Thursday, August 28, 2008

Volcano

Monday Wayan came to pick me up at 9am for a day of touristing. Our first stop was Goa Gajah, The Elephant Cave Temple. This temple is special because of the cave, which is relatively shallow but remarkable for the stone that it is carved into and the deity statues, Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma are all in attendance inside the cave. The demon face entrance is really stunning and worth the trip to see. The other big attractions here are the trees, huge gnarly and beautiful trees that are centuries old.
From here Wayan took me to Gunung Kawi. This temple is also carved out of stone but it was likely made to honor a Balinese king and his family rather than Hindu deities. On one side of the river there are five Candis each standing a bit over 20’ high. These are thought to represent the Balinese royal family of the time. On the other side of the river there are four Candis one source says that these were erected to honor the king’s four concubines. This led to a fun conversation where I tried to explain to Wayan what a concubine is.
Next we stopped by an agri-tourism spot. So many tourists apparently were stopping in the fields to photograph the various orchards and coffee crops that some enterprising folks decided to make a one-stop-shop for all things locally grown. This includes, and is perhaps headlined by, locally grown and roasted coffee. The king of all coffee, if royal lineage and cost per ounce are interchangeable, is Luwak. Incase you have never had the pleasure… there is this animal called a Luwak who eats only the absolutely finest of coffee beans. He then excretes the beans, in a sort of fecal brick which looks remarkably like a Payday candy bar, the beans are collected, roasted and sold for an ungodly amount of money. Of course I had to check this out for myself.

And then we reached our main destination for the day the volcano Gunung Batur. Batur is flanked by Gunan Abang a 2100+ meter mountain and Danau Batur the largest lake in Bali. We arrived in time to see the volcano for about 15 minutes before the clouds rolled in and hid her from view. It was actually cold at the overlook and when the clouds came in it felt like fall had arrived.

The drive home took us through some beautiful farmland and the main woodcarving villages in the area. It is taking every bit of yogi restraint I can muster to not buy a wood carving from every vendor we pass. There is so much talent here and I am a sucker for a good Buddha. Fortunately the high cost of shipping and the size constraints of my luggage are keeping me mostly in check.

After touring my next engagement was a yoga class with Mantra, the Guru I had met the day before. Mantra lived up to his name. His class was an hour and a half of Asanas (postures) and mantra chanting. I had never been to a class like his before, but I loved it!

I am beginning to think that I have picked the best place on Earth to be while focusing on making yoga an everyday part of the rest of my life. This community is so perfect for anyone looking to expand, explore or generally find the meaning of their life. Really, there seems to be a yoga class, Guru or metaphysical practitioner around each and every corner. You can’t escape it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wayan


Saturday Analisa, my yoga school friend, and I decided to go for a hike through the rice fields and some neighboring villages. We made it about 20 minutes into our stroll before we stumbled upon a Guru, apparently they are hanging out in pretty much every corner in these here parts. This Guru is named Mantra and he is Balinese. Analisa and I spent about 45 minutes chatting with him and making plans to see him again.

I was so happy to have found Mantra as I was, without even really realizing it, longing for someone to help further my practice now that school is out. I will continue on my own to practice Kriyas, Pranayama, and Asanas but I am thrilled to have met someone who can help me continue on the metaphysical and philosophic yoga paths as well.

From Mantra’s we walked through some really petty areas of jungle and river canyon before coming out on the ridge that I look out at from the pool at my place. The whole walk was beautiful and it ends at the bridge separating my neighborhood from Ubud proper, pretty much exactly between Anilasa’s place and mine.

Upon returning home, I learned that two more yoga school friends were staying at the villas for the night. Irina, who wrote the note saying that I was graceful, had taken a not-so-graceful fall and sprained her ankle so she and Monika, a clothing designer/yoga teacher from Philadelphia, decided to come back to Ubud to let her settle and figure out if the ankle would require her to head home early. Monika joined me for dinner, a really nice treat as I was expecting to begin my solitude that evening.

The next morning all my yoga school friends (not pictured here) headed off. For the first time since Germany I was truly all alone, which lasted for all of about an hour. I returned to my villa after running out to check emails and there was a note slid under my front door.

I have a cell phone here but it costs something like $2/minute to use so basically it is a paperweight. Instead, for the last few weeks I have gone retro – resorting to hand written notes slid under doors or left under shoes at the doorsteps of my friends. Incase it has been a while since you have had a friendly note waiting for you at your doorstep, let me remind you just how nice this is. In fact I am keeping a collection of all of the notes I have received since arriving in Bali.
This particular note was from Wayan (pictured above). Incase you haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love or visited Bali, let me fill you in on the names here. There are only four in Bali – Wayan, Kadek, Yoman and Katut. These names correspond with birth order Wayan is #1 so it is the most common name in Bali. If you meet someone for the first time (based on my unscientific mathematical formula) there is about a 65% chance they are named Wayan. This gets really confusing so Wayans can also be called Putu on occasion, Kadeks are sometime Mare and Yoman can be Noman. By necessity there are a lot of nicknames used to help keep everyone straight. *All spellings here are subject to verification and given my atrocious spelling, are probably wrong.
This is a different Wayan than the aforementioned healer/herb spitter. This Wayan is the friend of Brendan, someone I know from Colorado who very generously passed his name and contact info along. Wayan and I had been exchanging emails but hadn’t managed to find each other until now. About five minutes after finding the note I was in his car on the way to his village to meet his family.

After having tea and rice crackers with Wayan’s wife Yanik, his daughter Putu, his niece and his mother (all of whom are actually Wayans), he took me on a tour of his village and a neighboring community where I got to meet his friend Katut (pictured here) who also hosted me with tea and rice crackers in his home. Wayan and Ketut walked me down to a holy water shrine where a spring comes out from the mountainside directly opposite a beautiful waterfall, it was a really special place.

Afterwards Wayan asked me what my favorite beach in Bali was and I had to tell him that I have still not seen the ocean here – he offered to swing by a surf spot before taking me home so I could verify that am indeed on an island. Sadly, I must report that today I still have not seen the beach in Bali.

On our way we happened upon a very bad motorbike accident and since there was no ambulance around we loaded the injured, a man and an elderly woman, into the car and took them to the hospital. It was a crazy intense experience as they were very badly mangled and aside from hold their hands and drive quickly, we could do frustratingly little for them.
We delivered them to the hospital where they were whisked away and that was the last I saw of them. I have no idea what their names were, if they even knew each other or how they are today. All I know is that they were in the very wrong place at the wrong time and I am thankful that we came along when we did.
Wayan was really shaken up afterwards, as was I and we abandoned our afternoon activities opting to go home early instead. After making offerings and performing a cleansing ceremony for himself and specifically for the car he deemed it fit for touring again and tomorrow he’s taking me to the volcano and two 11th century temples. Wayan assures me that our Karma Yoga is in really good shape now. I don’t know about that but if I were hurt on the side of the road I sure hope someone would stop to help me.

The experience helped me make a decision. I don’t think I’ll be renting a motorbike here, something I was on my way to do before I found Wayan’s note.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monkey

Today I am writing from the porch of my rented villa here in Ubud. I woke up at 6 am head swimming in champagne and made my way across the street to a yoga shala where I had my morning practice. This should have been torturous given the lack of sleep and copious amount of bubbly – however it ended up being amazing and about halfway through I realized that I would not be hung over today, that I had sweat all the evil (and yet, oh so yummy), vino out of my system – hallelujah!
After practicing I walked back through the rice fields and the farmers were harvesting one of the paddies –I stood and watched them work for a while, snapped a few photos and continued on my path. I got back to my flat and my houseboy, Wayan, was there laying out breakfast for me, I had no idea that my $300/month villa came with daily breakfast - I love this place! So here I am writing, eating an omelet and fresh papaya, sipping coffee listening to the wind in the bamboo and the waterfall/fountain from my porch.
I am happy, I am blessed and I am the best ME I have been in years.

Yoga school was all-encompassing and so I really still have yet to see anything of Ubud let alone Bali on the whole. Today I decided to explore the town, at around 11am I started walking. My villa is just over 1 km from Ubud proper and it takes me about 20 minutes to walk to town as that 1km is down and then up the river canyon.

Ubud has a monkey forest that I have heard about so I chose it as my destination. It was a long walk, but took me through a big part of town I had yet to see. Entrance to the park costs 15,000rp or about $1.50, for another 4,000rp (40 cents) I got a bag of bananas to feed the monkeys. This was a bad idea.

Monkeys are smart and these particular monkeys know the tourist routine and can smell a banana a mile away. I wasn’t 40 feet inside the preserve when I found myself in a standoff with a monkey. I threw him a banana and figured he’d be appeased, but moments later he had my whole purse and we were playing tug of war, I did some rapid-fire cost benefit analysis… wallet, camera, iPhone or give the monkey the bananas? Right, buddy the bananas are all yours.
In the middle of the preserve is a temple, the Monkey Forest Temple to be precise. It is stunning and I sat in it for almost an hour, watching monkeys stroll along the walls, shrines and sculptures and tourists float in and out.

A nice Japanese girl offered to take my picture next to one of the monkeys, which seemed safe enough since I was banana free, but no sooner did I take my place than I had a monkey on my back for real! He was surprisingly light for his size and had amazingly soft hands, this however did not stop me from shrieking and literally trying to shake him off of my back. Not a very yogi moment, but it is hard to be calm and steady when you have a deranged, banana stealing, primate on your person.

I decided to take a less worn path out of the forest and this led me to a house with a man sitting on his porch carving monkeys out of wood. I sat and chatted with him for a while and he showed me his workshop where he had dozens of truly beautiful carvings. I decided to buy a statue of Shiva, my first art purchase of the trip. Afterwards, I continued along the path until I came upon a small resort. I wandered up to the front desk and asked if I could get a taxi as I was tired from walking all day and had no idea where I was.
Sure enough a minute later I was in a taxi and headed back home. We made it about four blocks and I was looking around in sort of a trance state, it had been such an amazing day and the street we were driving on was still decorated from the Galungan holiday. My trance was suddenly broken as my driver slammed on his brakes. There was this very large shirtless man on a scooter in front of us who had stopped his bike in the middle of the road and was now screaming at us.

Did I mention he was really big, like professional wrestler big and shirtless. He was getting louder and coming nearer and my driver started rolling up windows and locking doors. I was really confused. The shirtless man arrived at the van and started hitting it with his firsts – so hard it shook the whole car and from the sound of crunching metal I could tell he had caused damage. He moved up the car and started hitting the windshield so hard that I was pretty sure it was going to break and all the while he is screaming in Balinese things I cannot understand and my driver looked completely stunned.

My instincts are saying “dude, run the friggin bike over… get us outta here, right now!” Instead he stars reversing but we only make it about 100’ before there are other cars in our way. Shirtless man catches up to us and again with the hitting and the screaming, after a minute my driver starts driving forward again and shirtless man starts screaming at the car behind us. We reach his motorbike and my driver gets out of the car to push the bike away, all the while I am fixated on shirtless man who is menacing the other car now.

Bike pushed aside, our escape route is clear so my driver high-tails it to the next street and banks a right. He pulls over to call the cops and collect himself as he was really rattled. He is fidgeting with the mobile phone, rolling the windows back down and opening his door for some air when I look back and holy crap, shirtless man is barreling towards us on his bike and he is even more pissed this time. I scream at the driver “DRIVE!!!!” Apparently this means the same thing universally or something about the tone of my voice conveyed it's meaning. In any event, he obliges, hits the gas and we are now in a car chase.

I just spent three weeks in yoga school, only leaving the serenity of our resort for short trips to the Internet cafĂ© or the grocery store. Aside from the rogue chicken or two scaring me on my nightly walk home from dinner I have not had a worry. Mary and I never locked our room, we slept with the door wide open to let in the breeze in – I feel completely safe here. Everyone in Bali is friendly, seriously… not exaggerating – every single person will smile at you and talk to you all day if that’s your cup of tea.

Now here I am on day one of being truly alone, I am almost exactly half-way around the world from my friends and family and I am in a car chase with a possessed Balinese muscle man on a scooter and my best line of defense is my tiny little driver who speaks no English and probably has to go through a full Hindu cleansing ceremony if he so much as steps on an ant.

And then apparently shirtless man got bored with us, or we crossed over some invisible line that marked the end of his turf, he turns around and drives off. For the first time since encountering shirtless man I begin to take in my surroundings, rice fields, farmers, no stores, no houses, no hotels… and now it hits me… I have NO idea where I am. I was lost when I got in to the cab and now I have absolutely no since of direction or distance.

I ask my driver where we are and he says something in Indonesian or Balinese or maybe English, but I am unable to decipher it and I start getting scared. I don’t know if he has some beef with shirtless man and has promised him one blonde virgin to make amends, and possibly mistaken me for such. Or if my driver is so rattled that he is just blindly driving or what.

This goes on for about ten minutes with me getting steadily more uncomfortable with the whole deal. Then he turns a corner and I start seeing some familiar stores and a few minutes later I am home again. When he drops me off we assess the damage to the van, which is considerable. Shirtless man must have broken his hand, I don’t know how a normal mortal could taco the hood of a car without breaking something.

I spend the next hour or so trying to find a yogic way to come to grips with the day’s events, because frankly I am freaked out at this point and it would have been pretty easy to start questioning my decision to travel the world alone. But a yogini realizes that she is responsible for all of her actions. She accepts this reality and then dismisses that which has passed.

I chose to buy bananas so I could try to get close to a monkey, which was really dumb because you don’t need bananas to get close to the monkeys there and if I had waited 30 seconds I would have learned that avoiding the first of my day’s standoffs. I chose to not bring my guidebook/map today and to not go out the normal tourist exit from the Monkey Forest. I chose to walk alone through rice fields when I was already lost, rather than retrace my steps and I chose to take a cab from the midst of my disorientation.

So bottom line, my choices led me to be on that street at that moment with perhaps the only unhappy Balinese person in the world who looked remarkably like a monkey, beating his chest and the hood of our car. And now I am choosing to chalk this up as one really random and isolated event and not give it any more weight than that. I will sleep soundly tonight.

Keeping with the monkey theme… This evening I met up with one of the girls from yoga school who is still in Ubud. Analisa is from San Francisco and is spending a couple more days here. She and I had made plan to go see a traditional show tonight and it ended up being the Monkey Dance, lots of guys dressed up like… you guessed it, monkeys. The show was absolutely amazing and featured about 100 men chanting together and lighting things on fire.

After the show I started strolling up the street to find a taxi when one of the performers offered to give me a ride. This is pretty standard around here, there are official taxi drivers, but really anyone with a mode of transportation will give you a ride. The monkey chanter delivered me safely to my villa thanked me for coming to his show and said “ride free, you have fun time in Bali nice lady.” And I realized I was 100% responsible for that taxi ride too.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Yoga School Wrap Up

Yoga school was intense and since I am really more of a directly-after-the-moment kind of writer it is hard for me to look back to five days ago and convey what all has transpired so I will just stick to the highlights to fill in a few gaps.

Monday I woke up sick. It started as a headache and a low-grade fever and by 5pm it was a super high fever and every joint in my body was screaming out in pain. I skipped the evening’s outing, ordered in room service and settled in to the fetal position for the night. A few hours later and my fever broke, and by broke I mean I almost drowned in my own sweat. The next morning I woke and I was fine. This has now happened to me twice in my three weeks here. My body is being cleansed like never before and the release of decades of bad behavior is coming out in one-day fever doses. It’s crazy to experience.

Tuesday morning was my turn to teach. During the last week of training we all had our practical exams. This required that we be prepared to teach a 75-minute Vinyasa Flow class. The classes were broken into four sections, opening, standing poses, sitting poses and closing. Each day four of us were chosen and we were told as class was beginning which section we would be leading. I had gone over my lesson in my head dozens of times, I knew every posture by its Sanskrit name, how to lead my students into and out of the poses with their breath, I knew the modifications, I was ready.

In fact, I’m not sure I have ever been less nervous for an exam. Marco our Italian/Croatian director/Guru came to me after meditation and asked if I would open the class. I was elated!!! If I had had my choice, opening is what I would have opted for. I led my fellow classmates in chanting a mantra all about how we are our own teachers, a theme I kept throughout the warm-up stretches and five rounds each of sun salutation A and B. And just like that, it was over. I realized afterwards that I had pretty much meditated my way through. I felt so at ease and comfortable in the seat of the teacher.

During my evaluation Marco, who to me embodies yoga, gave me the most amazing compliment. “Rachel, you absolutely were yoga when you were teaching.” I felt again like I had during “my moment” of the first week – I felt joy and love.
As part of the closing of our course we had an evening where everyone brought something beautiful to share with the group. Many brought flowers or poems. Irena, a yoga teacher from Holland brought a hand written note for each of us. Mine said “thank you for your peaceful grace”. Wow. Me graceful… me, the eternal clutz? This is what yoga can do.
As our time together began to wind down there was a decided lack of tears. Everyone seemed ready to move on, to begin their own practices and to incorporate yoga into their normal lives. Not wishing our last days away, but ready for the next step. We were all detached little yogis, living in the Now. During one of our last lessons our teachers gave us all some pointers on how to fit yoga into modern life. Satya called it being an urban yogi. I decided that I don’t want to fit yoga into my life. I want to fit my life into my yoga. This is the order of priority for me now and I intend to live this way for the duration.

I officially graduated yoga school on Wednesday evening, which also coincided with Galungan a high holy day here in Bali. We were all treated to an amazing graduation/Galungan ceremony performed for us by a Hindu priest, complete with blessings and cleansings, it was one of the most amazingly powerful things I have ever experienced. Actually, my entire time in Bali has been like this – each day brings some new wonder I could not possibly have dreamed of before.

Thursday morning all of the students gathered at our own pace in the smaller shala to enjoy one last Mysore practice together before each of us headed off in our own direction. When I was finished with my practice I began humming, I wasn't even really aware that I was doing it until I heard Taylor, the 23-year old who went to Wayan's with me, humming too. We simultaneously raised our hums to soft singing and then together we sang the Anusara Invocation, the same one I had led my class with. Another reminder that I am now and have always been, my own teacher. Taylor and I softened our voices until our humming drifted off and we returned to our individual silences. It was the perfect ending to yoga school.

That night my yoga school roommate (Mary) and I were treated to an amazing graduation dinner by Mary’s boyfriend Ed. It began with cheese and fruit in this gorgeous villa overlooking the river canyon and rice fields of Ubud. I should explain the absence of cheese from my life for the last 21 days so that you can fully grasp how amazing a block of finely aged blue was to me.

Then Ed proclaimed that we needed to toast our accomplishments and he produced a bottle of Dom Perignon – one hell of a way to reintroduce alcohol into my life. And from their we went to Mosaic which is a sister restaurant to French Laundry in Napa and where I had one of the absolute finest meals of my life – every time a new course came (all eight of them) I had to proclaim that it was the greatest thing I had ever tasted! What a way to reintroduce meat into my life.

We stumbled home well past our yoga school bedtime laughing and generally enjoying each other’s company.

All in all I cannot believe my good fortune. I chose this yoga school because it was Vinyasa/Ashtanga based, because it was in Bali and because it fit my time line. What I received was the teachings of three amazing Gurus, the education of Mysore with 17 amazing souls, the peace and prosperity that comes with a dedicated practice, a few life-long friendships and a vastly improved sense of Self.

Coming here was one of the best decisions of my life.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Yogi Timelines

A typical day at yoga school goes like this.

5:30 am wake up perform morning Kriyas – these consist of Neti, tongue cleansing and chicken clucking .

6:00 Breathing Kriyas – Now it doesn’t really take me 30 minutes to brush my teeth and complete the chicken clucking procedure, but this is the time when Mary, my roommate, and I indulge in our illegal contraband… Illy coffee made with our secret French press. Back to the breathing… I have about five of these Kriyas to do each morning, they range from rolling my stomach muscles, to roaring like a lion and sticking out my tongue to hissing like a snake. Mary and I are pretty sure our neighbors love waking up to lion roars at 6am

6:30 Meditation – this takes place with everyone at the yoga Shala, some days we sit, some days we walk, but always we are lead by Satya, the Columbian Guru whose infectious smile ensures that we are all happy to be there at that ungodly hour. Meditation is a serious struggle for me, if I am really lucky I manage a solid minute of actually having a completely quiet mind. Usually the process goes like this. Satya tells us to set our intention for the day… okay I think, today my intention is to be kind to myself. Then she says all of these really beautiful and peaceful things to help us start quieting our minds and tells us to focus on our intention and our breathing.

Right about here my mind starts along this path. Alright, be nice to yourself today… exhale… don’t judge yourself in the postures… inhale… you are beautiful… exhale… beautiful, yeah save for all the damn mosquito bites all over me… inhale… I wonder pattern it would create if I played connect the dots with all these infernal bites, why must there be mosquitoes… exhale… crap, that’s not very yogi of me, where was I… inhale… be kind to myself…exhale… I can do amazing things…

Then Satya (the Chilean Guru) will say something like, “think of our breath like waves in the ocean…”

Ocean, breath is like waves in the ocean… inhale … I have yet to even see the ocean… exhale … maybe Saturday I should go to the ocean… inhale … no Saturday I should find a place to live… exhale… wow, am I really going to live in Bali for three months?... inhale, crap… focus you idiot, oh damn it I’m supposed to be being nice to myself.. sorry self you are not an idiot…exhale.

Okay start again… inhale… look to your third eye…exhale… focus on the breath…inhale, and then sometimes it will happen, my mind stops churning and there is utter calm and a bright white light behind my eyelids and between my eyes. About 30 seconds later I think – sweet you are doing it! Followed immediately by… shit acknowledging that I was doing it means I am no longer doing it. It means I started thinking again... And usually right about here Satya taps together the prayer bells and we all come out of our trances and come back to reality. Of course some of us never managed to fully leave reality.
7:00 - 9:00 Mysore or Vinyasa Flow class. Some days we practice on our own completing the postures in the primary series of Ashtanga yoga, and some mornings we are led through Vinyasa Flow classes, which are my favorite. This week we are having our practical exams so the students are leading the classes.
9:00 Breakfast – breakfast here has become quite a ritual for me. It is the same buffet everyday and as a result of eating it for three weeks I may never again be able to ingest pancakes, peanut butter, corn flakes or papaya. Since the ingredients are always the same we are each becoming quite creative in the manner in which we combine them. My preference is to take two pancakes, slather one with peanut butter, place banana slices on that and then top it off with another pancake. For a girl whose normal breakfast for the last ten years consisted of one tall non-fat, vanilla latte and a bagel that I almost never finish, I must say I have really embraced this whole full-plate breakfast thing.

10:30 Morning Class – This is the time each day when I hit a wall. From 10:30-1:00 each morning we study either anatomy or yoga philosophy, but mostly I focus on keeping my eyes open. My body and mind are weary from 18 days of constant work. I have never felt so alternately energized and exhausted from hour to hour throughout the day as I do here. This is also the time of day I long for a chair, a good ‘ol four-legged, high-backed chair. We sit on the ground during all of our classes and some days I love this, other days I feel like I am sitting on a bed of nails and I cannot get comfortable, this help immensely in keeping my eyes open however.

1:00 Lunch – Again this is a buffet but it changes each day. There are some staple items, like there is always a soup and some kind of fried rice cracker concoction, also there is always tofu… I have nightmares now about tofu, in fact all soy based products haunt my dreams these days. But lunch is a fun time too, because the cooks always surprise us with something to look forward to. Around day 12 it was a salad with shredded mozzarella on it. After everyone had served themselves, there was plenty of lettuce left but not a single shred of cheese. This marked the very brief re-introduction of cheese into my world, it was a bright and sunny day.

Desert is a big deal here and it is enjoyed after both lunch and dinner. Prior to coming on this trip I was not really a desert kinda girl. I mean I’d have one on a rare or special occasion, but certainly not daily. Here, I am embracing this tradition wholeheartedly.

After lunch we have two hours of free/study time. This is when I write, or check emails or sometimes even study. On those occasions that I study, I find it helps my concentration if I do so in a bikini and poolside.
3:30 - 6:30 Afternoon Lessons – Again this time is filled with yoga philosophy, or Asana anatomy or learning to adjust, but unlike the morning class I am almost always super energized and engaged in the afternoon sessions. For the most part these three-hour classes fly by for me.

7:00 Dinner – and again with the chaffing dishes, soup, rice crackers, and the infernal tofu! Seriously… can’t a yogi live a life of Ahimsa – non-violence – and still have the occasional scallop?

Some nights, when we have no evening lecture we sneak out for a dinner somewhere else, but I must tell you that for 18 days now I have had no fish or meat of any kind, no alcohol, no sugar (honey yes, sugar no), hardly any cheese, and exactly four eggs. I have likely consumed my body-weight in rice and tofu however.
8:30 Evening Lecture – These classes are either philosophy classes or meditation. Usually by this point I am so tired that I have a hard time really fully engaging in the discussions, but it is nice to hear everyone’s point of view, so I generally like just sitting and listening.

9:30 Bedtime – Sometimes I whoop it up and stay up until around 9:42, but for the most part I lay down at 9:30 and wake up around 5:27, to be greeted 3 minutes later by our alarm clock and back to the bathroom for some chicken clucking.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Healing

Saturday we had our first exam and then most of the day off. Four of us decided to head into town together to enjoy our free day. Taylor, the youngest of my classmates, is an artist from the states but just finishing university in Australia, Jelena, a Croatian yoga instructor/radio broadcaster who is here to complete her 500 hour certification and Sandra my mentor and one of the three yogis/gurus/teachers.

We decided to start by visiting a healer to see if we could get appointments with her later in our stay. Our plan was to swing by her place, then go to the monkey forest and the market and maybe to the town where the silversmiths live. It was a nice plan, only never made it past the healer, in fact six hours later we had managed to miss our class, which was bad for us students, but particularly rough for Sandra who had been scheduled to lead the class.

Bali is home to more than its fair share of healers, herbalists and pseudo witch doctors. Some focus on energy healing, others on massage, some are blunt and to the point and some make more of a full on experience out of it. Wayan is of the full on experience variety. You may have heard of her because she is mentioned in a best-selling novel, which featured Bali and Ubud. She generally is hard to get in to see because of this book and her notoriety resulting form it.

So we go in to make our appointments and somehow, miraculously, we are told she can see all four of us now. Thankfully Mary, my yoga school roommate and all around Bali guide, had given us a few tips on what to expect so we knew going in that this would be no spa-type experience and that Wayan would flit about between us all while we were being rubbed, scrubbed, and generally purified.

Wayan came to our table (her establishment is half healing center, half restaurant) introduced herself and stared performing a blessing ceremony for each of us. Then she took about 15 minutes to read everyone individually.
Sandra was first. Wayan scaned her body, felt pressure points, checked her ears, her eyes and then finished up with a palm reading. “You want to know how many husbands you will have?” Wayan asked Sandra who is currently married to our other instructor Marco. “No” replied Sandra “I am already married, best to leave it at that.” And then Sandra was whisked off upstairs and out of sight.
Then Taylor went and Wayan told her that she would continue a pattern of settling someplace for a while and then up and moving and then settling again and moving again… “That is so me!” Taylor replied, and I was thinking, actually that is so me! And off Taylor went.

Jelena’s turn was next and Wayan told her that something she had been told by her western doctors was a problem for her, wasn’t in fact and that she was very healthy. And off Jelena went.

And so then Wayan came to me and I was scared. She’d been pretty good at identifying problem areas up to this point and I had a bit of a health scare before I embarked on this trip, which I had conveniently put out of my mind until it was my turn. But first thing’s first. She read my palm, “you will have long life, if you want to you will have one child, you used to be really smart, but now you are not as smart as you used to be. “ Ouch! Then she assured me “You still smart, just not as smart. You are married already, but now not, you had a sad time when you were younger, but you better now ” and so on.

When she asked me what my chief complaint was I told her I had water in my ear. In fact I have had water in my ear for a week now and it is killing me whenever I turn my head, which the Ashtanga Primary Series calls for quite a lot. Oh and by the way I have some swollen lymph nodes – no big deal.
And off I went to the mysterious second floor. And oh what interesting, confounding, and at times terrifying treasures the second floor holds. Wayan employs around eight people, most of whom are also named Wayan it seems. These people make the food, apply tinctures, massage, bathe and generally tend to you while you are there. Wayan stands in the middle of the room conducting their actions and periodically she comes to administer the more advanced treatments herself.

Sandra had made the mistake of mentioning that she suffers from allergies. She was therefore subjected to something far worse than public neti. Taylor complained of hip pain and so she was rubbed with scalding hot water bottles. Jelena had mentioned her digestive system and was thus subjected to a litany of putrid smelling teas and tinctures.

And then there was me. Treatment for water in the ear… steaming rice wrapped into a cone of seaweed, much like a sushi hand roll, placed tip end into the ear and then blown into, which sends hot air into your ear causing the water to evaporate or so I was told. The result of this ‘treatment’ was the craziest pain I have ever felt. It was like having a hot poker go shooting into my brain. It was all I could do to not start throwing punches. But then she stopped blowing and sure enough the water was gone.

Then came the really scary part. Before I left for this trip I had a lymph node swell, which apparently can be a symptom of lymphoma. I had the full gamut of tests run and was given a clean bill of health. But upon arriving here I had another one swell on me, nothing I am really worried about, in fact I am choosing to believe that this is a good sign that my lymphatic system is doing its job very well and just wants a little recognition. So I mention this to Wayan, which was a monumental mistake as I would soon learn.

Wayan’s bag of tricks/medicine kit seems to begin and end primarily with really hot items – Sushi hand roll blow torches for instance. Treatment for lymph nodes – limes heated to hot coal temperature on an open flame and then rolled, kneaded really, into the affected area for about 30 minutes. If that does not produce the desired affect, then she pulls out the big guns. In my case this involved her chewing up various herbs and plants and then spitting them onto my groin – not kidding here folks!

Mixed in with the medicinal treatments are various body scrubs and massage, which are quite nice and on more than one occasion I tried to count how many hands were touching me at once, for a while there were eight, two massaging, one applying a sugar scrub and one giving me a facial.

After about a half hour of letting the tumeric, herb, spittle soak in, Wayan came over to me and whispered that she could not fix what was wrong with me on her own and that she was going to take me to her teacher. She said “don’t worry, this is my responsibility now. I will take you to him myself.” My eyes welled up, kinder words may have never been spoken. In that moment I forgave her for the sushi roll blow torch and felt like everything really will be okay.
After our treatments were completed, we all went back down to the restaurant for our late lunch and to receive of kits filled with dozens of teas, plants, tinctures, snake oils and instructions on how and when to take them each. The whole process took about six hours and was worth every bit of the time and the ridiculously small cost for the kind of experience you get. Sandra kindly taught the three of us a private class on restorative yoga later that night to make up for the class we had missed although we all agreed that we’d had our fill of restoration for the day.
Today a full week after my experience with Wayan I went to see another healer. This gentleman has been written up in no books that I am aware of and he felt like the real deal. Not to say that Wayan is anything less, but her approach is very different. There is no lunch, massage or salt scrub involved with the man I saw today and he is a one-man show. He is an older man with a beautifully weathered face, his hands are ridiculously soft for anyone over the age of two and smell of a heavenly mix of clove and sandalwood.

He begins his exam by having you sit on the ground in front of him and then he sticks his fingers in your ears, it gets a bit weird after that, but he emits such an air of confidence that you just go with it. After he completes the initial physical exam he produces this wand-like stick and moves down to your feet. He uses the stick to touch reflexology points between your toes and when he finds what he is looking for – whoa Nelly!!!
My two points of contention, the spot on my toe which shows tension and my lymph point. As soon as he hits the lymph spot I writhe in pain and he goes immediately to the two places I have had issues. He hits them exactly and again with the pain. He looks at me and says “no problem, I make you medicine.” And a few minutes later I am again being spat upon, this time in front of two of my classmates who are staring mouths agape as this takes place.

A half hour later the spit-turmeric-hair of a motherless goat, concoction is deemed fit for removal and again with the stick between the toes, only this time… no pain. A few hours later and the offending nodes have been reduced down to no bigger than a lentil and I have been assure that this is not some evil disease ravaging my body, but rather that I process stress and strife in my lymphatic system and that I should maybe get more massages. That is a prescription I will happily have filled.