I AM stuck in second gear…quite literally. I am on my way up an incredibly steep driveway of the destination I am visiting when my car conks out. I have no choice but to roll my little black beast down the hill, slip it into first gear and rev the engine until I can smell burning rubber. My stay at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast on the weekend starts in a less-than-auspicious way and I try not to take this as an omen. I also chew gum, lest the retreat staff detect the scent of the triple chocolate Cornetto ice cream I scoffed in a panic just before entering the retreat.
Later that night, in her induction to the retreat, Gwinganna Program Manager Kay says we should view the steep driveway as a training tool.
“Imagine the driveway is the buffer zone to the outside world. Imagine leaving at the bottom of the driveway everything in your life that causes stress,” Kay says.
“We invite you to visualise that and what’s left of you drives up here and has a weekend at Gwinganna.” Unfortunately, for me, Kay never does say what we should do when we exit, and all I can picture is all of my stress waiting for me at the bottom of the driveway, waiting to leap back into my car, when I depart.
Kay says the five major health concerns: cancer, heart disease, degenerative disease, depression and diabetes, all have stress as a common denominator and underlying factor.
“There is a flip side of the coin to stress. Can you remember the last time you felt so good in your life that you woke up a little bit early because you couldn’t wait to get the day started? You had that sense of joy and you carried that throughout your day, that buoyance of spirit and resilience to life?” she says.
“That very feeling is what we are aiming to create here at Gwinganna.
“We’ve created a program that invites you to focus on the one thing that impacts on everything in your life and that is your relationship with your body, your health and wellbeing.”
At this point in proceedings I should point out I spent a good three weeks in Indonesia in December drinking copious cheap cocktails and Bintang and when I returned, spent January making up for the lack of good wine in Indonesia, if you get my drift. So there’s a little bit of work to do. On the up side, I have been in 2km daily swimming training for a story on which I depart next week, attending yoga twice a week, and meditation class once a week. So there has been some balance between my binges. But my active wear rudely suggests not nearly enough. Never fear, because Gwinganna is part lifestyle retreat, part Biggest Loser reality TV program with Kay talking about how bad it would be to smuggle Kit Kats into the retreat and eat them in the privacy of your room. On my first night after dinner, all I can think about is how I wish I’d been clever enough to think to bring Kit Kats. The best I can find is an old throat lozenge in my handbag with some hair stuck to it.
I spend my first afternoon enjoying the retreat’s Dreamtime hours where most people go to a massage or rest and my treatment is a Maya Maya where I am smothered in mud and salt and wrapped in a sheet. During my treatment, a ferocious summer storm hits, the building shakes, the power goes off, and all I can imagine is the roof lifting and my masseuse fleeing the building, leaving me stuck in my mud and salt cocoon. I devise a plan in case of the worst scenario and decide if I gather enough momentum I can probably drop and roll my way off the massage table, and dash naked into the rainforest, leaving a trail of mud and salt in my wake. I regale my new friends at dinner that night with my plan, right before I spill oyster juice all over them. I’d blame the alcohol, but we’re only allowed one 100ml glass of organic wine each (I try to cut a deal with those who aren’t drinking to give me their allowance). We’re also discouraged from drinking water half an hour before or after our meal to aid our digestion.
I go to bed sad, sober and starving but vow tomorrow will be a better day. Staff member Karl Ostrowski is giving a seminar on the Pillars of Wellness where I learn that only about 20 per cent of our woes can be traced back to our genetics which means about 80 percent is up to me. We learn that it’s important to chew our food about twice as slowly as we currently do. It’s Day Two and I’m feeling virtuous and much better. I partake in a variety of activities, rising at 5.30am for the 6am Qi Gong class. By 6.45am I’m in the pool partaking in a water running class and at 9am I’m doing a stretch class, followed by a pilates class at 9.30am. I spend my Dreamtime hours in another treatment, and dreaming about dinner. My body has never consumed so few calories while doing so much exercise and I fear I may go into cardiac arrest.
By Sunday morning my new friends and me are talking about all the great wine specials we discovered over Christmas. We possess all the fervour of a bunch of 16-year-old boys looking at porn. One girl admits she can live without wine, but could murder a latte right about now, despite the fact we are allowed organic coffee up until 11am each day. I’m thinking about the half bottle of New Zealand Sav Blanc I have waiting in the fridge at home. But most of all, I’m learning to breathe again so that when those problems do leap into my car when I roll back down the hill, I’ll be ready for them.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat – http://www.gwinganna.com
EVERY now and then I am overcome by the notion that I just need to disappear off the face of the planet for a week or so. And I generally pick a destination or activity that is way beyond my comfort zone and/or level of ability (which, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, is somewhat limited to drinking New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on my back deck while pondering the parlous state of the world). As is often the case when I make any major life decisions, my choices are based purely on how a place name sounds. Yes, you’ll find me in crazy Kazakhstan or yummy Yemen any day now. Iraq sounds quite harsh to the ear but Kabul itself somewhat intriguing. I’m the same when it comes to cooking or eating out. I’ll order Baba Ghanoush while imagining I’m in an exotic Arabian land, or buy all the ingredients to cook a big pot of Jambayla just for one, because I’m convinced someone has made a huge mistake and I’m actually a sexy Spaniard. Woy Woy – well I’ve toy toyed with a trip there too. And it was only last week when I found myself downward dog facing the jungles of Ubud at a yoga retreat that I realised just how out of sync my imagination is with my body.
Lured by this particular retreat’s name “Escape the World” I flew myself to Bali and trekked up to Ubud (by trekking, I mean being picked up in an air-conditioned vehicle by my own driver), and threw myself into this concept with gusto. What could be so hard about a total of 20 hours of yoga, a 22km bike ride, wanderings through the rice paddies, and, most interestingly, 24 hours of silence where it would just me and my mischievous monkey mind?
And I didn’t know it at the time of booking, but French Canadian Claude Chouinard runs Oneworld Retreats in partnership with two Ubud princes who happen to have their regal residences also on site. Unfortunately for me, both princes were also getting married the very day I arrived, but I remain convinced had they just waited another 24 hours, at least one of them would have fallen in love with me at first sight. I mean, what’s not to love about a bedraggled Brisbane girl, hair frizzing in the Indonesian humidity, coming off the effects of her usual red wine and Xanax flying combination, clutching her duty free stash of secret wine and gin in one hand, and a yoga mat in the other? There may also be that teeny tiny issue that I am not Balinese royalty, into which both boys also married, in what is said to be a bid to preserve the culture. And I’m not sure mentioning I’m The Global Goddess and practically Brisbane royalty has the same effect, but I was prepared to give it a shot.
On our first night, Claude reminds us that despite everyone around us seemingly being able to travel, we are only a small percentage of the world who is wealthy enough to do so. He encourages us to embrace our 24 hours of silence and see it for the gift that it is.
“For just one day you can consider this silence a form of torture or one of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give yourself,” he says.
“What we know as time is in fact an illusion. For human beings, time is limited to the moment we are born, to the moment we leave this planet, a very short journey considering the age of the universe.
“Live every day by the minute and enjoy as much as you possibly can…the illusion goes by quickly.”
At first I am afraid, I am Gloria Gaynor petrified. But then I discover while I’m not allowed to read, and am discouraged from making eye contact with my fellow retreat participants even when we are in yoga classes together, I am allowed to write. And if there’s anything I love more than talking, it’s writing. But it must be mindful, and we are encouraged to pen the things we really want out of this life, and those we wish to rid, which will be burned later in the week in a sacred Balinese ceremony. After yoga and breakfast on my private balcony, I scribble and scribble until my pen runs out of ink. Before I know it, it’s lunchtime, and the food (like everything else at this retreat) is no hardship. I lunch long and languidly on the typical Indonesian salad Gado Gado (again, savouring how the words swirl around my tongue) and there’s the delicious Dadar Gulung – an Indonesian coconut crepe – for dessert.
I have a massage after lunch, and determined not to sleep but remain “mindful” to my silence, I spend the afternoon painting. I end up finishing 6 paintings (3 of which are all words) and have almost convinced myself I have captured the spirit of the talented Ubud artists who inhabit this lovely land, before I realise my ego again, is outrunning my actual talent. A swim, another yoga session, and it’s dinner on my deck, the highlight of which is steamed prawns in banana leaf. I contemplate cracking open my duty free wine but a combination of wishing to remain mindful and the fact I have a sore throat prevents this digression. My yoga teacher later tells me my throat chakra is blocked because of my fear of the silence. A less enlightened version of myself would argue it’s because of his incessant incense burning.
Each day passes in a similar dreamy rhythm. Yoga in the morning with the affable Iyan Yaspriyana while the jungle around us awakens and the cicadas chant a chorus of encouragement from the forest. Iyan encourages us every day to “go deeper”, reminding us that the mind can sometimes trick the body that it can’t go further, when it can. Daily affirmations are left in our room (and in my case, a harmless tree snake which I embrace as a good sign), there’s a dawn yoga class at volcano Batur, an evening water purification ceremony at Tirta Empul, a Balinese offering class, lunch in the rice paddies, and a closing ceremony at the retreat’s temple in which we pause to give gratitude for our lives. And most of all, I learn to sit with myself, observe the demons, laugh at the monkey, and love myself just that little bit more. According to Baby Ram Das: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” I can already hear the next exotic-sounding destination whispering my name.
The Global Goddess paid for her own flights to Bali and her Escape the World retreat with Oneworld in Ubud. To book your own escape, go to http://www.oneworldretreats.com
I’VE packed my passport, swimsuit and sarong but somehow I’ve lost my kavorka by the time I arrive in Bali. But if ever there was a destination in which to rediscover my animal magnetism, or kavorka as it is explained to me, Indonesia’s Islands of the Gods is the place to come. For this is a land of rice paddies and romance. Of medicine men and mysterious healers. Of traditions, secrets and sensory overload where poverty and generosity co-exist. Of surprises and sunrises. And I’m on an escape which captures it all. I’m experiencing Bali with Eat Pray Live.
Eat Pray Live operator Nicole Long specialises in helping women rediscover their kavorka, that sensual part which exists in every woman, on her bespoke holiday experience in her villa which offers a home away from home. This is not a spiritual retreat, rather, an authentic Balinese escape where like-minded people are introduced to Bali’s best dining, shopping, spas, and local healing experiences.
This particular journey begins at Kadangu where I meet the family of Nicole’s assistant Putu who has asked us to join them in a sacred Hindu temple ceremony at Tabanan. Dressed in traditional Balinese sarongs and sashes borrowed from Putu’s mother we walk down a sliver of stairs. First we join several other Balinese in a ceremony which involves a series of prayers combining smoke from incense and flowers in a small basket we each possess. An elderly priest blesses us in holy water and we select a pinch of rice which we stick to our foreheads, hearts and sprinkle over our heads. We head over to a second section where we cleanse ourselves in water before the third and final prayers at another part of the temple. Days later we learn that Putu’s seven-year-old daughter Gita has asked her mother how we western girls sleep. Gita is concerned that we sleep with our eyes open.
Two days later we undergo a cleansing at a waterfall near Ubud, trekking down some 300 stairs in our tight sarongs, sashes and white shirts. A similar process to the temple ceremony is repeated before we walk, fully clothed into a gushing cold spring. Here we must focus on letting go of our bad experiences of the past, and embracing the new as the water pounds our bodies. I focus on forgiveness and moving forward. I ask the Gods to help me find true love. Just as I turn my back towards the water and lift my face to the sky, the sun comes out. I smile.
On the way home we visit Cekorda, a respected medicine man, a high priest from the highest caste. Cekorda is 85. “How old are you?” he asks as I sit with my back against his knees, his wiry fingers probing my skull.
“43,” I respond.
“Not so young,” he mutters to himself.
He then asks me my problems.
“I have a broken heart,” I reply.
I lay down on a mat and he presses between my toes with a stick. My third toe on my left foot hurts and I yelp.
“Your broken heart is healed. It is your mind. You have self doubt.”
Cekorda then stands above me and traces his magical stick over my body to clear my aura, before announcing that I no longer have a problem.
He turns to an Western bystander who speaks Indonesian.
“Women are very complex,” the bystander translates for Cekorda.
On my final day, I undertake a session with Intuitive Healer Paula Shaw, a Gold Coast woman who went to Ubud, fell in love, and hasn’t left Bali since. The fan overhead clucks like a gecko as Paula interprets my birth chart in her heavenly husky voice. Paula specialises in sharmanic astrology. She knows nothing about my career as a travel writer or The Global Goddess.
“You are looking for more spiritual journeys and asking yourself ‘how can I be more sacred?’. You are going to share more of your personal experiences. You can be quite funny and you really don’t take yourself seriously,” she says.
“You can put a spin on things that is really palatable to the Australian market in general. Your biggest learning in this world is from where you share your wounds. There are no rules for you and that’s really liberating.”
I have a mozzie bite itch to ask Paula about what she sees for my love life just as she asks me to shuffle, split and select a series of tarot cards.
“You can be attracted to the bad boy, but you need a man that is really sacred, very intelligent and a little aloof. You need a very sensual man, that’s very important,” she says.
“To find a man to be with you will be difficult as you are going against the patriarchy with your career. You are taking one for the team by being this woman but being The Goddess will pull them in.
“You will have a busy 12 months with travel, a new business partnership and healing around love. The universe is setting you up so when a man comes along you won’t give yourself over completely. But love is coming.”
While I wait for my sacred, sensual, intelligent and aloof man, I’m going to take Cekorda’s advice. And I may even sleep with my eyes open.
Want to capture your kavorka? The Global Goddess is delighted to announce she will be working with Eat Pray Live and holding regular writing retreats up in Bali. Eat Pray Live – What’s Your Story with The Global Goddess will teach guests everything from how to write a book or blog, engaging in an entertaining manner on facebook and twitter, and even becoming a travel writer. Join The Global Goddess for her morning practical Heavenly Hour session, partake in Eat Pray Live activities, and come back for a Happy Hour session to discuss and pen your experiences. The Global Goddess and Eat Pray Live are on hand to guide you and introduce you to the best of Bali and most of all, to help you rediscover yourself.
Eat Pray Live – What’s Your Story retreat with The Global Goddess will be held from April 20 to 27. This 7 day/6 night retreat in private villa accommodation costs $1715 for a shared room or $1900 for a private room and includes:
• Return Airport transfers
• Breakfast daily
• Welcome drink on arrival
• Eat Pray Live Personal Concierge
• Eat Pray Live “welcome gift pack” (bag, sarong, products and other goodies)
• 1 x 1 hour “in villa” massage
• Manicure and Pedicure, Hair conditioning “cream bath” treatment with head, neck and shoulder massage (per person)
• Transport fees for scheduled trips
• Cleansing ceremony in the holy waters of a Balinese temple, to heal your past and energize your future
• Visit a medicine man / healer, (a small personal donation at the time of visit is required)
• 5 luncheons & 1 in-villa dinner
• Free Wifi
• 24 hour security
• Complete housekeeping services
• 10 minutes walk from the beach
• Situated in a typical Balinese street away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas
For more info go to: http://www.eatpraylive.com.au. For bookings please contact Christine Retschlag: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: 0437 655 525
SHE wore a smile of smug serenity, the kind borne from hours and hours of meditation and, I suspect, being a gentle soul. I’m in country New South Wales for a three-day yoga treat and Basia, who calls herself a “tea advocate”, is performing a modern-day version of a Japanese tea ceremony to welcome us to Billabong Retreat.
My journey to enlightenment begins several hours earlier when my friend Jess picks me up at SydneyAirport in her clapped-out car which lacks air-conditioning in the middle of an Australian heat wave. It’s such a scorcher, I expect to see Satan himself behind the steering wheel.
Jess and I have a history of colourful trips which share an unwittingly similar theme. It’s always hot, there’s limited alcohol and we swim in interesting watering holes. In June it was Jordan’s Dead Sea, this time it’s an Australian Billabong the colour of black tea.
I’m in the fittingly name Harmony Cottage on this 5000 hectare property replete with lotus pond. Jess is in a tent. Yoga takes place in a central yurt. I fall in love with the word yurt. Billabong is an eco-retreat where each guest is allocated 50 litres of water each day which are broken down as such:
- 3 minute shower = 30L
- 1 x full loo flush = 4.5L
- 3 x half loo flushes = 3 L
- Spare = 3.5 L
Guests are advised to save water and “shower with a friend”. If only. I perform a crude mathematical calculation in my head. If I don’t have a bowel movement for six days, I can afford another shower. Jess reminds me we aren’t here for six days, so my maths, as always, is flawed. In my spare time, I take to trading shower minutes with the other guests.
Paul and Tory von Bergen own Billabong Retreat near Richmond, about an hour’s drive north-west of Sydney. Paul, a former high-flying Londoner who made millions of pounds, lived in a penthouse and had a photo of a yacht on his desk, lost all his money in a bad business decision. He headed to Thailand where he discovered yoga, but instead of a lightening bolt, it was a gradual transformation on his path to serenity.
Rather than teaching guests the kind of power yoga that has crept into chic city studios, Paul believes yoga is about the mind. A kind of meditation yoga which dates back to 300 BC. Jess calls it Moga.
“The fact you are twisting one way or the other way is almost here nor there, it is about peace of mind and health and happiness,” Paul says.
“Yoga was always about the mind for thousands and thousands of years. It was only really when it came to the West in the last 60 years that is has become dominated by the physical.
“For 4000 to 5000 years yoga was not about postures. It is about developing the mind. It is about neuroplasticity – the ability to retrain out minds.
“Whoever came up with that phrase ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’….that’s bullshit. It is about feeling better, living longer, happier and more contented lives.
“As long as we’re heading in roughly the right direction, it is OK.”
On a scorching Saturday afternoon we perform a Hindu chant 108 times – the number 108 believed to be the figure required to achieve enlightenment. I arrive at roughly the 38th Om and my mind starts to play a nasty trick. It reminds me it’s the weekend, my throat is parched from chanting, and I need an ice-cold Sav Blanc. It takes everything in my power to sit still and return to the next 70 chants by which time I forget Sav Blanc, let alone the sacred Marlborough region, exists.
Paul teaches us a simple seven minute practice that we can take home. Seven minutes to serenity. On the drive home and after a weekend of gorgeous vegetarian fare, I implore Jess to stop at the first coffee shop she can find before she drops me at the airport. I’m in the middle of a long check-in line when my tummy starts to grumble. I break into a cold sweat. Fuelled by caffeine and possibly the fact I can flush the loo all I wish, my bowels have decided upon the most inconvenient time all weekend to do what they are designed to.
I barely make it through check-in and rush to the toilet. Afterwards, I celebrate with a large carton of greasy chips and a New Zealand pinot noir. My enlightenment is tested three times on the way home. The first time, when the passenger next to me decides to shake a tin of breath mints all the way home; the second when we hit severe turbulence; and the third, when a maniac cabbie picks me up at the airport, road-raging his way to my front door. I practice breathing in and out slowly and saying “I am” over and over in my mind.
I think back to what Paul has to say about this modern, frazzled world in which we exist.
“There is too much masculine energy in the world. We can be both, soft and strong. Women are better at that,” he says.
“I’d like to see more men at this retreat. It is the story of my life at the moment. I haven’t spoken to a bloke in three months.”
Welcome to my world Paul. Welcome to my world.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Billabong Retreat. To find out how you can achieve serenity in seven minutes, go to www.billabongretreat.com.au or better still, book yourself in for an enlightening adventure.