Eat, pray, Om: a yoga retreat in Bali can be life-changing
In the idyllic open-air yoga shala, incense fills the air, a cool breeze rustles lush, tropical plants surrounding the structure, and the gentle sound of birdsong and ocean surf fills my ears. As far as settings for meditation go, you can’t really top this - so why am I finding it hard to switch off?
Only 10 minutes in and I’m distracted with life admin ‘to-dos’, while my inner critic voice berates me for all my failings: ‘Why haven’t you bought a house yet?’ ‘Why have you fallen behind on your work backlog?’ Sneakily opening my eyes I see my fellow students all cross legged and smiling beatifically. How I envy them. For me, there’s no such bliss…and it’s only day one!
I am one of around 85 people on a Power Living’s ‘Uncover & Transform’ retreat in Bali. Promising “a journey of radical self-discovery” when I arrive for the week-long program I hadn’t actually done much in the way of mental preparation, and having never done a yoga retreat before I had no idea what was in store. I guessed there’d be plenty of tofu and chanting (right on both counts) but outside of a few cliches, it turns out that this is far from a run of the mill yoga retreat.
Namaste: The Hop's Paul Ewart on the Power Living yoga retreat in Bali
Each day begins with meditation, followed by two hour-long sweaty asana practices, communal (and seriously yummy) dining, during which life stories are exchanged and new friendships are formed. Propped up on bolsters we learn about anatomy, and in the afternoons we delve into philosophy, which merely scratches the tip of the iceberg - turns out there’s a hell of a lot more to yoga than merely stretching.
But at the program’s core is tackling our internal belief systems, specifically bringing awareness to them and recognising the impact they have on our lives. During the sessions we’re tasked with uncovering our ‘limiting core beliefs’, essentially a negative belief we have about ourselves: ‘I’m not good enough because…’
Reach for the sky: the open-air yoga shala where most of the retreat takes place
As the week progresses, and as people stand up in front of the group to share there are tears. Lots of tears. Friends had made offhand remarks before the retreat, telling me: “oh, you’ll be so Zen!” But during these sessions I couldn’t be further from calm. Heartbreaking stories and confessions are revealed, and with each one I feel a gut-wrenching spark of familiarity as deeply buried past traumas of my own bubble to the surface.
Yogis bonding: Paul and some of his yoga retreat buddies
During one exercise, whereby we gaze deeply into a partner’s eyes whilst talking through potential limiting core beliefs, I’m paired with a real man’s man - think 6ft2 and musclebound. When he shares his intimate stories and begins to sob, I start to crumble. By the time it’s my turn, I find myself telling this (almost) total stranger things that even my partner doesn’t know. A confirmed non-cryer for most of my life, it’s not long before tears start to flow.
Speaking of man mountains, the architect of the program - and of Power Living, one of Australia’s biggest chains of yoga studios - is Duncan Peak. Leading every retreat, this gravel-voiced, former professional rugby player (he still looks like one) is visually the opposite of the yogi stereotype. Blessed with mindreader-like abilities for reading people, watching him in action is mesmerising as he painstakingly works with each individual in the group on helping to understand “what goes on inside our funny little heads.”
Salute to the sun: greeting the dawn by hitting the yoga mat
On the final day, after shyly abstaining from talking, I’m urged to stand up. Wobbly, I rise, taking the mic and immediately begin to sweat; for me, public speaking is real heart in mouth territory. But as I talk, I feel better…lighter. Sharing with a non-judgemental community like this is definitely cathartic.
Identifying my limiting core belief (‘I’m invisible’) Duncan then asks me to devise a balancing core belief, a positive mantra of sorts. By this point, I’ve heard much of the rest of the group announce theirs: ‘I’m good enough because…I’m a shiny unicorn/wild dolphin/loud lion’ and the like. Me? Nothing nearly as dramatic or glamorous. I fused my favourite animal (dog) and my favourite element (water). Duncan encourages me to add a cheeky ‘woof’ at the end for good measure.
Upside down life: Paul mastering the handstand poolside in Bali
Though this is all fairly gritty stuff, the retreat program has plenty of lighthearted play to offset the emotional rollercoaster that we’re all riding. One day we’re split into two groups for a hilarious Pitch Perfect-esque gangster-style dance-off; and on our last full day we work through a flow practice to a cheese-filled soundtrack of Dirty Dancing and Barry White.
All too quickly our final morning together arrives. Group pictures are taken, phone numbers and embraces are exchanged, and then it’s over. Leaving the resort I reflect on the past week. Having time to focus meant that, even in just one week, my yoga practice had deepened and evolved. And while not an intentional outcome, the tight schedule also meant that I was also able to unplug from tech for awhile, allowing me to focus on my inner connection, rather than a wi-fi one.
Speaking of, I connected with people on the retreat in ways I never had before. Surrounded by like-minded souls, all seeking more peace, leads to the realisation that, while we differ in some ways, essentially we’re pretty much the same. We all have stories and we all have, to put it frankly, s**t that we’re working through. To know that you’re not alone is very empowering - after all, the literal translation of yoga is ‘union.’
Connection: a yoga retreat holiday can lead to new likeminded friendships
But most importantly, the retreat gave me a renewed connection with myself, sparking a process of self-healing. Though there’s plenty of work still to be done, in the days and weeks after the retreat when my mind’s inner critic rears its ugly head and my (many) insecurities and doubts surface, I found myself repeat my newfound mantra to help counteract the negative thinking: ‘I’m a water dog…woof!’
COST: Power Living’s Uncover & Transform retreats start from $2,199 for a week-long immersion program, including all meals and accommodation. Retreats are held in both Bali and Australia.
TOP TIP: For a truly transformational experience, leave the phone in your room and switch off for the duration of the course.
MORE INFO: powerliving.com.au