Day 1 of Yoga Teacher Training in Bali: Water Ceremony & Meeting the Kula

So what I’m about to say is going to sound extremely cliche…  I just finished a yoga teacher training in Bali and it was life changing. But really, it was! Maybe it was the detox from alcohol, caffeine, sugar, meat, WiFi, TV, and more. Or maybe it was the abundance of cacao ceremonies, yoga poses, chanting, mush piles, essential oils and sage smudging that transformed me. It could’ve been the lunar eclipse, volcanic activity, planet views (Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and Saturn!), or the nearby earthquake. It’s difficult to say exactly what made an impact because in reality, every little detail contributed to my transformation of self to Self (to be discussed in another post). There’s a lot to cover, but for now, what I’m sharing is Day 1 of 25 at the Bali yoga retreat.

Water Ceremony with a Balinese Priest

I was the last to be picked up by the van of yogis – radiant people from all over the world – who I would spent the next month with. As they pulled up, two cheerful blonde girls in the front seat greeted me with a huge smile and excited waving. I simultaneously said hello with a huge smile and excited waving. My heart nearly exploded right there in the parking lot. My Kula (“family”) was here.

After an hours drive past temples, old banyan trees, small villages and lots of motorbikes whizzing by, we came to our drop off point – the side of a road at a stunning terraced rice field. A gorgeous Indonesian woman wearing a sarong greeted us. Kentri would be our host for the next 2 weeks at her organic coffee estate which we would later refer to as our time “on the mountain”.  I hadn’t spoken in 4 days (I was just coming from a silent retreat), and I was so elated to have a conversation with the Kiwi guy next to me that I didn’t realize we had been walking in the lush green jungle for 30 minutes, barefoot, of course.  We came to a clearing in the trees where an older Balinese man wearing all white was seated near a small fire. He had been waiting for us for hours. This local priest was going to bless all of us in the pure, holy water that ran in the trickling river beside us.

Kentri instructed us to take off our bottoms and put on our white sarongs, which were wrapped in a particular way for men and women. Each of us were given a yellow strip of fabric to tie around our waist. Not a good day for me to choose to go commando… We followed the priest by climbing down the hill and across the river rocks, then sat quietly in a circle near him. Being in his presence was soothing, and I found all of my mind chatter and need for conversation had evaporated. He picked up a set of metal bells and began playing them with both hands in a rhythmic way as we sat quietly behind him. After 15 minutes or so of trying to sit comfortably in a seated position on a river rock, the bells stopped. It was magical and all but my knees were starting to hurt. We were then provided with our “offering” which in Bali looks similar across the island. It consists of a bamboo box that contains flower petals in purple, pink, and red color, and an incense. With these, we were to set an intention for letting something go.

The priest then got up and began to bless each of us individually. He started a few girls down from me, which I was thankful for I could watch to see how we were supposed to behave. By the time he got to the girl next to me my heart was pounding like crazy over his presence. Standing in front of me, I could see how strong his dark feet were. He was a small man with gentle eyes that I was too nervous to look into. He poured the holy water (i.e. the river water) from a metal bowl into my cupped hands and I took three sips, pouring the fourth over my head. I then put a pinch of white rice on my third eye to seal the meditation, as I had seen the others do. It’s very common to see people in Bali with this rice on their forehead post ceremony.

Once the whole group received their blessing, Kentri told us to get in the river and release our offering to the water. She also offered up that we could get naked or take our shirts off so that our clothes wouldn’t be wet for the rest of the walk, which a few of the girls did. I could see my grandma shaking her head at me for getting naked in front of a priest… I asked Kentri how the locals usually do it and she said with clothes. Clothes it was for me, your welcome grandma. I was so ready to embrace all of the magic of this month-long course, and confidently waded into the cold water in my clothes with my offering. As most of the others complained about how cold the water was, I flashed back to the cold ocean water in California and thought, this is nothin. I meditated for a few minutes with my eyes closed, releasing the things that no longer serve me before tossing my offering behind my head and down the river and dunked under the clear water. It was refreshing and beautiful and worth the 45 minute jungle trek in a wet skirt that came after.

What Do You Need?

As soon as we arrived to the coffee plantation it was MTV Real World. We threw our bags in the common area and ran around the outdoor spaces, checking out each of the rooms. There were tree houses, verandas, living roofs, and every room had open air spaces. I got paired with 3 other girls: a social blogger from California, a high school student from China, and a rec major from Switzerland. Over the course of 2 weeks living together here, these girls would teach me so much about patience, unconditional love, and acceptance.

My new mates and me in front of our tree house home – did I mentioned we lived in a cloud?

One of the first things we did was get to know each other with the name game, where I identified myself as “nifty nat”. This was a soft enough exercise to prep us for our month long spiritual and physical journey together. But then came the heavy stuff, full on, right into it.

We stood in a circle with a ball of yarn. What is it that we needed at this exact moment? One person was to share and the rest of the group, whoever felt compelled, could offer what they have in support of their need. The first thing that shot to my mind was nonjudgment of others, as I had noticed myself rudely judging the group upon our arrival (too loud, not conscious of their energy, runs around a lot, etc.). I figured this would be a bitchy thing to say off the bat, so I dug deeper for my “need”. As the ball of yarn got tossed around the circle, my heart began beating like crazy. I stood there feeling as I did in front of the priest – vulnerable,  shy, supported. A few laughs and aws were shared as some girls mentioned needing more self love, self acceptance, and making new friends. I was the last person to receive the yarn, at which point the teacher hastily began closing out the exercise. Whew, thank god they forgot me, I thought as tears started welling up. Why the hell was I so emotional? “Hey, what about what Natalie needs?” one said. Damn it. The teachers quickly apologized and encouraged me to share what it was I needed.

At this point I was nearly shaking, my lips quivering, tears ready to stream down my face. “That’s okay  – whew – I feel myself getting emotional just thinking about it” I said… I paused for a few seconds to gather myself, which didn’t work at all, until I blurted out “HEALING”. And then I cried. I had no context to provide to my one word answer. I couldn’t speak more words if I wanted to. The kiwi next to me turned to me and said “hey Nat, do you need a hug?”. Absolutely. The rest of the group circled me and held me in the first of what would be many loving “mush piles”. Well damn, I’m that girl I thought (ha).  Well, this is me.

Spoiler alert: After 25 days of yoga, healing is exactly what I got ❤

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