As traveling for wellness becomes more and more popular, hotels are finding more diverse ways for their guests to explore health and wellness while on vacation. In Bali, the increase in wellness focused travel has many hotels incorporating traditional Balinese healing elements in their spa and wellness programs, some even bringing on Balinese healers and priests for shamanic energy work, therapy and traditional healing sessions. Translation: there’s never been a better time to visit a healer in Bali.
But while anyone who’s given "Eat, Pray, Love" a watch might be familiar with what a Balinese healer is, what it’s actually like to go to one (off the silver screen) is a different story. To learn for myself, I headed to the Mandapa Reserve, home to one of the most immersive, curated selections of Balinese healing experiences in the region.
Bali is Indonesia’s spiritual center. With a population that’s nearly 90 percent Hindu and religion deeply rooted at the heart of daily life — you’re bound to find offerings of fruit and flowers at the feet of nearly every street corner statue — Bali is one of the world’s most vivid centers for spirituality and self-discovery. But even still, finding the right healer in Bali can be tricky.
Not only because of the language barrier (many will need a translator to speak with you) but because many legitimate healers don’t advertise themselves and instead serve the temples and local people by word of mouth. In many cases, you may actually want to avoid ones that are too prominently advertised as they may be making the most of the burgeoning tourist wellness market. Why does this matter? While anyone can learn the principals of healing in theory, the Balinese wholeheartedly believe that to be a true healer you must possess a healer’s soul that’s been divined by the universe.
If Bali is the spiritual center of Indonesia, Ubud is the nucleus. And that’s exactly where you’ll find Mandapa, nestled along the Ayung river. Mandapa takes the hours of research (and the organization of a translator) out of the equation, working with a handful of carefully selected Balinese healers known ceremoniously as Balians — from an esteemed fourth generation Balinese priest to a blind intuitive healer — specializing in everything from traditional chakra cleansing to panca mayakosha healing. The ten plus healing sessions and ceremonies are meant to heal the physical, emotional and spiritual—a triad that the Balinese believe to be intrinsically linked to one another. As a first timer, I decided to go with the most traditional for my session and try a good old-fashioned chakra healing.
A chakra healing session works within the belief that some physical and emotional ailments are manifested forms of a spiritual imbalance or blockage in one or more of the body’s energetic centers, the seven chakras: the crown, third-eye, throat, heart, solar plexus, sacral, or root chakra. In other words, there may be a spiritual element to problems with your immune system, pain in your shoulders, or varying forms of emotional or mental burdens held within yourself that a healer can address by removing a chakra blockage or invigorating a depleted (low energy) chakra with prana energy.
As with visiting any religious figure, it’s important to come to a session dressed modestly. So, leave the beachwear in the hotel room. While healing sessions vary dependent on the healer and the issue you’re focusing on, most sessions take place fully clothed or with blankets to cover the areas that are not being worked on while lying down on a table. Instead of the relaxing touch of a masseuse, most healers will barley touch you at all. Instead they’ll hold their hands above the chakra centers on your body, occasionally applying minimal to firm amounts of fixed pressure to the chakra area either in silence or alongside a mantra or prayer. But if they do touch you, you might wish they hadn’t—belly massages and the reflexology methods used by some healers are so painful (yet releasing) that it can have even the most stoic among us red faced with tears. I say this from very fresh first-hand experience.
My session with Pak Dewa Made started off exactly how I imagined any mystic healing experience to: with incense. From then on everything was new. Encouraging me to close my eyes and take long breaths in and out, Pak Dewa Made began tracing my body with incense and praying in a low guttural voice. Suddenly Pak Dewa Made pressed hard on my forehead’s third-eye chakra then pulled his hand away with a simultaneous exaggerated exhale like a gust of wind. The resulting effect: an instantaneous and extreme euphoric high and bodily lightness. “Is this magic? Is this incense made of ayahuasca?” I questioned in my mind. As someone who isn’t particularly spiritual, I seriously wondered.
Throughout the session, Pak Dewa Made moved between chakras in mantras and silence, and as he progressed so did a warm numbness in my hands that paired with the involuntary rapid eye movement you experience while deep in meditation or REM sleep. What stood out most to me was the welling of certain emotions that came out of nowhere, unpaired to any particular thought or memory. Like a doctor testing your knees’ reflexes with a little rubber hammer, I found myself brought to cathartic tears throughout the session by the slightest touch of pressure to which Pak Dew Made would simply reply, “Yes, this is good.”
At the end of the session, I had a newfound boost of energy as well as a deep sense of calm and lightness that felt bigger than myself. Pak Dewa Made accurately explained the sources of the sort of emotional chakra blockages he found in me which can lead to physical pain or illness. “The soul is like a video recorder that is always on,” he said, “we take everything that happens into the soul whether or not we realize we do.” He then explained that the chakra blockages had been removed and now it was up to me to maintain them with various forms of physical and emotional self-care, meditation and living a generally balanced life.
If there’s one thing you should do following your healing session it’s give yourself some time. While some people report feeling very little during or after the sessions, others find that the hour or two following can be deeply emotional or pensive and you may want to sit alone with the experience and any revelations. There can also be some lingering effects from the energy work that doesn’t exactly put you in the right head space to get your day drink on with friends. Also, drink plenty of water and let yourself rest if you need it. After all, you did just literally bare your soul to someone.