A healing holiday for body, mind and Soul
WAYAN looks momentarily blank when I ask for her idea of bliss. “Doing something special by yourself?” I prompt. “Taking a holiday?”
“Making people happy,” she replies with a smile that could properly be described as blissful. She is one of two resident masseuses at a Balinese villa called Bliss Sanctuary for Women, a place where the word is used frequently and freely, scattered about like the frangipani flowers and offerings I find everywhere.
Like the word awesome, bliss has morphed way beyond its original meaning (“Perfect happiness, great joy; a state of spiritual blessedness, typically that reached after death,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary). One friend says her idea of bliss would be a week without obligations – “I’d do whatever I wanted, which probably means sleeping. For days.” Another friend says bliss would be “reading magazines all day on a lounge and not having to do anything”. Another says her bliss would be swimming, sleeping and reading “all night if I want to”.
In a fretful age obsessed with achieving happiness, bliss has come to mean self-centred pleasure, indulgence, freedom from duty, a notion as individual as a fingerprint. It’s the name of a cocktail and a friend’s yacht and, in the rice paddies of Canggu, just north of the frenetic hub of Seminyak, it’s a place in which to seek a highly personalised version of extreme relaxation.
All journeys begin with a question, and I find the central proposition – what is my bliss? – hard to fathom. I’m happy most of the time, and maybe that’s as much bliss as anyone deserves. I confess, though, the past six months have been hard going. I decide bliss, right now, is finding a way to worry less and smile more. Perhaps I just need a good rest.
“Many women spend their lives looking out for others and never carve out the space and time to really look after themselves, particularly at key moments of change in their lives,” says founder Zoe Watson. “As simple as it sounds, our point of difference is deep rest, of the kind I haven’t found elsewhere, and the space to find peace.”
Watson, originally from Adelaide, established Bliss Sanctuary two years ago after struggling to find just such a place to rest and relax while recovering from a car accident. She plans to open 20 Bliss sanctuaries in the next 10 years; the second launches in Seville, Spain, this year.
Whatever makes one blissful (or at least happy) – surfing with an instructor for a week, daily yoga classes, shopping trips on demand, long beach walks, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, tarot readings, Balinese cooking classes – will be arranged around the only fixture on the itinerary: 90 minutes of massage a day (Balinese, Thai, hot stones, body scrubs, hair baths and more) in a pavilion by the villa’s pool or in one of the six large, simply furnished suites. Each has a leafy indoor-outdoor bathroom, a big bed cocooned in netting, chairs for reading and lounging, and a cool day bed outside, beyond ornately carved doors.
Several suites have twin beds, which would suit a couple of friends or mother-daughter travellers. During my stay, however, all the guests are travelling alone, and this is clearly another point of difference – no children, no men, no couples. From late 20s to early 60s, we’re a disparate bunch: a medico, a lobbyist, a mining manager, a florist, a writer and the Bliss host and confidante, Kari, a sunny Canadian taking an extended tropical break from her career as an addiction counsellor. We aren’t over-sharers, but we chat about our days over dinner before retiring early, and the quiet presence of other solo travellers is comforting amid a week of introspection.
Also comforting is the warm-hearted, familial presence of the Bliss staff: masseuses Wayan and Vera; master chefs Kadek and Alit; Komang the gardener and fixer; and Ketut, our driver and guide. There’s a genuine sense that they’re taking care of us, in a non-medical way, and the absence of schedules, rules and any kind of dietary or beverage restriction makes the place feel like home, albeit a fragrant and entirely trouble-free version.
Though I plan to do little beyond sleep and yoga, my dance card is full. I’m not at all New Age-y, but I pluck a destiny card from a wooden bowl each morning and come to look forward to the aphorisms. Day one: “I accept all that happens as good and right, and I enjoy life” – which is easy to achieve when Kadek is making banana pancakes, gado gado, serombotan or any kind of fresh salad I might fancy, and a six-dish Balinese feast every night. In fact, she’s happy to prepare almost anything from scratch at any time.
Every morning I take a five-minute scooter ride with Komang to Desa Seni, a serious yoga village-resort. In 93 per cent pre-monsoonal humidity, it’s all hot yoga here and a rare chance to sample practices I’ve never heard of, with impressive teachers. I sweat, inhale and chant my way through 90-minute sessions of kundalini, hatha and ashtanga yoga, sound meditation and an exhilarating dance-like-no-one’s-watching hybrid known as NIA (non-impact aerobics), combining martial arts, yoga, nightclubbing and meditation. “You’re a starfish, you’re a warrior, you’re a powerhouse of pure light and energy,” urges Saffire, our extravagantly dreadlocked teacher, as we writhe in the stewy humidity.
Ketut drives me to Tanah Lot at sunset as the tide rises around the island temple, and next day shows me around his village, in which he is the headman, and introduces me to his family. We chat about the complicated Balinese calendar (prescribing the best days in a 35-day month to fish, cut wood and get married) and, amid rampant development and change, he explains the undiminished importance of family and temple life. “We are happy,” he says, and his sense of duty and humility give me pause for thought during my entirely self-centred pursuits.
There’s a first time for several things: a dragon-panting yoga posture; the aforementioned communal starfish-writhing; a tarot-card reading, which I find uncannily, fascinatingly prescient; and a diagnostic massage by Sami, a well-regarded traditional Balinese healer. He identifies my minor ailments and anxieties, but suggests my biggest challenge is spiritual wellbeing. “You think too much,” he advises, and recommends daily meditation. “To be happy, you need to know yourself.”
Dutifully, I begin meditating next morning with a menu of monologues on the villa’s iPod. I can’t seem to switch off the shuffle mode, so I’m just settling into mindfulness with Deepak Chopra when, mid-affirmation, I’m suddenly manifesting angels with Doreen Virtue, then just as abruptly nurturing my inner child with Louise Hay. I come to think of it as my ADHD meditation.
I sip a couple of elaborate cocktails on a 1950s retro lounge at the Potato Head Beach Club in Seminyak one evening, but otherwise choose an alcohol-free week (guests are welcome to BYO). With 10 hours sleep a night, hot yoga, daily massage, the freshest food and some motherly fussing over, I feel better than I have for a long time. My body is a temple. I am a powerhouse of light and energy, weeks later. I am happy.
Helen Anderson was a guest of Bliss Sanctuary for Women.
Checklist: Bliss Sanctuary for Women at Berawa, Canggu, close to a beach and 10 minutes’ drive north of Seminyak, has seven-day retreat packages (pay for five, get two free) for solo travellers from $3735 or $2875 twin-share, taxes included, with suite accommodation, all meals and snacks, daily massage and unlimited yoga, in-house cooking classes, personal drivers, airport transfers and personalised itinerary planning and bookings.
This article is also available at The Australian
Bliss Sanctuary for Women offers a unique healing holiday for body, mind and soul in beautiful Bali
Travel to beautiful Bali and immerse yourself in a serene sanctuary just for women. At Bliss Sanctuary for Women we cater to your individual needs, with no restrictions on the things you would like to do. You can view all of our retreat packages here.