Bali is breathtaking. The bustle of the small city of Ubud is abundant with cozy cafes offering organic food, juices and sweets. Colorful sarongs line the streets as smiling locals appear from their shops, and ancient temples garnished with Ganesha nestled into lush gardens, seduce the Western eye.
The island is unique with roughly 90% of the population Hindu followers. The familiar (good) scents of India - the burning of sandalwood and nag champa mixed with the sultry breezes of fresh flowers follow you down the streets. As you weave around heaps of motorbikes, taxis (and unfortunately tourists) you flow through the narrow sidewalks as if a video game character, avoiding the hundreds of small poojas, banana leaves with offerings for the gods. The poojas are such small, yet profound reminders of why I love the Eastern world and it's traditions. These rituals are deeply embedded in the culture and give meaning and intention to even the simplest actions.
When you began to practice mindfulness, whether it is with a prayer, an asana practice, a meal you cook or enjoying a cappachino with a friend - you are fully engaged and offer yourself completely to that present moment. I understand the importance of this the more I dive deeper into the path of yoga. I also realize this the more time I spend away from the Western world.
For past 4 weeks I have been learning the practices behind yoga...the main objective is to find truth : how to live a life of contentment and happiness amidst reality. It is a path to liberation and freedom from suffering.
One of my mentors, Rose, often says "live your life passionately present and awake to reality, with non-attachment". She explains the incredible sensations you experience when you can accept reality (because we will never win against it) with grace, by practicing non-attachment (because nothing is ever permanent) we allow ourselves to stay grounded internally, no matter what is happening in our external worlds, joy or pain. When we cultivate a sense of pure pleasure for people, places or an experience, without trying to hold on to them, we then enjoy them so much more, leaving us content and fulfilled.
Despite the chaos in the heart of Ubud, I have noticed an elderly woman with a map of beautifully drawn wrinkles, smiling on the sidewalk, as she sells her exotic fruits, and offers samples to any curious takers. She has sat in that same exact spot for the past month, and that is enough for me to see her pure happiness and contentment. Although she is amongst many shops adorned with expensive malas, mats (and every other yoga pharaphaelia under the Balinese sun) and she is surrounded by Westerns with costly cameras, still she sits peacefully, completing her dharma (purpose in life) with enjoyment and sincerity. To me, that is the definition of Santosha (contentment) and is something most take a lifetime, or many, to accomplish.
Traversing back through the rice paddies on small paths, I see villages dispersed throughout the endless amounts of greenery. I hear chants from a not so distant temple and become consumed with the laughter of a family nearby. I see men and women bent over in straw hats with machetes, who spend their entire lives cultivating these fields and harvesting the crops. I stop to admire one of the many artists who create carvings from coconuts shells.
It is hard for most to imagine a life this. It seems simple, for some - maybe too simple. Personally, I could do with more simplicity in my life. What really captured my attention is the honorable relationship between humans and nature, and humans and the divine - which is our ultimate happiness and inner peace. I feel a sense of Santosha and realize how healing a bit of purity, nature and truth can be.
I have fallen for this island and all it's inspiring characters from all corners of the world. Bali's lush terrain and stable mountains hold incredible spirituality, with a gentle sweetness exuding from its people. It has been a sacred place to expand my awareness of the ancient texts, another culture and myself.
Bali Bonus! Suggestions on how to spend time while traveling through Indonesia...
Ubud (1.5 hours from DPS) is a magical, bustling little town filled with locals & foreigners who are both a part of a rapidly growing eco-friendly community. Many restaurants and shops offer organic and local products, and there is a big awareness to Holisitic health. Expect loads of yoga, boutique shopping, healthy cafes and an international community. You can easily stay at one of the hundreds of home stays (most families live in little complex's off the main roads with gorgeous courtyards and gardens, and often rent a private room with bathroom to guests) which is a nice way to stay reasonably ($10-30) in the heart of Ubud (try somewhere near or around Hanuman Street) and allows you to immerse yourself with a local family. Ubud is a great home base to begin your Balinese adventure with reasonable accommodation, healthy food & yoga. You can easily meet travelers, make friends and enjoy even more personal tips on where to go & what to do while in Indonesia.
Restaurants in Ubud: Kismet, Kafe, Soma, Bali Buda, Down to Earth, Lotus Cafe, Anomali (coffee) Seniman (coffee) & Gaya Gelato stand!
Yoga in Ubud: Yoga Barn for (all you can imagine!) classes & workshops: live kirtans, Tibetan bowl meditations, estatic dance parties, Ayurvedic & holistic healing workshops. Darshana for daily drop in yoga classes. Take a class with Lucy Roberts or Louisa Sear if they are onsite!
Walk outside of the bustle of town through the rice fields & you will come across Drangonfly Village - a beautiful yoga center with a Thai Spa & fire twice weekly (Wednesday & Sunday nights) very relaxing way to enjoy the spa & pool under the stars. Next door to Dragonfly is Pomegranate Cafe, which has gorgeous views & a great pesto veggie pizza!
The Green School (20 minutes from Ubud) world famous as it is built out of 100% sustainable resources (mostly Bamboo) and focuses on teaching children life skills, awareness about the earth and academics. Watch the TED talk here
Gunung Kawi Temple (20 minutes from Ubud) nestled deep in the rice fields are the ancient ruins of the temple. You can spend hours here enjoying the landscape and energy of the place. 5 minutes from here is the Tirta Empul Temple, where you can immerse yourself in the holy fresh spring water.
The Temple Lodge is a beautiful hidden gem in Southern Bali on the Bukit Peninsula (30 minutes from DPS). The boutique hotel is unique with it's rustic Balinese charm - old doors and artifacts painted soft pastels and lush gardens give off a dreamlike vibe. The Temple Lodge sits high atop a cliff with a pristine pool overlooking the unmatched sea views and volcanoes in the distance. Bingin is the closest beach (walking distance down steep steps) which is a surfers paradise with world class waves. The hotel boasts relaxation and well-being with daily yoga, healthy food and peaceful grounds.
Gili Isles lie off the coast of Bali (2 hours by boat) and are known as the 'banana pancake trail' by travelers, because they are small, flat and filled with banana trees. These islands are truly unspoiled (even by the large amount of tourists on them) because there are no cars or motorbikes, only bicycles and horse drawn carts. It's amazing to walk around on the islands and hear the ocean and sounds of nature so clearly.
Gili Meno is quiet and pristine, with the best snorkeling directly off the beach - turquoise waters & colorful red, blue & yellow corals. Gili Trawangan is more lively, with lots of backpackers, beach parties and tasty international cuisine. I didn't make it to Gili Air, but I heard it has a more local feel. The islands lie next to one another so it is extremely cheap and easy to 'island hop', so you can experience all three.
Of course there are many more incredible places to visit while in Bali, but hopefully this will help you to start your journey. Everyone's experience will be different, so travel with an open mind. Let go of your expectations, have patience and embrace all the imperfections!
LAUREN LEE E-RYT 500 is passionate about living with purpose, exploring the world, and empowering others to live as their most authentic, radiant Self. Founder of Raise Your Beat, dedicated teacher and forever student on the path of yoga, she leads transformational workshops, retreats and trainings to awaken the individual and collective consciousness. Read more about her here