Yoga Health Retreats

»From hippy-chic Byron Bay to beautiful Bali «

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Held at the intimate and spiritual Purnati Yoga Retreat, small gatherings of holidaymakers join together in the Joyful Spirit Retreats. Owned and run by the irrepressible Sue Hawkins of Yoga Health Retreats - the host of Joyful Spirit - which has grown in popularity to the point that it headed offshore to Bali from its native Byron Bay in Australia. Drawing on the power of the natural environment to awaken the senses and revitalize the spirit, each six day retreat uses a combination of yoga, meditation, and nourishment to send its participants home feeling relaxed yet brilliantly alive.

The five-night, six-day Joyful Spirit Retreat is one of a range offered by Yoga Health Retreats. There is also a Luxury Yoga Retreat held in the mountains of Jogyakarta and a New Year Retreat that is arguably the best place to put health-inspired New Year's resolutions into practice. These are all in Bali, while Australia's Byron Bay is home to another schedule of retreats held by the prolific Yoga Health Retreats. All have excellent feedback from guests.

From the moment you step off the plane in Bali, you're in good hands. A shuttle-bus waits to whisk all guests away to the stunning Purnati Yoga Retreat Centre, about 20 minutes south of Ubud. This dedicated yoga space is more than just accommodation. The welcoming and deeply spiritual atmosphere makes it appear almost sacred. Guests will be here for five nights and six days, and everything is taken care of. Although there are free daily shuttles to and from Ubud for anyone who wants to take in the local sights and culture, it is entirely possible to stay happily within the grounds of this retreat and not want for anything.

The Joyful Spirit Retreat is designed to take a holistic approach to health. Using a combination of yoga, guided meditation and nutrition, these retreats are a total mind-body-spirit vacation.

An average day begins with meditation to calm the mind and bring awareness to the present, before warming up to a Vinyasa Flow session. Vinyasa Flow is energizing, and relies heavily on correct breathing to release toxins and energy blockages. Some elements of Iyengar Yoga are used during this class, most notably the use of props like cushions and blocks to help the body perfect alignment.

The middle of the day has a flexible itinerary. This is usually when the free daily transfers to Ubud are used to best advantage, not only for lighter activities like shopping but also to get a little insight in Balinese culture. Ubud has a reputation for being a stronghold of Balinese traditions unlike its more modernized and tourist-swamped counterparts, Kuta and Java. Part of the retreat package is a tour of Ubud's markets and a Balinese cooking class, where the fresh-bought ingredients are put to good use. These markets are where local life is most visible as Balinese voices fill the air with laughter and serious haggling, which is something of a sport here.

The end of the retreat's average day is devoted to a different kind of yoga, one that relaxes and soothes the body and mind before bed. Yoga Health Retreats uses the general term 'restorative yoga' to encompass the various styles and techniques that are combined to achieve this effect.

Also part of the retreat package is an Offering To The Gods ceremony, conducted by a Balinese priest. This is not just a show put on for tourists. Offerings are a routine and important part of Balinese life and there are an extraordinary number of offering types, gods and demons to receive them, and priests to guide the ceremonies. This is a kind of bonding with the spirit world, creating mutual obligation and respect, and also a form of worship. Participating in this ceremony is designed to give retreat guests a taste of the age-old Balinese life. This life has withstood centuries of oppression, going back to when one particular kind of offering meant risking death from the Dutch who once controlled these peaceful islands.

Rooms available are in either single or twin-share, in three budget options. The most budget-friendly, appropriately called Budget Rooms, are really only suitable for singles as they are on the smaller side. These are on the ground floor near the pool. The Deluxe and Superior rooms are available as either single or twin-share. These are on the first and top floors respectively, and the Deluxe rooms have private balconies overlooking the grounds. All rooms have private bathrooms.

Food is primarily vegetarian although meat and other protein options are in evidence. All dietary needs can be accommodated although it's important to state them during the booking process. Food here is much more than simply fuel for the body. It is a splendid experience in itself, prepared by a head chef whose resume includes names like the Bali Hyatt. The menu is a delicate fusion of local and western cuisines and relies heavily on fresh local ingredients – organic wherever possible and ideally grown on the grounds of the retreat itself. All breakfasts are included in the package, along with four dinners and four lunches, except on travel days when only one meal is provided. An optional dinner out in Ubud is thrown in for those who are in the mood for a social experience.

Bali is a yogic hotspot, well-known for its abundance of yoga and health retreats. Yoga Health Retreats stands out though – owner Sue Hawkins lived in Bali for years with her family and was one of the original vanguard of retreat owners into this exquisite location. Her love of Bali is blended with her quarter-century history of yoga experience to bring the best of east and west together in this seamless retreat.

About the area: Ubud

Ubud is a town in central Bali that is actually made up of 14 small villages, each run by their own local committee. This is where the 'true' culture of Bali can be seen, with its terraced rice paddies and peaceful air of rural Indonesia. It is also where some of Bali's ancient historical sites can be found, with Elephant Cave and its huge entryway carved into the shape of a demon's mouth being prime among them. Being elevated, Ubud is cooler than the coastal areas, and while it can get chilly at night it is a great place to escape both the heat and the crush of crowds in more tourist-packed spots like Kuta. An ideal spot for nature-lovers, the forests and gorges provide hours of hiking and rafting activities and there are elephant safaris that offer a unique way to spend a day exploring the hinterland.

Image credit: Yoga Health Retreats

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