Bali – The Spark and the GLOW

When someone mentions Bali, you think of paradise, right? Well it was. And it wasn’t. The Indonesian island is truly vibrant with beautiful beaches and scenic mountains, but it also has trash. Tons of it. The boom in tourism within the last 20 years was a shock to the remote island and its infrastructure simply couldn’t keep up. The smells of burning plastic and sights of streets covered in garbage are omnipresent, but I wouldn’t let that stop you from visiting. I’d been dreaming about Bali since the spring and coming here was the spark that ignited this entire “sabbatical” for me.

I’d been following a young yogi on Instagram for a year or so and she kept advertising these yoga retreats in idyllic locations around the world. Better yet, her retreats partially fund a nonprofit she established called Go Light Our World (GLOW). Kayla Nielsen is quite a bright light herself. I admired her poise on social media in a world that can get so damn shallow; where Likes are the name of the game and awkward, uncomfortable-looking yoga poses are king (or queen). It’s hard to feel a connection with a stranger over social media of course, but something kept saying to me, “This is a good person.”

So while I kept seeing posts about her nonprofit’s good work and these incredible photos from her past retreats, the pieces started to come together in a way that suggested this Bali retreat could be exactly what I needed to recharge from a personal and professional slump.

Quite impulsively, I put down a deposit for the retreat in June. I’d figure out the rest later (and here we are). And guess what? The GLOW yoga retreat with Kayla was everything I’d imagined it would be. It was a week in paradise: reflection, relaxation, and self-discovery. I’ve made new friends that I intend to keep in touch with, travel with, and visit (and I hope they’ll visit me!), and I had a blast practicing yoga and learning self-compassion. I’m equipped with new tools to become a better me and that genuinely excites me.

Tegalalang Rice Fields, Ubud

The retreat itself was comprised of 7 participants, 3 instructors, and 1 phenomenal photographer (I’d be struggling in my pose, dripping sweat, and hear the click of her camera. More than once she got a death glare.) Of everyone there, only three of us weren’t yoga instructors. And only one of us wasn’t a regularly-practicing yogi (guess who!). But every day was refreshing and energizing and exciting. I never felt judged and was constantly empowered and encouraged to simply be my best self, not to necessarily hold a perfect pose. How great is that?!

From waterfall hikes and snorkeling, to bhavanization and Balinese massages, it was a fantastic week removing myself from the pressures I put on myself to be perfect and constantly on the go. I didn’t make plans for post-retreat, which was kind of exciting—normally I love to plan and have a schedule. But by allowing myself to “let go” and be spontaneous, I was able to join a few retreaters in a new Balinese city, (a place called Ubud) after the retreat! Plus, I ended up staying in the nicest guesthouse I’ve ever been to, hands down. Touristy, eclectic, and full of artisans and yummy food – Ubud was blissful vacation.

Villa Selina, Bondalem

Traveling: With GLOW yoga retreat for seven days, semi-solo for three

Highlights: Uluwatu – legendary for its surf. If you’re a surfer, you gotta go catch a wave. If not, go watch some shredders tear it up.

Bondalem – a beach town up north, we got to experience really questionable Balinese driving through the mountains and see the landscape. We stayed at Villa Selina, owned by an Aussie, Matt, who’s an eco-warrior.

Ubud – Touristy, eclectic, and full of artisans and yummy food, it’s a yogi’s heaven. I stayed at the Ponduk Tropical Guesthouse, within 15 min walking distance of the main part of down, in the middle of rice paddies. The accommodations and breakfast were absolutely perfect. While in Ubud, I visted the Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Tirta Empul temple, and Rocky Temple. Get yourself a motorbike and some maps or hire a taxi for cheap.

Food: The retreat was catered, but in Ubud I recommend Kafe and 9 Angels and Earth Cafe.

Morning view from Ponduk Tropical Guesthouse, Ubud

Tips: If you’re traveling alone, rent a motorbike or take one as your taxi. Avoid cars because traffic is awful everywhere.

Skip the coffee plantations to avoid supporting animal cruelty (more on that here)

Check out the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) to see if they could use some volunteers or donations

Beware of the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud! Those monkeys will snatch goodies (food or otherwise) right out of your hands. They’ll also jump on you and tear your shorts if you don’t give them what they want.

Negotiate prices when shopping from artisan shops. Some Hindus believe the first sale of the day is good luck, so try to do shopping early.

Embrace sweating. Wear swimsuits and sarongs everywhere.

Attend a GLOW yoga retreat to start off your trip! You will not regret it!!

(Check out my photo album on Bali here.)

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