Balians; Bali’s traditional healers

In the five years that I have lived in Bali I have visited three different traditional healers, each providing a unique and profound experience that my western mind has struggled to fully comprehend. With my most recent treatment for a painfully damaged rib, I resolved to stop questioning “how” and “why,” and instead simply accept the experience for what it was and be grateful for it. I had gone to see one of the island’s well known healers, Pak Sircus who specialises in bone problems. The traditional Balinese compound was packed with people, and he worked from an open air pavilion in the corner, in full view of everyone. Each patient would take their turn and he would take his time chatting with them, often giving a massage and perhaps disappearing out the back to whip up a potion of some kind. The atmosphere was light hearted and relaxed, and Pak Sircus drank tea, smoked kretek cigarettes and told jokes throughout the sessions.

My turn eventually came. I was brittle and nervous, especially as I had noticed that most treatments seemed to involve a painful yelp or two from the patient. My friend had described it well, “He hurts the hell out of you – then you feel better.” As I sat down he pointed straight at my rib, “Its not broken,” he said, “but it is badly stressed.” I gingerly lay down and he massaged my side, it was painful but not too bad, and I tried to relax. After a while he tapped my shoulder and looked deep into my eyes. It’s hard to explain but I felt this incredible sense of connection, it was like he could see right into my soul, and in this moment he drew me out of myself and our energy melded into one. He smiled serenely and said, “Remind me, what is your name,” and my tension melted away as I took a breath and responded, smiling back at him. Right then he jabbed my rib with his fingers. I screamed – the shock of the pain sent me bolt upright. It was intense, but fleeting, and then I couldn’t stop laughing. “You tricked me,” I said. “I know,” he replied “and I know you understand,” and we laughed and laughed –with each peal of laughter a layer of pain fell away. I will not say that I was suddenly and miraculously cured – I still felt tender and sore, but it was as if the core of the pain had been removed, and most importantly, the depression that had accompanied it had been instantly lifted. Balance and harmony were restored and I felt like myself again.

It is this sense of harmony that lies at the heart of Balinese Hinduism – the constant struggle for balance between the opposing forces of darkness and light; sekala (the seen) and niskala (the unseen.) For most Balinese, sickness is deemed the result of an essential disharmony between a person and his/her surroundings. While natural herbal cures and western medicine are seen as appropriate for more tangible (sekala) forms of illness like a skin infection of a common cold, when it comes to less easily diagnosed, intangible (niskala) maladies, a traditional healer is generally the first point of call. Known as balians, these healers work on a number of levels, but generally practice an intuitive form of healing that is very different from a more western clinical style, and may have been learned from a parent or grandparent, of acquired directly from a Hindu deity. Some balians are essentially herbalists, while those like Pak Sircus, who specialise in bone problems may work with massage and manipulation. Some act as mediums or will contact the spirit world for guidance on certain issues related to your health, and you may end up having inscriptions drawn on your body or wads of chewed up herbs spat at you. A common thread with all these healing modalities is the opinion that sickness is often caused by the deeds of an individual, who might have acted disrespectfully or done something inappropriate. In this way, rather than providing a cure per se, a balian may grant atonement or neutralise bad intentions.

A balian usada, known as a literate balian is often in possession of sacred ‘lontar usada’ (healing books) that he may have studied with a guru to learn his craft. He might use natural medicine obtained from plants, which can be enhanced with amulets or ritualistic ceremonies. A balian tulang is a bone setter and will be called upon in emergencies to set dislocations or severe muscle sprains. A balian apun will generally work with massage, while a balian manak is a midwife. The role of a balian tasku is a little harder to define, they definitely work with niskala – the unseen forces – and are believed to take power from nature or holy spirits, and may create medicines from holy water, flowers and plants, or conduct cleansing rituals. The balian ketakson is generally a women who will communicate with spirits (often ancestral) to seek insight into an illness. This is particular useful for chronic illness when other treatments have failed. With knowledge gained through divine blessing, she may heal people through trance possession. Strictly speaking, not all balians are healers, but will provide advice and guidance on how to deal with troubles caused by unseen spirits, or even emotional problems that may be manifesting as physical illness.

My very first ‘healing’ experience in Bali perhaps fell into this category. Dressed in a sarong with a sarin canang (offering) in hand, I arrived at a house in Gianyar and was greeted by Cokorda Bagus Astawa, a wise and kindly man. We sat down facing each other. “Why are you here?” he asked softly “I can see there is nothing wrong with you.” I explained about the recurring problem with my chest – I struggled to breath and felt like I was suffocating. Assuming it was a chest infection I had taken three courses of antibiotics, but the problem remained. A year before I had ended a long-term relationship, “And now I feel lost, its like my spirit is broken,” I told him. “But of course,” he replied, “that is normal, you feel bad because your heart is aching, it will take time to heal.” And with these few simple words a huge weight was lifted, and I realised that I had been denying myself permission to grieve, and that this enormous sense of loss was necessary to honour the most significant relationship of my life. He told me I was storing sadness and negative emotions in my solar plexus, which was creating pressure in my chest. “This part I can help with,” he said reassuringly, as he stabbed my little toe with a stick. It felt like there was blood gushing from my toe, but actually it was emotions that were pouring out as this incredible sadness coursed through my body and passed out through my toe. It was such a relief to finally let go and surrender to this grief, and the pain in my chest disappeared immediately. Of course I still felt sad, but accepted that this was a necessary stage in my journey and learned to made peace with myself, in so doing I shifted into a greater state of harmony and the healing process began. He was right, when it comes to personal loss only time can heal, but you need to let it.

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With the book, and subsequent film, Eat Pray Love the spotlight shone brightly on Bali’s healers, with balian’s such as the books central character, Ketut becoming a ‘must see’ on many tourist itineraries. However, it’s important to remember that a balian is not a tourist attraction or object of curiosity, but rather a well respected member of the community with a crucial role to play, and should be respected accordingly. If you feel like you may benefit from a visit to a balian, find out if you need to make an appointment (not all balians will see tourists,) make sure to dress appropriately (cover your shoulders and legs,) and never point your feet at a healer as this is considered very rude. Most balians accept donations, but do not hand over money directly, either conceal it in a canang (offering) or place the donation in the family temple after the treatment. Be warned, not all healers are genuine so its best to go on personal recommendation and choose the correct type of healer for your predicament.

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Green Ginger, Bali

 

Finally my detox is over and I am dying to go out for dinner, but still want to keep things healthy so I meet up with a friend in one of our favourite catch-up spots – the garden of Green Ginger.   One of the first cafes to spring up in Berawa, Green Ginger is  a collaboration between Britta Boyer, a designer with a penchant for vintage, and Jonathan Russel, well known on the island as DJ Rock Solid.  You can still find him mixing it up at Ku de ta, but these days you are more likely to find him indulging in his passion for creating good food that is also good for you.

A hotch potch of styles and influences are at play, creating a unique space. Food is firmly of the Asian vegetarian persuasion; the vibe is quaint tea house – think ornate china tea pots, floral wall paper and tiered cake stands; while  retro beaded lamps and bird-themed art work create an antique feel. Much of the bric a brac, including the stamp collections, second hand books, and funky furnishings are also for sale.  The enchanted garden out back is filled with dappled sunlight, frangipani, scatter cushions, hanging plants and tinkering chimes, definitely a place for lingering. The picturesque Balinese temple that looms over the garden provides a fitting backdrop.

The vibe

What Green Ginger lacks in space, it makes up for in spirit. This is a cafe with soul! As Jonathon explains, he hopes to add “Positive energy as well as fresh flavours to the local food scene.” The cafe certainly isn’t going to change the world, but does act as an inspiration to others with its thoughtful environmental practices. Apart from Italian coffee, almost everything is sourced locally, and all dishes (including sauces and curry pastes) are made from scratch. A keen gardener, Jono has also been known to put together field trips to visit suppliers in Bedugul so visitors can learn about organic farming. He is also committed to recycling, sustainability and minimal impact, encouraging customers to bring their own containers for take away. In the spirit of community, local Balinese receive hefty discounts, and weekly free Indonesian classes help teach foreigners the lingo.

The Food

Good ethics aside, Green Ginger also served up fabulous food. I have been hooked on the Laksa since I first discovered the cafe a couple of years ago. Prepared Singapore style, this deeply aromatic coconut curry soup is thoroughly intoxicating, served with just a hint of chilli, wedges of tasty tofu, wilted bokchoy and sprigs of fresh dill. Big, fat Rice Paper Rolls are equally moreish packed with fresh vegetables and just a hint of mint, dipping sauces include a light and fragrant homemade peanut sauce. Tofu Puffs are delightfully fluffy, while Crunchy Corn Fritters are made with the plumpest corn kernels that really do burst with flavour, and are lovingly enhanced with thick homemade chilli jam. Salads include Yasai Sarada, a Japanese vegetable salad with seaweed, and the Mango Avocado Salad combining greens with the sweetness of mango and the crunch of snow peas and bean spouts.  For dessert we split a  Coffee, Cardamom and Ginger cake – it is truly extraordinary, even better when enjoyed with a pot of authentic chai.

Aside from Green Ginger, Jono also operates, Zucchini on Oberoi (famed for its salad bar) and the newly opened  Elephant inn Ubud (Will check it out soon.)

Green Ginger Noodle House

Jl Pantain Berawa 46

+62 3618446640

Bali Detox: Bali Buddha

During my detox Bali Buddha has been a great source of food, from organic ingredients to jamu kunyit, and supplements.  I live in Canggu so visit the Jalan Raya Semer store, but below is a review I wrote about their Ubud branch.

Bali Buddha Ubud

The founders of Bali Buddha spearheaded the organic movement in Bali when they opened this quirky and colourful café in Ubud in 1994, with a vision of supporting a healthy lifestyle for themselves, their families and their customers. Cosy corners are filled with bright purple cushions,  vibrant Buddha prints adorn the walls, magazines and well-being books fill the shelves, and a play area keep the little ones entertained. Western and Indonesian home style food is predominantly vegetarian, as well as being wholesome, nutritious, MSG free and seriously tasty. Organic produce is sourced from local farms and they promote and support recycling, fair trade and a number of social and environmental programs throughout Bali. You could say it’s a cafe with a conscience.These days Bali Buddha is a one stop holistic shop, also selling a range of bakery items, as well as natural food, beauty and household products, which are packed into bags made from recycled newspapers.

We visit the flagship cafe in Ubud, which sits on a quirky side street just off Jalan Raya Ubud. A purple staircase leads up to the split level cafe. The first floor provides a cosy intimate setting with sofas set into alcoves, a great place to curl up with a book from their small library or a newspaper, while the main dining floor overlooks a temple compound on one side, and the sidewalk below.

The menu features breakfasts, soups, salads, snacks, pastas, Indonesian dishes, sandwiches, burgers and a raw vegan food section. We start with a selection of health drinks. There is a deep green Super food Smoothy with spirulina and ginseng; a bright yellow Jelly Belly made with aloe vera and a hint of turmeric; a very orange Blast and Last, high in vitamin C with orange, carrot and banana; and my favourite, the Superberry a purple, powerful antioxidant mix of berries.

Our Garden Salad arrives in a huge bowl brimming with fresh crunchy vegetables, seeds and edible flowers, topped with alfalfa sprouts and a slightly sweet red wine vinaigrette. We try the Nasi Campur next, and this Indonesian staple never looked so good, or tasted so healthy. Organic red rice, crunchy soy beans, grilled shredded coconut,  tofu and tempe, and green veggies served on a bed of leaves.

The Mediterranean plate provides a very different taste sensation and is colourful and thoughtfully presented with thick and creamy hummus and babaganoush served in banana-leaf bowls. Tasty marinated feta, tabouli, and fluffy pita bread complete the dish. The Tropical living fruit pie comes from the raw vegan food menu and is a sublime multi-layered concoction with a date and nut crust, ripe and sweet tropical fruit, and a creamy cashew nut topping sprinkled with coconut and almonds.

We round off our meal with some desserts, including the Most delicious carrot ever carrot cake which is dense and moist and lives up to its name; and a nutty, chewy Cashew Cardamom and Orange power ball. Our lunch has been so healthy we figure we deserve something a bit naughty and the smooth and rich chocolate mousse cake fits the bill perfectly.

Portions are generous and the prices are incredibly low considering the quality of the food and the fact that much of it is organic. If you are feeling too lazy to go out, Bali Buddha also offers a convenient home delivery service in Ubud and Kerobokan.

Bali Buddha is a place of sanctuary where ex-pats meet with friends, tourists take a break from their sightseeing, and increasing numbers of locals embrace the health food trend. We really enjoy the background music: a mix of blues, Indian, easy listening and soft jazz: and the ambience, which is overwhelmingly peaceful and relaxing, even as the restaurant fills with a lunchtime crowd. The focus here is on the food and sharing conversation, and Brenda describes the Bali Buddha experience as one of “Eating with presence.”

Green Credentials

Organic produce sourced from local farms and cottage industries.

90% of waste composted or recycled

Supporters of ‘Say No to Plastic’ and ‘Recycling Eco Bali/ABC.’

 www.balibuddha.biz

Bali Buddha, l Jembawan #1 Ubud +62 361 976324

Jl Banjar Anyar #24 Kerobokan  T 0361 8445936

What is Jamu?

 

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Jamu kunyit

While, broadly speaking, the term jamu refers to any kind of traditional  medicine, it is more generally used to describe healing herbal tonics that are popular in Indonesia. Ingredients including herbs,bark, fruit, seeds, honey and leaves are blended together to combat different ailments, with recipes passed down from mother to daughter. The origins of jamu lie on the island of Madura which reputedly has some of the archipeligo’s strongest and most powerful herbs – and it is said that women here can reportedly live to 135 years.  Different kinds of jamu are used for different problems, although many are also taken for general well being and health, and are drunk daily. You can still find jamu sellers in the local markets, or driving around with a mobile jamu store on their motorbike.

Jamu kunyit is a popular version, and one that I am drinking every day during my detox. It is made with turmeric, tamarind, lemon and honey and is dark orange in colour, with  a very strong earthy taste  . Turmeric cleanses the liver gently and naturally and is often used in Ayurvedic medicine as it  boosts the creation and production of bile – necessary for breaking down fats and toxins. The compound substance Curcumin aids in treating gallstones.

Recipe Jamu Kunyit

  • 5-7 inches turmeric
  • 5-7 tamarind
  • 2 lemons
  • raw honey
  • water

1. Peel the  turmeric.

2. Open the tamarind and remove the roots.
3. Fill a big pot with water, and boil turmeric for at least 20 minutes – the water should turn a fiery yellowy gold.
4. In another pan pour 1 inch of water over the peeled tamarind and gently heat. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon to allow the fruit to melt (you need to create a jam-like texture.) Once softened remove from the heat, and strain over a small bowl (strain the soft  fruit through the mesh – but not the seeds or fibre)
5. Once the turmeric water has cooled a little pour it into the blender (with the turmeric). Once blended add the tamarind and blend again, then squeeze in lemons. Add honey to taste and pour into jars or bottles and store in the fridge for up to  4 days.

Bali Detox: spa treatment

Mulia Spa 04

Mulia Mermaid Detox treatment

So, its two weeks into my detox and I think its time for a heavy duty detox spa treatment. I have chosen the Mermaid detox treatment at the Mulia, which includes a rather divine ‘wellness suite’ (Georgio Armani has the same wellness suite in one of his manisons – so I know I am in good company) With hydrotonic pools, steam room, ice room and specially designed hamam tables (think warm stone) I know I am in for quite a treat.

Far more than a spa and salon, Mulia Spa provides an holistic escape into wellbeing, with aromas providing the key. Pure essential oils extracted from food and plants  are powerful tools in physical and emotional healing and can be inhaled, bathed in or applied as a massage oil.

The scent of lemongrass

Arriving at the spa reception my senses are immediately alerted to the intoxicating scent of lemongrass that infuses the air. This magical and highly medicinal herb is a mood elevator and has a wonderfully fresh and cleansing fragrance that calms and freshens the mind.  A refreshing chilled towel is also perfumed with lemongrass, and a glass of chilled ginger coolant provides a zesty ginger kick.  Thoughts of the outside world are already fading!

The healing power of water

The Mulia Mermaid treatment is a detox and purification ritual that incorporates the ancient spa practice of healing through water. Oxygenated hot and cold hydrotonic pools are filled with waterfalls and underwater jets that massage my body, increase blood circulation and ease away tension, while the tingling sensation of the bubbles sends me floating off on a wave of contentment. Utterly relaxed I am ready for the state-of-the-art wellness suite, the only one of its kind in the Asia/Pacific region.  Leaving the sunny courtyard pools behind I enter the ice fountain room, cooled to a chilly 1 degree Celsius. As in the adjoining sauna, steam and hammam rooms  – chromotherapy bathes me in soft, chakra cleansing light, gently changing from violet, to lavender to yellow.

Mulia Spa - Treatment Room 2

A peppermint blast

The sultry aroma steam room is fitted with emotional showers, so when I start to feel too hot I can press the ‘breeze’ button and a light spray from the ceiling infuses me with the heady perfume of peppermint. This cool icy fragrance is fresh and invigorating, and chills both my mind and my body. When the heat intensifies again, I push a different button to receive a refreshing and fruity passionfruit infused shower. Next I am lead to a specially designed, gently heated Hammam stone table, where my body is brushed, then scrubbed and sloughed with organic Balinese sea salt warmed with lemongrass and peppermint. Once again I am adrift in a sea of scents and sensations. A sea salt glow scrub draw the toxins from the body and increases skin blood circulation, promoting the growth of new skin cells. According to the International Journal of Dermatology, the presence of magnesium sulfate in marine salts,  stimulates the liver and adrenal glands to dump their toxins. Finally I am drenched in ocean-rich nutrients of a seaweed mask.

Showered, changed and replenished with fresh fruit and peppermint tea, I barely recognise myself in the mirror, stipped bare of tension and toxins all that remains is the  radiant glow of wellbeing.

Mulia Spa 02

www.themulia.com

Bali Detox: Dragon fruit

Detox day 14

I have found throughout this detox that my relationship to food is changing and I am feeling much more aware of the effects of what I eat on my body. It’s as if I have rediscovered the joy of eating and feel my body absorbing all the goodness of healthy food that I am preparing with love. I have found myself really drawn to bright and colourful fruits and vegetables, and of course the dragon fruit is top of my list. As well as eating it I have discovered that it makes a great face mask.

About Dragon Fruit

There are few fruits that evoke the tropics quite so successfully as  the spiky vibrant pink dragon fruit, with its sweet luscious seed flecked flesh. Brimming with antioxidants, vitamin E which firms skin and reduces age spots, and  collagen, which we all know is the mother of all skin care products , it also makes the perfect face mask. I suggest using half a dragon fruit  – mashed with a few drops of vitamin E oil (or half a teaspoon of olive oil) and a teaspoon of honey. Apply to your face for at least 20 minutes, and enhance the pleasure of the experience by eating the rest of the dragon fruit while you wait.

Detox Bali: Coffee Scrub

We are all familiar with the intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans, and the stimulating effect of drinking coffee, but it can also be a great pick me up for the skin, and is a common ingredient at spas across the island.  As I am detoxing coffee makes a great scrub, the   coarse nature of ground coffee beans arouse skin cells, thus improving circulation and helping flush away toxins. A scrub also removes dead skin and firm and tone those areas prone to cellulite. Effects are enhanced when mixed with honey which is antibacterial, rich in antioxidants and delightfully soothing on the skin.

The first time I had a coffee scrub at the Private Spa Wellness Centre in Seminyak I was amazed at how soft and silky my skin was. Ever since I have been saving the coffee granules from my plunger pot each morning, and once a week smother myself in a coffee scrub and then sit in the sun for a few minutes to let it dry. Sometimes I add some organic cocoa powder to make an even richer and more intoxicating mix. My skin LOVES it! Honey is also a good addition

  • 1 cups of coarsely ground coffee
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or sea salt
  • 2-3  olive oil
  • 1 tbspoon organic cocoa powder  or honey (optional)

About Coffee in Indonesia

The volcanic islands of Indonesia produce some of the world’s finest coffees, from the robust beans harvested from the mountainous slopes of Kintamani, to exotic blends from Papua New Guinea, and richly flavoured Lombok coffee.