The renowned yoga instructor tells Dani Shapiro how hatha poses and perfect moments meet in the heart of Bali.
I first went to Ubud in 1993 at the request of a friend who had the idea of starting a retreat there; she had asked me to come teach yoga. I was so surprised by the graciousness of the people. They’re completely open to foreigners. In some sense, in Bali there are no foreigners. It’s one of the most spiritually alive places in the world.
Balinese culture is not focused on the beaches, where most tourists go. The Hindus believe that the mountains are holy, so they gravitate inland. Ubud is at the heart of the island—in the center. The place has this hippie feel to it; it’s where many of the expats live. Different small villages on the island are known for their stone or wood carving, mask making, silver- and goldsmithing—and a lot of these craftspeople come to Ubud. You only have to walk the streets to see them.
I’ve been back to teach more than a dozen times. Once, I was passing through a field and came upon a wedding ceremony, and suddenly I was part of it. You can’t go seeking out these experiences. They happen on auspicious days, and spontaneously. But as long as you have a traditional sash or sarong and headpiece, you’re welcome to participate.
The Balinese emphasis on balance is very much in harmony with my practice of yoga. I’m not just living in my head—but in my feet, my hands, my heart.
A local couple runs the humble Rumah Roda Homestay. You feel completely dropped into nature.” That includes organic vegetables from the garden used in traditional Balinese cooking.
Balinese Barong and Rangda dance performances take place at Pura Taman Saraswati [Ubud Water Palace]. It’s the hub of Ubud, and surrounded by crafts stalls performances on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
The Sayan Valley, along the Ayung River, is one of the island’s most stunningly beautiful places—perfect for a quiet walk.”