Bali retreat, June 2016 by the magical Liz Jacobs
Alice finds her Wonderland
In June 2016 I ventured out to Bali to immerse myself in a yoga retreat of a life time. Unforgettable and overwhelmingly fulfilling, hosted by the magnificent Liz Jacobs. Below is my account of the trip I will savour forever.
Half an hour of strenuous corkscrewing along the road from Ubud provided an unlikely aperitif for that cherished moment when Villa Selat popped into view.
In an instant, this bubble of calm and serenity, not to mention sparkling, 360-degree views of the Balinese jungle, offered a soothing contrast to various modes of transport I had taken from London to Denpasar and beyond.
Once the car had pulled up, I rushed eagerly through the gates of the place I would be calling home for the next, most anticipated week of my year. From every angle, it shimmered with a kaleidoscopic beauty. Ecstasy, and I’d only just arrived!
The immediate stairs led down to the communal dining and lounge area where I was greeted by members of staff, fellow guests and a delicious buffet lunch. All so welcoming and, in a way, quite overwhelming as I simply didn’t know what to devour first — the food, the decor or the company.
Despite having so much to take in within a short space of time, it hit me that after months of deadlines, commitments and generally frenetic activity I had the opportunity at last to enjoy the space and people around me.
My memories of the outside world, and the preconceptions I had clung to before this adventure, were already melting away. It was time for me to practise the art of letting go! As if by magic, the travel fatigue that set in during the18 hours it took to reach my destination had lifted. The burden of anxiety and stress that us city folk — pretty much everyone in the so-called First World, for that matter — tend to carry on our shoulders faded with every expanded breath I took.
Within a few seconds I had slotted into my new surroundings — a new personal best!Introductions made, lunch consumed, bikini donned, and I was ready to embrace my new, relaxed incarnation, one that was relishing the bliss I had signed up for, I hoped, I knew was coming — eight days without fussing, rushing or stressing. The sense of fulfilment one experiences when travelling alone triggers an involuntary process of self-discovery. Without being in any way deliberate, it truly broadens the mind, and other sensibilities.
Travelling, especially alone, is one of life’s essentials, a rite of passage if you will. Years of study at the most esteemed academic establishments rarely provide the insights that are readily gleaned from the strangers who surround you in unfamiliar contexts. Present yourself with this gift, and forever reap the rewards.
LIZ JACOBS is a marvel. Writing these words fills me with an abiding sense of gratitude that she enabled me to witness a master class in how to host a retreat. Each day brought fresh surprises and surpassed my every expectation, which were already incredibly high.
I first discovered Liz as a yoga teacher at the studio Yotopia in Covent Garden two years ago. I had never heard of her before, it was simply chance that in all the yoga studios in all the world I walked in to this one— her Tuesday morning hot-rocket class. This soon became a weekly ritual for me. I had just completed my own 200-hour benchmark as a yoga teacher and was eager to soak in as much as I could from the teachers around me. Thank you, sweet Gods of yoga, for Liz. This lady is a teacher of all things to do with life as well as yoga, and above all else specialises in cutting through superfluous bullshit to teach you how to appreciate yourself and make the most of your time on earth. How one woman manages to exude the spirit of a 21-year-old and the wisdom of a 3,000-year-old is a mystery to me.
Liz will push you to your physical limit in class, concluding in the most delicious and well deserved Savasana (resting pose) at the end of your practise. She has a strong, earthy quality, providing you with solid grounding, advice and uplifting support. Her attention to detail is impeccable and she certainly pulled out all the stops in Bali. I felt like every day was my birthday and a new treat was just around the corner — never less than spectacular, emotional or hilarious.
Committing to a Liz Jacobs retreat will trigger joy and amazement. I still reflect daily on my time there. It serves me as a coping mechanism when confronted by the unpleasant challenges life seems to have up its long sleeve on a routine basis. When your self-consciousness surprises you and throws you a curve ball, or when misfortune arises out of the blue, my former way of coping was pretty much to crumple or undergo an internal meltdown. Precious time would be wasted, many tears shed and much stress inflicted. This malicious cycle was accelerating my ageing process and cutting years from my life expediency.
What I’m saying, in essence, is that this retreat saved me from my everyday stress relapses. I hold my hands high in admitting that, prior to discovering yoga, I never liked the person I was when events failed to conform to my imaginary life plan. And there is nothing more exhausting in life than hating yourself.
You can learn to ignore everyone else by shielding your eyes and ears and choosing not to take notice, but I have yet to meet a single person who has nailed this technique from the voices inside their own head. I am evidence that a week’s retreat can successfully zen a person out to the point that even Brexit doesn’t feel like the end of the world, or even a big deal (even though, it most definitely is!).
The old ‘me’ would have contemplated switching identity to Gladys, a chain-smoking pirate living off the coast of Guernsey on a small fishing boat, pretending I was anything but English. Fortunately, no such thought now crosses my mind. Today I seem to be better at remaining calm in the face of life’s inevitable catastrophes, and I am grateful for that.
MY state of mind post-retreat is a good enough reason to take you back to Villa Selat itself and what you can expect while in residence.
First, the accommodation. Imagine for the majority of your life you only ever travelled in the back of an old, three-wheeled truck, along with a dozen chickens and only one handle-bar to save you from being flung on to the open road. Then, miraculously, you woke up one day to see a brand, spanking new Porsche on your drive (because now you have a driveway) with a white ribbon attached to it and Bradley Cooper sitting inside waiting to chauffeur you around all day. Welcome to your room at Vila Selat!
Panoramic views from floor-to-ceiling glass windows across the infinity pool towards the great wide open — jungle scenery from all angles. Air-conned with huge, perfectly made beds, bespoke goodie bags from your hostess, a large walk-in wardrobe and a massive, airy bathroom with walk-in shower area that is cleaned twice a day.
If the retreat is at full capacity, which it usually is, you will be sharing it with a fellow retreat member unless you have expressly requested not to. I really had zero qualms about this and was lucky to have a wonderful soul sister whom to chinwag all hours of the day and night. Having a roomie was so much fun and to this day we are still friends.
There are numerous private spaces where you can either drift into a state of profound contemplation or indulge in the sensuous thrill of enjoying the surroundings and, above all else, simply breathing. Tropical flowers and trees spread sumptuously across the garden in a monument to Mother Nature. Meanwhile, the infinity pool is our fulcrum. Positioned at the heart of the property, it is bedecked with large, lounger beds where guests in search of the radiant afternoon sun can park themselves at leisure and in comfort.
Secondly, the food. A vast array of healthy Balinese treats are served three times a day. Whatmore could you want?
Breakfast would consist of fresh fruits, fresh fruit juices, porridge, eggs, vegetables and pancakes, with the option to go vegan of course.
Lunch offers up fresh salads and the most delicious soups I have ever tasted. And dinner is very similar, but on a more elaborate scale with often the option of fish or meat, if you wish, followed by a lovely, cleansing, healthy desert.
The staff attended to our every need, endlessly polite and gracious. Everything was ‘no problem’.
We became very close with the team and Liz made sure we had the pleasure of having them at our closing ceremony, making for a particularly emotional and personal end to a magical week.
Then there was the yoga. Located within the jungle, down an abundance of steps which in itself provide a workout many people would pay a decent dollar for in the city (and do), along a beautiful stream which at night is lit up by tea lights hanging from banana leafs, sits a small, serene, open (on all four sides), wooden floored space.
Its position is perfectly situated to absorb the sounds from above and below, morning and night, to hear the jungle awaken and the night life arise during the two classes we received each day. Indeed, the energy from the elements surrounding us mirrored the theme of the week that Liz so meticulously planned.
Each day our practice focused on one of the five elements; Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Ether. The morning practice was dynamic. We worked up a sweat and were challenged. Two hours of pure, asana bliss (physical movement)! Once all was wrapped up, we felt energised, happy andhungry. By the end of the week, boundaries had been broken and physical goals achieved.
The late afternoon/early evening practice is Yin (restorative yoga) — perfect for drawing the day to a close and nurturing the body. This particular practice focuses on long holds, aimed to massage and reach the connective tissues and fascia of the body that are often neglected.
On a couple of occasions we were treated to rooftop yoga as demonstrated in the picture. This particular shot was taken during sunrise. A euphoric moment.
YOU do not need to be a seasoned yogi to take this trip. If you're not, I’m envious that this will be your introduction to yoga, under the guidance of such an inspiring leader. None the less, it is ideal for regular yoga practitioners and even yoga teachers, like myself, in need of greater knowledge and a closer bond with their roots. Every practice is spiritual, deeply so, but ultimately tailored for the individual. It might sound like a cliché, but you will only get out of the experience what you put in. The week will open your mind, body and soul, and you will not leave Villa Selat feeling the same as you did when you arrived.
Finally, the extras... Without wishing to give away any of the retreat’s secrets, I can at least say that disappointment is not an option. Be prepared to get wet, banish your troubles, make amazing friends, shed a few tears and laugh uncontrollably. Among the delightful ‘extras’ during a week at Villa Selat is the complimentary massage you receive on the evening of your arrival. These body workers continue to ply their skills throughout the week and most guests avail themselves of this service on a nightly basis for an overall price that is no more than the cost of one luxury massage at a London spa. A particularly gifted individual called Pak Madai, a well known and established healer in Bali is also available throughout the week. He might charge more than the other masseurs and masseuses but he undeniably provides a memory that no visitor should forgo.
You will explore the area, the temples, hike the surroundings if you wish with a guide and visit very gifted and special individuals. From a transportation viewpoint, you can be chauffeured upon request and free of charge to any local destination. In addition to being the nearest hub for retail therapy and an escape from the midday heat, Ubud offers an abundance of treasures and temptations. One evening, we visited its largest yoga centre, YogaBarn, for a Gong bath – in which you lie (or sit) in your position of choice and allow the sound waves from a variety of instruments believed to have healing powers to vibrate throughout your body. It is easy to fall into a trance here and find yourself almost sleep-walking away. Certainly, a deep night’s sleep is guaranteed!
You will depart having seen and done things you would never have experienced before. Bali, for so many people, is a bucket-list destination. Doubly so for those in search of the enlightenment and revitalisation that yoga can nurture. Villa Selat and Liz Jacob’s legacy is one of satisfaction, gratitude and fulfilment.
With an open mind and always an open heart,