Tag Archives: Ubud

How to Yoga Festival: Reflections on the Bali Spirit Festival, 2014

20 Apr

I was so lucky to be involved in this year’s Bali Spirit Festival.

Mandala

In the past few days, I’ve been reflecting on what made this festival so enjoyable – aside from the incredible people and program, of course. Like most things, I can see how much my attitude is the key.

1. Let It Go

Bali is one of those places that will give you what you need – and for all you sticklers for time and control freaks, this festival is an exercise in surrendering. Yup, it might rain. You might get muddy. Motorbikes won’t observe the road rules you know from home. Meals might not come out at the same time. Roosters will wake you. Gamelan will play. But the Balinese will smile hugely at you, the hot weather will help your body open and you’ll learn more about who you are in life than you ever thought possible.
And don’t worry, we’re all sweaty. Gimme a hug.

2. Patience

Those crazy paths wending through the festival are the bane of my life when I’m rushing. People stop at any given moment to chat, hug, think about whether they’re in the right place…When I’m in a hurry, I feel my jaw clench, my elbows set and my feet stomp. All it takes to get around that is a little sideways step. Yes, sometimes into mud, but that’s also going to slow you down and make you walk mindfully.

bruce-lee-water
3. Be Adaptable

You can’t be in two places at once. (Unless you’re one of those astral travelling yogis, in which case you should definitely run sessions at next year’s festival. Simultaneously.) Sometimes the class you desperately wanted to join is full. Being able to let that go and try something you would never have tried otherwise could open you up to a new style of yoga or a teacher who could change your life. FOMO doesn’t serve anyone.

4. The More You Give, The More You Get

If you’re working with a partner in a class, give them your everything. Pay careful attention to your teachers. If you see trash on the ground, pick it up! If you see someone frowning, give them a smile. There was a woman in Jamie Catto’s workshop who shared something that touched me deeply. I stopped her and let her know. It made her day. Minutes later, I was being fed delicious Sacred Scoops icecream by a generous friend. I don’t usually think Karma works that quickly, but it certainly seems to here!

Ferris Bueller Life Quote

5. Stop. Appreciate.

Take (at least!) a few minutes each day to stop and drink in the delicious madness that is the Bali Spirit Festival. Look where you are! Drink in the green! Curl your toes into the grass and stretch your hands to the sky. You’re in Bali! You’re surrounded by conscious, amazing humans who are as interested in yoga, dance, music and connection as you are. Drink it all in.

bali-spirit-festival8

 

Bali Spirit Festival: Learning to Fly

28 Mar

Acro Yoga.

It sounds so fun, doesn’t it? Wheeee! Let’s lift each other up! Let’s fly! Drape all over each other!

Presenter: Alexander Ruis & Pau Castellsague, Class: Acro Yoga

When I heard my friends gushing about Mexican AcroYogi Alexandra Ruis, I made her session with Pau Castellsague one of my must-attends for the festival.

Full confession: I’m only doing this session because I’m terrified. Even as a child, I was easily injured in falls and while I have scarred knees and wonky joints, I’m most afraid of further damaging my fragile spine. I’m also 5’10” and not exactly small. I’ve been in Acro classes before and feel reasonably comfortable being a base, but today I’m going to stop weaseling out of flying and get off the ground more than once.

The beauty of Acro yoga is the safety and control that’s possible. Pau and Alexandra assure us at the outset that proper alignment and using the architecture of the bones removes the need for any great strength. They show us how to stack our feet over our hips; wrists over shoulders and how to give and receive pressure to help our partners fly.

Alexandra and Pau are adorable presenters, switching from English with us to rapid fire Spanish between each other. They definitely make it look fun and easy but I guess physical comedy comes easily to folks who are used to flying and falling and throwing each other around.

Presenter: Alexander Ruis & Pau Castellsague, Class: Acro Yoga

After some basic warm ups and getting to know our fellow participants a little better (hand holding and booty shaking, what else?!) we break into groups of three: a base, a flyer and a spotter.

We switch between the three roles, working up into the Acro basic, Front Bird. With your base’s feet on your hip bones, you push up, look up and extend your legs behind you. The base also has straight legs and arms, and with the right alignment, it can be super comfortable for both yogis. I fly for a few seconds, but feel pretty good when we run out of time and I have to come down.

“Our highest aim is to bring individuals into a state of union with themselves, with each other, and with the divine. From this place of mutual support the true self can be realized, celebrated and shared for the benefit of all.”

Next we work into a chair position, which feels easy to me as a base, but frighteningly out of control as the flyer. But then something interesting happens once I’m up: I start to feel ok. Then my spotter encourages me to close my eyes. I momentarily panic: I’m going to fall! But they have me. I’m steady. It’s such a small thing, but for me, it’s a massive release of control and a huge rush of trust.

Presenter: Alexander Ruiz & Pau Castellsague

For our final pose, we move into a therapeutic flying pose, the folded leaf. This requires the flyer to really let go and relax their body over the base, even to the point of letting the arms flop to the floor. Watching Alexandra demonstrate, I can feel my heart rate rising. How am I going to relax enough to do that?

 As I move from Front Bird forward into my Leaf, I have my spotter, Matt, and another experienced Acro Yogi, Bex, both there. While I’m shaking and scared, I start to relax and when it comes time to push back to Front Bird, I feel the strength of my base beneath me and WOOP!
I’m up! I’m flying! I feel teary with relief and pride.

We manage another transition and this time, I really let go. I notice how much easier the transition is when I let go of control and just allow it to happen.

Absolutely a metaphor for my life off the mat.

Bali Spirit Festival: Transforming Shadows with Jamie Catto

27 Mar

When I first met Jamie Catto, several years ago, he told me to “stop fucking apologising all the time!”

Jamie Catto 2

I was shocked. This guy had come to teach one of those touchy feely workshops, or so I thought.
It turns out the very things that shocked me about Jamie have become the things I most admire: his refusal to stand on ceremony, his directness and his honesty have all helped me have major breakthroughs.

Jamie was one of the founding members of UK band Faithless and has collaborated with dozens of musicians: Michael Stipe, k.d. lang, Gita Mehta and Michael Franti to name but a few. He’s currently working on a project with Ram Das. He also formed the double-Grammy nominated, global music and film project 1 Giant Leap and its sequel What About Me? with Duncan Bridgeman. It was during Q & A sessions for the films that Jamie would be asked countless questions about his personal philosophies and what he had learned travelling to 50 countries and interviewing some of the world’s greatest thinkers and leaders.

The results are these workshops: explorations of creativity and exercises to spark personal breakthroughs.

This workshop encouraged us to examine our discomfort. Jamie certainly doesn’t mince words and I could see eyes widen when he challenged people. This is not handholding and playing nice: “Stop being so f*cking appropriate!”

Jamie has a bone to pick with spiritual practice that encourages people to only look towards light or happiness. His argument is that everyone has devils AND angels inside them and that to deny one or the other is to deny our very humanity.

“If you try and amputate the dark parts because they were the only bits that got love and approval and inclusion, those other parts of ourselves, if they don’t get oxygen, they’re going to find their food somehow, somewhere – and it’s usually in a self destructive, sabotaging kind of way if we’re in constant suppression and denial.”

“But if we’re on a journey of accepting other people’s darkness and light, they’re forced to accept their own darkness and light and everything can be felt, everything can be included in safe ways.”

The workshop shows us some of those safe ways. Over the course of three hours, we connect deeply with other members of the group, examine our discomfort at doing so and take a good, hard look at our inner critic.

JamieCatto 1

I’ve taken Jamie’s workshops many times now and I’m shocked every time at what emerges during his sessions. My favourite part of the work is the examination of the mirror. The old adage that what you hate in other people is something that lives in you is something many of us resist. It’s almost comforting  to have the permission to accept these parts of ourselves. After all: they are already there.

“All the darker ways and darker appetites, they’ve got to be experienced in ways that don’t harm us and other people. So playing, creativity is a great way, writing a punk rock song, characters in literature, stories, fun sexual, consensual practices. Find ways to play games with the children, being a clown… There are many ways you can allow the darkness in that aren’t harmful, but it has to have some kind of base in our lives, even if it’s really weird thrillers and watching horror movies. Whatever is your thing. But it has to have some sort of expression, otherwise it’s going to find it’s expression in a way that you don’t choose.”

And, as Jamie says, it’s healthier to examine our shadows.

“Every part of ourselves we bury and hide away and try and disown and try to amputate turns into illness. It has to find expression somewhere. All parts of ourselves are alive and if you try and cut off life it just grows moss and mushrooms and it just becomes ill life. Cancer is a form of thriving life, it’s just negative, buried, disowned in the darkness, mushroomey kind of life instead of free flowing life.”

Bali Spirit Festival: Les Leventhal on Life, Bali & Spirit

26 Mar

Since last years festival, Les has relocated to Bali.

P1040395But the road to paradise is not always smooth. Les spoke to Megan Flamer about his transition from life in San Francisco to life in Bali and how yoga, as always, is the perfect metaphor for life off the mat.

How are you finding living in Bali? 

Bali is amazing…

It’s the absolute opposite of everything I thought living in Bali would be! It has an interesting way of challenging all the things that were super comfortable for how I lived in the States and illuminating my fears about things.

Culturally things are just so different and Americans, at least this one, are used to having things scheduled in a certain way. Bali just has this way of letting you know, time is not important and that everything happens in a way that flows in a way that is like nowhere else I’ve ever been in the world.

It’s allowed me to look at myself: my expectations of myself and others, my judgements of myself and others and my grand thoughts of how relaxed I thought I really was. I still have room to grow!

GASP! You’re human?! So what are you noticing about your reactions? 

Quite human! I’m noticing those moments where I react really fast instead of just stepping back and thinking, “how does this affect me, how does this affect the people around me?”

It’s about taking those extra breaths before you even move a muscle.

Presenter: Les Leventhal, Class: Vinyasa Flow Basics

I know you’ve moved house this week, so this Spirit Festival has come at a really busy time for you…

We’ve moved four times in the nine months we’ve been here!  I’m a person who has always had home, at least since the whole recovery process started, I’ve always had this steady, steady home, an anchor.

Trying to find some comfort in the uncomfortableness of change in such a compact period of time has given me super crazy seeds and roots of things to practice and to notice where I’m stuck in my body and those differences – some not so good, like some injuries.

I have to teach that – I cant hide that – it would make me a hypocrite and I can tell you I’ve tried that path already and it doesn’t work.

What’s your favourite thing about Bali? 

That’s easy. I can be having a terrible day – which I call cacasana – and all I have to do to change that is take a walk or get on my scooter and smile at any Balinese person. Even if they’re busy doing crazy work, they always smile back.

I can only imagine they make less money in a year than I even make in a month and all I have to do is smile at them and they smile back bigger.

It reminds me that all that stuff we long for in Western culture is just stuff. It’s an illusion and we want to attach to it – but there’s something about the Balinese culture that they don’t attach to that stuff so all that happiness just comes up, it’s it’s just there.

This is your fourth Bali Spirit Festival and you’ve taught some amazing classes this year, including your famous Rock and Roll Vinyasa. I’m assuming you have a new playlist this year? 

What do I ask of my students in class? I ask them for everything, I want them to pour their heart out. For my playlists this year, I thought if I don’t make new ones and add some amazing things that really speak to what I’m rocking out about in my life, then what’s the point? So, I have new playlists.

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Les’ Ubud Secrets

Yoga
– Of course, come to Yoga Barn and see me

Food
I love my Indian food:

– Warung Little India: I love Siddhi, she’s full of heart and she makes everything from scratch.

– Queen’s Tandoori: because it reminds me so much of Indian restaurants in San Francisco. I almost cry when I go there. I remember when I took my first bite of the chicken Tikka Masala and the channa marsala, the spices are just perfect.

– Saraswati: also Indian food. I love it.

– The Ginger Lime Honey tonic at Sari Organic. It’s a concentrate so you’re supposed to dilute it but I don’t mix it with anything.

Jammu (Balinese turmeric/lemon drink) from Angelo’s almost every day

Massage

– I’ve been coming here since 1999, I’ve had hundreds of massages and I still love Nur Salon. When I landed here, Christmas 1999, we dropped our bags, went straight there and I still go now. It’s amazing.

– I adore Nyoman at Blue Moon

– Ngurah at Yoga Barn – it’s a little more expensive but still so cheap by western standards.

***You will soon be able to see loads more travel and yoga recommendations on Shiny Happy Healthy’s Travel page. Make sure you sign up to get it all first!

Bali Spirit Festival: Bending Over Backwards

23 Mar

The precision in SuMei Shum’s instructions leaves me in little doubt that she spent many years in the corporate legal world.

Combined with the spectacular anatomical knowledge of her counterpart, Lynn Yeo, their Bending Over Backwards session was an exercise in accuracy and alignment.

Presenter: Lynn Yeo & Sumei Shum, Class: Bend Over Backbends

If you’re wanting to have a lazy session on your mat, I would not recommend coming along to one of Sumei and Lynn’s workshops. If, however, you’re looking for breakthroughs in your practice and to solve some of those pesky alignment issues, you would be hard pressed to find a better pair to guide you.

“Claw the top of your toes into the floor,” Lynn instructs me as we move into our first bhujangasana (cobra). FIrst the first time in a long time, I don’t feel pressure in my knees and ankles when strengthening my legs in the pose. Yes, I’m wrecking my pedicure but my joints are happier for it. I add an extra foot of width to my triangle and suddenly, my inner thighs ignite, my spine grows and the lateral flexion feels effortless.

By picking apart poses you’ve experienced hundreds of times, you’re suddenly finding space and length where you thought you had none, or strength where you had stagnated in a pose.

Presenter: Lynn Yeo & Sumei Shum, Class: Bend Over Backbends
I particularly liked Sumei’s instructions for gomukasana (cow face) arms. This pose is possible for me, but always uncomfortable. Sumei encouraged us to shift the biceps by extending the arms sideways and back and then retracting the armbones to create more space in the shoulder socket. Voila! I was holding more comfortably than I ever have.

Another alignment I enjoyed was their use of “robot arms.” Before moving into setu bandasana (bridge pose) press your elbows into the mat beside the body with the palms facing each other and pointing to the ceiling to create more lift in the upper back. Combined with the natural curve in the lower back, I found even more space in my spine.

It was great to have two teachers working in this way: Sumei did most of the class instruction, while Lynn hustled between students, adjusting, shifting, refining. I had a strong, seamless practice with loads of one-on-one attention. Both of them have more than a thousand hours of Anusara yoga training and it certainly shows.

I have some serious spinal issues and have developed a backbending practice around them. It was invaluable to me to have Lynn pick apart my technique and poses to take still more pressure off my lumbar spine. Moving in and out of urdhva dhanurasana (full backbend) she stayed with me and refined, encouraged and best of all, completely understood the anatomical issues I’m up against. After several refinements, I understood how to shift the angle of my hands, shoulders and legs to activate different muscles to the ones I’d been using.

Presenter: Lynn Yeo & Sumei Shum, Class: Bend Over Backbends
After the practice, I was left with a warm glow in my lower back rather than my usual twang , and when I came into a couple of backbending poses later in the day, they felt fluid and effortless using Lynn’s cues. I’m incredibly grateful.

Our final pose, ustrasana (camel) to urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) might not seem like a simple or elegant transition, but with tucked toes and a few timely cues, I somehow managed to do it.

As we gratefully sank into savasana, Sumei shared a quote from one of their teachers, Christina Sell: “Instead of making yoga your life, make your life your yoga.”

If I can make my life as effortless and elegant as Sumei and Lynn made my backbends, I think I’m already halfway there.

Bali Spirit Festival: Praying At The Church of Feeling Good

22 Mar

“…We have come to be danced
not the hold our breath and wallow in the shallow end of the floor dance
but the meeting of the trinity: the body, breath & beat dance
the shout hallelujah from the top of our thighs dance
the mother may I?
yes you may take 10 giant leaps dance
the Olly Olly Oxen Free Free Free dance
the everyone can come to our heaven dance…”
– Jewel Mathieson.

Jocelyn Dance

Jocelyn Gordon and Lisa Goettel can’t even remember when they decided to work together: they just had an instant connection. “It was so sweet,” says Lisa. “I’ve never experienced a better collaboration. We call it our elevated partnership.”
The pair have been working together for about three years, Lisa based in Monterey in California’s Bay area and Jocelyn recently relocating to Bali more permanently.

The idea behind their Bhakti Boogie® Yoga & Rise Up Singing experience is to encourage you to release barriers between you and your most authentic, joyful expression.  I’ve been privileged to study vocal technique and had years of singing lessons but all that training means I’m best in controlled circumstances. Jumping around in a wet, muddy Lawn Pavillion with 50 other sweaty, effusive festival-goers is the perfect way to shake up my singing practice. And shake it up, we do.

After a brief explanation – “Dancing and singing are two of the most natural human expressions” – Jocelyn Gordon and Lisa Goettel lead us into a few breathing and simple movement exercises. But after initial warm ups and a bit of tapping, we got straight down to business. The business, that is, of tapping all over our partners. We slapped and pounded each other’s backs, buttocks and legs, leaving our bodies tingling and alive.
Nothing says icebreaker like a good ol’ slap of someone’s booty.

Within the first few minutes, Lisa had us clapping in time and singing simple melodies before we were placed in groups and did the same in four parts. Anyone who’s been involved with a choir knows that can be a difficult process, but Lisa led us with a simplicity and ease of someone who really wants it to be fun.
“True hedonism is rare and I don’t think we allow ourselves to feel good enough in our lives,” says Lisa. “So we teach this to feel good and to help people feel good. I call it “praying at the church of feeling good. I feel like that’s what’s going to heal the world.”

Dance with your Demons

I felt really self conscious during the first dancing portions of the workshop, especially when there were a dozen people standing at the periphery with cameras and mobile phones, filming and snapping away. It’s a testament to Jocelyn and Lisa’s ability to hold the space that eventually, I forgot about the cameras and let go, throwing my arms, legs and body about in joyful abandon.

Jocelyn dance 2

The highlight for me? Discovering my inner diva and belting out Madonna’s Like a Prayer came pretty close. But scooching in close to my new sweaty dance partners and singing I’m Gonna Let It Shine to close our practice was joyous and beautiful. To create that level of love, trust and community in just 90 minutes really takes something – and judging by the sweet voices and enormous smiles of the people in that circle, it’s something Lisa and Jocelyn have in spades.

Bali Spirit Festival: Returning to Source with Tara Judelle

21 Mar

I’m working as a blogger for this year’s Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud…
So I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you here, too.

You can read more and find out more about the festival here

It’s my first class of the festival.

Mandala

It’s Nicola’s, too. She’s come over from Australia and as newly qualified yoga teacher, she’s relishing the opportunity to be “be a student again.”

As we walk into Tara Judelle’s 8am class, Nicola is buzzed: “I’ve watched Tara online and done her classes, but never in real life! I’m super excited to be here!”

The theme is Madhya: Journey to the Centre. Tara explains Madhya is the space between things: from sunset into night, or the dawn to the day.

“It’s the space between the in breath and the outbreath or the space between thoughts. The space at the centre of the body, the space from which you grew.”

She links the shushumna nadi, the body’s central energetic channel, to this idea of space and returning to centre: “If you were an apple, it would be your core.”

Strengthen Core

Throughout our practice, we return again and again to this idea; returning to our centre, to our core, both literally and figuratively.

“When we go back to source, origin or ground, we naturally start to embark on a journey that seeks wholeness and wellness.”

Tara Judelle is certified in the Anusara method, but has a background in dance, Tai Chi and movement improvisation. Her sense of breath, flow and focus are exquisite – whether she’s teaching you a class online at yogaglo.com or in person, her commitment to vinyasa is unquestionable. I never feel lost with her breath cues and always leave her classes feeling a part of something bigger.

After attending her class this past weekend at Desa Seni’s Yogathon fundraiser, I was excited to learn more from her in person. She’s one of those rare teachers who can drop in complex anatomical terms when describing alignment and biology without sounding completely pretentious.

Today’s class ranged from discussion about Caroline Myss’ Anatomy of the Spirit to the sense you get when you’re entering the edge of consciousness to the other name for the pineal gland (the epiphysis. Who knew?)

For those of us used to a more dynamic practice, this was a beautiful, calming class. Tara encouraged us to move into a space of softness, with soft, wide eyes and soft movements. Despite moving into dynamic poses like koundinyasana or ardha chandrasana, we moved with softness and quiet purpose, always leading from the centre.

As we moved deeply into eka pada rajakapotanasana (pigeon) with a long twist, Tara invited us to dive into the space, the Madhya, where all things merge.

“Be the canvas,” she said. “Co-create with the elements as they exist.”

We were surrounded by activity: music from a nearby Zumba class throbbed beside us, chanting filled the air and the chatter of passersby. But as we breathed through rounds of kapalabhati pranayama and settled into a grateful savasana, I couldn’t help but think it was the perfect practice to begin the festival.

A masterclass in finding your centre amid the colour and the noise and always, always being prepared for sweaty surrender.

Bali Yoga Retreat…So Far…

3 Sep

Wow.

We’re having such a juicy, delicious week here at Villa Gaia in Ubud.

I’ve been blown away by how willing this group is to dive deep into the process and really shake themselves up!

We’re just over half way and I feel like we’ve already transformed.

What a joy and a blessing!

With love from Bali…

xxx

Bali Retreat Countdown!

21 Aug

It feels so delicious to be back in Bali…

Villa Gaia

Today, I’m putting together little goodie bags for the upcoming retreat…

Beautiful, organic oils…

Locally made sweet-scented soaps…

Gorgeous covered notebooks…

And generally enjoying hanging out in THIS glorious space:

We have one bedroom left, if you felt like joining very last minute…

All the details are here

🙂