Bali is not just a beach holiday destination. Known as the “Island of Gods” and “Island of A Thousand Temples”, thousands of people every year are also drawn to Bali for its spiritual energy.
After the success of the book and movie, Eat, Pray, Love, women flocked to Bali, hoping to recreate Elizabeth Gilbert’s spiritual adventure and find themselves through yoga classes, meditation in the jungle and consultations with medicine men.
Ubud is Bali’s mecca for yoga enthusiasts and those in search of spiritual healing, but experiences exist all over the island for those wanting to take a journey than involves more than just sun and sea.
Here’s our mini-guide for enlightenment-seekers in Bali:
You’ll find the highest concentration of yoga classes in Ubud, where it seems every other person is carrying a yoga mat or on their way to an early morning class.
The Yoga Barn is one of the most well known studios and offers daily classes, several times a day at levels from beginner to advanced. There are also yoga teacher training courses run here several times a year and for those who prefer something a little different, there are other classes too – Tibetan bowl meditation or ecstatic dance anyone?
Taksu is another popular option and also has an attached spa offering Ayurveda and healing treatments and a healthy restaurant based around raw food dishes.
Other yoga studios worth looking into are Intuitive Flow, Radiantly Alive and Ubud Bodyworks. Several villas and hotels also hold yoga retreats and private lessons.
Outside of Ubud, there are still plenty of options, ranging from classy polished spas in Seminyak to hippy-style bamboo shacks on the black sand beaches of Lovina. In fact pretty much every town that attracts tourists in Bali has at least one yoga studio, so you’re pretty spoiled for choice.
If you want to fully immerse yourself in the practice of yoga and meditation and surround yourself with others who are doing the same, there are also several ashrams in Bali.
The Ratu Bagus Ashram in the small village of Muncan offers a spiritual retreat led by the charismatic Ratu Bagus (whose name means ‘good king’). The Ratu Bagus ashram specializes in “Bio-energy meditation” or “Shaking”. I’m guessing this is something you have to experience to understand…
Another famous ashram is the Gedong Gandhi Ashram in the coastal village of Candidasa. Days at the ashram are focused around yoga practice, daily prayer and a vegetarian diet.
Spiritual and traditional healers
The Balinese have always used traditional healers, or Balians, for treatments for everything from headaches to broken bones to black magic curses. There are many different types of Balians you can visit, depending on the kind of healing you seek.
Bali’s most famous Balian is probably Ketut Liyer, who is now known all over the world due to his appearance in Eat Pray Love. You can easily visit Ketut Liyer at his home just outside Ubud and have a palm reading, although I’ve had it on good authority that he pretty much gives everyone the same fortune.
Some Balians act as a channel between the human and spirit world and are used by the Balinese to communicate with dead ancestors, ask advice on offerings and ceremonies and to dissipate black magic. These Balians do normally not deal with non-Balinese people.
Another kind of traditional healer is the massage Balian who performs deep tissue massage to help with ailments such as back pain and even broken bones. I’ve personally visited this kind of Balian after spraining my ankle and I was amazed at the results. I went from not being able to put any weight on my ankle at all to walking with no support within 24 hours.
If you wish to visit a Balian during your stay in Bali, it’s best to ask the advice of the locals. There are many people quick to call themselves ‘healers’ in order to make a quick buck out of tourists.
The real Balians used by the Balinese never ask for money but are instead paid in the form of an offering with a small monetary donation tucked inside.
Ceremonies and temples
There is no shortage of temples in Bali and in fact the description “Island of A Thousand Temples” is incorrect as there are many thousands of temples on the island.
Non-Balinese are welcome to visit temples and pray, as long as proper etiquette and cultural guidelines are followed. Read my article on how to pray in a Balinese temple for more information.
The holy water temple of Tirta Empul is one of the most interesting temples in Bali to visit and you can undergo a cleansing ritual in the holy springs while you are there. The water is said to have healing properties and is particularly potent on the day of the full moon and other days with special religious significance.
Ceremonies are held in Bali every day and can be a real spectacle. If you’re lucky enough to attend a temple during a ceremony, it can be a truly spiritual experience. Purnama or full moon ceremony is held every month and is a great time to visit any temple. The biggest ceremonies are Galungan and Kuningan, held every 210 days, along with Nyepi, or Balinese New Year, which is every 420 days.
Part of the Balinese religion is making daily offerings of leaves, flowers and food, which are placed around the compound every day. You can learn how to make some of these offerings in a class that will teach you how to weave the palm fronds into baskets or just ask any women you see making them, who will normally be delighted to show you.