Local healing: 3 of Bali’s best wellness resorts
From chakras to jamu, there has been a resurgence of local healing wisdom across the Island of the Gods. Cathy Wagstaff checks into three of Bali’s best wellness resorts.
So this is what it feels like to be utterly at peace. My body is weightless, suspended in a silk hammock, and birdsong is my lullaby. Ibu Fera, a former Buddhist nun, gently sings about the life of the Buddha as she rocks me in my womb-like cocoon. The premise of the ‘Sacred Nap’ might seem too good to be true, but as I drift off to sleep, there are no thoughts running through my mind, no worries or impending duties; just this precious present moment. When I wake from my ‘air nap’ less than an hour later, I feel the most rested I’ve been in decades.
Across Bali, there’s been a return to local wisdom and traditions. I’ve noticed it in the way resorts teach children to make canang offerings, the sudden ubiquitousness of jamu herbal tonic and the fact that I am now known as Ibu Cathy, a form of address that I never heard when I first arrived on the Island of the Gods more than three decades ago.
Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan
Nowhere is this cultural resurgence more apparent than in the realm of wellness, particularly at resorts such as Four Seasons Resort Bali at Sayan. The Sacred River Spa is set in the lush jungle of the Ayung River Valley of Ubud, a place whose name is derived from the word for ‘medicine’ (ubad) in Sanskrit, and its focus is on the transition from Niskala (the unseen or the energetic world) to Sekala (the seen or conscious world). Its Balinese Healing Rituals aim to restore balance from the inside out, creating spiritual experiences that effect physical change. No longer do guests pick a massage from a menu; today, I am guided by what my body needs.
I opt for a Chakra Ceremony, each dedicated to one of the seven main chakra points. As a frequent traveller, I’m directed to the 120-minute Muladhara ritual to cleanse the root chakra, the energy centre responsible for grounding us. The experience begins with a Balinese kemenyan smoke ceremony and the sound of a pure quartz crystal singing bowl tuned to 432 Hertz, the ‘intonation of nature’. The deep, slow massage that follows uses oil infused with locally grown ginger and cinnamon.
Now that balance has been restored, I am keen to discover some of the other cultural experiences offered by Four Seasons Resort Sayan. As well as 18 suites and 42 pool villas, this seven-hectare sanctuary is home to rice fields belonging to a local farmer, who humbly shares his way of life with guests.
Beachfront balance at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay
There is just so much beauty to be found at Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay. Wandering around the 14-hectare property, I come across a massage pavilion tucked away on a cliff, set beside a waterfall that overlooks a small private beach.
The all-villa Jimbaran Bay complements its Sayan sister in every way. The jungles and ricefields of Ubud are exchanged for the waves and sands of Bali’s southwestern coast, and the flow from Niskala to Sekala reversed. Here, The Healing Village Spa at Jimbaran Bay is dedicated to realigning the physical body in order to reconnect with the energetic world and the inner self.
Rather than starting my journey from the seen world to the unseen at the spa, however, my first stop is a session of AntiGravity Yoga. In a clifftop bale, our class flips upside down, effortlessly supported by the unique hammock. We swing and stretch, rediscovering the childhood joy of monkey bars, before finishing with a suspended meditation in our silken cocoons.
Now that I’ve defied gravity, I make my way to the oceanfront spa for a treatment that perfectly blends the interdependent Balinese principles of Sekala and Niskala. The Chakra Balance Massage uses the Aura-Soma colour system of oils and crystals to create a harmonious experience that completes my journey back to equilibrium.
Jamu and Javanese beauty at The Apurva Kempinski Bali
Balance has also been built into the newest five-star hideaway in the chic enclave of Nusa Dua, The Apurva Kempinski Bali. Its terraced design is inspired by the traditional subak system that not only irrigates the rice fields but also exemplifies the principle of Tri Hita Karana – ‘three sources of life’ in Sanskrit – or the relationship between God, humans and the natural world. At the centre of the resort, waterfalls flank the 250-step Grand Staircase, itself paying homage the mother temple of Pura Besakih.
The herbal tonic jamu is a core feature of the Apurva Spa’s 10 multi-day Signature Journeys, based on Javanese traditions. Each revolves around one of the four stages of life – Remaja (Adolescence), Dewasa (Adulthood), Mahligai Kasih (Married Life) and Tenteram (Post-Adulthood) – and combines treatments such as lulur body scrub (said to be the beauty secret of Javanese royalty), steam baths, Urut Lanang deep-tissue massage and brightening facials with a daily dose of jamu, often in granita or mocktail form. I end my stay in Bali tending to the Niskala of my energetic body with the Awakening the Chakra Spirit experience.
Following open-air yoga and meditation designed to realign the chakras, we make our way to Pura Geger for the melukat purification ritual. We pause among the rocks at Beji, where we cleanse with holy water before entering the temple. Monkeys swarm us when we arrive, and we are told this does not happen often; it means we come with pure hearts. The simian crowd slinks back into the temple, however, when the priest, Mangku Wayan Repot, arrives, his smiling presence calming and almost surreal.
Throughout the ceremony, we do everything in threes in honour of the Trimurti of supreme Hindu deities. We flick coconut water over our heads, drink from our hands and place rice on our third eyes, eating a small piece as a sign that we are accepting the blessing. The Island of the Gods has brought me back to a state of peace and tranquillity, my spirit reawakened along with its sacred traditions.