WITHIN REACH: Bali yoga class.
WITHIN REACH: Bali yoga class. Jan Richards

TRAVEL: Getting pampered and bendy in Bali

FANGING along on the back of a motorbike - one hand gripping the back of the bike, fingernails of the other biting into the shoulder of the young Indonesian man at the handlebars - might seem an unusual activity for a yoga retreat, but it sure was fun.

I focused on the pale beam of light illuminating the track between rice paddies - potholed and wet from the storm still rumbling and flashing in the distance.

Eventually I relaxed, laughed, possibly even woo hoo'd, as we bounced along towards the lights of Ubud where the convoy halted and we disembarked, pumped, and waited for the remainder of the group who had walked back from the restaurant.

This was my fourth Radiance yoga retreat. Jessie Chapman holds retreats in Byron Bay, Uki (near Mount Warning), Bali, Spain, Italy and France. And has plans for one in New Zealand.

At the Byron and Uki retreats the emphasis is on yoga, and cleansing the system - no meat, wheat, dairy, coffee, alcohol...

Bali is about yoga and pampering, and for me became an exercise in indulgence that added a kilo, while still rendering me very bendy and relaxed.

Our Bali retreat days began at 6am with a knock at the door and delivery of a thermos of hot water so we could make a pre-yoga cuppa.

We started slow - stretching over bolsters, blankets and blocks - opening up, readying ourselves for the poses. Jessie has the ability to read a class, to feel the energy, and matches the overall flow to the day and to the individual. The focus is personal, and caring. Bad day - assistant Haydie will drape you over a bolster, cover you with a sarong, and regularly check in.

On a good day, you find yourself stretching further than you have before, moving into "asanas" you've never tried before.

It sounds like a lot of yoga, 6.30-9am then 4.30-6pm, but the time flies. Over seven days Jessie turns a bunch of yogis - some with virtually no previous practice, others accomplished - into a group who not only know "savasana" from "tadasana", but who also know and care about each other and the community.

Jessie includes all elements of yoga, not just the poses, but also the meditation and "pranayama" or breathing practices, and they combine to give a sense of calm and connectedness, as well as physical freedom.

Got a dodgy knee, bad neck, sore lower back - doesn't matter. Jessie and Haydie will help you work with it, and make sure you don't hurt yourself. And if, like me, you're not up to a handstand or a perfect bridge, that's ok, she'll still have you doing the preparatory positions, and help you push boundaries that enable you to achieve something you have never dared try before.

After yoga it's a big healthy breakfast, well, mostly healthy. I took a liking to the local palm sugar syrup and poured it over pancakes, French toast...

The Bali retreat is a yoga, wellness and pampering retreat, and there was no shortage of pampering included. We visited ultra-luxurious five-star spas and indulged in massages, scrubs and even a flower bath. These trips also included a-la-carte lunches, and just plain lounging around the plunge pools, swimming pools, jacuzzis...

Afternoon yoga was restorative. Gently opening chests, lower backs, upper backs, shoulders, assisted by blankets, bolsters and blocks, and topped off with eye pads. During the evening there was often yoga nidra - to put us in the mood for relaxing sleep.

When we weren't practicing yoga or being pampered there were guided walks through the ride fields, a food market tour and cooking class and a fire ceremony.

Outside the Honeymoon Guesthouse - an oasis of quiet and green with traditional thatched roofs, ornate carvings and sculptures and an awesome yoga space - there was Ubud.

We were a five-minute stroll from the main street - think restaurants, shops, temples, palaces, yoga studios, markets and lots of cars and motorbikes. Ubud is known as the cultural capital and you'll find store after store selling artisan crafts and jewellery to tourists. You'll also probably catch a traditional festival, there are many, and see people making offerings to the Gods both at temples and in front of their businesses.

You'll be offered "special morning price", which might not be that special, but in Bali everything is cheap. I don't bargain, but found myself thinking, "I only paid 80,000 rupiah ($8A) for my manicure down the street and here it's $10".

A few of us stayed an extra day or two for some more sightseeing, shopping, or lazing around the pool.

It was winter in Bali, although it didn't feel like it at around 30°C and at least 80% humidity all day. By the end of morning yoga I was dripping, and walking the streets during the middle of the day was hot work. Instead I found myself sitting by the pool smiling as clouds rolled in and happily welcoming an afternoon storm.

Other than the drive to and from the airport I saw little of the rest of Bali. Out the window of the air-conditioned taxi the rural areas looked much the same as they had 20 years ago on my last visit, but the proliferation of shopping malls, accommodation and global chains indicate at the beach things have changed, a lot.

The author paid for all her costs.


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