Philippa “Pip” attended the Womens Mindfulness Retreat in September 2015 in Ubud Bali. This was the starting point of her 12 month adventure throughout South East Asia. Here she shares her experience of the first stage of her journey.

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“We call that coffee ‘Catpoochino’!” said our driver referring to the coffee beans that are fed through a special breed of cat and er, pooed back out, This making it an irresistible blend apparently.  As a non coffee drinker, it certainly didn’t make it onto my ‘must have before I die’ list, I must say!

We were on the way to the Ricefields after our ridiculously early 4.30am start to do Yoga in front of the Gunung Batur volcano on the Island of Bali.  Our viewing platform to see the sunrise was perfect for our Sun Salutations, even though I’m not very good at it!

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The ricefields are just how I imagined they would be but I’m very pleased that the authorities have realised the draw that they have for tourists and are investing in local businesses to make it a better experience for all.  It is easy to see how tourism has changed Bali dramatically, not for the best either.  So I’m glad that the place that we visited, we didn’t feel like we were being a nuisance to the farmers.

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I was taking taking part in a Women’s Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation retreat.  Oh and lots of spa treatments, diary permitting. So pure bliss, basically.  The fact that every single one of the ladies there was wonderful, full of their own life stories, positive outlook and reasons for being there, just added to my entire experience.

The Bali that I saw was everything that the brochure and ‘that film’ promised and more.  Although I must say, if it hadn’t been for the retreat, living in luxury and peaceful meditation, it would have been the absolute opposite, probably something that the majority of visitors encounter unfortunately.  I left there, feeling remarkably priveliged and also nicely set up for the rest of my trip and perhaps, with lots of practice, the rest of my life.

I visited the Women’s Minfulness Retreat with my friend Corinna as we were both needing a break from our every day hectic lives.  It was based at a place called Kumara Sakti, just north of the centre of Ubud, away from all the tourists and general hustle and bustle.  It was a remarkable difference from the first stop off place that we had in the centre of Seminyak as soon as we stepped off the plane.  We saw temples, rice fields, farmers with the coned hats and Kumara Sakti itself was idyllic, sheltered from the heat of the sun and was quiet and peaceful, as promised.  I was thinking that I may even retire here and never leave again!

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I loved the fact that there wasn’t a television in our room as they are such a noisy distraction and never anything on anyway.  The budding artist in me was delighted that there were watercolours that we could use too.  2 pools, restaurant, lounge and of course the spa treatment rooms.

17 ladies, from Australia, New Zealand, America India and us 2 English lasses made up the team and the lady leading the retreat, Tammie, was a delight throughout the week and had a great sense of humour.  There were no dramas, no cat fighting or bitchiness, that can tend to happen when ladies get together for an extended period of time.  We all naturally fell into sync and were loving eachother’s input and friendliness.

The sessions were revolving around ‘Mindfulness’.  In a nutshell, this is how to live in the here and now and forget the stresses we have in our everyday lives, to just ‘be’ instead of ‘doing’ things all the time.  Fabulous, just what I needed, as I tend to live my life through my to-do list.  Thoroughly recommended and very relaxing, especially as the run up to my trip was a bit fraught with lists and organisation, getting rid of all my belongings and saying goodbye to family and friends.

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Yoga sessions tended to be around 6.45am but the hot lemon and honey drinks made the wake up calls and stretches all the more worth it.  The yoga teacher Wayan (every first born in Bai is called Wayan so there are quite a few around!) was involved in every session, even when he was poorly sick.  There was one session where we were relaxing at the end with our eyes shut and he placed a singing bowl on our chests and Bonnnnnngggggged it.  It felt amazing, really resonated throughout my body.  I might buy myself one when I manage to get some space in my rucksack or just post one home.

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The meditation sessions took a little to getting used to, sitting on the floor cross legged without getting cramp.  I guess this is why everyone does Yoga to improve their flexibility.  I must say, when everyone was quiet and just listening to the jungle, it reminded me of the soundtrack that I would listen to Spotify when I was trying to relax.  It was surreal because it was so real.  Tammie gave us some meditation beads and some soundtracks to listen to and practice at home.  I hope to be able to log in to hear them soon, considering I am currently a travelling vagabond.

There was a particular day on the agenda that I was looking forward to the most, the Day Of Silence. Some treated it with trepidation but me, I actually recharge my batteries when I’m not having to tune in to something else. We all ate our breakfast and lunches seperately and drifted around the retreat, smiling knowingly at each other. Some people meditated, were mindful, had spa treatments (like me, see the Chakra Dhara below), some people painted, took photographs, sunbathed, stayed in bed even, the day left like a pure gift. “The quieter you become, the more you hear”.

As part of the package we all received a 1 Hour and 50 minute spa treatment which included a Mandi Lulur Floral Bath.  This is a 17th Century Javanese Royal treatment and the Mandi Lulur is a luxurious pre-wedding ritual of Indonesian women.  I could get used to this! I floated out of there but couldn’t help think of the poor flowers that dedicated their lives to my self indulgence.  I soon got over it though 😉

Another treatment that I treated myself to was the Chakra Dhara, where warm oil is poured onto your body and then concentrated on your head, or third eye for 10 minutes.  Corinna went for hers first and hated it as she said that she felt that someone was weeing on her! I kind of wish that she hadn’t told me as that was all I could think about and also slightly disturbed that I found the sensation pleasurable, as I was supposed to! lol! ooer.

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We didn’t say cooped up at the retreat all of the time, unfortunately 😉

A few of us headed up to see an elderly healer on the other side of Ubud.  He assessed me by feeling my head, sticking his fingers in my ears and poking my feet (really painfully!) and his summary was that I was heartbroken and have tummy problems but advised that through passion and desire, it will help drive my creativity.  I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to such things but when his assistant, a GP, from Holland of all places, came over to muck out my chakras, I felt a warm glow go throughout my body.  I cannot explain it but it felt very humbling.

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Another trip out was a meander over the rice fields to have a meal at the Sari Organik restaurant which was lovely.  It was looking over the impossibly green fields and considering I’m usually a carnivore, the vegetarian food was utterly gorgeous (I had to make sure that there were no mushrooms or nuts for me!).

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We were given an amazing opportunity to visit Tirta Empul Water Temple for a purification ceremony one evening.  This is Bali’s most sacred spring pools and is visited by Balinese people from all over the island.  We were given saris to wear and were told how to pray for permission to enter the waters, how to learn how to let go to everything holding us back in our lives as we ducked under the 10 fountains (except the 2 reserved for burial ceremonies, which Corinna nearly did!) and then into the final 2 fountains to ask for what we want from life.  This is very much a big deal for the Balinese people so we were careful to follow the instructions and be respectful. We were given a cotton bracelet at the end to mark our participation in the ritual and a lovely reminder of what we had experienced.  When we got back Corinna and I ordered a bottle of wine from room service, Tammie overheard the order and correctly guessed who was placing the order! I’ve no idea how she guessed, maybe our reputations preceed us.

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And so, our escape from the real world had to inevitably come to an end.  On our last day, we did some relaxation meditation involving resting in positions for long periods propped up by large cushions.  We all got together in the lounge to express what we had learned and discovered in the last few days.  It was quite emotional, even though I promised to myself that I wouldn’t cry!  We then learned how to build the little flower offerings that are all over Bali and had a closing ceremony at the temple.  And then it was over!

We had been looked after so well, every aspect of our trip was catered for and our needs anticipated, I must admit, it was a little daunting going out into the big bad world but I couldn’t think of a better start.  That said though, I can honestly say life long friendships were made during the retreat and a support network of likeminded ladies in this crazily busy world we happen to live in.  I’ve also got a load of places to stay when I go to Australia now so no excuses not to go now.

I look forward to going on another retreat soon and thoroughly recommend to everyone reading this, to do the same.  The ability to reduce stress will certainly add years to your life and put a big relaxed grin on your face.

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Namaste Pip

Photos courtesy of Philippa Wilcox, Monica Davis, Tammie Day and Oneworld Retreats.