There are two reactions when you tell people that you are going to a womens' only yoga retreat.
Men: "Can I come? Are there going to be pillow fights?"
Women: "I want to hear all about it. I'm sick of being asked about pillow fights." deep sigh
Bali is a healing place for many, its spirituality well documented by the hundreds of thousands that flock there every year. While Kuta has built a reputation as a party area known for cheap drinks, other areas of Bali like Seminyak and Ubud cater to a different crowd. It has become a place for people to find respite and heal themselves. Never was this made more prominent than in Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Eat, Pray, Love". Now so many women make the journey to Bali that cynical locals call the phenomenon "Eat, Pay, Leave."
Several women only retreats have made Bali their home and one of the best is Bali Goddess Retreats in Seminyak that offers a choice of a yoga and spa based retreat or a surf retreat. It's a case of choose your own solo adventure. The adventure starts with a welcome at the airport where goddesses are whisked VIP style past queues that can stretch for hours. The arrival to the discreetly tucked away retreat in Seminyak is eased with a cool ginger and lime drink. Stiff from the flight, I enquire about the spa and they suggest perhaps having one after dinner in my villa. "All you need to do then is turn over and fall asleep," suggests retreat manager Sally. I nod eagerly - cynical locals be damned, this is part of why I love visiting Bali.
There are a total of 13 women at the yoga retreat held two or three times a month. Both the Bali Goddess surf and yoga retreats offer women the chance to learn to surf or relax in a supportive environment and come February March 2015 they will be adding another focusing on skiing based in Japan.
As I fill in my paperwork I wonder what the other women will be like. Will it be like high school with a bunch of cliques? Will everyone know each other and have already established a group? I'm told that they take a maximum of just four people from any one group of friends or family to ensure a good balance. Just then fellow goddess and Brit Sam comes up to me and introduces herself. Then the assistant manager Dwita introduces herself along with a few others and everyone is friendly and relaxed. So far so good.
I look around and take in the warm breeze - Winter in Bali is sublime because temperatures are warm but not ridiculously hot and humid. I take in the view of the main dining room and lobby where smoothies, snacks and meals are had and there is a pool next to this with sun beds. There is a large white plantation style building facing the pool. This is where the shared accommodation is located.
The patio spa is adjacent to the lobby area and a few doors down are two private villas, one in which I will be staying. There are a mix of private and share accommodation here and women are matched up to each other if they are strangers.
I slip the key into the wooden door of villa number 4. There are two separate rooms and bathrooms and my villa mate is Svetlana from Melbourne via Russia. My name is spelled out in frangipani petals and the rooms's queen sized bed and mosquito net sways in the breeze. It's a clean and modern room and there is a private semi-outdoor bathroom with a wall of plants on one side. A tote bag with some gifts sits on the bed and it contains a monogrammed cap, sarong, cotton eye mask, hand sanitiser, postcards, stickers and ear plugs.
"Would you like a smoothie or something to eat?" Sally asks me. I nod yes to a banana and vanilla pod smoothie and a fruit plate and Dwita appears and asks if would like to have one of the Jet Setter massages. The first massage is complimentary and is not part of the seven hours of spa treatments included with every package. Even if you go over your seven hours, an hour is charged at less than $30AUD an hour. I wonder if Mr NQN would miss me if I didn't come back?
I take a seat in the chair facing our private pool and consider the sounds of the tropical wildlife gently cooing in the background. My therapist Dayu Wi, one of the retreat's three therapists starts with a head massage and applies firm pressure. She dips her fingers in bowls of oils and cream and with long, firm strokes unswells my plane legs by applying pressure to the lymphatic system. I sip the smoothie and she offers me a mint and cucumber water.
I'm shown my schedule for the next week. There are two yoga sessions every day (one hour in the morning, one and a half hours in the afternoon) but guests can opt out of anything that they don't want to do. I chat to Sam, an American born Melbourne based mum of a three year old who is raising her boy by herself. She is about to start a busy job and wanted to do something for herself. I learn that all of the women here are by themselves so it's not an intimidating clique of people that have already established friendships.
I snuggle into the outdoor daydream gazebo bed that realistically could fit about half a dozen people and do some work. Good or not there is internet although guests are encouraged to leave the trappings of working life behind. At 5pm there is a yoga session and I'm quite terrified of this because I'm assuming that people that go to yoga retreats are like Hilaria Baldwin and I've only done one session of yoga in my life.
By now all but two women have arrived and we introduce ourselves to Wid the Jakarta born yoga instructor and the rest of the group also explaining our yoga level and any injuries. I'm one of the least experienced and all I can think about is my friend Belinda. She recently told us that she was scared of yoga "Because I'm scared that I will fart and it's apparently a fart fest."
It is with some relief that Wid starts us slow and although I don't know if I am fully cut out for yoga (my mother in law constantly tries to give me meditation and yoga books) I can see how it can give you a good work out. She teaches us things about posture like ensuring that there is plenty of space between your ears and the tips of your shoulders as this is where you store lots of tension.
We then take a seat for orientation where Sally explains how the retreat will work and everyone talks about why they are here. Everyone is encouraging and laughs flow easily and some of the women explain that they have come here because they have had a tough year. Some have been gifted the retreats from husbands and families.
After orientation, dinner is served. All meals except for two dinners are included but this does not include alcohol and before we left, we were encouraged to bring wine because the tax on wine in Indonesia is very high. Our main is made up of two sate lilit (fish mince wrapped around lemongrass sticks) as well as two chicken satays with a side of salad and a timbale of fried rice. There is no beef served at the retreat, just seafood and chicken.
Dessert is a tropical twist on a rhubarb crumble made with tamarillo and coconut crumble with cream on top. It's healthy cuisine but not too healthy as that could make things dull.
As promised my last excitement for the evening is with my one and a half hour hot stone massage. My therapist Yeni is skilful and firm with pressure. She uses heated lava stones and because it's a 1.5 hour massage it goes for just the right amount of time as one hour ones can feel short at times.
I go to my room where they've performed turndown. A card with an affirmation lies on the sheets and bottle of water sits on the bedside table. They've sprayed mosquito repellent and the blinds have been closed. I remove my clothes for a shower and watch as a little gekko scuttles along the wall of the bathroom as I feel the tap of thousands of water droplets on my body, all my senses heightened.
The next morning I awake and the other goddesses have scattered in different directions. Day 2 of the retreat is one of our "bliss days" and we can choose from a fantastic range of a dozen options from active (white water rafting or surfing), artistic (batik painting) to indulgent (three extra hours of spa treatments). Most have gone to batik painting classes or snorkelling and it's only Melbourne IT consultant Candy and I that have opted for the additional treat of three extra hours at the spa.
Allowed the extra sleep in, I've given the morning yoga class a miss. It was scheduled at 6am to allow for everyone's activities. I assume that I've missed breakfast so I grab a couple of passionfruit and a banana from the basket in the villa - the thicker pale yellow skinned passionfruit are sweeter and milder than purple skinned passionfruit and I find myself helping myself to the villa's fruit basket for these every day. It's the end of mangosteen season but the clever staff here find some of the season's last and leave some for me in the villa.
However the five lovely kitchen ladies have saved breakfast for me. It's comprehensive breakfast that starts with bircher muesli with yogurt with a tropical fruit platter followed by hot cakes with pear and junglebee honey syrup. The hot cakes are particularly delicious and they follow this with an offer of eggs and bacon which I couldn't fit in if I tried.
I make my way up to the patio on the first floor of the main building to have my first treatment. It's a heavenly hair spa that goes for one hour. It is administered while seated in a chair and they start with a scalp massage and follow it with a hair cream. It's a great head massage and the creme allows them to add much more movement to the massage. The treatment stays on my hair until I can rinse it off in the shower.
Dayu Wi is then joined by Lisna who then gives me a manicure and pedicure. They're meticulous with details and there is a decent range of colours to choose from. The manicures are long lasting and well done.
After that I head downstairs to the spa villa where Dayu Wi is waiting for my facial. They use Biokis products here and the room fits two beds separated by curtains. The facial massage is excellent but the second mask is a little unusual. She uses a fan to dry the mask off which isn't very soothing and the facial is alas truncated because the manicure took longer than expected. Of the treatments so far the hot stone massage is definitely the pick.
Lunch is served and today it is a low carb vegetable frittata with a side salad and warm foccacia bread and butter. The bread is excellent as is the salad and it's a light, delicious lunch. Out of all the lunches, my favourite lunch was the beetroot pita salad with sweet potato fries with Thai sweet chilli sauce and garlic aioli. A lovely bonus is that they give you all of the recipes on a USB stick at the end of the retreat so that you can recreate them at home.
With the entire afternoon free Candy and I make plans to go shopping in Seminyak. Bali Goddess Retreats is situated very close to the main shopping street of Seminyak and the area is the best place in Bali for chic boutiques. Prices are higher here although they're still reasonable compared to Sydney but the designs are very much in tune with what we buy at home although they're all summer or warm weather designs.
As we walk out of the villas we head right and pop in and out of boutiques. There are so many boutiques and the only choice is what to buy and when to cross the road to go into the shop that catches your eye. We make it as far as the Seminyak Flea Market. Despite the name it's not so much a flea market as there aren't many second hand items. There are clothing, jewellery, foot wear and homewares but with nice designs. Bring out your best bargaining for these markets as they all offer negotiable prices.
We head back towards the villa and stop at Earth Cafe. It is a mecca for foreigners with its well stocked fridge full of raw, healthy ingredients and as astounding number of bliss balls and cakes all at very reasonable prices. I buy a raw carrot cake round, a sweet potato bliss ball and an omega chocolate ball-each is around $1.50AUD and they're all very good indeed.
Candy and I get a little lost and miss the opening to the street that we are to go down. Retrieving my map we retrace our steps and make it back to the villas. It's time for a shower and some work before dinner time at 7pm.
Everyone is back from their various activities and the batikers show us their beautiful creations. The batik class is held in Ubud and they traced designs, melted wax and then dyed their material to create intricate, colourful patterns. There were a couple of women who spent the whole day at Finn's Beach resort while others went snorkelling. We discuss the day's events over delicious shiitake mushroom dumplings.
We take a seat at the big table and they serve us our main course. It's coconut crusted prawns, mee goreng noodles and an Asian coleslaw. I particularly like the noodles and the Asian coleslaw as the latter is crunchy but tastes like noodles yet is made entirely of vegetables (I'll share this recipe with you soon!). Another night, it's a Thai seafood curry with brown rice and a green papaya salad. This is a favourite meal among the group.
Dessert is a delicious black sticky rice pudding with coconut cream and sliced banana. The sweetening level is just right and we murmur compliments between appreciative mouthfuls. We have been blessed.
So tell me Dear Reader, what do you think about a women only retreat? Would you go on one by yourself? And would the yoga or surf one appeal to you most?
Bali Goddess Retreats
Phone: +1 858-997-0808
Rates start at $2495USD for 7 nights accommodation