This story was originally published in the West Australian newspaper.
Say the word ‘festival’ in most countries and it conjures up images of rowdy crowds boozing it up and jumping around in mosh pits to music so loud it makes your ears bleed. But utter the words ‘BaliSpirit Festival’ in Ubud, the art and cultural centre of Bali, and it’s a whole different picture. The Big Day Out it certainly is not. Instead of thrashing about in a mosh pit, you can take a yoga class surrounded by lush gardens; instead of sweating it out on a sports oval, you can get some healing bodywork in the pool; and instead of queuing to pay for exorbitantly priced alcoholic drinks, you can get fresh organic food and juices for next to nothing.
The BaliSpirit Festival is held in March each year and bills itself as “...a leader among a new generation of festivals for the rapidly growing holistic travel marketplace”. According to one of its Balinese co-founders, Kadek Gunarta, “The inspiration of the festival is to bring people from all over the world to come here and have an incredible experience. Everybody comes home with a little bit of inspiration.... to start something good”.
In 2008, Kadek and his team pulled the first BaliSpirit Festival together in just 3 months. He says the event “lost money spectacularly”, but still honoured its commitment to donate money to several local charities. Since then, the festival has grown significantly, with ticket sales doubling each year.
The size of the festival has grown too. These days, more than 100 workshops are likely to be listed on the schedule. A 10 minute shuttle bus ride from Ubud gets you to the Purnati Center for the Arts, described in the brochure as a place of “sprawling green lawns with a blessed river flowing through that truly embodies the spirit of Bali”. The property hosts around 25 workshops a day in yoga, meditation and dance in 6 different pavilions.
So what to expect at the festival? Here’s my guide:
Some of the biggest names in the yoga world are lured to the festival, offering every type of yoga you can think of and many you didn’t even know existed. Many of the instructors have over 20 years experience and have developed their own styles of yoga. The classes are held in outdoor pavilions which hold up to 200 people. Some of the highlights include Kundalini yoga, designed to open the body’s energy channels, and Dynamic Vinyasa Flow, which combines yoga with live music. Most of the workshops are open level, with easier options for beginners, while for more advanced yogis there are workshops on how to develop a personal practice. The festival also caters for all age levels....with classes for kids up to Yoga for Elders.
Dance and Energy:
People are urged to let go of their inhibitions and ‘dance like no one’s watching’. Highlights include Hoop Dance Yoga which uses a hoola hoop to strengthen and stretch the body and Yoga meets Dance, a ‘fun and energetic’ workshop inspired by the 5 elements of nature. And if you’ve ever wanted to learn fire twirling, a safe way to start is with Play Poi, a form of dance where weights are swung in a rhythmical pattern (you can graduate to using fire later).
Meditation and Healing:
The pool at the Purnati Center isn’t just for cooling off between workshops; it also doubles as a healing space. Described as a ‘water dance’, Watsu is a type of bodywork that uses techniques from Shiatsu massage to create an extremely nurturing experience. Supported by flotation devices, participants get to relax while the Watsu practitioner does all the work and moves their limbs for them in what could be one of the most blissful experiences of your life. Other highlights will include Pranayama workshops where participants learn ancient breathing techniques to free up the flow of energy in the body.
If you’ve ever wanted to have a go at African drumming or Indian chanting, the BaliSpirit festival is your chance. Over 100 musicians generally participate in the festival, both in workshops during the day and the concerts each night, which are held in two separate venues closer to Ubud.
The Dharma Fair is a space to chill out in between workshops. As well as offering organic and raw food, there are free seminars in health and healing. There are be practitioners on hand to offer sessions in a range of holistic practices including massage, natural facials, iridology and reiki.
Check out www.balispiritfestival.com for ticket and accommodation details.