Bent forward, sweaty palms plastered into my yoga mat, I have a sudden realisation. I’m doing it.
After years struggling to pull off a decent downward dog with stubborn, rubber band-tight hamstrings, here I am three days into a Balinese yoga holiday actually making progress.
I’ve come to the Indonesian Island of the Gods to put to the test the theory that heat, coupled with holiday spirit and a bit of effort, can do wonders for your flexibility and yoga form.
Bali is a popular destination for yogi tourists. You’d be hard pressed to find a resort that doesn’t offer yoga in some form or another, and often it’s free. But few take yoga as seriously as Desa Seni, a rustic eco resort in the village of Canggu, near Seminyak, which runs several classes each day. From deeply spiritual to heavily aerobic and even sensual, every variation of the ancient Indian art form is on offer here.
Granted, the idea of a so-called “yogacation” may not thrill those of you who equate holidaying with vegging out poolside, book in one hand and a pina colada in the other.
But I can think of a bevy of brilliant reasons to use a tropical break as an opportunity to further my practice beyond sporadic sessions in a cramped and often cold city yoga studio.
For one, I’ve got the time and the mental space to dedicate to an activity that is, in my working life, jammed between the office and a glass of vino on the couch. Then there’s the heat, relaxing the muscles and the mind better than a stuffy overheated Bikram yoga studio could ever do. Add to that the open-air pavilions and the spiritual calm emitting from all the laid-back classmates and you’ve got a recipe for yogic success, surely.
Pulling up outside the resort, however, I started having second thoughts. It’s easy to feel intimidated by all the tanned, chilled out, uber good-looking expats wandering calmly around in their Lululemon outfits with their mat bags slung over their shoulders. This crew is practising an effortlessly relaxed vibe that my under-slept, travel-harassed self is struggling to relate to. Who are these people? What am I doing here again?
Get over it, I tell myself, pulling on my leggings and heading off to Vinyasa Flow. I’ve got no idea what to expect and start pulling out the standard newbie insecurities. I’m sure they’ll speak some mysterious spiritual yoga lingo and will spend a silent two hours naked upside down in perfectly-formed headstands.
I had nothing to fear though. Our ultra bendy Spanish teacher Angela is warm and welcoming, fully comprehensible and fully clothed. She oozes the same calm as my fellow classmates, carefully acknowledging each attendee with a “namaste” and taking care not to rush any part of our 90-minute session.
“Become aware of how you’re feeling,” she says while we’re holding our first downward dog.
“Stiff,” I think, chastising myself for a several-month gap since my last class.
One hour and 30 downward dogs later, stiff has given way to sweaty. Small pools of perspiration have gathered on my mat and there’s not a dry patch to be seen on my singlet. I’m surprised by how much energy I have, sure that the heat would have sapped that all up.
Wrapping up the class with Savasana (aptly-named corpse pose in which you lie down and play dead), I’m in awe of the magical heat factor.
With the first day’s hard work behind me, it’s time to settle into the resort. A village made up of ancient Javanese cottages scattered through a lush tropical garden, Desa Seni is a cultural, ecological and environmental experience unlike any other.
Owners Howard and Tom have managed to get the blend of simplicity and sophistication just right. Each hut is individually styled with old Indonesian art pieces, the gardens are laden with organic produce harvested by the village chefs and the staff are among the warmest I’ve encountered in Bali. Greenies love the environmental touches like no plastic (glass straws, no less) while health freaks appreciate the top-notch spa therapies, fresh food and the filtered water, purified by reverse osmosis, of course.
It’s for yogis though, that Desa Seni really shines. Two days and four classes later it’s breakthrough time for me. Today’s teacher, hunky Melburnian Octavio, has steered us through a fast-paced sunrise session.
Sitting, legs stretched out in front, I have my eureka moment. This pose, famous among stiff yoga novices for being painful and frustrating, is now neither. I’m no longer just looking at my toes – I’m touching them. Same goes for my hundredth downward dog. It’s straight, sharply pointed into an upside down V, and I feel strangely like I could hang out here all morning.
The trend continues through the following days. I’ve even braved a few fruitier classes to try a walking meditation in which we creep sloth-like through the garden chanting the words “love” and “compassion”. In another, we make monkey calls designed to cleanse the body of toxins.
You wouldn’t have caught me dead practising either wacky technique in a cool inner-city Sydney studio but here they not only make sense, they’re positively liberating.
IF YOU GO TO BALI:
Getting there: Flights between Sydney and Denpasar, Bali, take six hours. Virgin Australia offers 45 direct flights each week departing from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Port Hedland and Sydney.
Staying there: Desa Seni is a yoga resort in Canggu. Double rooms cost $US200 ($A216) per night plus taxes, including breakfast and yoga.
Playing there: While in Canggu, visit Betelnut Cafe Restaurant, Jalan batu bolong 60, for great food and friendly service. Head to Echo Beach House for a fresh seafood barbecue. Desa Seni is a 20-minute taxi ride from the hip cafes, bars and fashion stores of Seminyak.
The writer travelled with assistance from Desa Seni