Exotic Spa Ritual

 

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Spa rituals at Spa Village Resort Tembok Bali call on ancient wisdom, the knowledge of medicinal plants and the restorative power of the natural environment.

Arriving at the sunny lobby of Spa Village Resort we receive the most relaxing of welcomes, as our feet are immersed in copper tubs filled with flowers, and we are treated to a head neck and shoulder massage. Nestled in a coconut grove on the exotic black sands of north east Bali, the tranquil resort is dedicated to wellbeing, creating a unique opportunity to rejuvenate and absorb the powerful essence of this sacred island.

All spa treatments begin with a Segara Giri pre treatment, which sees me sitting on the edge of a sunken steam bath with my feet resting on black volcanic sand. The warm misty vapours sooth my soul and clean my feet in an act of ritual purification. The next step of my journey is a Lapis Lapis (Malay Herbal Wrap,) ideal for detoxifying, reducing water retention and relieving joint pain. My therapist smothers me in lemongrass, ginger, galangal and camphor, then wraps me in hot towels. While my body gently steams in a warm and spicy cocoon, a slew of natural ingredients are applied for a traditional [Balinese Natural Facial]. A creamy mix of yoghurt and milk calms and cleanses my skin, a scrub of rice blended with turmeric and tamarind leaf gently exfoliates, while honey provide the ingredients for a soothing massage. A calming face mask of yoghurt and seaweed is followed with aloe vera gel to seal in moisturise.

I emerge, blinking in the sunlight to a beautiful vision of the deep blue sea glinting through the palm trees, and sip a warm and syrupy elixir of turmeric palm sugar and tamarind. It’s good to replenish with some healthy food after a spa treatment and the beachside restaurant edges an enticing, infinity-edged swimming pool. A Raw Vegetable Salad drizzled with roasted sesame dressing, is followed by a Poached Salak and homemade chocolate ice cream. Our spa day sadly draws to a close, its been a wonderful experience but one day simply wasn’t enough.

 

Spa Village Resort Tembok Bali  Jalan Singaraja-Amlapura No 100 Desa Tembok, Tejakula Buleleng+62 36232033

Food for healing

Turmeric: anti inflammatory, astringent.

Tamarind leaf : antioxidant, vitamin C and A.

Honey: calmative, antioxidant and antibacterial.

Lemons: contain AHA’s and BHA’s which remove dead skin cells and help clear acne, and discolouration.

Yoghurt: multi vitamin superfood that makes the skin glow with freshness

Seaweed: packed with vitamins C and A to restores moisture levels and revitalises the skin.

Aloe vera: deeply moisturising, reduces dark spots and blemishes.

 

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Taksu Ubud

 

IMG_7474  Tucked into a quiet lane in the heart of Ubud, Taksu translates in Balinese as “the indescribable essence of spirit,” and provides a serene haven in which to relax and unwind. A charming garden filled with cascading rock ponds and meandering paths gives way to a leafy gorge dotted with scenic spa pavilions.

Well established on the Ubud scene, the spa and restaurant have been operating for the last seven years, while the quaint Taman Taksu Garden Cafe makes an inspired new addition. Open-sided wooden pavilions overlook the medicinal herb garden, where leaves are plucked fresh for my Pagagan Juice a traditional remedy known as pennywort in English, believed to be beneficial in maintaining youth. Our round of drinks also includes [Coconut Water] served in customised coconut-shaped ceramic dishes, and a Bali Summer blending watermelon, strawberry and apple with a lemon citrus kick.

The menu, prepared by Balinese chefs Ketut and Adi, offers something for every mood and every appetite, with a good selection of raw food, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as chicken, duck and seafood. Produce comes straight from Taksu’s own organic gardens, located in the nearby hills, and dishes include crunchy organic salads, homemade pasta and panini, Indonesian classics, hearty soups and grills, and divine desserts.

We start with a couple of raw dishes. The Strawberry Bisque is a chilled and frothy blend of fresh strawberries and yoghurt, while the generous slab of Zucchini Lasagne that follows is truly excellent, a tasty testament to the imaginative possibilities of raw food. Thinly sliced marinated zucchini is layered with fresh tomato, basil and peppers, with a tangy marinara sauce, creamy cashew ricotta and an ever-so -slightly sweet pesto.

Changing the pace a little we order some good and spicy Nachos piled high with black beans, homemade salsa and creamy guacamole, and a Salmon Panini made with home baked brown bread topped with swirls of cured salmon, red onion, lettuce, dill and dollops of cream cheese. Dessert is a light and fluffy Cheesecake sweetened with a thick strawberry coulis, and a spongy Truffle Chocolate Cake Gateau with a rich chocolate filling.

As well as daily yoga and dance classes, Taksu offers interesting workshops and retreats of the alternative healing persuasion, as well as Cranio Sacral therapy, Traditional Chinese medicine, ozone therapies and spa treatments including the Divine Pampering Ritual which is accompanied by a two-course healthy lunch.

Taksu Spa and Restaurant Jl Goutama Selatan Ubud  +62 361 971490

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.