In 1968, the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh, a pilgrimage site in the Indian Himalayas to meditate and practise yoga. The visit marked the band’s most productive period of songwriting and kick-started the global trend of wellness tourism, turning Rishikesh into the yoga capital of the world. In the decades that followed, yoga centres became ubiquitous in the West, spawning successive generations of new-age yogis. Among them was a group of trailblazers who took the practice to South East Asia in the l990s. They opened yoga retreats in the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, countries with no history of yoga but zen-like environs that inspire the search for spiritual consciousness inherent to the practice. Yet it is Bali that has emerged as the new yoga capital of the world. There are around 600 yoga studios on the island and more than 1000 villas and hotels offering yoga lessons to guests. Millions came here to find their inner yogi before the pandemic, and millions more are bound to follow in their wake. To get a feel for what’s on offer, we road-test three yoga studios offering three very different styles of yoga in different parts of the Island of the Gods.
In Australia, a private yoga class in your own home will set you back $200 to $300. Not in Bali. “Some people are put off by the image of private classes as they think it is unobtainable, something only celebrities can afford. But the reality in Bali is that it is very affordable,” says Cat Cahill of Perfectlyimperfect Yogis, who opened the first yoga studio in Port Hedland more than a decade ago and now runs Perfectlyimperfect Yogis in Bali.
Cat offers 90-minute classes that combine Ashtanga, Vinyasa flow and Yin style of yoga in the Uluwatu, Seminyak and Legian neighbourhoods of Bali, or to students online anywhere in the world.
“A group class is a guided practice that takes into account the skill level of everyone who’s attending. Or sometimes the class is whatever the teacher has got going on in their mind. The outcome is impossible to define,” she says. “But in a one-on-one class, the teacher is guiding only you through the practice, so a bespoke outcome is easy to predict.”
Cat says her clients often tell her that they learn more about yoga in 90 minutes with her than they do over a year of group classes. That’s something I can vouch for. In my class, I finally learned what “breath through your back” or “breath through your stomach” means — and how to do it properly. I was shown how to correct certain yoga poses I have always had trouble with, step-by-step until I got it right. I pulled off hard, long stretches that Cat combined with massage. And best of all, I came out of it feeling like a million dollars.
How Much $65 plus taxi charge. Where At your villa or hotel in Uluwatu, Seminyak or Legian.Web perfectlyimperfectyogis.com
“You need to listen to your body, not to your ego. If you listen to your ego and push yourself too hard, you can fall and hurt yourself. Your safety is your responsibility,” says Marian, an aerial yoga instructor at Udara, a health retreat and resort at Seseh Beach on Bali’s south-west coast.
The introduction is a bit of a sledgehammer compared to the gentle words of encouragement that pre-empt most yoga classes. But aerial yoga is nothing like any kind of yoga you may have tried before: a hybrid style combining elements of yoga, Pilates and dance. You do it not on a yoga mat on the ground, but wrapped inside a silk hammock that is suspended from the ceiling with anchored points, support chains, webbing straps and carabiners that can support up to 200kg.
I spend 60 minutes hanging out in these colourful props, doing inverted splits, star inversions, backbends and even handstands — yoga moves that can take years to perfect — with ease. Why? Because the hammock takes my body weight and does most of the work. No one falls in this class, though I come close a few times while flying around the room with the grace of a trapeze artist.
Aerial yoga is stupid good fun. Just about anyone who weighs less than 200kg and who can lift their knees as high as their waist can become a champion aerial yogi as quickly as I did.
Udara has 17 aerial yoga classes scheduled each week. For a total trip, take the last class of the day at 5.30 pm to see Bali’s famous blood-red run sunset, while hanging upside down.
How Much $13.
Where Seseh Beach.
It wasn’t easy for Jolie Manza, an American yoga instructor based in Bali for nine years, to close shop and move to Australia at the start of the pandemic. But as the mother of a newborn child, she said it was the right thing to do. It tells you why she’s so excited to be back in Bali for the international yoga masters program at the Four Seasons Resort Sayan on the outskirts of Ubud, the spiritual capital of Bali.
Jolie’s classes at the Four Seasons fall under the Vinyasa style of yoga. “Vinyasa is highly adaptable and versatile, a style that allows me to create classes that cater to anyone who turns up,” she explains. “If it’s a single person I can do something tailored or if it’s a group class I can read the room to figure out how soft or hard the exercise needs to be. I also call it ‘vacation yoga’ — yoga for people who are trying it for the first time.”
Jolie teaches under a “shala” palm-thatch gazebo set on a dreamy bend of the sacred Ayu River in a hidden pocket of the Four Seasons resort. It is a fairytale-like place where rice terraces rise and fall like the keys of a giant green piano and the only thing you can hear are birds, trickling water, crickets and frogs. “I have literally practised yoga all over the world and been so blessed to work in so many beautiful locations,” Jolie says. “But hands down this is the number one yoga shala I’ve ever seen. It’s magic.”
How Much Free for hotel guests and $54 for everybody else.
Where Sayan Village, 10 minutes from Ubud
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails