5 Bali wellness experiences, from light therapy to breathwork, put to the test
- With some of the world’s best spas and practitioners, Bali is the ideal healing and wellness destination – and there’s much more on offer than yoga
- From vibro-acoustic light therapy, to breathwork, to water sound healing, we try some of the best Balinese experiences designed to rejuvenate
Bali has long been a healing and wellness destination, where sanctuaries, spas, retreats and resorts offer to re-energise, rejuvenate and renew those who visit.
The Covid-19 pandemic has amplified this desire and travellers – weary from lockdowns and isolation – are seeking holidays that life-shift and spirit-lift. Here are five transformative experiences to add to an itinerary on the Indonesian island:
Breathwork workshops can be taken in big groups or solo, but given the response is unique to the person – and it can be intense – I opted for a solo session first.
At Breathwork Bali in Canggu, sessions are conducted in a tranquil wooden cottage surrounded by permaculture garden and tropical jungle. I lie on a batik-lined treatment table with a bolster under my knees in a room made aromatic with essential oils.
The theory goes that we unconsciously inhale and exhale around 22,000 times per day. With each breath we bring life force into our body, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system. Putting conscious thought, depth, focus and circularity into this breathing under the guidance of a qualified practitioner allows our minds to enter what feels like that liminal space somewhere between asleep and awake.
Being in this state, with background music and the occasional guidance and soothing touch from the practitioner, is said to help access deep emotions and subconscious energy blockages that manifest as physical and mental pain or trauma.
I don’t really feel like I’ve unlocked or unblocked anything, but I feel well rested afterwards.
Water sound healing
Balinese-Tibetan sound healer Ibu Vina Harya and Balinese healer Pak Abdi have travelled throughout Asia to harness the therapeutic potential of sound.
Their water sound healing therapy, at the Anantara Uluwatu resort, is a holistic experience that takes place in the resort’s wellness centre.
On a central therapy table, Tibetan singing bowls are placed around the perimeter of the body and on top of the stomach and torso. With eyelids closed, I focus on my middle eye (the place on the forehead between the eyes) while the ringing sound, like the soft ding of bells in a Buddhist temple, helps lull my mind into a state of relaxation.
The vibrations on the body create a similarly pleasant mental state. According to Ibu Vina, different singing bowl sounds can indicate ailments or blockages within the body. An uneven ring might indicate an unhealthy organ, for example. (She correctly diagnoses my lower back problems).
The therapy continues in the outdoor swimming pool, where participants float on the water’s surface supported gently by Pak Abdi while Ibu Vina taps the bowls. It is so intensely relaxing, Pak Abdi has to stop before I fall asleep in the water.
Water blessing ceremony
Bali’s Hindu water purification ceremony, known as melukat, which means “letting go”, is a traditional ritual to cleanse the body, both spiritually and physically.
Gifts and prayers for health and happiness are offered to the gods and the body is washed and blessed with holy water. Some melukat ceremonies go one step further, with a public outpouring of emotion.
They are performed all across the island at natural and holy water sources – waterfalls, creeks and temple springs. Taman Beji Griya waterfall, in Kabupaten Badung, is as good a place as any.
There’s a guest desk to help first-timers and the setting is particularly enthralling. Hidden in the tropical rainforest are candlelit caves, shrines with golden deities shaded by marigold-coloured umbrellas and a mystical creek with writhing cobras and dragons carved into its stone bank.
Clad in a sarong and led by a guide, I lay incense and flower offerings, drink holy water and say silent prayers at different points along the creek. It’s a meditative experience that turns humorous when I reach the waterfalls.
At the first one, I take my turn to stand under the full force of the water while screaming all my negative energy and anger into it. At the second waterfall, I have to force-laugh into the whitewash to welcome the good spirits.
I’m saturated and my throat is sore but it’s both relieving and strangely enervating. As always after a good laugh, happiness naturally follows.
Vibro-acoustic light therapy
When I posted a selfie on Instagram about my sistrum experience, people commented that it looked like I was in a coffin. I see their point.
The treatment room in the new Sanctuary spa, at Potato Head Studios, in Seminyak, has six rectangular, wooden, casket-style beds (no lids) arranged in a circle. But this semi-lit, rose-hued, serene arena is more meditative space than morgue.
The multisensory therapy, known as sistrum, has been developed in a collaboration between Potato Head and practitioners at Ubud wellness centre Pyramids of Chi. Over four years, more than 10,000 people “keen to awaken their human potential” have experienced it, according to head of wellness Kim Herben.
The therapy is like the cool grandkid of the traditional sound healing experience. Instead of relaxation through Tibetan singing bowls, music is channelled through speakers at either side of the head.
Custom-made water mattresses augment the sound by sending vibrations through the underside of the body. From above, through closed eyelids, a synchronised light show stimulates the brainwaves with kaleidoscopic patterns.
Simply put, while the mind focuses on these unique sensations, the body relaxes on a deeper level, a process that helps clear mental and physical blockages. It’s an intense hour.
I feel a little zingy afterwards, like I’ve had too much caffeine, but that is soon replaced with a lightness and energy that could get addictive.
Chakra light therapy
The spa officially opened in late 2020, but has only welcomed guests since the reopening of Bali’s borders in April this year.
Chakra light therapy is part of its “baru detox” treatment. It starts with a therapist smoothing a thick, lemony-scented, mineral-rich clay wrap over my whole body. My only role is to lie there nearly naked as it does its thing, releasing toxins, boosting circulation and re-energising me.
The next step is chakra light therapy. I lie on a waterproof bench while a horizontal shower with seven streams sprays my whole body, slowly rinsing away the clay from top to toe. It’s a pleasant cleansing sensation, like a cool shower on a hot day.
The relaxation is enhanced by built-in speakers with a nature-based soundtrack that sends my mind from birds in a forest and rain on leaves to waves on a beach.
Adding to the sensory immersion, the shower heads beam seven colours over my body, targeting specific chakras, or centres of energy, to promote well-being, health and harmony.
Certainly the deep tissue massage that ends the treatment makes me feel good about life.