A Lazy Yogi’s Guide to Bali
I’m lying topless on a massage table when the Balinese medicine man punches me in the stomach.
I let out a yelp, but I’m not surprised. This is Bali, land of opposites. The fabric wrapped around shrines is black and white checked, to reflect light and darkness. You can rent a suite in Seminyak for $1000 a night, or eat dinner for $0.90 at a local warung (restaurant.) You can get your skin covered in flaked gold at a posh spa treatment, or visit a medicine man like this one, who has already scrubbed me a salt and oil concoction, and poked a stick on acupressure points on the soles of my feet, which has me howling in pain.
“Your liver blocked!” he exclaims. “Lungs, heart too!”.
And now, a fist to the solar plexus, totally without warning. Strange as it may sound, what is released, aside from shouts and sobs, feels palpable. I can sense energy pushing, pulling, poking me in body parts that have nothing to do with where I’m actually being prodded. We finish with him instructing me to chant with him, burning incense over me and invoking gods. I choke back tears. And then, when I sit up and get dressed again, he hands me a shot glass of something strong and very alcoholic, and downs one himself.
“You must bring Natalie back to herself,” he explains. “You must know your purpose.”
He couldn’t be more right. After a lifetime of running, it is in Bali – stereotypical or not – that I’m finally facing myself. Coincidences have lined up, one after another, uniting me with a community of like-minded women, and several healers who all repeat the same message (and I’m pretty sure haven’t been texting each other). I’m peeling away old layers, and coming up against habits and behaviors so ingrained they have taken out mortgages in my soul.
Contrary to what you might think, I’m actually pretty skeptical. Especially in Bali, where you can align your chakras, heal your aura or bathe in light energy on every street corner for less than the price of a steak dinner in the western world.
But I’m also curious. And as a westerner on this island, I can afford to be.
I am not a yogi by nature – I find it boring at best, onerous at worst. I still try to get on the mat once or twice a week, but anything that spices it up a little bit sounds good to me. I’d thought hanging yoga would be this luxe experience where you suspend yourself in full relaxation from a big, silk scarf-like thing hanging from the ceiling, like I’d seen in a friend’s Instagram feed. You know, Yoga for People Who Like Hammocks. But in the class offered at Samadi Yoga in Canggu, the thin, strong ropes that dig right into you. It’s fun in moments, but there is also sweat going up my nose and into my eyes (tip: don’t put on sunscreen before trying this), and it’s so grueling in the already high heat that my when I wipe my face with my sweat-soaked tank top, I actually become sweatier.
In true Canggu style, there is a swimsuit photo shoot going on outside throughout the class. The girl is wearing white hightops and has a row of buns down the center of her head, like a show pony. As we leave, she’s doing an upward dog by the pool, in a turquoise, high-cut one-piece and white hightop sneakers.
I think laughter yoga is a thing, too.
When I first arrived in Canggu, I was zooming my scooter down one of the quieter streets when I spotted a sign for ‘Vagina Therapy’. Naturally, I was dying to know. Were we talking waxing here? Did your vagina have to sit on a leather couch? After some research, I learned about Ratus: a traditional Balinese method of herbally “steaming” your hooha.
So I head to Mod Lov, a new spa on Jl. Nelayan, where it is explained that Ratus is a cleansing for your vajay, less like a douche (ha) and more like a detox. A vagina sauna, if you will. They seat me on a little chair, and, using a mix of upwards of 70 herbs, including malay nut, betel leaves and lemongrass, leave me to it. It’s pleasant enough, and I can understand why it’s traditionally done before a wedding, or to attract a partner. When I go to leave, and the spa owner grins.
“Now you virgin again,” she says.
At $20 a pop, that’s well worth the price of admission.
The “spa treatments for white suckers” industry in Bali isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Indulge your curiosity and your wallet if you can, but know, too, that while tourism eats away at the edges of the island, there is still magic here. Inland lie unspoiled villages, magnificent waterfalls, remote mountain hideaways and the spirits that lie at the heart of this ancient culture… and medicine men like Ketut. If you’re willing to go the distance, Bali is, too.
And speaking of Ketut, when I leave his compound on my scooter to drive home, I feel as though I’ve been run over by a 24-wheeler, but in a good way. Like the silt at the bottom of the pond has been shaken and stirred. In the following days, negative thought patterns I haven’t touched in years, maybe decades, surface. There is pain and grief and sorrow I thought was long buried. But once it passes, I feel more whole and stronger than ever before.
Natalie Karneef is a writer, writing coach, mindfulness junkie, digital nomad and wannabe motorcyclist who hails from Canada. Find her at nataliekarneef.com.
Cover by Aral Tasher