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Balinese Hangovers & The Balian’s Cure

INDONESIA | Sunday, 31 August 2008 | Views [1788]

Day 9: Balinese Hangovers & The Balian’s Cure

Dawn arose with pain and discomfort. Classic hangover amidst tropic humidity: weighty, dank and stale with arak and puke on the breath. At the breakfast I chose not to attend, stories were told. A group of yogis walked into Monkey Forest at 2AM and chanted the Gyatri Mantra for one hour. Others swam nude in the pool, lounged in a room, and then sobered each other with their words. I kept my secrets to myself and left the unspoken for the balian.

A balian is a traditional Balinese healer. Typically a man, he is revered for his insights, intuition, and the use of his hands on the meridians points of the body for diagnosis. Everyone arrived excited, cheery, interested in the healer’s methods and what our predicted ailments might be. I hoped for the best, dreaming of an immunity elixir to every present and future hangover.

Under an open-air shelter we sat on cool tiles before an elderly man, not decrepit or feeble, but short, thin and oddly powerful in presence. He went by Jaya, or so I recall, and he was sitting on his little chair in his modest healing room tending to other guests; Balinese, French and Americans turning up in streams. We waited, admiring him, speaking in hushed tones about what to expect. Surya, our guide for the day, gave us a background of this balian.

Jaya was born on the isle of Java and worked as an automotive repairman until something shifted. He felt different, drawn another direction. He began communicating more clearly and seeing people in a different light: All of humanity suddenly obtained a compass, a blueprint of where they’ve been that forms their present circumstance, and by healing the errors of the past, one can alter their present situation to better equip themselves for the journey ahead. Each of us has this imprint from the past in our consciousness. Each of us carries the map of the future in our hands. We just need the keys to access their energies. Jaya found that key in some greasy shop in Jakarta, taken not from a rickety motorbike with a blown gasket, but from his own purposeful will.

Jaya is a balian: calm, serene, peaceful & shines a fierce smile that aligns with his gentle humor. He is much like how I pictured an Indian guru: present and confident, humble and willing.

We each took our turns and sat on the floor between his legs. With large brown hands, weathered as a horse’s hooves, he touched our heads; he grasped our neck, rubbed over our shoulders and dug into our collarbones. Scouring into the upper body, Jaya used pressure points to feel where energy was blocked. He seemed to read the pulses and our responses to his pointed touch, somatically revealing what part of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives are either whole, missing, damaged or incomplete. Each of us took turns under his hands before he laid us out on a matt where he prodded our toes. With use of a tool, a small eroded wooden stick, he used acupressure to press the toe-tips and the crevasses in between. With Surya translating, Jaya explained that each toe and each point betwixt these root phalanges there rests a meridian corresponding to our internal organs. And with the right pressure he can determine whether the organ is in stress or ailing based on the response of the patient. After his upper and lower body assessments he moved across the whole body applying the necessary adjustments, whether with further acupressure, massage or sorcery. Some of us received tinctures, oils and an alchemy of mixed herbs complete with specific instruction.

He reached my turn. Rising from the cool floor, I moved over to where Jaya sat on his chair and lowered again to rest my back against his legs. His hands felt massive, as if they were the sun and moon combined bearing down upon me. I relaxed, felt him glide over me like a hurried card dealer, and then he pressed. He dug into meridians in the scalp, behind the ears and underneath my shoulders. I breathed, winced and waited, relaxing my twisted stomach and tried to clear the toxins loaded inside my liver. Jaya reached the crown of my head and used his thumb with force, then spoke. Surya translated:


     • Jaya: “Did you have trauma in your past?”
     • Me: “Um… nope.”
     • Jaya: “Are you sure there was no accident? I feel there was something significant.” He continued probing my skullcap.
     • Me: “I have no memory of anything.”
     • Jaya: “Nothing causing major damage or loss?”
     • Me: “I don’t recall.”


Quickly he rubbed me down, covering all areas. He patted my shoulders, then lifted his hands from my body. Finished. I was in the clear with only a faint doubt in my mind about an unforeseen past. I breathed in the humid air of the Balinese culture and felt the queasiness of my hangover return.

Later that afternoon with a lunch break in between, we departed and rode back to Ubud: Afternoon yoga, a full-body massage, followed by a free evening to our liking. Laura and I stayed in with room service of nasi campur dan jaruk nipis (rice with an assortment of cooked spicy vegetables and orange juice) in front of a couple pirated films.

Day 10: True Vacations in a Land of Pamper & Pleasure

August 29th, 2008—the final day in Ubud. After two thick pots of kopi (Balinese cowboy coffee), the group of yogis and yoginis followed Laura DeFreitas to the neighboring Yoga Barn for 8AM practice. We eased our calming muscles into deeper elongation, stretched our tendons and relaxed our joints through various twists and salutations. After ten days of yoga practiced often twice a day in the tropical paradise of Bali, we were significantly more limber. We had the routine, the flow of LauraNidra’s practice. And we loved it. In more ways then one, we opened our eyes, breathed in the life of the yogi and became aware of our innate gift. This was ananda: the bliss of pure consciousness.

Laura and I decided to lingered further into this ananda with a day of ridiculous pampering. Next door to Ubud Aura we checked in at Zen Spa. And for the next 4 ½ hours we discovered the meaning of bodily pleasure (in at least one form). First a massage, body scrub and a milk bath garlanded with fragrant rose petals. Then a facial with a brutal extraction of black heads (not part of the pleasure), a manicure, a pedicure, refreshments of apple juice and sweets, followed by a finale with an avocado hair treatment and a seated massage to come full circle.

That’s $35 please. We were at the front desk leaning against the counter to support our bodily jellification.

Come again?

$35 each.

$35 each? That’s it? Wow… I opened up my wallet, handed over some plastic, signed and cruised out. Pampered. Pleasured. Bali.

4PM yoga. Easiest most fluid yoga session ever. Then a 7:30PM group dinner at NoMad. Thank you Ubud and goodbye.

Day 11: The Sawah to The Sea

Waking on the final morning, we yoga-ed at 7AM, packed, breakfasted and departed all by 9:30AM. To the eastern seaboard. Our destination for the last two nights of Laura DeFreitas’ Bali Yoga Retreat led by Danu Tours was Candidasa, a lazy fisherman’s village found three decades earlier. But we arrived to discover a metropolis of small hotels, seafood chain-restaurants and a gray solemn beach. Sand? No. Forget about sand. To construct these buildings, which would cater to Bali’s burgeoning tourism industry of the 1970’s, locals needed lime to mix into cement. They used what they could—the offshore coral—crushing it to extinction. As a result the ebb and flow of the ocean’s currents entered the shallows and swept away the miniscule grains we love to squish beneath our toes and hate to find in our sandwiches.

And we drove passed. Turned off the highway and headed west back into the highlands. No, we weren’t leaving quite yet. Our first stop of the day was Tenganan, the walled village of the wealthy Bali Aga peoples. These people are the original descendents of the Balinese, extending their inhabitance upon the isle back before the Majapahit (late thirteenth century). And here, one of the few places throughout humanity, the Bali Aga weave the complex double ikat where both warp threads (those stretched on the loom) and weft threads (those woven across and into the loom) design detailed geometric cloth of varying color. The colors come from local plant pigments and are traditionally dyed and arranged in like tone.

We wandered and wove through the lines of stone housing with Judy Slattum in lead, listening to the history, the descriptions and the unique culture of Tenganan. All around us was the silence of a georgic land. No cars. No motorbikes. Only large beefy water buffalos lounging under trees, chickens and roosters caged under a chess match of reed baskets and sun… hot sun.

In route, our group of ten carried cameras, tote bags and limber bodies. We were tan. We looked clean, yet weathered. From the outside, it would appear we were on a worldly route—young Aussies off for a 12-month venture round the planet. We were slow, not too talkative, absorbing the humid environment and the thick history of Tenganan. Judy explained the demographics of the Aga:

Conservative and resistant to modern change, the people inside the wall are rich. Due to their double ikat specialization, as well as their virtuosity in the lontar (palm leave books), the Agas have a history. It is believed they acquired their present land not by regular means of payment, or pillaging, or simple ways of inheritance. Instead, they preferred wit. Back in some unrecorded era, a King lost his horse. The people of Tenganan found it, however it was not to their Majesty’s liking. It was the carcass. But the King was kindhearted and offered them reward. The villagers gathered under the bale banjar (common meeting shelter) and put their heads together suggesting to receive the land where the horse was found, including wherever the rotting flesh could be smelled. The King dispatched a man with incontestable nasal talents. He began sniffing the land, walking with the village chief, trying not to hurl. The scent was everywhere, far and wide from where the carcass originally lay. So the King’s man with the impeccable nose returned with his shoulders up to his ears. He was confused. The rancid scent was everywhere he walked. The King couldn’t repel his promise and so granted the villagers of Tenganan a vast landscape. Meanwhile, the chief returned to his banjar and pulled from out of his pants a chunk of rotting horse meat. I imagine they had a good chuckle.

I liked the Bali Aga. I liked them a lot, especially one man with a character akin to a giant fluffy bear. Picture the live mammal, one full of joy, excitement, creativity and unconditional love. Now, strip him of his fury coat and about 300 pounds and you would have (?). This was a master of the lontar, which is a booklet of palm leaves that requires a degree in art. Made of the rontal palm, the leaves are first dried, then soaked in water, cleaned, steamed, dried again, flattened and finally dyed and cut into thin strips. Next, the artist gets detailed, inscribing a story with words and/or pictures with a fine point or sharp blade. Afterwards, the whole strip is rubbed with a black resin then wiped clean. The resin sticks in the artist’s grooves, bringing the words and pictures to greater life. After completing the story, the book is then stacked, strung together and held at each end by a carved bamboo cover. Not only was this man a virtuoso of the lontar, inscribing the entire Ramayana in both scripture and picture, but also he was a musician and a puppet maker with the greatest smile and the bushiest white eyebrows.

Staring with googlely eyes, laughing, absorbing the talented history of Tenganan, we depart through the wall. Lunch at The Watergarden back in Candidasa until unloading at The Lotus Bungalows. The sea breeze and an infinity pool; they go hand-in-hand. Trust me.

By 4:15PM we were gone, loaded back into the vans like shepherded monkeys off to a trance dance called The Battle of the Gods, which is celebrated nowhere else. It went like this:

➢ Long procession to a river temple
➢ Invitation of the Gods into the palanquins
➢ Palanquins carried back up hill in even longer procession
➢ Full-on trance frolicking
Kris (or knife) dancers running amok!
➢ One hour of trance with sweaty moshpit of young Balinese holding palanquins

Then… a pizza dinner with our appetites fully awake!

Day 12: Goodbye Durga

End of the line. 8AM final yoga by the sea with breakfast and breezes, swimming and a Bali Dog photo shoot with varying vanity poses. 12:30PM quickly arrived and we all departed our separate ways, some staying extra days, others directly to the airport or to the armpit of Kuta Beach. This was a yoga retreat and a cultural exploration upon the island of Bali, Indonesia.

And reflections? All-and-all, after spending an entire month on Bali I was not ready for departure. In total Laura and I received 15 massages each. That’s one massage every other day! We also ate the best fresh fruits, drank the freshest fruit drinks, bathed under outdoor showers, practiced yoga every day, and learned a mouthful of Balinese language. However, there were activities we missed and I’d do in a heartbeat upon returning in… March 2010??

➢ Scuba dive
➢ More surfing and then some
➢ Travel to Lombok
➢ Rent a scooter in Candidasa and ride northward along the coast
➢ Visit the north and northwest parts of the island
➢ Learn more Balinese
➢ Spend less time in Kuta
➢ Get a massage every day
➢ Find a home and live there for the rest of my life

So, that’s Bali via yoga with Laura DeFreitas and Danu Tours. And, if there are any interests in the next adventure, tune into March 2010 by following these websites. Come and join!

Seattle-based yoga professional Laura DeFreitas: www.lauranidra.com
Judy Slattum of Danu Tours: www.danutours.com

Tags: bali, cam2yogi, cameron karsten photography, danu enterprises, danu tours, indonesia, laura defreitas, lauranidra, retreat, yoga

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