1. Yoga Skills
Highlight number one, is the obvious one: improving my yoga skills. I did at least 2 hours of yoga per day, often three or more. Anyone who regularly practices yoga will know that it makes you stronger, both mentally and physically. For improving physical strength, I cannot recommend a yoga retreat enough. I know that some people think yoga is all quite chilled out and slow, and “boring”. Well, in my opinion, these are clearly the people that have never tried it! Yoga, in more tropical climates especially, is an intense and sweaty experience.
However, not all yoga is created equal, and there are a wide variety of yoga types in existence. The retreat that I stayed at had 12 different classes to choose from everyday – I had no idea that there were so many kinds of yoga. Yoga is yoga, right? Wrong! I learnt all about the difference between, for example, Hatha, Vinyasa, and Yin, and what their particular benefits are.
Hatha is a more basic yoga practice which is commonly marketed as a beginner style but actually represents all physical yoga.
Vinyasa is fast-paced and sweaty.
Yin is the opposite as it is calm and poses are held for longer; it is perfect for unwinding but actually not recommended for very flexible yogis, as flowing poses serve them better.
While I may still be a long way off reaching my flexibility goals, there is no doubt that (forced) daily practice is the easiest way to reach them. So thank you, to my retreat, for showing how much I can achieve in just seven days!
2. Taking time to be mindful
Meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand with yoga as they are integral to the practice. Yoga is more than a physical exercise; in fact it’s core principles are spirituality and meditation.
Mindfulness is a word that is becoming increasingly popular in the western world at the moment, but it is not to be viewed as a passing trend – it has been at the heart of Buddhist teachings for hundreds of years. To be mindful is essentially to be aware of what is going on in the present moment and accepting it without reacting to it. This should be practiced throughout a yoga session, and the teachers regularly remind you of this fact. It is certainly challenging but it feels so good if you manage to succeed – in fact, mindfulness has been documented to provide both physical and mental health benefits.
The meditative part comes in at the end of yoga practice. Shavasana (translates to corpse) is a pose that is usually done at the end of a yoga class. During my retreat, all of our yoga classes ended with around ten minutes of shavasana. This is a kind of first step toward meditation and I enjoy the challenge as I still find meditation to be very challenging. Having ten minutes at the end of every yoga session (so around twice a day, every day) to withdraw my senses and just focus on my breath and state of mind, and hopefully not fall asleep, was a great benefit of the yoga retreat. Meditation classes were also on offer everyday.
3. Putting the Retreat in Yoga Retreat
Another thing that a yoga retreat provides is a safe space to switch off to the outside world, escape everything, and just focus on yourself.
In the fast-paced lifestyle that comes hand in hand with living in a city, this was a rarity for me, and I didn’t realise how much I was missing it until I had it. At first it was actually quite disconcerting – realising that I had no idea what was going on in the news! Once you can get over this, it is actually very freeing. Be warned – social media will be very overwhelming whenever you do get a wifi fix.
A big advantage of this enforced removal from online and real-world influences, for me, was that I could stop comparing myself to other people (be honest, everyone does it), and recognise how fortunate I really am.
Alright, number four, THE FOOD! Arguably this should be higher up the list, as it is just so good, but I realise that it isn’t super specific to a yoga retreat – hence it’s relegation to fourth place.
The first amazing thing about food in Bali is the value for money. You can eat like a king, all day, everyday, and it will cost you the same as one takeaway somewhere like the UK or Aus. Something like a smoothie bowl costs the equivalent of £2, and burger and chips maybe £4 at most.
Not only is the food cheap, but I have also found it to be great quality. Of course, this depends on what establishments you choose to visit, but generally the food is fresh and delicious. In Bali, food is usually sold on the day that it is picked, rather than being stored and shipped around. If you are looking to try some local fresh fruit, then the best things to go for are dragon fruit, mangosteen, and bananas. No visit would be complete without a fresh coconut on the beach as well – cracked open for you to drink the super hydrating water inside through a bamboo straw. You can also scoop the flesh out with a spoon if you ask for one.
Something that Bali does very well is catering to vegan diets. The eco retreat that I stayed in to do my yoga retreat had a delicious vegan breakfast each morning consisting of banana pancakes, red rice porridge and homemade toast with peanut butter and jam. Home to an infinite amount of yogis and surfers, this is fairly predictable. I am a big cake fan and it is so much fun being able to go into cafes and more often than not have a choice of delicious looking vegan options. Yum! (See Why On Earth Would You Want To Be Vegan?)
5. You’re in Bali!
This may be an obvious one, but the fifth highlight of escaping to Bali for a yoga retreat, is the choice of location. Bali is an Indonesian island located between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. It is one of the bigger islands as Indonesia is actually made up of more than 13,000 islands.
Bali delivers beautiful landscapes across the island; from volcanic mountains (you should climb Mt Batur for sunrise – it’s a Balinese right of passage), miles of rice paddies, stunning beaches, some of the best surf in the world, and coral reefs full of colourful sea life. It has also become known for its yoga and meditation retreats as the lifestyle of the island lends itself to this so well. Some of Indonesia is strictly religious and can be more challenging to visit as a westerner, but Bali is mainly hindu (83.5%) and the Balinese version of Hindu is a nice and relaxed faith.
The Hindu faith is noticeable across the island, and is responsible for much of the creative culture that is so key to life there. Offerings are made from bamboo and bright colourful flowers, and left everywhere throughout the day. I will never get tired of stepping over beautiful little boxes of flowers, complete with a smoking incense stick.
The Hindu temples are also beautiful examples of the creativity of the Balinese people. Every community has a temple, and most family compounds or large houses have their own temple as well, so it isn’t hard to spot them. Probably the most popular temple is Tanah Lot, as it sits out to sea and has a perfect positioning for sunset photos. Closely followed by Uluwatu temple, also located on the coastline, and close enough to scooter over to from the nearby surf hotspot of the same name.
So, yoga, meditation, surf, sunshine, delicious food, welcoming people… and those are just the highlights! Bali as an island has a lot to offer, and if a yoga retreat is something that you are considering then hopefully this will give you the positive feedback that you’re subconsciously waiting for before booking. You can push yourself both physically and mentally, and your holiday will feel both productive and relaxing. I can’t recommend it enough.