After all the hiking and the biking I have done over the last couple of years I have been feeling increasingly broken physically. I felt like a good stretch and focus on posture may do me some good, so I decided to take some time out and do a week of Yoga in Ubud.
Yoga is a big deal in Ubud and there are lots of yoga studios to choose from, the most popular and well known one is The Yoga Barn. They are all similarly priced with a drop-in class between 100,000 – 150,000 IDR, and most places offer deals if you book several classes.
After a lot of research online I chose Radiantly Alive because it was right in the middle of town, they offer a weekly unlimited class pass (I didn’t see that anywhere else) and they offered some interesting looking classes, above and beyond your standard Vinyasa class, and the one that hooked me – Sky Yoga.
My week unlimited pass cost 800,000 IDR (~£47). In comparison, a 10 class pass cost 1,000,000 IDR (~£59) but you have longer than a week to use it. It sounds quite expensive considering I was paying around £40 a month for a gym membership back in the UK, but I managed to squeeze in 16 classes in the week I was there which made each class 50,000 IDR (~£3), and each class is 1.5 hours so I got 24 hours worth of Yoga for £2 per hour. That is some pretty savvy shopping right there!
It is an absolutely beautiful studio. It is spotlessly clean and smells really nice. There are 3 main rooms, you with go up, down or down-down. I thought the biggest one at the top would be the star of the show, but it’s actually the down-down one that takes the crown. Surrounded by full length glass and high ceilings with windows that fully open all along one side, you feel like you are in the jungle.
The reception staff make you feel really welcome and after a couple of days they were greeting me by name. On a couple of rainy days (it rains a lot in Ubud) they would shuttle us back and forth under an umbrella to the down-down studio which is outside. All of the equipment provided is clean and well maintained, they provide mats, blocks, bolsters, blankets, balls, bug spray for the evening classes and safe storage for your personal belongings.
There is of course some emphasis on the spiritual side of things, and I certainly don’t want to disrespect anyones beliefs, but it just makes me want to laugh. When the instructors are talking about feeling your breath flowing around your kidneys, or talking about raising your hearts centre I just don’t feel it.
When a class begins and ends we have to vocalise between one and three ‘Oms’, and at first I felt completely ridiculous doing it, but it got easier with practice and I have to admit that a room full of people making the sound is quite powerful, and it is a really nice sound.
Arm Balance (Kimberly)
Probably not the best class to begin with! It’s a pretty hardcore class, with really advanced poses. We were straight into advanced crow poses, headstands and handstands, scorpions and peacocks. Having done a bit of yoga in the past I was familiar with the moves, and I was disappointed, but not surprised, that I was so much worse at them than I used to be. After not using my arms for over a year I have very little strength and some of the moves were just impossible. I used to be very good at headstands and strangely that is a skill that has never left me. After many years of a headstand free existence I managed to shoot straight up there on my first attempt and stay up perfectly balanced.
Despite the advanced poses, there was no expectation for anyone to be able to achieve them on their first attempt and there were lots of options given, so the class is suitable for all abilities.
Roll and Release (Sanna)
In this class you use balls which are about the size of a tennis ball but with slightly more give in them and you roll you body all over them. It isn’t really yoga, but it is designed to assist with yoga by lengthening the fascia.
I didn’t know what fascia was either so here is a definition: “Fascia is a band or sheet of connective tissue, primarily collagen, beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and other internal organs.”
It felt very strange to start with, the instructor started by placing the ball on the mat and rolling her cheeks over the ball. It felt like something you should do in the privacy of your own home and I felt quite uncomfortable watching her do it. Then when the whole class started, well, I felt even more uncomfortable! It was so weird.
For me it was agony because my muscles are so tight, and when I got to the calf muscles I was close to screaming. It isn’t really a class you would need to do more than a couple of times, once you know what to do you can just get a ball and roll yourself all over it at home.
Yin Yoga (Geoff)
Yin. The opposite of Yang. So while most yoga is yang yoga, with a focus on muscle strength, Yin yoga focusses on the length of your muscles and has you holding poses for 10-15 minutes at a time.
I really struggled in this class.
I thought the man who took the class, Geoff, was a bit of a plonker to begin with. Me and another lady got told off for talking before the class started which annoyed me, and then his whole lesson was a giant monologue from him, with lots of spiritual twaddle that I just couldn’t relate to. But, he did help me a lot in the class because I was having some problems with my arms. You do this one pose where you lie on you back with a bolster cushion under your shoulders, then you put your arms over your head and lay them on the floor. At least that’s what you are supposed to be able to do. The pain I was getting in my shoulders, the right one in particular was unbearable. Geoff told me that my muscles that go from my shoulder across my chest where ‘short and tight’, which wasn’t much of a surprise given what I have been doing for that last year or so. He used some reasonable force to stretch out my shoulders (I would like someone to do that for the whole of my body!) and putting my arms back became easier, until the muscles started to tighten again and I started to lose all the feeling in my arms. Eventually I ended up with blocks under my shoulders and a blanket under my head just to be able to stay in the position.
I’m not very good at being not very good at things.
RA Vinyasa (Kimberly)
This is one of the most popular classes and there is one every day. It was also a struggle!! There were a lot of people and it was very fast paced with little explanation of the movements we were doing. It focuses on moving with your breath so you are changing position with almost every inhale and exhale. I felt on the edge of keeping up and that was only because I have had some experience with the poses, definitely not a class for a complete beginner.
I also had on either side of me two of the most flexible people I have ever seen. I couldn’t stop staring at the girl to my right, I could barely maintain a 90 degree angle when sitting upright with my legs straight out in front of me, but this girl could lie completely flat against her legs. When she started to put her leg straight behind her head I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I felt so inadequate next to them, while they twisted themselves into knots I struggled to even touch my toes.
I can’t even touch my toes.
I had to remind myself that it was very unlikely that they had walked across 2 countries and cycled across another and we can’t be good at everything!
Yin Yoga (Nina)
This class was a lot different with a different teacher. A very petite Indonesian lady lead a beautiful class. There were more poses and we held them for about 3 minutes each, and she used a timer which made them completely even, whereas in the previous class I did it seemed like we always spent longer on the right side. She came around and adjusted me a couple of times and I could really feel the difference. I need my own personal adjuster, which they do offer here, but it was very much out of my budget!
I fell asleep and I think I missed a move! The lady I made friends with yesterday, when we got told off for talking, said she could see I was asleep but didn’t wasn’t to disturb me! Ha! At least I finally relaxed in a class.
Roll and Release (James)
Again, a different instructor gives a different experience. It was refreshing to have James who didn’t take everything so seriously and even made a few jokes during the session. He was a lot more engaging than some of the others.
We focussed only on the hips, which was good for me, although it was incredibly painful!
Sky Therapeutic (Shae)
This is the one I’ve been really wanting to try. Sky Yoga, sometimes referred to as arial yoga. The room is full of hammocks and you use them to support your limbs, swing in them, hang in them etc.
The therapeutic version is very gentle with no inversions and lots of support. The hammocks are very low to the ground (lower than they are in the picture), only maybe 10 inches off the floor. you twist yourself about for the whole class and then at the end you cocoon yourself inside the hammock, lie on your back and relax. I had to ask Shae to stop me from swinging because I was feeling motion sickness, but some others were quite content swinging around.
I am looking forward to trying the more high intensity version.
Roll and Release (James)
Having said after the first class that you don’t really need instruction for this, I take it back. Each class teaches you something a bit different and this time I felt my body really release for the first time.
I had to concentrate so hard and really control my breathing but I felt my muscles release all the tension and melt around the ball under my hip. I was still really tense elsewhere in my body, everything that I wasn’t concentrating on was tight, and as soon, as I concentrated on a tight area the relaxed area tightened up again, but it felt like a bit of a breakthrough anyway.
Yin Yoga (Shae)
A practice at night which was cool. In my favourite bottom room by candlelight. It was straight after roll and release I was feeling good but my hamstrings were so tight that I almost cried because I had no movement.
It is a struggle to sit upright with my legs straight out in front and maintain a 90º angle. We did a lot of twisting and my back gave some lovely cracks and my hips popped a few times which felt great!
Soft Evening Flow (Geoff)
I bit the bullet and decided to do another ones of Geoff’s classes even though I thought he was a bit of a plonker in the last class I did with him.
It was in the downstairs room again, and in the evening by candlelight which is my favourite time. All of the windows are left open but the studio provides bug spray which is a nice touch. Geoff was like a different person this evening. He was light hearted, engaging and funny. I enjoyed the soft evening flow a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a kind of cross between Vinyasa and Yin, it has the poses of Vinyasa and the speed of Yin.
Today was tough. I received an email from someone who I trusted and considered a friend but has now stabbed me in the back, so the emotional tension in my whole body was difficult to deal with and it affected me the whole day.
Gentle Flow (Sita)
A 7:30am class to start the day! It was a nice class but I couldn’t concentrate on anything, least of all my breathing, the instructor was really nice, but I did find her quite difficult to understand at times. It is a nice way to start the day but I am still not at the point where I am comfortable with calling it a practice.
I found this one to be closest to the yoga I am used to, but there were too many standing strength poses for my hips to be comfortable with and I ended up being in quite a lot of discomfort throughout the practice. We did a lot of warrior poses and lots of standing on one leg, I think it was that type of movement that caused my bursitis a few years ago so I was a a bit worried.
With some of the moves I was familiar with I noticed a dramatic reduction in my movement compared to what I used to be able to do.
Roll and Release (James)
What I wanted to do was Sky Yoga Flow, but when I got there I found out it was fully booked and I didn’t realise you could book classes (only the sky yoga class is bookable – limited hammocks equal limited spaces), I thought they operated on a first come first serve basis.
I hadn’t intended to do another roll and release class, but that was the only other thing on offer and I was already there. This time we focussed a lot on shoulders which was nice. I was clearly holding a lot of emotional tension in my whole body and the release part was incredibly challenging.
Yin Yoga (Shae)
This is definitely a good one to do at night. It helps you wind down at the end of the day. This class also made me think a lot as Shae was talking about reacting and responding. And the difference between them being awareness. Reacting is without awareness, responding is with awareness.
She put a lot of emphasis on being present and forgetting about anything that may have happened in the day, and anything that may happen in the future and only think abut now and being in that class. It was really difficult and I was able to achieve around 50% concentration and maybe 10% presence.
Miofascial Movement (James)
This class was a mixture of Roll and Release and Yin yoga. Deep stretching and releasing the fascia. With a couple of nights of bad sleep it was deeply relaxing and I has to fight hard to not fall asleep!
Sky Yoga Flow (Shae)
Finally! My last class was the one that made me choose this studio in the first place! I wanted to try it because it looked like fun, and it was. The hammocks really help take the pressure off my joints, although some of the standing balancing poses didn’t feel nice on my hips. What did feel nice was hanging upside down in the hammock. I could feel the spaces in between my vertebra extending and my spine lengthening.
Going upside down was a little scary at first, but as soon as you put your trust in the support of the hammock it was easy. Everyone in the class managed to do the inversions.
So, 16 classes in 1 week is quite an achievement. I knew my body was tight and my flexibility was terrible, but I didn’t realise quite how much damage I seem to have done. I struggle with the most basic of things; sitting upright with a straight back, lying down with my arms over my head, keeping my hips in a straight line.
I realise that there is no overnight fix, it has taken a few years to become this way, and it will take a long time to rectify it. I am still not totally on board with all the spiritual stuff, and I am really bad at being ‘present’. My mind is constantly active and I hold a lot of emotional tension in my muscles. One of the hardest things to do is completely relax and work with your breath. Breathing is really important to encourage that release of your muscles and I am really good at holding my breath, so I have a lot to work on.
My flexibility had definitely improved over the week. To start with I was about 8 inches away from touching my toes, now I’m about an inch and a half away. And that’s not just because of stretching my hamstring in the back of my legs, it’s also because I have been able to relax the muscles in my back and shoulders and arms so I can extend further. I can feel myself using my breath to get a little deeper with each exhale.
I need to keep it up and find a little time each day to nourish my body. It’s the only one I’ve got!
I spent a lot of time eating at Binar Warung which is only a few meters down the road from the studio. As well as Indonesian food you can get a good carbonara or a club sandwich!
No week of being a Yogi (or wannabe Yogi) would be complete without a trip to Bali Buda. It is one of those places where you take your own bottles and fill them up with soap, everything you buy is raw and organic and their bags are made of newspaper. You know I love my chocolate and I haven’t eaten any since I’ve been in Indonesia, but I treated myself to some raw cacao with mint and goji berry, and it was really nice!
And lastly, I bought a ring with the Om symbol on, because I liked it, and to remind me to be mindful and present and to stand tall, to remind me to not be afraid and to get out of my comfort zone.
I will wear it until it tarnishes and turns my finger green…
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