Your zen is in this jungle (Bali, Indonesia)

By Lauren Novak

There are stereotypically two kinds of Bali holidays: a) Bogans, Beaches and Beer or b) the Eat, Pray, Love type. For my third visit to the ‘Island of Paradise’ I decided to tick something off my Bucket List and go for option ‘B’. It took the form of a four-day yoga retreat in the jungle just outside that hippy mecca of Ubud.

On an island that is being rapidly swallowed up by tourism development, the Bagus Jati Resort is a hidden oasis of green. Staff say it is built on land that has always been spiritual, a place where some of the best yogis and healers have practiced. I won’t pretend that it’s quiet (as I write a cacophony of insect, bird and monkey calls fills the air, competing with the sound of the running river below) but it is natural.

If this doesn’t make you zen…

From every building there is a view of green; be it manicured grass or the shaggy wall of ferns and palms clinging to the mountainsides. During my stay, a guide took me for a walk through the surrounding wilderness. Although the track is used regularly, there are no markers, no cement paths. Instead, fallen leaves are thick underfoot and all manner of things crawl around down there. Bamboo rises next to broad mahogany trunks, coconut palms and cacao trees. It really is a jungle out there.

For my stay at Bagus Jati I booked what they call the New Start package; four days and nights of rest, relaxation and healthy eating. It was good timing for a detox after attending a wedding in the more touristy area of the island. But after having such a social time with the newlyweds and guests, and sending my boyfriend back home, I’ll admit I had some trepidation about spending four days basically alone with limited Wi-Fi and no TV in my room. I’m quite at home with my own company and have done a lot of solo travelling but for some reason I was feeling oddly anxious about being “stuck” in the jungle with “nothing to do”.

It’s far easier to relax when you call this place home for four days.

But that was kind of the point; to learn to wind down and calm the mind. The daily routine began with a morning yoga session followed by the first of three meals from a set “healthy” menu (altered generously for dietary issues). In between there was time for a spa treatment every day (think traditional massage, body wraps and facials), a Balinese cooking class and the jungle walk. The afternoons were passed through guided meditation. If you have time left there’s also a magnificent infinity pool overlooking the valley, a jacuzzi, gym room and hair salon.

At the spa, smiling ladies treated me to a warming banana leaf wrap. First a poultice of ginger, clove, red rice and banana is smeared over the body. You’re then wrapped in actual banana leaves, plucked from the surrounding gardens, and left to marinate to the jungle sounds for about 15 minutes. It’s not long before you notice the warming sensation. It’s the ginger and cloves, the masseuse tells me. After about five minutes its actually quite hot. Not in a painful way, more like deep heat without the sting or stink. The best part comes after you wash it off. The herbs seep into your skin leaving you feeling toasty and fresh for a good hour afterwards!

The retreat offers a number of luxurious treatments to indulge in.

There were some surprises in the kitchen, too. The cooking class menu featured a salad of fern tips and shredded coconut. In the restaurant, the beaming waiters served papaya and ginger soup. That’s right, hot soup made from fruit. All the ginger, chilli and other spices gave it a savoury note and I finished the lot. For some more recognisable Indo specialties I’d recommend the gado gado (steamed vegetable cabbage rolls, fried tofu, tempeh and satay sauce) and the seafood Nasi Goreng (fried rice with squid and prawns and fish satay sticks).

Healthy eating rarely looks better, and more exotic.

One afternoon Wayan, my guide for the jungle walk and many of the yoga and meditation classes, gave some great insight into why its important to take time out. He argues a busy mind is like a drunk monkey(!) – unpredictable and hard to control. It takes time and patience to turn things around. And he would know. Apparently a decade ago he was an alcoholic, addicted to marijuana, working as a bartender. He’s now married with two kids, doesn’t smoke or drink, eats vegetarian and communes with nature for a living. Of course, we don’t all have to go cold turkey like him. But small efforts over time can lead to big changes, he says.

During a meditation class I confessed to Wayan that I’m not very good at the whole “still your mind” thing. Don’t worry; he tells me, it takes practice. He then explains his analogy of a dirty coffee cup, with layers of sediment in the bottom. If you rinse it once you won’t get it clean. It takes repeated washing, warm water, soap and proper drying to have a clear coffee cup. And such effort is required for a clear mind. So we sit cross-legged looking out over the valley and he helps me focus – starting at my toes, rising up to the crown of my head. Once there we focus on breathing. There’s also a little bit of OM-ing but nothing too awkward. Before I know it, half an hour has gone by. Other than a few pins and needles in the legs, I feel good. The hard part is making the effort to do something like that at home.

That’s quite a jungle out there.

And therein lies the rub. It’s easy to take it slow in this oasis of calm, with staff on hand to bring you freshly made, gluten-free, dairy-free anything you want or waiting to offer you a cup of ginger tea after a massage. The days pass without much effort as you float from one indulgent activity to the next. That’s what a holiday should be and Bagus Jati certainly delivers. But the real challenge begins when you hit the airport. The phone is back on, your flight may have been delayed and when you get home the sink is full of dishes but the fridge is empty. Time to consider booking another retreat?

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