Phew, hello readers! It has been a magical, saturated past couple of days, so much so that it’s been challenging to find time to sit away from my sisters and compose blog entries that even grace the hem of the rich fabric of this experience. Two nights ago, at the end of Ajna chakra day, our evening session ended with a Thai Yoga massage workshop, where our skilled anatomy teacher Grace led us on in a practical workshop to use with private clients (and, yes, friends as well, for all you who are salivating).
Despite hours of practicing insight-strengthening and wisdom-manifesting pranayama and asana all day (or breath exercises and postures, for those of you just beginning to dabble in the kiddy pool of the yoga lingo splash park), my vision of staying up late to write a blog entry after the workshop, alas, did not manifest as I’d envisioned: myself rosy-cheeked and blissed as a butterfly, relaxed, eloquent, perhaps levitating slightly and skillfully typing away to the sound of crickets and jungle hums into the wee hours of the night. In reality, the workshop ended and my massage partner/soul sister Bobbi all but had to wipe the thin dribble of drool from my face and carry me back to our room to slumber before waking up yesterday morning for morning Sadhana (or daily practice).
I want to pause and offer a bit of an orientation to A) where I am and B) what I’m doing. Hi! I am Cait J And, after a week and a half of pinching myself, I’ve come to the realization that at this moment in time, I am, indeed, in Bali, Indonesia.
Shakti Initiation is a one month, 500-hour yoga teacher training immersion, a time of soul spelunking, skill honing and practical plan developing. I do yoga every morning (or allow yoga to do me, as it’s becoming), which involves meditation, still and moving, breathing exercises and physical postures. It also involves dancing, howling, journaling, sharing, crying, pooping, singing, blessing. The whole range, really.
My 17 Shakti sisters and I are being led by two fantastic teachers—Jovinna Chan and Grace Jull, and blessed with the assistance of two of last year’s Shakti’s sisters, Lisa and Mally. We are staying at Bali Mountain Retreat Center, about an hour and a half outside of Bali’s capital city Denpasar. Bali Mountain retreat is (are you sensing a theme?) magical—the grounds speckled with simple, beautiful cabins shared among sisters, the two yoga studio spaces, the open gardens.
And, while we’re at it, a health update. (Also, my sister Minna just placed a crunchy piece of salak in my mouth (BLISS!) Salak taste like strawberry but crunches like cucumber. Yum city!
1) My rash is completely better (insert rain dance here!). Whether the miracle tincture of Balinese antihistamines or the hour long Reiki energy surgery my sister performed on my caboose, I’ll never know for sure, but I am so grateful to have skin that is bronzed and healthy and not splotchy as a seven year old suffering from chicken pox and eczema.
Another word on daily life here at Bali Mountain Retreat. Our teachers Grace and Jovinna are magical, women of incredible skill and story and knowledge. One of the hallmarks that highlights the skillfulness of this course they’ve designed is the layout of our days and the curriculum as it unfolds. (By the way, I’ve been blissfully enjoying having no idea what day of the week it is, but orienting myself around which chakra day it is. (Oh rats, I thought yesterday, I haven’t posted since Anahata (heart chakra) day! And we’re already on Mooladara!) Our days are structured and packed, but with time for rest and integration, which usually look like sprawled naps in the lawn or walks on the roads through the winding hills with sisters, sharing stories and songs.
Every morning we have daily practice from 6-8. We begin in silence and watch a the splendor of sun spill itself across the sky. Each day a new canvas, each day a different gradation of astounding. Every day, there is a Shakti angel of the day, a sister who is responsible for preparing the space for the rest of our sisters at Sadhana. Yesterday, Mooladara (or Root Chakra) day it was my turn.
I woke around 5 am, brushed my teeth and made my way down to the studio. I turned on the lights, lit incense, swept (there are a couple of intense ant interstates crossing the studio), unraveled the bamboo sheets to reveal the still-dark sky backdropped against a still sleeping jungle. I was reminded this morning of how much I love being in a tropical climate (the parallel to these mountains and my second home in Costa Rica is astounding.. and making me homesick for Tiquicia!) and feeling the porous, permeable breath between my own body and the natural world around me. (A shout-out and giant warm tropical for all of you suffering from snow and sleet in New England here!)
Each day of this first week, as I mentioned, we are focusing on a specific energy center in the body, or Chakra. There is, obviously, a month’s worth of material here so I’ll give you the Yoga-For-Newbies version. There are seven major chakras located in the body—Root, Sacral, Solar Plexus, Heart, Throat, Third Eye and Crown. Each center is housed along the central column in the body and is governed by a superstar team of organs, glands, fascia, muscles and energy, and each chakra has incredible power and purpose.
Our morning practice opens the day with meditation, and a series of practices both breathing and movement that correlate with the chakras. Yesterday, for instance, on Root Chakra day, our morning practice was heavily focused on grounding leg strengthening asana and balancing Nadi Shodina pranayama. If all of this sounds like gobbilygook, feel free to forget it entirely (which, thankfully in the realm of mediation, is progress in non-attachment. Wee!!)
After morning sadhana comes breakfast, where the angel of the day reads a blessing. It’s been such a joy and gift every day to feel the warmth and witness the radiance of my sisters, who have become like deepest family and friends of lifetimes in less than a week. Leah, I read from the Grateful Heart yesterday and the sisters loved it!
The food is UH-MAAAAY-ZING. So simple and delicious. Rice, eggs, tempeh, fried onions, chili sauce, green beans, cabbage and carrot salad, fern and coconut salad, peanut sauce, fresh yoga coconut. Bali, you had me at hello!!!!!
From 9-12 we have our morning session, 12-2:15 have lunch and break (yesterday a group of sisters and I ventured off on a walk down the road during our break, where we photographed rice patties and passion fruit trees and men suspended 20 feet in the air by bamboo scaffolding and bright eyed kids chasing roosters the size of beagles.), then reconvene for an afternoon session from 2:15-4. During the afternoon study session we usually focus on anatomy, where as in the morning we’re doing a lot of soul inventory, workshop sharing ideas and journal work. Powerful stuff!
Afternoon sadhana, from 4-6, has been one of my favorite times of day, as it always looks different. Yesterday we played and pounced and pulsed to an energizing playlist, evolving like monkeys from one standing posture to the next, and ended up shirtless in the rain, soaking up the warmth and wet of this Balinese sunshower. Afterwards I sat outside strumming the guitar as sisters sat around and journaled and drew. Can life really be this simple and saturated, this nurturing and interconnected and satisfying? It’s a mind-blowing meditation to see how the color of everything shifts when the day begins, ends, and is punctuated consistently with a return to being here, now, alive on this planet, to breathing IN all life and breathing out old stories stale and stuck in the heart; to watch the bubbles of gratitude, connection, and sharing surface up like farts from a fish underwater.
Richard is the one man on the premises—we call him Papa. He is one of the co-owners of Bali Mountain Retreat, a long haired, wise and positively chill Australian, a gentle spirit and old soul who also happens to be an extremely talented musician (he played JESUS in Jesus Christ Superstar and starred in the original production of HAIR!!) Last night, after a dinner of oregano spiced pumpkin soup and salad, he led a sing-a-long with the sisters, where we nuzzled shoulder to shoulder and sang Bob Dylan and Neil Young before creating a new song (which I played guitar for!)—Bali Ma, which some sisters sang like sheep, not getting the “li” part (Ba ba ba).
So, my friends, the transformation and teaching that I’m absorbing here is difficult to capture in large bits. Simply put, it feels like a homecoming, like a return to living that is undoubtedly preciously privileged and yet so profoundly simple. Wake early and be still before the magnitude of creation. Listen to the sounds of nature. Breathe slowly, quietly, intensely. Stretch. Sweat. Gather, Bless, Eat. Poop. Scurry and sit and wiggle ad wait and listen and learn and pray and play.
Today is Manipura day, solar plexus, the third chakra, all about the sun. Hoping the sun shines bright bright bright, since I left my clothes on the line in the rain last night! Blessings to y’all back home!