Indonesia: How to find your bliss in beautiful Bali
Gillian Tsoi visits a yoga retreat on the breathtaking Indonesian island for some much-needed downtime...
How many times have you returned home from a holiday feeling like you needed another one?
Oftentimes when we're abroad, a hectic sightseeing itinerary, too many boozy nights out, or overdoing it on the local cuisine can leave us feeling less-than- refreshed as we make our way back through the arrival gates in Dublin Airport.
Holidays are the perfect excuse to overindulge, but this year, I was looking for something different: a proper rest; an escape from the chaos of modern life... and I was willing to travel 24 hours across the globe for it - all the way to Indonesia.
I decided to book myself on a yoga and meditation retreat on the beautiful island of Bali, where I would enjoy seven days of five-star luxury, healthy nutritious meals, and daily meditation and yoga sessions. The goal was to, quite literally, find my balance - and all of this in the tropical sunshine.
Surrounded by coral reef and situated in the Indian Ocean, Bali enjoys a hot climate all year round. During my visit, the average temperature was about 31 degrees, and humidity was high - hot yoga would be the order of the day!
The retreat at the Blooming Lotus Yoga resort was situated just outside the small town of Ubud in the centre of the island - the cultural and spiritual hub of Bali.
The yoga centre is nestled among a rainforest and, jet-lagged and weary from the epic journey from Dublin, as I drove by picturesque rice paddies to begin my stay there, the sense of tranquillity was palpable.
On check-in, I was welcomed with a glass of fresh coconut water and brought to my villa, which was compact but plush.
Although the retreat would be reminding us of the benefits of maintaining simplicity in our lives, our accommodation was fitted out with all mod cons, not to mention a private infinity pool overlooking lush green hills, a Hindu temple and a holy stream below. This would do nicely!
That evening, I made my way up to the resort's restaurant for dinner and to meet the rest of the group. My fellow yogis came from all over the world and every walk of life - ranging in ages from 18 to 50, there was about 20 of us, including a London model, a teacher from the Canadian Arctic, an army nurse who had recently served in Afghanistan, and a mum-of-two from New Zealand. For the duration of the week, we would be woken by the sound of bells at 7am for our first meditation/yoga session of the day (there would be no late nights or heavy drinking sessions on this holiday!).
The two meals a day served to us yogis (breakfast and dinner) were meat-free, and we were encouraged to maintain a vegetarian diet for the duration of our stay in order to reap the full benefits of the retreat. With tasty meals such as veggie burgers and potato wedges, pizza, sushi and barbecue tempeh, this was effortless. I managed to avoid eating meat altogether while there, and after a few days, found that my energy levels increased and my mind became clearer - something I put largely down to the clean eating.
Most days at 11am, there was a workshop, when we would learn more about the techniques of meditation and yoga, and other closely connected healthy-living practices, including the theory of Ayurveda (Sanskrit for "life science"). This is an ancient healthcare system originating in India, which emphasises on the relationship between body, mind and spirit.
In the afternoons, we were free to do what we wanted before meeting again at 5pm for our second yoga/meditation session, which was timed perfectly so that we could watch the sunset as we moved ourselves in and out of the different poses. All sessions were given in an outdoor yoga studio (pictured left).
I've practiced yoga on and off in the past, but I because I hadn't done so for a few years, I was concerned I would be out of my depth on the retreat. However, as part of my learning, I began to understand that yoga is all about working with your own body, knowing its limits and honouring where you are at the present moment. As well as the obvious physical benefits of the practice, it's when we begin to carry these ideas into our everyday lives that the deeper benefits of yoga occur.
Included in the retreat were a selection of day trips, which gave us the opportunity to experience the local culture - we caught a traditional Balinese dance show, swam at the picturesque Tegenungan waterfall nearby and visited a mystical Hindu temple.
These excursions were optional, and if you didn't want to leave the Blooming Lotus resort, on site was a health and beauty spa, offering a variety of treatments at amazingly cheap prices - a one-and-a-half-hour massage here would set you back about ¤22. And if you travelled to the local town of Ubud, these prices dropped dramatically to about ¤8 for a full-body massage. Unbelievable! Needless to say, a good chunk of my time in Bali was spent being pampered on a massage plinth!
At the end of the retreat, I'd gotten just what I wanted from my time in Indonesia: true rest and relaxation. It sounds clichéd, but as I bid farewell to my fellow yogis and emerged back into the real world, I carried with me a new sense of calm - and I've no doubt that what I learned about yoga and meditation on my Bali adventure will continue to benefit me for years to come.
Top things to do in Bali
Chill out on a paradise beach
There's no shortage of picture-perfect beaches around the island. Uluwatu Beach is the fourth most popular in the world for surfers. Located on the south-east coast of Bali, even if you're not a surfer, this spot is well worth a visit. Sit back and relax in one of the cafes or bars built into the cliff face while taking in the spectacular waves and turquoise-blue waters. If you're looking for a spot of sunbathing, Padang Padang beach (pictured above) is just a few minutes' drive away.
Visit a temple
Pura Tirta Empul is a Hindu holy-water temple which is built around a sacred, bubbling spring near the town of Tampaksiring. The Balinese have been coming here for thousands of years to pray and carry out purification rituals, which they believe will cleanse their spirits.
Catch a dance performance
Traditional dance is an integral part of Balinese culture and closely connected to Hindu rituals. On the island, many Balinese children are taught to dance with their hands before they can even walk. As well as hand gestures, this form of dance heavily features eye and facial expressions and usually depicts religious stories. Tourists can catch one of the regular performances put on around the area of Ubud and the capital of Denpasar.
Where to stay
Blooming Lotus Yoga run holiday packages for beginner to intermediate students at its yoga centre near Ubud. Prices start at approximately €320 for four, seven or 11-day yoga and meditation retreats.
For more information, see blooming-lotus-yoga.com.
Cathay Pacific flies from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to Hong Kong daily, and onwards to Bali. Return prices on the Amsterdam-to-Bali route start at €685.
Those treating themselves to business-class travel can freshen up with a shower at The Pier lounge in Hong Kong airport, which also includes an elegant bar, tea house, noodle bar and relaxation room.
For more information, visit cathaypacific.co.uk or call 0208 834 8888.