By Elaine Ee
Bali is often called the island of the gods. If you’ve been to Bali, it’s not hard to see why. Signs of religion and spirituality are everywhere on this Sunda island, even in the most touristy neighbourhoods. From the daily offerings of flowers and palm leaves placed on people’s doorsteps; to ancient, mystic temples; a myriad of festivals; and the spirits that are said to roam the land freely; the other world permeates every inch of Bali, and is buried in the consciousness of the local culture. Development may have piled tourist contraptions thick and high on top of local life, but the spirits do not leave. They remain, deeply embedded in the fabric of culture and society here.
Every Balinese person views the world through the eyes of the spirits he knows. Including this Balinese gentleman I met on a holiday here some years ago. He was a yoga teacher.
I forget his name but I remember what he looked like. He was dark, with long, slightly frizzy hair and quiet air about him. He came to our villa on the request of my girlfriend and I, who wanted to treat ourselves to a yoga lesson, while our husbands took the children off somewhere.
He was in reasonable shape, but not fit like many yoga instructors you see in modern yoga studios. He wore a Balinese sarong, made almost no sound when he walked. He didn’t carry a yoga mat.
As my girlfriend and I sat down in front of him on our rubber yoga mats, gazing at him bright eyed and bushy tailed, he looked at us like we were slightly strange.
We started with some usual breathing exercises and a basic warm up. From there, my girlfriend and I were poised to go—ready to start a suite of asanas, expecting the typical triangle, warrior, chair, tree, cobra, locust, bridge and other postures we’d normally practice in our yoga studios back home.
But there was none of that.
Instead, he made us do some odd movements and poses, which didn’t feel like asanas at all. I don’t recall accurately now what these were, but I distinctly remember thinking at the time that this was turning out to be a very different yoga class.
After a few ‘postures,’ we asked him what we were doing and told him about the yoga we were used to practicing. “That is Western yoga,” he said, putting a lot of weight behind that statement. “This is Bali yoga.” It sounded like he wanted to explain what he meant, but felt the concept was way too complex and profound for modernized minds like ours to understand in the few minutes he had with us.
So he decided to show us in another way.
“Close your eyes,” he instructed. We both closed our eyes and sat cross legged.
I felt him walk over to me and place his palm over the crown of my head. Peeping out from under my eyelids, I could see his cool sarong in front of me. His palm was close enough to me that I could feel it, but not so close that it touched me. The energy from his palm was very strong.
I felt what I could best describe as a warm sensation at my crown, which I put down to the body heat radiating from his palm. My mind started to lift, and I soon felt like I was on a different plane, swimming in my head. I was drifting into my surroundings, hovering, yet still connected to my physical body. All the time I felt like the teacher was standing close to me with his palm on my crown.
I’m not sure how long I stayed in this state. It felt like 15 minutes.
When I started to come back down to earth, I opened my eyes, expecting to see the teacher next to me.
But he was opposite end of the room. Smiling.
I was stunned, and when I looked over to my friend, she appeared similarly awed.
“Wow,” we both said. “What was that?!”
The teacher walked over and sat down in front of us. “That was your crown chakra opening,” he said gently. “That’s why you felt those things.”
“But I only opened your chakra a little bit. Because if I had opened it fully, you might see too much, more than you are ready for, and you will be troubled.”
I had only heard vaguely of chakras at the time. I knew they were energy centres of some sort, like meridians in traditional Chinese medicine. But I had no idea where they were located, what they did or the effects they could have.
Now I know better. There’s Muladhara chakra, Swadhisthana chakra, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha, Ajna and—the crown chakra—Sahasrara. I know that they are located in the base of the spine, groin, navel, heart, throat, third eye and of course crown, respectively.
I know that they run along the vertical axis of the body, and are horizontal discs spinning round a central core, the shuhumna, or spinal cord. I know that each chakra is responsible for certain faculties and senses, corresponds with a particular element like Earth, Fire, Air, Ether (space) and Water, and has a bija or root sound, like Om, Lam, Vam, Ram or Yam, whose frequency resonates with that of the chakra’s vibrations and the chanting of which will therefore activate the chakra.
And I know that chakras are not to be messed around with. The energy that comes out of the sushumna, the kundalini, is powerful.
One of the villa staffed witnessed our entire chakra experience. After the teacher had left, the staff, a middle-aged man, came over to us and said.
“There are many people like him in Bali. They can see things moving around everywhere; and they know things. They usually stay in the villages and don’t come out much,” he said.
Well, this ‘teacher’ came out for us. Whether he was really a yoga teacher or a local ‘seer’ looking to earn a few bucks from tourists looking for a yoga class, I decided it didn’t quite matter. He had taught me something.
By Elaine Ee