‘Om shanti shanti shanti’. Four words that I repeated every morning and every evening for 10 whole days. The ‘om’ is whispered through the nose, ‘ohhhhmmmm’. ‘Shanti’ is drawn out and repeated three times to represent the body, the mind and the power of speech. This was one of the first things I learned as a total yoga retreat newbie on my arrival to the Serenity Eco Guesthouse in Canggu, Bali.
For me, Bali was an easy choice for my 10 days of total relaxation and disconnection of the mind. I had never done much yoga before. Little bits here and there, yes. But never to the extent that most yoga retreats and course style experiences require of you. One day, I was casually planning my onward journey from Singapore. Sick and in desperate need of rest after being on the road for too long, it occurred to me, I was in the perfect position to pursue my inner peace and take some much-needed down time. It sounds so cliché but today it’s become the norm to get bogged down and lose yourself. I needed to reflect and re-centre. I needed to reset my tired body. I was ready to attempt to master the art of flow and letting go.
Choosing a yoga retreat
So off I went to commence my research. Turns out yoga retreats are expensive. Soon enough I discovered a place that called itself an ‘eco guesthouse’, located close to the beach and a short walk from Canggu town. Offering ten yoga and meditation classes a day, a beautiful on site swimming pool, traditional Balinese massages and a vegan, gluten free diet, I was sold.
Yoga in Bali is increasingly the epitome of every millennials bucket list and is easily every yogi’s paradise. Beautiful sunshine, perfect beaches, swaying palm trees, peaceful people, morning air filled with the smell of jasmine, soothing sounds of chanting from the temples and easy living. I was not disappointed when I arrived in Canggu.
About Yogi Haven Canguu in Bali
A small town located on the south coast of Bali, Canggu is a haven for both yogis and surfers. A town surrounded by rice paddies and littered with hip vegan cafes and surfer hang outs. Canggu really was the ideal place for me to submerge myself into a life of yoga training, mental clarity and clean eating. Solitude is a beautiful thing and being comfortable travelling alone has really taken me to some great places. But if you prefer to be around people, Canggu is filled with like minded yogis hanging out in cafes and on the beach.
Serenity Eco Guesthouse
Serenity eco guesthouse reveled in the perfect balance of self-indulgence and being budget friendly. Not only did they have exclusive private rooms, they also had backpacker style dorms with shared bathrooms set amongst a lush jungle of plants and flowers. A completely tranquil setting promising any yoga seeker, a truly authentic experience.
Offering a variety of yoga classes from beginner to ashtanga and meditation from sound therapy to vipassana, as a yoga retreat newbie I was overly keen to try it all. After a discussion with the on-hand yoga experts, I quickly realised I was only cut out for beginners’ classes and eagerly signed up to get started that evening.
My first yoga class in Bali
So, here I was. My first yoga class in Bali. I grabbed a mat and looked around the room. My first observation was that every single person attending was female. I later realised that this kind of set up seems to attract mainly girls, looking to experience the divine. Whatever that is.
I sat with my legs crossed breathing in the humid Balinese air, listening to the sound of the birds tweeting as the sunset on our (mostly) open air, bamboo-built yoga studio.
‘Ohhhhmmmmmmmm’…. And so the class began.
‘Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Make a sound like the ocean’.
‘Fore finger to your left nostril, breathe in slowly through your right nostril, close it with your thumb, and exhale through the left’.
And I’m lost. Before we even get started on poses.
Seems that breathing properly during yoga is harder than I expected. All the downward dogs I’d struggled through in my front room over the years had seriously brought me nowhere and taught me nothing.
As we started on our first sun salutation, I was surprised how stiff my body was. I was also completely reassured that despite a lot of scantily clad, hot bodied yoga types that I’d seen slinking around, some of those girls were actually in my beginner class struggling along with me.
First time yoga retreat expectations vs the reality
My expectations of yoga were far from realistic. In my mind this was going to be relaxing. It would soothe my tired body and quieten my busy mind. Instead, I was sweating profusely, aching in strange places, panting like a dog and, frankly, quite stressed that I could not hold the poses for as long as would like. I think it’s fair to say, no matter how many downward dogs, warriors or pigeon poses I thought I’d done, even the beginner classes here were proving a challenge.
I dragged my hot, sweating, struggling body through sun salutations, triangle poses, chair and tree poses, and I’d never been more ready when our teacher positioned herself in my favorite pose. Corpse pose. Also known as shavasana, the corpse pose offers time for meditation and deep rejuvenation, something I was desperate for after 90 mins of bending and posing. Or at least attempting to.
And the class closed.
The next morning, eating my vegan and gluten free breakfast, I reflected on my yoga experience the night before. I chose not to be hard on myself and I got straight back to the next class a few hours later. You must be kind to yourself or you’ll go nowhere when it comes to yoga.
Needless to say, over the coming days things got easier. My muscles warmed up, my stress levels decreased and I felt more comfortable in all the beginner poses that had been so difficult. Naturally, my adopted life style of clean eating, drinking strictly alkaline water, sleeping well and taking long daily walks along the beach greatly helped my mind to relax and my body to feel less sluggish. Being in a natural environment with no over use of chemicals, natural toiletries and no AC felt heavenly on my exhausted soul.
My Yin Yoga Class
A few days later I felt confident enough to mix things up a little and signed up for yin yoga that night. Yin is a super relaxed slow paced style of yoga, where you hold poses for a longer period of time. The challenge is finding the strength to hold the poses as required. Yin yoga really helped me to focus my breath and finally rid myself of that suffocating feeling I’d been struggling with during sequences. This was the first time I truly felt at peace during my practice.
Meditation in Bali
I managed a few meditation classes over that 10 days. Being fully in control of the mind is something I need to explore further. It takes a lot of practice to get it right. Done properly and under professional guidance, meditation can be a powerful tool in increasing and maintaining mental strength.
Freedom, flourishing & fab skin
During my time in Bali I learned that yoga isn’t a competitive sport. You’re not there to be the best. If you allow yourself the freedom, if you’re kind to your mind and body, it will flourish. I began to feel lighter and stronger and my skin glowed. My energy and vitality improved, I was sleeping better. But, most of all, my mind felt still. And then I realised, this must be it.
This is divinity, and I had found it in Bali.
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Are you a yoga retreat newbie and trying to decide which retreat you should visit? Serenity Eco Guesthouse is a really great, laid back and most importantly non-intimidating yoga retreat for beginners (and advanced yogis too). And Bali… well, Bali is just Bali… you can’t pick a better place to get your zen on.
Serenity Eco Guesthouse offers loads of different packages at really fair prices. You can stay in a rather cute dorm room for 30 nights, breakfast included and with unlimited daily yoga classes (up to 13 classes to choose from a day) for just over $500. You could also do 7 days in your own private double room for just over $200. Oh and there’s free wifi… huge plus.
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Feel free to share your own first ever yoga retreat newbie experiences (good and bad) in the comments section below. Have you been to Serenity yourself?