card games, or simply lounge around before dinner time.
The massage turned out to be just what I needed to rejuvenate myself. When we returned, dinner was ready and we all gathered to enjoy the food that was waiting for us.
Since some of the participants were vegan, the Balitrees team adjusted their menu accordingly. As most people were not vegans, there’s always at least one non-vegan option prepared for each meal. Either way, each of the traditional Balinese/Indonesian dish was always freshly prepared from scratch.
In general, the meals were healthier than what I usually consume on a daily basis. Suffice to say, I enjoyed a balanced diet which included ample servings of fruits and vegetables throughout my stay and I did not mind it one bit.
Mealtimes are one of the things I most cherished. Other than the delicious food, the company was what made it extra special. Though people continuously come and go throughout my stay, I was able to get to know many of them on a personal level.
During mealtime, 8-12 people from different countries as well as various backgrounds and beliefs, came together. Though we would usually speak English to each other, sometimes, you could hear conversations in multiple languages happening across the table. It brings a wide smile to my face that though we were essentially strangers just mere hours ago, it was so easy to open up to each other beyond the usual ‘superficial’ topics.
After dinner, we would continue our talks covering everything from our yoga practice and travel experiences to our insecurities as well as our hopes and dreams. We collectively agreed that it is a rare occurence that we get to connect and spend time with such likeminded and phenomenal souls. It was something to be grateful for and definitely take advantage of while we can!
The next morning, a handful of participants and I decided to catch the sunrise. Some people who had arrived at the retreat a couple of days before me shared that it’s time well spent. As I’m an early bird, this was a no brainer. About 20 minutes before the sunrise, we walked up a bit to get to a spot where we could have a clear view of this natural spectacle – and I can attest that it was indeed well worth it.
Image credit: Lim Sok Yik (Kelly)
Feeling high on life (and fresh air), we returned for breakfast and a bit of free time before a morning yoga session. Balitrees specializes on a local style of yoga (Wakuturu yoga) which combines Pencak Silat, an Indonesian martial arts discipline and various asanas that are commonly found in other styles of yoga. This style is local to Bali and the owner, Adiwiguna I Gede, happens to be an avid practitioner of both Wakuturu yoga and Pencak Silat.
Once the session began, it became clear to me as to how this style of yoga and other commonly practiced styles such as Hatha or Yin Yoga differ. We would begin with some breathing exercises derived from Pencak Silat and some Balinese mantras before moving on to asanas. The asanas, however, I found to be quite familiar – the routine included sun salutations to the more challenging crow pose or the headstand.
As this is a beginners friendly retreat, the instructor did an excellent job pacing themselves so students of various flexibility and skill level could keep up. They do not push anyone to do more than what they’re capable of. Rather, they encourage each of us to have patience while slowly but surely work on our practice.
Throughout the years, I was able to mostly maintain my flexibility, so I was able to do most of the routine with relative ease. This, however, is not the case when it comes to any pose that involves my lower back.
We also found out that those who run or play sports regularly, are often at a disadvantage as some parts of their muscles are used a lot more often than others, leading to stiffness. We were all able to identify our ‘pain points’ as we went through the asanas and provided with some insights as to how we are able to loosen these muscles and become more flexible.
One of my favorite parts of the sessions was the guided meditation which wrapped up the full routine. I’ve been a meditation practitioner for years now and am always elated when I am able to learn a different way of meditating. During one of the sessions, one of the instructors even taught me a bit about Tali Rasa (Balinese Tai Chi) meditation, a type of moving meditation that I am now keen to learn more of.
There are two daily yoga sessions – one in the morning and the other, in the afternoon. With a duration of about 1 ½ hours each, they’re usually held at a traditional hut about a minute walk from the retreat’s main area. However, participants would also be able to take their afternoon practice to the beach at least once over the course of their retreat.
As the drive to Balian Beach, a picturesque beach with stunning black sand, takes about half an hour from the retreat, it pretty much explained why yoga by the beach is not an every day option. Nevertheless, the drive, like the sunrise walk, was also well worth it.
It was incredibly windy when we arrived which made it a bit more challenging to hold down our poses (and our mats for that matter). But this ‘issue’ was pale in comparison to what we were able to experience – doing yoga with a breathtaking view of the beach and soothing sounds of the crashing waves as our backdrop. It definitely made for a humbling moment that we won’t soon forget.
Image credit: Raphaël Offant
Other than the unique yoga style, what makes this particular retreat stands out is also the various cultural activities that we get to partake in. Throughout our stay, we were given the choice to do everything from learning how to make coconut oil from scratch, rice farming, language class, to shaman healing. That said, if you prefer to have some more down time, you can also opt out of the activities to have a quick nap or whatever it is that you desire.
They say that time flies when you’re having fun, which in this case, is only partly true. The 4 days did flew by yet I also felt that it was such a full and wholesome experience that made it seem as if it was far longer than it actually was.
In a short amount of time, I was able to deepen my yoga knowledge & practice, do many things that I previously have never done, and made amazing new friends from all over the globe.
Knowing what I know now, would I go on another yoga retreat? Absolutely – in a heart beat.
*Cover photo image credit: Raphaël Offant
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