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What I Learned From Travelling Solo On A Two-Week Self Yoga Retreat

When you enter a yoga studio in the Yoga barn, you will catch a distinctive smell that every yogist apply on their skin before the class begins. It is their homemade mosquito repellent lotion made of lemongrass. It is a traditional insect repellent worn by Balinese over centuries before Western chemical dominating Bali Pharmacies. The scent you will always remember if you have ever been to the Yoga barn Ubud in Central Bali.

I was in the River Dome, Sitting on a red maroon yoga mat, I closed my eyes in an attempt to meditation. I heard the sound of the river flowing in between rocks. Then I would lie if I said I emptied my mind because the truth is my mind is always there with me, wandering and floating around in the not-so-distant memories. In my mind, I saw myself riding my old rented scooter to Batu Belig beach in the Northern Seminyak, to the Cantina beach shack.

‘Good morning, everyone. My name is Noel,’ He calmly said. I opened my eyes. In the front, a well-built man was sitting on the mat, both legs crossed and his palms in the heart centre as he introduced himself. He then approached each one of yoga participants, asking if we practised yoga back home. When it was my turn, he firmly shook my hand, landing me a smile before going to the last person who sat right next to me. That kind of smile as if he tried to ensure you that everything would be just fine. The smile that tells you, you’re in the right hand.

That morning Noel opened up his yoga class with a meditation. There was no demand whether you had to clear your mind and focus on your breath. My mind was wandering wild like the river stream by the dome. How did I end up in this yoga studio anyway? All I wanted was sitting in the Cantina beach shack, watching the waves roll on the dark sand, sitting under the Alang thatch roof with my bare feet on the sand next to a sleeping dog.

‘This morning, we are all here for one reason. So you are free to dedicate this yoga to yourself or anyone in your life,’ He calmly said. But I couldn’t control my mind. I just let it wander free. Staying three days in Seminyak felt like a day, and now I was in Ubud, a mountainous agricultural village in Central Bali. It felt like I was still sitting in the car to Ubud from Seminyak. Alex Komang, a Balinese driver friend I’ve known for seven years, has been talking about his wife. She lives in Russia for a job. The choice, he said, they both had to make to save money because working in Bali won’t earn enough. Alex boasted about buying a family house in Uluwatu on the East coast. I am tired of being mundane in my lifetime, and now I am so consumed from just listening to it. Soon I wind down the tinted car window. Breezes were dashing through. He suggested I should do it too because the land price is still affordable. I could barely hear what he said. His voice was racing with the wind and the rolling thunder in the distance. Dark clouds were rolling in the horizon, beyond green rice paddy fields and lines of coconut trees.

But how could I end up in the Yoga Barn? All I remember I couldn’t sleep well last night, tossing around in bed, checking out my mobile for nothing. If this restless mind is the tree, it bears the fruits of anxiety. I got up and walked along Panestanan street, passed the ARMA museum, and dropped by at the Ubudian cafe for a cup of long black and a fruit bowl with granola and yogurt. The street view on my right was unappealing. I turned my head. The boutique hotel courtyard on my left was busy with a group of female tourists practising their yoga.

‘Wait a minute. Maybe I could do it too!’

My wandering mind was landing me back on the yoga mat. ‘Okay everyone, start with the table position. Move your head towards the ceiling and slowly breath in. Move your head towards the floor, and breath out!’ He said. Now each one of us was on the tabletop position except me, because what the heck is the tabletop position? I turned around and followed what my neighbour did anyway. I hadn’t any clues what the fuss about yoga. Here I was, on my second day in Ubud, joining Beginner’s class with Noel for an hour session. The first I learned from the course is to explore basic positions in yoga without any hassles or being worried about myself whether I am doing it right or wrong. Noel taught me to place the wariness aside. Yoga is about knowing and exploring any possibilities your body can and can’t do. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, in yoga, perfection is in the eye of the body owner. It is you!

Every restaurant I visited in Ubud offers a vegetarian option menu. In some restaurants, even vegan cuisines, and they are delicious — not to mention some dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants. Being a vegetarian started from the scrambled tofu. It was so damn tasty that I had it almost every day. I started exploring vegetarian cuisines during my two-week stay in Ubud. After two weeks — and now it’s been more than a month, I don’t see the need to consume meat. Oh yes, mentally, morally, and physically I feel so damn good. If the only virtue you can do to yourself and the world, it is to become a vegetarian.

On the second day in the Yin yoga class, the course explores the passivity in your body by holding on the position for a certain period of times. Most of them are floor-based works. There were many alternatives offered on the plate, and you have to try which one speaks to your body. I learned from this class is to accept what I can and what I can’t do that leads me to acceptance within myself. From the first Beginner’s yoga class trial, then followed the Yin Yoga on the second day. I wouldn’t know that in my next three-week stay in Ubud, I decided to attend the yoga classes every day.

I am not exaggerating myself if I say that I start sensing lightness and consciousness. Life seems to emerge from purposelessness to be contentiously purposefulness. There is nothing wrong with wandering minds because the mind is the machine to creativity. Still, when your mind keeps walking with no purpose, they become wasted noises inside your head. These meaningless noises could potentially affect your mental states from anxiety to depression. I could see — and I firmly believe it — that yoga can heal mental illness such as stress, depression and anxiety. I began to accept life the way it is.

I had done twenty courses with a total of 28 hours and another hour of a dedicated meditation class. I completed 29 hours of courses in two weeks. I joined various yoga classes from Beginner’s Yoga, Vinyasa (Slow), Yin Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Sacred Heart Meditation, Kundalini Yoga, Morning Flow, to Hatha Yoga. It took a fifteen-minute walk to the Yoga barn every day, morning and afternoon, under the constant heat and humidity. Rains haven’t fallen a drop since I arrived in Ubud. I travelled solo to Bali, not to Eat-Pray-Love myself. It all started from visiting a few friends who live in the paradise island — I met them eight years ago on my first visit. Since then, Bali has always been my second home.

Has this two-week travelling solo on a self yoga retreat transformed my life? Life transformation through yoga and meditation in two weeks is indeed an exaggeration and pretentious if you like. However, it certainly gives me some directions to navigate life with confidence and purposeful contents. You know how to utilise your mind whenever you need it as well as the ability to completely switch it off. For most of you whose lives are young, bright, free and content, you might laugh at me. But remember it is a big deal for the rest of us who live day to day with depression and anxiety, worthlessness, and lack of confidence.

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