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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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

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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.

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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.

 

Bali Detox: Tropical porridge

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Detox Day 13

Porridge makes a great start to the day.  Low in fat, but high in fibre, oats have the highest protein of any grains and also help reduce cholesterol and curb the appetite.   I usually like to add a little organic palm sugar to my porridge, but found that by adding strawberries  and just a little coconut cream that it was quite sweet enough.

  • 1 cup organic oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 – 2  tablespoons coconut cream
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1/4 cup sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cook the oats and water in a pan over a low heat, add coconut cream and cinnamon. Serve sprinkled with strawberries, coconut and seeds.

*Lightly dry fry the sunflower and pumpkin seeds if you want a crunchier topping

Bali detox: Fresh fruit salad

Detox Day 9

For the first week of my detox I cut out all sugars (including fresh fruit) this was probably the toughest aspect – I found myself craving the cool sweetness of tropical fruit. But now my detox is almost half over I am allowing  fruit back into my diet with this rather delicious  fresh fruit salad made with dark pink/red fruits that are high in anti oxidants. It combines the slightly sour taste of organic mountain strawberries from Bedugul, with the sweetness of purple grapes and dragon fruit, I also mixed in shredded coconut and a handful of goji berries and then sprinkled everything with lime juice and chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours.