I had no idea what to expect from Bali Spirit Festival. I just knew it was a yoga festival held in a beautiful place.
I was thrilled to try LOADS of different styles of yoga, including Jivamukti, Kundalini, Embodied Flow, Thai Yoga Massage, Transformational Alignment Based Yoga, Forrest Yoga, Laughter Yoga (HILARIOUS) and Yoga Nidra. It felt good to bend and stretch in so many different ways.
I also really enjoyed the chanting in Jivamukti and Kundalini yoga. I closed my eyes and sang the chants to live music, feeling the vibrations through my body. I felt calm and smiled as I remembered how much I love to sing.
Of course, despite what I like to think, I’m not actually a super-human. In this heat, I could only manage 4hrs of yoga before I collapsed on the floor in a pool of sweat (my own, at least). When I could chaturanga no more, I headed off to classes in meditation, music and dance. I experienced scared cacao ceremonies, ecstatic dance, crystal bowl and sonic sound healing, gong bath meditation, mindful meditation, tantra workshops and several breathwork sessions.
I honestly felt moments of pure bliss walking around the festival. I was so happy to be there and experiencing it, even though I found some of it utterly bizarre. As the festival went on, I started to open up and I become more comfortable staring into the eyes of a total stranger, standing in their personal space, or doing “Weird Dancing” (it’s a term I’ve made up).
One of the first sessions I went to was the opening Sacred Cacao Ceremony. The space was absolutely packed with people, all squished together on the floor. I found a spot and knelt down, clutching my cup of hot chocolate. As the music started, we were instructed to roll around on the floor, chant and offer prayers to pachamama. I huffed and puffed my way though, having absolutely no idea why I was waving my hand in this way, kissing the ground, or brushing up against so many sweaty bodies. Finally, we were permitted to sip the hot chocolate. Oh my – it was revolting. They’d taken all the good bits out, like sugar, milk and taste. While I questioned whether I could finish it, everyone else downed theirs.
As the effects of the cacao set in, people began to move like zombies, slowly rising from the floor. Once they reached standing they exploded into Weird Dancing, that only vaguely matched the music playing. A girl was crying at my feet, while a guy (that I’m almost certain she didn’t know) came to caress her face. Their sweaty, entangled bodies kept brushing against my insect-repellant covered legs. It was gross. I left to sit in the corner, with my arms crossed, waiting for it to end.
Weird Dancing seemed to be a reoccurring theme of the festival. It was everywhere. I reluctantly went to another Cacao Ceremony, it also featured heavily in Embodied Flow Yoga and several meditations. Then came Ecstatic Dance…
I missed the initial instructions on “How To Ecstatic Dance”, but I took a guess from what others were doing. Essentially, you close your eyes and dance like it’s 3am when you’re absolutely smashed and have lost every inhibition you ever had. Except there’s no alcohol involved.
Nothing looked like a conventional dance move. I saw stamping, rolling on the floor, and movement escaping from every limb around me. One woman danced while breast-feeding (periodically giving her baby to a stranger so she could really go wild). Another woman lay down in the middle of the dancefloor and cried her eyes out. People straddled her while continuing to dance over the top of her.
After a few minutes of awkward observation, I decided to close my eyes and do my best impression of Weird Dancing. I surrendered my rigid body to the music, stamping, shaking and flailing my limbs in every direction. Eventually, I relaxed into the liberation of it and random movements seemed to come from their own fruition.
I danced liked no one was watching for almost two hours before dehydration started to affect my flow. I took a water break and realised how great I was feeling. It felt SO GOOD to dance so freely, without worrying what it looks like. Never again will I need a drink before hitting the dancefloor, I’ll just do Weird Dancing instead. I went home on an Ecstatic Dance high.
Every morning I woke up early, so that I could make the first yoga class of the day. At 7:10am on the Wednesday morning, I was just finishing up breakfast in my room when an earthquake hit.
I’ve only experienced two earthquakes before: one very small tremor in Japan and one in the UK (where the epicentre was just down the road). When my room started shaking I recognised what was happening, but this one was far more violent than I’d experienced and it didn’t seem to stop. I looked out of my bedroom window to see the whole of the building opposite shaking, it’s windows waving at me. I could hear people screaming from all directions. I decided to run.
As I ran down the corridor to the stairs, I started to form an arrow, with my head and torso leading the way and my feet scrambling to keep up. It was as though my brain had told my upper body to expect super-fast adrenaline-fuelled running, but my choice of footwear was really holding me back. I now see why athletes don’t run in flip-flops.
I made it down the stairs to join the other hotel guests from the ground floor, who had already run out of their rooms, mostly still in their pyjamas. It was at this point that I realised I was clutching my yoga mat. I must have picked it up on my way out of my room. Not my phone, or purse, or anything useful. Just my incredibly bulky yoga mat. Everyone was staring at me. I was so embarrassed. I tried to hide the mat behind my back, with a face that said: “nothing to see here”. Thankfully, the shaking finally stopped and my yoga mat and I were able to slope back to my room.
I felt a bit shaken (in every sense) and that afternoon I didn’t feel like doing any more yoga. So, out of curiosity, I headed off to the “Healing Hut”. Here, I was approached my a woman who said she could help me.
“With what?” I asked.
She said some words that I didn’t understand, led me into a private room and asked me how I was feeling.
“Like a stranger has just led me into a room and locked the door”, I replied honestly.
She looked into my eyes like she was staring into my soul and asked me to repeat some phrases. Then she touched my head for a while. When she’d finished she asked me how I felt and seemed surprised when I said I felt no different. I genuinely don’t know what this woman did to me, but I really hope she didn’t cast a spell.
The next day I went to see a different woman. It began in a similar vein, as I lay on a bed and she touched my head. Then she started burping. She didn’t stop burping for 15 minutes. At some point she explained that the burping was her clearing my negative energy. Oh right.
She told me I was all good (which was great, because that’s how I felt), but she also told me that I have a mind that thinks about things too much, with a tendency to worry and become anxious. Guilty. She told me not to waste energy worrying about the future, and instead I should just focus on doing my best today. Everyday. I’m yet to implement that fully…
My curiosity also led me to several tantric workshops. One particularly powerful session was a woman’s circle where we discussed our relationships with our yoni (sorry if that’s awkward chaps). It was incredible. The women were so honest, loving and caring with each other. At the end, we formed two lines and took it in turns to walk slowly through the corridor of women. As I walked down with my eyes closed, I felt the women gently touch my head, chest, stomach, arms, legs and feet. The loving strokes were joined with sweet whispers of kind words. It was so moving, that by the time everyone had walked through, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was so special to see how kind and loving women can be to one another.
I experienced lots of moments of beauty, magic and love at the festival. One of those was at my first breathwork session, where I lay on the floor in savasana while helpers (known as Angels) scattered fresh flowers over my body. I got completely lost in the music and my breath and had one of the best meditations I’ve ever had.
It led me to try a few more breath sessions (each with different teachers), where I had totally different experiences.
The breathwork sessions generally involve movement (like dancing), maybe a bit of partner work, and then lying down on the floor to breathe (all to music). The breathing is a deep breath, keeping your mouth wide open, and making an “Ah-Ha” sound.
For many people, breathwork sessions bring up a lot of emotion, which you are encouraged to release as a way to accept and heal. In my second session everyone around me was in floods of tears. The Angels came round to hold people who were crying and to offer them comfort and support. I was in a very happy place at the festival, but I found it distressing listening to so many other people cry.
The last session was unbelievably sexual. The breathing was more like sexual panting and we were encouraged to gyrate our hips as we danced to loud music. It was the end of the festival and everyone was getting rather over-excited. We had to partner up and stand so close that our bodies touched, staring into each other’s eyes and sharing deep secrets from our hearts. Had I have been paying more attention when the music stopped, I could have been paired up with either one of the hunky guys standing close by. As it happened, I was paired with a sweaty, old man. As we stood close some of his sweat dripped off his face into my mouth (it was open for breathing). I winced on the inside, but tried hard to project an “I’m cool with that” vibe on the outside. He did share some beautiful words about his perception of his place in the world, which I was truly touched by. But honestly, I would have been more comfortable partnering with another woman for that one.
By the time we lay down to breathe, everyone was so pent-up that I heard several people breathe themselves to orgasm. I’M NOT JOKING. An actual orgasm. It was too much. I simultaneously opened my eyes, closed my mouth and got up to leave. As I gathered up my belongings an Angel appeared in my face. She was very sweet and wanted to be sure that I’d had sufficient hugs before I left.
I couldn’t tell you how many times I repeated a variation of: “I am beautiful. I am bountiful. I am blissful” at the festival, but I was really feeling like that.
The festival was an amazing introduction to so many different styles of yoga, music, meditation and dance. Even though not all of it has been for me, I’ve loved every minute of the experience. I’m so grateful for it all.