Wherever you find yourself on the island, you can enjoy a great meal (Balinese or generally Indonesian cuisine is tasty and healthy, largely vegetarian and vegan), meditate (although some monasteries are crowded with tourists and meditation rooms and centres just like that) and practice yoga.
Yoga, which is closely linked to Buddhism and Hinduism, the most widespread religion on the island (almost 85% of locals claim to be Hindu), and which draws many allusions to Bhagavad Gita, the most important sacred book of Hinduism, is practiced abundantly, several times a day, in various yoga centres, restaurants and resorts. The most common shalas are open bamboo shalas with magnificent views over hills and forests and the oceans. Most frequently, the lessons tend to be open multilevel classes where the numbers vary from about five to twenty visitors who can sign up in advance (in some more prominent shalas) or just try their luck and arrive spontaneously to a class of their choice.
Yoga is rarely taught by the locals, due to the fact that they hardly ever get the possibility to travel to India or Europe to learn and become instructors. Most commonly, yoga here is taught by instructors from Europe and Australia who volunteer here in exchange for accommodation and meals (because it is not easy to get a work permit here) or just one of them. Some instructors come to Bali with their clients for a variety of workshops and retreats that take place in various resorts, depending on what the instructors arrange themselves or what an agency that they choose organizes for them.
On the island, you can try out all the possible yoga styles ranging from the traditional Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Mysore Yoga to Vinyasa Flow, Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, and even Laughter Yoga (the old masters would find this ridiculous, but what can one do; the era we live in asks for “positive thinking” and “good vibes” and “the power of laughter”. Indeed, the names of the local resorts, mostly bungalows, guest houses and restaurants, touch upon these trends and find support in the local religions: Good Karma, Meditasi Bungalows, Mantra Guesthouse, Serenity Eco Guesthouse these are just some of them to illustrate.
Everywhere on the island you find, besides the historic temples, also straw shrines and stone statues of the gods. Every day at regular intervals the locals would offer their gifts, offerings, called canang sari. In tiny baskets or on banana or palm leaves, there are usually pieces of food and flowers and above these, they place the fragrant sticks. The locals do not like to see the tourists accidentally stepping onto some of the offerings which often lie on the ground by the roads.
The main reason for these gifts is the praise of and prayer to Sang Hyang Widhi Wasa, the central Balinese (in principle the Indonesian) god. The locals are devout to their gods; they pray usually four times a day, at six-hour intervals, starting at six o’clock in the morning. The less pious ones or those who due to work reasons cannot do otherwise pray at least twice a day at noon and in the evening. You will know that the local people have just prayed because in the place of the sixth chakra, the third eye, between the eyebrows, they would have glued grains of rice after the prayer that had been dipped in water before.
If you ask the locals about their religious customs and habits, they are content and they love to talk. They appreciate when tourists are interested in their culture and traditions. On the other hand, they do not expect the tourists to honour their traditions. They are grateful if you can at least learn to thank in Indonesian or Balinese, and if you – as a woman – respect at least the basic rule: you are not allowed to enter temples and shrines at the time of menstruation. While in the West we are delighted to believe that a woman is most intuitive at the time of her period, “connected” to her strength and source, and we love reading books such as The Optimized Woman, here – as well as in some other parts of the world – menstruation makes a woman “unclean”. It would be a karmic sin if a woman knew this rule of prohibiting the entrance, yet broke it. On the contrary: blessed be the ignorant; if you do not know the rule and you enter a temple, your karma will not suffer any harm.
Entrances to the monasteries and temples have dual prices, low for the locals, quite high for the tourists. If you want to sleep in the monasteries (or spend the night there in meditation), while you are not a local, they look at you suspiciously and usually do not let you do it. Sometimes though, you might be lucky enough to be allowed into the areas of the sacred grounds normally closed for visitors – to do your meditation. I got this chance in Ulun Danu Beraten temple, but more on that next time.
To be continued…