Bali’s Healing Magic
On the ‘Island of the Gods’, healing through both the physical and spiritual is a natural way of life. Cathy Wagstaff and Rebecca Skinner discover how Bali’s ancient traditions continue alongside an expanding modern spa industry.
Many visitors to Bali never see beyond their hotel, the restaurants, shops and beaches. Others make the effort to delve into local culture and discover a world untouched by time – a world of black and white magic, divine energy and, to our Western eyes, ‘miracle’ healing.
These healing practices draw on two worlds – the seen, the physical (sekala) and the unseen, psychic world (niskala) – to heal both physical and mental ills. Balinese will visit a local Balian when sick as well as seek conventional medicine. Some of the roots of their ancient healing beliefs date back to the 15th century when rulers of Java’s Majapahit Kingdom migrated to the island with their legacy of treatments and therapies, later combined with the healing wisdoms from wandering holy men from India.
However the fundamental Hindu belief here is that a state of balance between the mind and body is the essence of overall wellness. Balinese have always taken a holistic approach using indigenous herbs, spices and plants to heal and rejuvenate. Many Balinese grow their own or buy them in local markets. And nearly every family has one member who specialises in massage, with the knowledge handed down through the generations. The last decade has seen a huge increase in the number of spas on the island, now believed to be more than 1000, and many international travellers are being lured with the promise of head-to-toe indulgence, plus a spiritual overhaul.
Time to yourself is bliss
Bliss Sanctuary for Women
For those who prefer a women-only experience, try Bliss Sanctuary for Women. This nurturing retreat targets women travelling solo who don’t want to spend all their time on their own. Each guest has her own private bedroom and bathroom in a shared villa, so you can relax while enjoying the company of others.
Each woman chooses her own tailor-made package. Meals are cooked inside the villa and each woman has her own personal driver to take her out shopping, for meals out and sightseeing. Yoga is available as well as daily meditation and the cost of the stay includes one-and-a-half hours a day of delightful spa treatments. Bliss is very community conscious and gives proceeds from all bookings to its chosen orphanage.
Amankila Bali – Above and beyond
Amankila, a luxurious resort set far away from the crowds on a cliffside in east Bali, combines classic Western spa treatments with local wisdom, drawing on a local healer called Gusti to help diagnose and treat guests through massage. Without knowing who he was treating, Gusti correctly diagnosed David Beckham with a knee injury, and treated him accordingly.
Amankila often calls in a local Balian Terang to ward off rain before an important event and is so confident of success that it offers a money-back guarantee for good weather for weddings held at the picturesque property.
Western Amankila staff also tell of holy men they have witnessed who have transformed flat seas to high waves for island surfing competitions. Even facials at Amankila go several steps beyond the norm, with the Zone Therapy incorporating reflexology of both face and feet.
Products are chosen according to an individual’s dosa, the Ayurvedic system governing the constitution of body and mind. The wonderful foot, head and face massages stimulate the body’s internal organs to help eliminate toxins and improve muscle tone, resulting in glowing skin.
The resort encourages guests to experience the local way of life through its community work with Jatituhu, one of the ‘lost villages’ on nearby Mount Agung. With no road access, clean running water, health facilities or school, the resort is educating 50 children in the hope they will become the pioneers for positive change in their village.
Local inspiration at The Westin Resort Nusa Dua, Bali
Therapists base many therapies on their own unique way of life. For generations, hard work in the paddy fields or cutting stone from quarries meant badly aching muscles, traditionally treated at home with seaweed, clay and sea salt mixed with coconut oil.
Guests to Heavenly Spa by Westin can test this treatment for themselves with the 120-minute Marine Ritual. First feet are gently washed in a lemon-scented bath. Then Balinese salt from Denpasar is mixed with citrus and ginger, creating an invigorating, exfoliating scrub to help remove toxins, stimulate blood circulation and help the skin breathe more freely. Afterwards the body is treated to a cocoon-like wrap of local volcanic clay and re-mineralised local seaweed, high in oils, minerals and vitamins and prized for its pain-relieving properties.
Seaweed is a recognised treatment for treating cellulite and contains anti-ageing capabilities. While the health-giving ingredients are being absorbed by the body, the feet are treated to gentle reflexology and the head is given a blissful massage. Once showered off, a fullbody massage ensures all tension has been removed before reclining in the spa’s Relaxation Lounge with a ginger lemongrass superfood drink and snack. While workers no doubt emerge energised for the next round of sowing or harvesting, guests are left blissfully relaxed with a real feeling of oneness with the sea.
An Ayurvedic journey at Ayana Resort and Spa
The name of Ayana Resort and Spa, in Jimbaran Bay on Bali’s southwestern peninsula, means ‘place of refuge’ in Sanskrit and it’s a rejuvenating sanctuary to cast away cares and restore both mind and body.
The multi-award winning resort and spa, perched on a stunning cliff face, features Ayurvedic inspired healing remedies, derived from the wandering Indian holy men of old. The signature treatments, devised by US wellbeing coach Rhett Hatfield, are offered in the indulgent Thermes Marins Bali spa, the only one in southeast Asia.
Here you will find one of the world’s largest Aquatonic Seawater therapy pools, offering two hours of bliss in 12 different aqua areas targeting all sections of the body.
Before or after a treatment, guests can work out in the cross-current walking corridor; find jets to target legs, thighs and stomach; treat their backs in an aqua seat; discover geysers that massage the soles of the feet; and swan necks with aerial jets which apply variable pressure on necks and shoulders.
Mind, body and spirit
For those needing both mind and body renewal, the Chakra Dhara is ideal, an innovative two-hour treatment which encompasses the Indian and Balinese beliefs that when the body’s energy is in balance, the flagging spirit is renewed.
The Seven Chakra Dhara Journey begins with an Ayurvedic massage using long, flowing massage strokes and pressure on key marma energy points. While tired muscles are relaxed, the energy pathways in the body are opened. The next step uses seven aromatherapy blends which are attuned to the energy of each of the seven chakras, together with a precious gemstone and a musical note from a chakra tuning fork to help unblock and balance each one.
Following is a relaxing marma face and scalp massage ending with a chakra tuning fork rhapsody, enveloping one in a cloud of sound-healing currents. Afterwards, it’s impossible not to feel refreshed and reenergised.
For real indulgence, guests can choose to have treatments in the Spa on the Rocks villa, overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Cool and futuristic
W AWAY Spa
The W AWAY Spa in Bali’s trendy enclave of Seminyak offers unique treatments 24 hours a day, seven days a week – the first of its kind. The futuristic all-white retreat is understandably attracting the gorgeous and glamorous as well as those in need of a revitalising lift.
There is everything anyone can want here, from tantric meditation and massage to facials, hair, hand and foot treats. There are imaginative special packages for singles or couples with an array of body and facial treatments.
Whisky & Chill
This is a spa that believes in pleasure rather than pain, so some packages end with a bubbly or a whisky on the rocks. Clients can also relax after treatments with a drink in the Chill Bar and Decompression Lounge.
Though it’s hard to choose from the comprehensive spa menu, it’s the signature massage AWAY Morning After which is the must-try treatment. It was inspired by the desires of spa guests, and enables them to detox or refuel for what may lay ahead. It uses a combination of fingers, hands and forearm pressure along with friction and herbal oils infused with fresh lime, basil, mint and rosemary leaf, prepared in front of you with fresh ingredients. This works deep into the muscles and the 90-minute massage is surprisingly able to remove painful knots that have been bothersome for some time. Afterwards the recipient feels as if they are floating on air. And the benefits remain for some time after, giving new energy and vitality.
Before treatments, guests can use the Detox Chamber, an oxygen treatment lounge, or relax in a male or female wet area with hot stone bath, vitality pool and steam room. In the air-conditioned cool there is even a hot stone fireplace which gives a cosiness not often found in a spa.