I just finished an eight-day yoga retreat at the "Soulshine" resort. Now, I'm not a yogi; a frozen loaf of white bread is more limber than me, I have no desire to loosen my joints enough to stick my foot in my own mouth (which admittedly is not a goal of yoga), I relish red meat, and a round of bourbon and cigars is my idea of meditation. But when my wife Marilyn asked if I wanted to attend the retreat with her, I leapt at the chance.
Did I mention that Soulshine is in the island paradise of Bali?
The program, Bali Yoga with Jano, was sponsored by Maria and Joe Eckley of the Chula Vista Yoga Center and taught by Jano Galindo, their lead instructor. The prospect of trying one of their rigorous, advanced sessions was daunting to a non-practitioner like me, but I knew I'd have to experience at least one class to write an informed review. So I did. And I survived. This is the account of my experience--for those intrepid enough to follow.
THE FACILITY. Soulshinebali Yoga Retreat Oasis was established by Carla Swanson and musician Michael Franti in the Indonesian town of Ubud. You may recall Ubud as the town where Julia Roberts found the love in the film Eat, Pray, Love. Carla told me the dearth of yoga resorts in the real Ubud inspired them to build. Soulshine's website describes the resort as a "chic and unpretentious" place to "chill ..., explore the beauty of Bali, [and] enjoy delicious organic food ... [w]hether your passion is practicing yoga ..., lounging by the pool, day tripping to the beach, temples and volcanoes, or finding your perfect spot to sink into a good book."
That's a fair description. Surrounded by rice paddies, palms, and other tropical flora, Soulshine's grounds are verdant and well maintained, and sport a distinctive South Pacific flair.
The resort's guest rooms are air-conditioned, clean, quiet, and comfortably appointed. Suites are available, but we opted for a single room with a private toilet and shower across the hall. I must observe that after two days of showers, I discovered the frosted glass window shielding my showers from the world actually provided a clear, bubbly exhibition for the other guests. And 20 of my 23 companions were fit and attractive women. I now wish I'd avoided all those extra pastries and cakes over the last few months--you know, as a courtesy to the ladies--but a strategically draped towel resolved the issue.
Soulshine's recreational facilities include a refreshing infinity pool, indoor and outdoor lounge areas, massage room--and the resort's centerpiece: a cavernous open-air yoga studio on the main building's third floor. The studio features polished teak floors and beams, vaulted rattan ceilings, and plenty of fresh air.
And after an intense yoga session (or a day lounging by the pool, as the case may be) guests can get a heavenly massage--for less than $20.
One personal concern was whether I'd be able to enjoy a cigar in the evening. Experience tells me that many yogis (i.e., Marilyn) lack a reasonable appreciation for the luscious clouds of pure delight calved by a fine cigar. But my fears proved unfounded. The resort's helpful staff pointed me to a perfect down-wind sitting area. After a quick detour to the bar for my favorite whiskey, I was prepared for a proper meditation. Ohmmm my god--nirvana. (Sorry.)
Speaking of staff, from owner Carla down to the newest employee, Soulshine's personnel were cheerful, caring, accommodating, and helpful. They made our stay a joy!
FOOD AND DRINK. Soulshine boasts a full bar and excellent dining facility, though the more voracious carnivores in our group soon began suffering ribeye withdrawal. Our healthy meals featured local fruits, grains, vegetables, and nuts, and sometimes a chicken or fish entrée. I found the food and tropical drinks skillfully prepared and tasty.
THE PROGRAM. The Chula Vista Yoga Center provided our retreat's classes and activities. The Eckleys are veterans at running international yoga retreats, and Jano is a skilled and accomplished teacher. But each morning, he put his charges through (in my estimation) a medieval, human-physiology-be-damned crucible. Marilyn insisted that these gauntlets, while challenging, were safe, well-conceived, and even pleasurable events with "good flow," whatever that means. Jano also led a restorative session each evening, just before dinner. And early the next morning, my companions would emerge to face anew the desolation of Jano (which would be a crackerjack program title, if you ask me). And they did so with genuine relish. These are decidedly odd humans.
Between yoga sessions, the group indulged in extracurricular events, like temple tours, visits to beaches, hot spring excursions, market trips, cooking classes, and river rafting. But a couple of our frolics were ... peculiar. For example, Marilyn and others signed up to soak their feet in tanks of water teeming with tiny fish--which were bred to gnaw away dead skin. I am not making this up. Aside from being utterly ewwwww, it takes the whole vegan philosophy to a new and unhealthy level, if you ask me; my firm policy is that other species may not feed on my flesh. This policy has served me well. But here was my lovely bride and her equally deranged yoga pals relinquishing their position in the food chain. Inconceivable.
That's not to say I shied away from all dubious activities. For example, at a local coffee plantation, we had a chance to try Luwak coffee. This beverage, popularized by The Bucket List, derives from beans eaten and excreted by Asian palm civets. That's right, the coffee beans are culled from steaming piles of weasel scat, then roasted and sold to gullible rich people for upwards of $100 a cup! Naturally, when I learned of this disgusting monstrosity, I knew I had to try it. If you're curious how it tasted, here's the poop (sorry again): it was marginally better than a basic Starbuck's coffee, and left a disturbing deep brown sludge in the bottom of my cup.
My advice: stay thirsty my friends.
As for my plan to join my companions for yoga, on Thursday morning I finally ventured into their eucalyptus-balm-infused world of Lululemon togs, washboard abs, and impossibly stretchy hamstrings. The session started promisingly enough: Jano announced we were going to "do topless." Unexpected, but such a spectacle might be worth a little suffering. But as it turned out, he had said we were doing "tapas"--and not those tasty little Spanish dishes either (which was probably for the best). Jano's *tapas* is a Hindu term--one of several he explained throughout the session.
And then the yoga-ing began. Contrary to my previous notions, Jano didn't go medieval on us, hardly. He took us through the transitions slowly, provided clear instructions, and walked around the room adjusting our form, as needed. He even brought me foam blocks to ease my efforts. But the class was not easy; sweat cascaded off me in thick sheets, my muscles shrieked at my brain, and my limbs shook like a misaligned jackhammer.
But I didn't expire. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying the session, which is surprising; I can't conceive of anything else that's so painful, yet so relaxing; well, maybe a sharp blow to the back of the head. In any event, I retained consciousness, and when the class ended I proudly pulled myself to my feet, blotted the floor with a bunch of towels, and stowed my mat. Then I limped off to the massage room.
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