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.

Detoxing in Bali

As I am going to be spending the next three weeks detoxing I have been doing some research into ingredients here in Bali that are perfect for purifying the body, and it seems that the island is bountiful in this regard.

Coconuts

The first rule of detoxing is to drink plenty of water, better yet, take advantage of the abundance of fresh green coconuts on the island – the ultimate drink for the tropics. Known as the tree of life, coconut is one of the nature’s healthiest gifts; amidst a myriad of health benefits, it is packed full of minerals and electrolytes, which helps keep the body nourished, hydrated and sustained. Drink straight from the shell with a little lime and ice.

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Pumpkin Seeds

The rich volcanic slopes of Bali produce tasty, nutrient rich pumpkins (known as ‘Emperor of the Sun’ in China) which are an excellent source of vitamins A, B and E, as well as powerful antioxidants, like carotene.  Even better, their seeds are rich in protein, amino acids, zinc, magnesium, and omega 3 fatty acids – all essential to the detox system. Pumpkin seeds have also proved highly effective in the removal of intestinal parasites which wreak havoc on the digestive system and contribute to the build up of toxins.  Seeds are best eaten raw or sprouted, or you can create pumpkin seed milk.  Take a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds, a quarter cup of pitted dates, a pinch of sea salt, one quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract and two and a half cups of water and purify in a blender for a tasty and effective way to cleanse the intestines.

Fruit

Bali abounds with lush tropical fruits that taste amazing and are brimming with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Papaya is packed full of enzymes that promote a healthy digestive system and contains one of the highest Vitamin C contents of all fruits. It is also high in Vitamin A and flavonoids like b-carotene and lutein which have strong anti oxidant properties. Mango, known as ‘The King of Fruits’ is similarly enzyme rich and high in Vitamin A  as well as potassium, magnesium, iron and copper. Dice fruit to make a fruit salad, or toss in the blender with a little water and ice for a luscious tropical juice. Try mixing banana and pineapple, or watermelon and papaya.

Kalamansi limes

The small limes that grow here in Bali have a slightly sweeter and milder taste than their larger lemony cousins. Packed with vitamin C, limes helps convert toxins into a water soluble form that can be easily excreted from the body.  Highly alkaline, they will restore the bodies PH balance, stimulate the digestive system, and hydrate the lymphatic system.  The best way to start your day is with a glass of warm water mixed with the juice of one squeezed lime.

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Beetroot
A valuable source of vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc and calcium – all  necessary to promote  detoxification and elimination. Beets support good gallbladder and liver health – organs that are paramount for breaking down and removing toxins. The high amount of fibre in beetroot improves digestion and helps eliminate bodily waste. Luscious beets combined with carrots and ginger make a great cleansing juice.

Kankung (water spinach)

Slightly less bitter than other forms of spinach, Kangkung is a staple part of a Balinese village diet. As with all dark leafy greens, it is a nutritional powerhouse, rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lutein. Chlorophyll helps eliminate environmental toxins from heavy metals and pesticides, and helps to protect the liver. Take a bunch of spinach and wilt in a covered saucepan with a little water for a few minutes, then lightly stir fry with garlic, or simmer for a few minutes with some coconut milk for a healthy ‘creamed spinach.’

Garlic

Local garlic is not as strongly flavoured as European varieties, but has all the same benefits, such as promoting heart health, activating liver enzymes and enhancing the body’s immune cell activity. The component Allicin is a natural antibiotic and helps the body to halt the growth and reproduction of germs. To enhance the benefits of garlic, slice or press then leave for five minutes before cooking, or better yet, add raw to salad dressings.

Tumeric

Turmeric cleanses the liver gently and naturally. Often used in Ayurvedic medicine it is an antioxidant that boosts the creation and production of bile – necessary for breaking down fats and toxins. The compound substance Curcumin aids in treating gallstones. Turmeric blends well with lime and honey to form the basis of Jamu kunyit – a popular health tonic on the islands.

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Seaweed

The beaches of Nusa Dua, the Bukit and Lembongan are still farmed for seaweed, a traditional Balinese industry. The algin in seaweeds absorb toxins from the digestive tract and offers the broadest range of minerals of any food, containing virtually all the minerals found in the ocean. Seaweed is also a very powerful antioxidant that helps to alkalize the blood and strengthen the digestive tract. Mix with greens, and toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds to make a great salad.

Cinnamon

The exotic flavour of cinnamon makes it popular in cooking, while Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have long revered cinnamon as a superpower used to treat things such as colds, indigestion and cramps, and to improve energy, vitality and circulation. Cinnamon heats the digestive fire – thus promoting healthy digestive system. It also has a natural cleansing action that stops the growth of microbes and kills bacteria and fungi. Cinnamon combines particularly well with honey to make a restorative tea.  

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Bali Detox

So, its been a while that I haven’t been feeling so fabulous – low energy, sniffly , poor digestion. It finally got to the point where I knew I had to take some positive steps and made an appointment with Bali Natural Healing Centre in Canggu http://www.balihealing.org/index.html I had heard really good things about Peggy Marienfeld – a naturopath from Germany who who been in Bali for several years.   She has a really sensible and balanced approach to healing and holistic well being and I warmed to her immediately.

I have always believe in a holistic approach to health but am sensible enough to know that sometimes the western path of medicine is the only way to go holistic v western but at other times – like now, the last thing I want to do is burden my overloaded system with harsh  synthetic drugs. It seems like my stomach needs some TLC not a chemical blitz, and so I am embarking on a detox/cleanse.  Peggy gave me a tincture of cloves, ginger, wormwood and black walnut to help clean out the parasites and my online research confirms that these are all commonly used herbs for parasites. I have to take this for three weeks, and have also stocked up on chlorophyll and probiotics. You see, my aim is removal and regeneration. I want to remove the toxins and parasites, but simultaneously restore the balance to my system. I have also stocked up my fridge with organic greens and am removing all sugar, wheat  and refined/processed food from my diet for the next couple of weeks. detox ingredients in Bali

Quite often I will just eat a salad for lunch and steamed vegetables and rice for dinner, however I know that I will quickly get very bored if this is all I eat for two weeks so I have vowed to be adventurous and to make cooking healthy, tasty and nutritious food  my mission. I started today with bok choy. Yes, I know its good for you – and I try to add it to my diet as often as possible – but really, its not my favourite food, yet there is a big bunch of it in my fridge (alongside some Sri Lankan spinach and some very dark green Kale.) I started thinking about a dish I used to love when I lived in Fiji –  palusani – water spinach cooked in coconut cream and this became the inspiration for my lunch.  At the risk of not sounding at all humble, I have to say it turned out to be divine. And went perfectly with my rice steamed with star anise, cardamom and cinnamon (who says rice is boring?)

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Ingredients: Spinach in coconut milk

  • 2 large bok choy, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, shredded
  • 1/2 head broccoli
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup light coconut milk
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • organic salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Steam the vegetables until wilted, then lightly sautee in olive oil.
  2. Add all other ingredients and stir until well combined and then simmer about ten minutes

Temples in Bali

You find them clinging to steep volcanic slopes, perched on craggy cliffs, or nestled in the branches of towering banyan trees.  Some seem to float on serene lakes, while others are tucked away amidst the frangipani in family compounds. Known as Pura, Bali’s temples are the meeting points of humans and gods and here, on the island of the gods, a temple is never far from view.

More than 10,000 temples are scattered across the island and commemorate virtually every aspect of life: harvest, rain, prosperity, life, death and protection. Generally, the greater gods are worshipped in larger public temples while lesser gods and deities are worshipped in smaller local temples. The most important are known as the nine directional temples or Kahyangan jagat and occupy auspicious locations, like mountains, cliffs and lakes.  Unlike smaller regional temples, these are considered to be relevant to all of Bali and protect the island and its inhabitants from evil spirits.  From these, six are classed as sad-kahyangan, supreme holy temples and are considered the pillars of the island.  These generally include Pura Besakih, Pura Uluwatu, Pura Goa Lawah, Pura Lempuyang Luhur, Pura Batukaru, Pura Pusering Jagat.

Pura kahyangan jagad: mountain temples

Bali’s majestic mountains and volcanoes are thought to be the abode of the gods, and these temples command impressive settings with panoramic backdrops. They are places  of pilgrimage – especially during full moon ceremonies and odalan (temple anniversaries.) Pura Besakih – the  mother temple is the most important of all and occupies an enormous complex 1000 m high on the slopes of Mount Agung – Bali’s holiest mountain. Believed to be the spiritual and religious centre of the universe,  Brahma, Wisnuand Siwa are worshipped here, as well as  a host of other deities. The  tropical rainforest of Mount Batakaru is home to another important – if less visited –temple, Pura Luhur Batukaru, which is dedicated to the god of plants and growing. While over in the north east, Pura Lempuyang  (the dragon temple) perches on a lonely, windy mountain ridge and is dedicated to the god Iswara, ‘keeper of the peace,’ and is reached by way of 1,700 steep steps cut into the mountainside.

Pura segara: ocean temples

These mighty Balinese sea temples were designed to appease the wild and unruly gods of the ocean, and have particular significance during the Melasti purification rituals that precede Nyepi (the Balinese new year.) During this time sacred objects and effigies are carried in long and colourful processions to the ocean where people bathe with the deities, in a symbolic cleansing of body and soul. With its dramatic setting on the cliffs of southern Bali, Pura Luhur Uluwatu is one of the island’s most famous sea temples and is dedicated to Rudra, the god of storms and wind. While Pura Goa Lawah hugs the coast of Kusamba and is associated with the after life. Commonly known as the Bat Cave (there are hundreds of them – but they are not  objects of worship,) it is said to be linked to Pura Besakih by a 30km tunnel which, according to mythology, is inhabited by a giant dragon-like snake that feeds off bats.

Pura tirta: water temples

Unlike other temples which serve purely religious purposes, the picturesque water temples also have a practical role to play in the management of subak (rice irrigation system), with temple priests managing the water allocation among  the surrounding rice paddies. Some of these temples have sacred springs and bathing pools making them a popular destination for cleansing rituals, the most well known being Pura Tirta Empul.  Believed to have been created by Indra, the ruler of heaven, and god of thunder and rainfall, the holy waters of Tirta Empul are said to have strong curative properties.Other water temples are built within lakes, such as the stunning Pura Ulun Danu Bratan which appears to float on the water and is dedicated to the worship of the goddess of lakes and rivers.

Khayangan Tiga: territorial temples

Each village іs required by adat  (traditional law) to have аt least three temples. These include the pura puseh (temple оf origin) dedicated the village founders and located аt the kaja (pure) side оf the village. In the center of the village, the pura desa (village temple) is for the spirits that protect and bless the village, while the pura dalem (temple оf the dead) is situated аt the kelod (unclean) end and also acts as a graveyard.  There are also functional temples belonging to different professions and their relevant deities. For instance Dewi sri, the rice goddess, is worshipped at rice temples, while farmers and merchants have temples located next to Bali’s markets  which are dedicated to Dewi Melanting, the goddess of seeds, gardens and markets. Family temples are the smallest and the most numerous and can be found in every Balinese Hindu compound. Ancestors are worshipped at these hereditary shrines which are honoured with daily offerings .