Desa Seni: Canggu's magical village resort

This story was originally published in the Australian Yoga Journal.

desa house

Just 15 minutes from bustling Seminyak, Desa Seni resort in Canggu is the perfect mix of Indonesian tradition and Western luxury.

At a different kind of resort, having an enormous gong sound as you enter may seem a little ostentatious. But in the magical surroundings of Desa Seni, the low reverberation of the 90 year old Sumatran gong makes it feel more like I’m being welcomed into another world. The resort’s somewhat unobtrusive entrance opens up to reveal a serene wonderland of beautiful gardens, adorable little huts and colourful lanterns.

desa pool

The resort was designed to feel like a traditional village and built to fit in with the environment. Instead of levelling the whole property, the architects worked with the natural contours of the land, which makes the whole place feel like it’s flowing. The different levels of velvety grass cascade into one another, dotted with stepping stones to skip, hop or jump across. Little streams flow throughout the resort, filling the air with the tinkling of water. At night, hundreds of multi coloured lanterns light the way, adding to the magical quality of the place.

The accommodation at Desa Seni consists of free standing traditional Indonesian houses, which are spread out over the property. They have all been individually and painstakingly sourced from neighbouring islands, brought to Bali in pieces and reassembled. Inside, every traditional piece of furniture, knick knack or painting has its own story which is explained in a dossier in each room. Guests are literally staying in an antique, with the houses on the property up to 140 years old. But despite their age, the houses are beautifully clean and have been modified to western standards. Instead of dark shutters, glass has been put in the windows and air conditioners, rain-head showers, TVs and wifi installed.

desa house

It’s quite something to stay in a place where the staff outnumber the guest by about 3:1. As I’m lying by the multi-level salt water pool at the centre of the resort, there are always people on hand to bring me whatever I’d like from the organic restaurant. The majority of the produce used in the restaurant is grown on the property, with a dozen farmers employed to tend the organic gardens. Other garden staff continually cut the grass with hand held clippers. Their constant ‘click clack’ becomes the soothing soundtrack to being at Desa Seni, with the smell of fresh cut grass to accompany it.

desa farmer


Instead of a group retreat, I opt for a personalised 5 day package. Before I arrive, I fill out a lifestyle questionnaire which is then used to tailor the retreat to my needs. Just moments after I’ve finished my welcome drink, the retreat’s co coordinator is sitting on my porch with me. She asks me all sorts of questions about my lifestyle and what I’m hoping to get from the retreat. I tell her I’d really like to reduce stress, reign in my ‘monkey mind’ through meditation and learn to bring my practice off the mat and into my daily life.

As part of the package, I get three private yoga sessions. Instead of choosing a particular style, I decide to try three different ones – prana flow, anusara and dynamic hatha. This turns out to be a fantastic choice. I’ve been practising yoga for more than 10 years, but having teachers with different knowledge and training look really closely at my practice is incredibly helpful. All the sessions are held in the beautiful Trimurti studio. (Trimurti is a Sanskrit concept used to describe the combination of the three Hindu deities of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The studio is open on all sides and I find it both calming and inspiring to be surrounded by lush greenery as I’m moving through my asanas.

Half moon pose

Half moon pose

The theme of my prana flow session is to find grace and softness without losing strength or alignment. On a practical level, my teacher has a close look at why my upward dog is jamming into my lower back. It’s as simple as grounding my little toes, something that’s highly unlikely to have ever been picked up in a public class. My anusara session is all about heart opening and considering the way energy spirals through the body. My teacher suggests I do my tadasana (mountain pose) and utanasana (forward bend) with my legs slightly apart, to keep the body in alignment and stack the bones better. In my dynamic hatha lesson, my teacher talks about the relationship between the body and mind, and we look at certain poses to try to understand why my mind is resistant to them.

On top of the three yoga sessions, I’m also scheduled to have some serious bodywork. And by bodywork, I don’t mean the nice soothing type of massage where you might fall asleep. Instead I am pulled, pushed, stretched and leaned on in a variety of ways using a variety of parts of the therapists’ bodies. But I figure anything this painful has to be good for me, right? First I have a remedial massage with a therapist, who looks like he has about a 50kg advantage over me and isn’t afraid to use it. The massage is, well, painful, but afterward I feel great.

Next on my schedule is a myofacial session, which makes the remedial massage seem like a little tickle. The therapist identifies areas where the myofacial tissue (which is wrapped around all internal parts of the body like glad wrap) has bunched up. He then works on the bunches until they smooth out. I have the tendency to laugh when I’m in pain; I do a lot of laughing in this session. The next day I also have an osteopathic session, which is a lot more gentle. His advice about my alignment really helps me to understand where my body’s at. Both therapists are able to relate their advice back to yoga, which ensures I’m not repeating actions in my practice that are making my injuries worse.

Thankfully, my treatments aren’t all about being pummeled. I also do two sessions with my retreat co coordinator. She helps me with my goal of calming my mind by going through several guided meditations with me. I find it a lot easier to meditate when I give my mind something to focus on, like the chakras, instead of trying to tell it to simply sit still. I actually manage to get through several meditations without my normal tendencies of wanting to get up and run screaming from the room or having the very un-yogic urge to resort to some kind of violence!

Amongst all this meditation, yoga and bodywork, I still find that I have plenty of time to lie by the pool with a book, sunbathe or eat. This is another thing I love about a personalised retreat; I get to chill out when it suits me.


Every guest at Desa Seni can attend unlimited public yoga classes, and I manage to fit a few into my schedule. The timetable is impressive, with up to five classes every day covering pretty much every style of yoga I’ve ever heard of. There’s morning meditation and pranayama, kundalini, anusara, hatha, vinyasa and prana flow. The schedule also has traditional classes taught in Indonesian which local people can attend for free. After class, participants hang out in the yoga bale (hut) to sip ginger tea and talk, which I find really adds to the sense of community.

desa yoga


Desa Seni also hosts a number of different workshops every month. I attend a workshop hosted by a yoga therapist and a chiropractor, which is designed to help yoga practitioners understand their bodies better and avoid injuries. Other workshops include an in-depth look at the philosophies and teaching methods of a particular style of yoga. Also on the schedule are kirtan singing classes, traditional Balinese dance performances and movie nights.


While my retreat is centred around deepening my yoga practice, Desa Seni also offers a number of other types of personalised retreats. And if organised retreats are more your cup of tea, the resort also hosts dozens of group retreats throughout the year. These are mostly held by international teachers who book out the entire resort. But whether you choose to do your own thing or join a group retreat, expect to experience at least a little bit of magic.

desa art


Desa Seni is in Canggu, Bali, about 45 minutes from Denpasar airport.

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