They say, the cure for anything is saltwater. Sweat, tears or the sea.
Technically I knew this, but it never rang so true as after the last couple of days. In fact, I had no idea that I needed curing of anything…
I did know that I wasn’t getting my writing done at a rate that needed to happen with my looming deadline. Not the right time to take three days off and do presumingly nothing, but when an Aman Hotel invites you, you don’t say no. At least I don’t and so I took off to the other side of Bali, feeling more than a little bit guilty for ignoring my laptop which was shooting me dirty looks. What was I doing here when I didn’t even think I was in need of wellness or retreating from the world? I just wanted to follow the enticing call of a king size bed and an infinity pool. Maybe feed a few stray kittens with fancy hotel food under the table. You know, the usual.
I start my trip with some sea water. While I live a mere 100m from the ocean, Canggu is a surfer destination while all the diving in Bali happens at least an hour away. The addiction had just started to kick in again and after seeing one lone manta a few days prior, I know, I needed more. And of course, that mola mola I have wished for since Christmas.
Geko Dive in Pandang Bai is a 15 minutes drive from Amankila and I am excited about the agenda they have in store for me: Manta Point and hopefully the mola mola, that some divers have seen just a day before.
Manta Point is a cleaning station where many reef fish live who literally live to clean, in this case, mantas. Chances are as good as they get here, mantas like their shower.
We don’t have to do much but wait in the rocky, soothing surge and within five minutes, Kantox our divemaster bangs his tank – the first manta has arrived.
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”
I don’t think the sight can ever get old or boring. Honestly, mantas are probably the most majestic and strangest sea creatures ever. They are also slightly intimidating especially when a huge pregnant one almost swims into you while you are too busy fumbling with your camera settings. And no, of course, I don’t mean to call a pregnant woman fat, her wing span is just pretty big.
I am pretending to be a manta.
Now I am just freaking out because just look at it – me and my manta!
While we don’t get lucky with the mola mola at Sental, the dive is beautiful and as relaxing as they come. I manage not to get bitten by a triggerfish, take a picture of the tiniest Nemo I have ever seen, and we find a headless chicken.
I smile, underwater and above and don’t think I need anything else to make me happy. Who wants to sweat or cry if you can dive?
I arrive at the Amankila in my usual state of disarray when visiting fancy hotels. My feet are sandy, my hair is tangled from the water, and I only just have time to wipe the rest from my lunch off my fingers before Sandra, the general manager, comes to greet me.
Even a wellness retreat in Bali is not only about lying around and being massaged into a comatose state (though luckily that is part of it!) as I learn, but also about moving. My program for the next couple of days includes Yoga and QiGong as well as taking the stairs when coming from the beach instead of ordering a buggy.
Even when there is no retreat, yoga is offered three times a week and rooms come outfitted with a yoga mat so you can practice any time in the privacy of your own terrace.
Eca is Amankila’s very own and very giggly yoga teacher. While his mantra ‘to smile for the universe’ isn’t my cup of tea when balancing on one leg in downward facing dog, the rest of his class is. The yoga pavilion is not only shared with one tree but also surrounded by jungle and ocean sounds. It is a yogi’s dream come true, even when you tend to get quite sweaty without aircon. Luckily no one minds, this is no snobby hotel.
To be honest, I was a bit indifferent about the wellness part of the invitation. I had been living in Bali for two months, surely there was not much my body and mind needed that a massage couldn’t fix?
Upon arrival, I sit down with Vijay Laxmi one of their residential specialists to discuss what I am looking to do for the next couple of days and what I want to work on. My answer to anything she offers is a ‘sure, why not?’. More out of journalistic curiosity and to tell my mother about it than anything else, I start with an acupuncture session with Zoe Nash, another one of their current wellness gurus. She too, asks me what I would like to work on. I am stumped. All is seemingly well. Except – “I am not as happy as I should be. Or could be,” I blurt out. Zoe just nods and asks me to go on. And so I do and all of a sudden I find myself telling her of old and new heartache, of writer’s block and not laughing much, about my returning knee issues and even the pimples on my bum.
While there are no meridians to tap for the latter, there is for everything else and a few minutes later I am blissfully spaced out looking like a porcupine.
I am tempted for a moment to ask Zoe to take a picture of me but drift off when she starts to play Tibetan sound bowls for me. They vibrate with the energy in different parts of the body and the universe as she explains later. One doesn’t have to believe it to feel it.
While there are no tears yet (acupuncture needles are tiny!) I walk away relaxed and a bit more upright.
The next morning Vijay has me in her capable hands, starting with an access bar session. Bars are pressure points on the head. She says about this treatment that at the worst, you will walk away feeling like you just had a great massage at the best it may just change your life. After talking to Zoe the day before, I don’t want my life changed, but I want to change my attitude towards it and so I lie down determined. I am not sure what is happening because again, I drift off, but afterward, I decide to give Vijay’s breath work and rebirthing session a try. This seems to be the one where the true magic happens.
This was the one I frowned upon most when reading about it in the retreat program. I can’t help my thoughts but rebirthing sounds like voodoo, pseudo-science, and armpit hair. I am not sure I’m hippie enough for it, but again, I just call it journalistic pursuit and go for it.
What happens in the next hour I can honestly still not quite phantom. I have to breathe fast, almost pant and then I cry. I don’t want to, after all, this is work. But Vijay says “Let it happen, it might be great” and keeps on repeating those words like a mantra. I do want something great to happen and eventually I break down. She just hands me a tissue and lets me sob. And then I talk and cry some more.
During a rebirthing session, you go back into your past and your childhood to find the source of trauma that might still linger within you today. I always believed this to be a bit of bullshit. I believed eventually people grow up and should learn to get over it. Whatever it was. But here I am, fully grown up and apparently not quite over it myself. I breathe some more and cry some more, Vijay is next to me, talking and holding the space. Eventually, I start to laugh and she looks at me quizzically. “Well, it’s gonna make a good story for sure,” I giggle. “The time I came to a 5-star resort and bawled my eyes out.” She joins in my laughter, “I’d like to read that.”
I can tell she feels like I am a mission accomplished and I feel it too. I leave elevated, wonderfully empty and drained, and most of all oddly happy.
Back in my room, I crawl into bed and look at my reflection in the mirror next to me. My eyes are red and puffy, unfortunately, I don’t look as relaxed as I feel on the inside. But I do look a whole lot happier, there is a cheeky grin on my face that goes well with those puffy eyes. Who would have guessed that coming to a 5-star resort and bawling your eyes out is exactly what is needed sometimes?
Disclaimer: The Amankila kindly hosted me for two nights and various retreat sessions. Thank you for making me cry!
Especially the rebirthing session was a highly personal experience and I don't feel comfortable sharing my deepest, darkest secrets here (after already sharing the state of my bum with you). However, if you have a chance to participate in one, I highly recommend it, I think it may just have changed my life. After all, you don't have to believe it to feel it - just do it.
Amankila holds wellness retreats at their properties all over the world. This October Zoe and Vijay are at Amanusa, their Bali property in Nusa Dua and you can find retreat info here. If you are not staying at the hotel, you can also book a private session with both, but I highly recommend the full monty. You will definitely want to float in their pool afterward.