What Really Happens on a Luxury Bali Retreat?
By Kelly Alexander
Finding Inner Peace on the Island of the Gods
After spending the last several years working with a booking platform for yoga retreats, I have spent literally thousands of hours pouring over the details of a vast variety of yoga-centric getaways. These retreats ranged in price, location, duration and focus, from spiritual treks through the mountains of India, to luxurious and indulgent spa escapes in remote islands of the South Pacific. In all of my time scouring through these incredible retreats, I never quite managed to whisk myself away on one of them. Travel was part of my role, yet switching off and surrendering to a week of rejuvenating yoga, blissful pampering, delightful cuisine and my own tranquil haven wasn’t a privilege I quite got around to signing up for.
Do I Really Deserve it?
So, when an opportunity quite literally fell into my lap unexpectedly to partake in a week retreat at Escape Haven, a multi award-winning women’s sanctuary in Canggu, Bali, I was packing my bags before the confirmation landed in my inbox. Of course, being so entrenched in the retreat world for so long, I couldn’t help but have expectations. As humans, we love creating imaginary scenarios of what the future holds for us, and no matter how much yoga and meditation we commit to, the mind cannot always be tightly reigned in. How would this retreat measure up to what I had crafted in my mind? Would I discover the deep sense of rejuvenation and bliss that I had read in so many reviews and testimonies? And then of course, the questioning of worth jumps in. Do I really have time to take 6 days off? Could someone use this retreat more than me? Do I really deserve this level of luxury and indulgence?
I was able to ‘justify’ that yes, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I simply had to take it. Before I knew it I was sailing through spacious green rice fields in an air conditioned taxi, my cheerful Balinese driver asking me all of the regular taxi enquiries – Was this my first time to Bali? (No, my seventh!), Where was I from? (Australia), How long was I staying for? (completely undecided). Slowing down, we turned into a long winding driveway and came to a stop outside of an ornate inviting archway. With my bags already in the hands of the eager butlers, I stepped through to find myself in a lush vibrant garden, a frangipani lei placed delicately around my neck and a cold glass of iced tea placed in my hand. A chorus of personalised welcomes greeted my ears and a wide smile found my lips. I had arrived.
A Divine Daydream
The six days that unfolded from this moment were more than anything I could have conjured in my mind’s eye. With a daily agenda that revolved around gentle yoga classes, personalised spa treatments, breathtaking excursions around Bali and plenty of free time to lounge by the infinity pool, explore the popular beachside town of Canggu, or optional healing sessions, the days merged gently into one another like the most impossibly divine day dream. The journey was shared with a truly wonderful group of women from all walks of life, from all over the world. While I had imagined my week would be quite solitary and inward in nature, the group dynamic was fun, inspiring and nurturing, and added a tremendous amount to the overall retreat experience. It reminded me of the importance of time with women, our shared similarities, our beautiful unique differences, and the power of vulnerability and connection.
Returning to the Essence of Yoga
Of course, my favourite moments were spent in the stunning open air yoga shala, cocooned by lush Balinese jungle and a flowing river. While I have quite an advanced yoga practice, the gentle classes were designed to suit more beginner and intermediate students. At first, I was greeted by a glimmer of inner rebellion from my ego that wanted to move faster and work harder. Yet something magical happened in that first yoga class. As day turned to twilight and the sounds of nature came alive around me, I surrendered to a practice that was deep on a different level. Over the course of the next six days, I was reintroduced to yoga – something that my own daily practice suddenly seemed to be void of. Each day I came to my mat as a humble student. I returned to the most basic – and the most profound – lessons of the practice.
I learned how to breathe again. I remembered how to move slowly. I found utter bliss in the most simple of poses. I let tears fall from my eyes in long supported forward folds where my body caved into the bolster below me. I challenged myself in new ways. When a modification was given, I challenged myself not to take it, and to stay where I was in a place of absolute indulgent joy. When child’s pose was offered between salutations, I placed my forehead to the earth and allowed the weight of my limbs to simply surrender. I left every single yoga class that week transformed. Returning to the ‘basics’ of yoga or the essence of the practice had awoken something long dormant within me. I realised there was a place for it all – the sweaty vinyasa flow, and the slow gentle hatha poses. The yin and the yang.
With my soul nourished from yoga, my physical body found even greater balance and bliss through the daily spa treatments. Like so many of us, I am one of those people that rarely has massages, never has my nails done (unless you count them being done by my 5-year-old niece), and had my last haircut around three years ago. Daily pampering was something completely foreign to me, yet my body gracefully and gratefully soaked up every moment and offering. I left with glowing skin, soft shiny hair, polished nails and thoroughly relieved muscles. Several of my fellow guests also opted for additional healing sessions and Ayurveda treatments that worked on a more emotional and spiritual level. These appeared to offer even greater transformation and insight through chakra alignment, tarot readings and theta healing.
A Feast for the Tastebuds
If you know me at all, I am also a self-confessed foodie. Canggu is a paradise for any health-loving, vegan-eating, smoothie-drinking professional. And the retreat was no exception. Fresh, abundant, organic ingredients local to Bali ensured that every meal was a feast for the eyes and taste buds. With a serious, and humorous, ‘no-hunger policy’ meals were most commonly served buffet style and vibrant colourful dishes were piled atop fresh banana leaves as far as the eye could see. Meals were a mixture of traditional Balinese flavours with a twist, such as Barbecue Tempeh and Vegetable Skewers, Eggplant Curry, Nasi Campur, Gado Gado and Tropical Rice-Filled Pineapples, as well as plenty of fresh salads, unique dishes such as Jackfruit Tacos and Medicinal Mushroom Soup (not the Nimbin kind!) and of course, delicious desserts including healthy chocolate mousse, coconut parfait and green pandan coconut pancakes! Looking through my photos post retreat, I (unsurprisingly) found that my camera roll was indeed little more than a gorgeous meal journal.
What Puts the ‘Luxe’ in a Luxury Retreat?
You may be wondering, and of course my title alludes to this very question, what puts the lux in a luxury retreat? Well, where do I begin? My private, spacious, air conditioned sanctuary was alI I was dreaming of and more as I navigated my way through the humid, topsy turvey nature of the international airport at Denpasar. My enormous bed was cocooned by a beautiful flowing mosquito net, welcome gifts sat eagerly on top of the covers, frangipanis flowers laced the bedroom and stunning ensuite bathroom and each night when I returned home, I found a beautiful inspiration quote and small gift awaiting me on my pillow. The team seemed to uncannily know what I was after even before I knew it myself; filling my glass with ice cold rosella tea, escorting me to my next spa appointment, whisking me off to town whenever I felt a need to venture beyond the lush retreat grounds, and sincerely greeting me every moment with a beautiful smile and an eagerness to please. The service and quality of every single element of the retreat was of such a high level that I couldn’t have asked for anything more. And plenty of daily surprises ensured we were always kept on our toes with little treats and childlike wonder. Not only did I feel thoroughly spoiled, I also felt intimately at home – the luxurious nature of the week merged seamlessly with the barefoot, salty, sun-kissed and relaxed vibe that you want on any island escape.
Fill Your Own Cup
All my years spent immersed in the backend world of retreats did not prepare me for the experience at the front end as an enthusiastic guest. The notion of gifting yourself a retreat to fill up your own cup and allow this to trickle into every aspect of your life and relationships was not foreign concept to me. Indeed, I agreed with it wholeheartedly. Yet, I never really understood what it meant, or what it really felt like when undertaken. I did leave full. I did leave with new goals and inspiration. I did leave with a greater commitment to self care and self nourishment. I did leave with more dedication to being present with those I loved. I also left with new friends, new perspectives and new beginnings. This was a closing of one chapter, and the opening of a new one for me, as it is for many of the women that walk through these same doors. That is one of the most profound results of a retreat experience. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a luxury retreat in Bali. But hey, it sure helps.
Words by Kelly Alexander
Escape Haven is a luxury women’s wellness retreat in Bali that invites guests to to unwind and recharge their batteries in breathtaking paradise. Since 2008, Escape Haven have welcomed over 6000 wonderful women through their doors and have received over 20 prestigious international awards including World’s Best Luxury Wellness Retreat.
Find out more about Escape Haven Luxury Women's Wellness Retreats in Bali at: