Traveling to Bali and Transforming Along the Way by Sheena Nancy Sarles

The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place

Traveling to Bali and Transforming Along the Way
By Sheena Nancy Sarles

One change always leaves the way open for the establishment of others.
Niccolò Machiavelli, 1469–1527


Sheena Nancy SarlesI have practiced yoga for just over five years. In that time, I have learned a lot–or so I thought. I knew yoga was teaching me physical strength, balance, endurance, and focus. What I came to realize was that yoga was also teaching me life lessons off the mat.  Balancing in tree pose was similar in mindfulness to finding my center when circumstances threw me off my balance.  I had a yoga teacher who once told me that Yoga does not change how life happens, but it can offer a few tools for dealing with life’s rock and rolls.  I have found this to be very true.

Last year my mother, who I dearly loved, was diagnosed with lymphoma.  After spending most of the spring with her, she passed away in May.  Several months later I was shocked to learn that I was fired. I had adored my work as a development director at a non-profit charter school and enjoyed great success. But others felt that my work suffered due to my distraction and grief. I was devastated, angry, and lost.

My husband was also ‘off balance’’ as he was suppressing his own fears and self-doubts after heart surgery. Adding to that, his work was severely diminished due to the economy and he found his comfort in television and snacking. We were both shutting each other out. Life was not very sweet.

Yoga was my solace. I had taken weekend yoga retreats and once a week in Costa Rica. Those destinations provided me with physical and spiritual comfort and a new perspective.  With these new and very unsettling circumstances of my late mother and former job,  I wanted to take all I had learned and experienced and maybe find a heightened sense of balance in a more extreme Yoga retreat.  My life wasn’t over but it was definitely changing, and I wanted to be ready for what was next.

I wasn’t sure what was next, but I did know that I wanted be on a path that would bring some clarity and maybe a shift of perspective.  I needed to clear out my head and body and find some renewal and clean slate. I wanted an exotic, adventurous but also easy and safe yoga-based experience. I searched online, somewhat on a whim, for a fantasy getaway. I looked at a seven-day yoga trip in Thailand but I didn’t know the teacher. There were others in all kinds of destinations offering all types of yoga. They each seemed just a bit too confined to one teacher, one style and one location.

Golden StatuesFinally, I found Bali Spirit, based in Ubud, Bali.  Could I, would I, should I travel that far, Boston to Bali, alone?  I asked a dear friend to come with me. Her enthusiasm waned when she thought there would be too little culture and too much yoga for her.  My next friend was also enthusiastic until she realized that her hot flashes were getting to her in Boston, so tropical Bali became unthinkable.

I mapped a 15-day retreat for myself.  This felt so adventurous and scary but that was better than feeling sorry for myself about my recent losses. I told my husband that I would be going to Bali alone after all. He expressed his dismay at my traveling so far and so long. I told him that I was not going to talk anyone into going and I wanted to go only with someone who would be excited about yoga. He said, “I’ll get excited about yoga” and from that moment on everything began to change.

Canoe in BaliOff we went on a 24-hour flight halfway around the world and a transformative experience that changed our lives.

We arrived from a cold winter’s night in Boston to the hot, dense air of the tropics. Everyone was smiling, helpful, and kind. We were thrilled to see our name on a placard as our driver was waiting for us. As we drive to the hills of Ubud, the energy was hectic, foreign and yet quite joyful.  The aroma of lush vegetation mingled with the scent of fragrant flowers.  We passed many, many motorbikes going every which way.  Man in TreeThen we came upon hundreds Hindus kneeling in the street while taking part in a ceremony. We passed women with carefully placed fruits carried high on their heads and motorbikes filled with families.  We passed each village with their unique crafts displayed: the wooden carvings, the batik cloths, cement buddhas, polished silver, and many, many paintings. The incense was thick and the roads were dimly lit.  It was quite an introduction!

The yoga classes were varied and each led by talented and inspiring  teachers. I took some rigorous vinyasa classes while my husband started with ‘tight white guy’ and beginner basics.  We started a little routine with a morning swim, a pranayama breathing class together, some breakfast, more swimming, and then a different yoga class for each of us. I even took classes in Japanese. We met after our classes for a new adventure every day.  My practice was soaring, both in body and mind – a true union.   We noticed changes in ourselves and each other and it was fantastic!

Workers in rice fieldsWe enjoyed the many amenities of our retreat. The highlight was guided tour that started at our hotel, wound through rice paddies, the jungle, a stop at an organic restaurant reachable only by foot, and our friendly guide completed our walk with historical details of Bali and the Hindu culture.

We went to Hindu temples, museums, shopping, sightseeing, walks, cooking classes, and Balinese performances.  We respectfully dressed in appropriate Hindu attire and were greeted at the temples with and woman praying At the “Mother Temple” we were anointed and blessed by a high priest and we really felt that we had been immersed in a special light. Our cooking class was at a beautiful restaurant with an outdoor kitchen. The other student spoke only Japanese but we ‘conversed’ by trading names of Japanese baseball players and the American cities where they played.  We chopped, stirred, flipped, tasted and laughed in the universal language of smiles, laughs, and delicious cuisine!

Each evening, the Yoga Barn offered a meaningful class in meditation, lecture, ecstatic dance, or music.  We were enchanted with our growing yoga practice, both on and off the mat. We met wonderful people, most through yoga. If we saw someone in yoga class, then at a restaurant, we chatted and became connected. Yoga was our common language, even when English was not.

Sheena and UmaI was only interested in the power yoga classes with the very ‘Western’ heated rooms and the fast-paced classes I was used to.  Although I wasn’t interested in Hatha yoga, a teacher highly recommended a class taught by Uma, so we went.  Uma’s Hatha classes were slow, deliberate, articulate with lots of Ayuervedic philosophy and a current of depth, respect, and mindfulness that was nearly  mystical. That’s when more transformation unfolded.  We both connected to her in a deep and meaningful way. She showed us the beauty and reverence for true breath, how inhaling and exhaling with clear presence is very powerful. Uma showed us extraordinary and meaningful movement, and a glorious, mind blowing savasana.

During the final resting pose, savasana, Uma’s singing was sweet, light, and went right to my soul. The melody and words were unknown to me and I almost felt like I was eavesdropping on Uma’s personal chanting meditation. She had a lilting voice that filled the room and her passion for the words was explosive.  The song brought my husband to his first and not the last, shedding of tears. During another class I had what was described to me later as an out-of-body Kundilini experience.Sheena meditating Wow!  I was sitting in meditation and then my consciousness just expanded. I was in the room physically but my spirit was soaring elsewhere. I did come back only after all the students were leaving the room.  It was spectacular and I haven’t experienced that again, yet.

My husband and I were re-connecting in a magical way. He was excited about his new yoga practice, losing weight, and feeling great. I was finally releasing my grief in this joyful, nurturing, safe, and fulfilling space. I had bodywork almost every day because it so nurturing and reasonably priced. My husband enjoyed massages and even pedicures. I had full body massages, back rubs, foot reflexology treatments, pedicures and manicures, rose-filled baths, yogurt skins treatments and assorted Balinese and Ayurvedic body treatments.

Bali dancersBeing in Bali was truly fantastic. The Hindu culture is filled with so much gratitude and the daily offerings permeated the streets with sweet incense and beautiful flowers. The friendliness of the people was pervasive. We never saw an argument or fuss over anything. The Balinese people were helpful, friendly, and their smiles seemed to glow with inner happiness. There was much to learn from these people.

Part of this fantastic retreat was three days at the beach. My husband, an experienced scuba diver, was overjoyed to dive. I went snorkeling and was enveloped in hundreds of the most gorgeous fish I have ever seen. We read, napped, had long loving conversations (many about yoga!), and laughed a lot. We were in bliss.

We had a few extra days unplanned for some spontaneous touring. But we ended up going back for more classes at the Yoga Barn and our same hotel, Ubud Aura, because we felt so fulfilled and joyful there.

Sheena and friendsWe found out that Uma was also an Ayuervdic counselor.  Ayurveda is the ancient Indian tradition of holistic health where everything you eat, do, think and live can be balanced for optimal health according to your emotional and physical body type. We each had a private session and then one together. She assessed our constitutions, gave us easy, yet profound, recommendations for our lifestyle, our diets, our yoga and our doshas.

We are all comprised of three body energies called doshas–Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The more prominent dosha or doshas in each of us indicates where we need balance the most for optimal health. We began our most intense transformation at that point.  Uma’s guidance and support gave us the confidence to face our fears, change our perspective, and make real changes in our day-to-day choices in our lives. It is on-going. We both need to be sweet with each other. We now continue to be conscious of all our choices for body and mind every day.

Sheena practicing yogaWe have been back from Bali for a month now. We both practice yoga nearly every day, taking some classes together and exploring new classes on our own. We have totally changed the way we eat to be much more in balance with our doshas.  We feel great, and friends remark on how well we look, and we feel closer and more loving than we could have ever dreamed. My husband has embraced much of the yogic lifestyle, has lost 15 pounds so far, and rarely watches TV.  I feel refreshed, rejuvenated, relaxed, and am happily moving forward to create new work that I love. I feel my mother’s spirit nearby and am grateful for her beautiful presence in my life.

Life is very, very sweet.

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