One day bed at a time

Jacqueline Maley puts geopolitics aside and lets her inner goddess out for massages, meditation and lots of play.

Sure, it sounds idyllic. Seven days of yoga and organic Balinese meals in luxury villas in the heart of Seminyak's shopping and eating strip. Seven hours of beauty and massage treatments thrown in. A loving, peaceful, all-female environment.

Fresh frangipani petals thrown into every conceivable nook - and there are many, most cushioned lavishly. Coconut water and smoothies on demand. Free bicycles. Day beds. Constantly refreshed supplies of fresh tropical fruit.

But there were problems with the Bali Goddess Retreats. I can't say it was easy.

Seven hours of spa treatments is a lot of hours, and it was tough finding time to schedule them all, given the twice-daily yoga sessions and adventure activities such as cooking and surfing classes. Not to mention the afternoon we spent at a private beach at Uluwatu, which was like something out of a Bond movie, or my dreams.

Equally difficult was deciding between the activities. In the end I missed out on paddleboarding and market shopping, which, within the context of Goddess Week, constituted a small tragedy.

And despite taking a stack of books and magazines, often I was so contentedly tired at the end of the day - the kind of pure physical tiredness that comes from lots of exercise - that I fell asleep while reading.

So my copy of The Economist: The World in 2013 - an aspirational airport purchase that was, admittedly, a little unrealistic for a Balinese holiday - wilted, unloved, in the early monsoonal humidity.

All that important geopolitical data, all that worthy economic journalism, left to moulder as I lazed and practised yoga, and ate and was massaged, and for what?

Just so I could sleep more deeply and more contentedly than I had all year.

The Serena Villas are tucked down a lane that forms one of the labyrinth of gangs (byways or lanes) in Seminyak's backblocks.

I was one of the first of the "goddesses" to arrive, greeted personally by the retreat manager Michelle, a smiling, straight-talking Scot who ended up in Bali after marrying an Australian who is a fly-in/fly-out worker on an oil rig in East Timor.

Michelle had happy news: I had been upgraded to a private villa, which I was to share with one of the other women on the retreat (who ended up being the thoroughly excellent Cat from Atlanta, Georgia. We had a ball together).

She led me through a vine-covered, Secret Garden-esque wooden door, which opened into a lush tropical garden inset with a glittering private pool sunk in front of the wood-shuttered villa.

The villa consisted of a huge open-air terrace, beautifully appointed with Balinese knick-knacks, art, a couple of tables, bookshelves and several kinds of lazing chairs - everything from couch to recliner to day bed.

It had two airconditioned bedrooms off either side of it, and we each had a lush semi-outdoor bathroom in which you could loll in an enormous tub while experiencing the sounds of the tropics. (It's worth noting this was more romantic for me than it was for Cat - her bathroom flooded on the second-last day following heavy monsoonal rain. These things happen in Bali. The staff sorted it out quickly).

That evening we had our first yoga session with Raine, our Australian-born yoga teacher, who assessed our various skill levels - which ranged from supernaturally lithe to creaky and injured (in my case).

The retreat consisted of eight women, all of us travelling solo except for a mother-and-daughter duo from Queensland. We gathered on the communal terrace that first evening to learn the schedule for our week.

I was fearful there would be enforced group-sharing but I needn't have worried.

Michelle just asked us to introduce ourselves around the circle and say a few words about why we were there. All of us had different versions of the same reason: "It's been a long year and I'm exhausted."

From then on, sharing was voluntary and we did a lot of it, all completely unforced and often on minibus rides between activities or lying on sun loungers, and once, hilariously, in the short, ladylike and involuntary fart emitted by one of our number during a yoga session.

The week settled into a calm rhythm, with just enough structure to give the days shape but not so much that you forgot you were on holidays. Nothing was compulsory, and we came together as a group because we liked each other.

There was an hour of pre-breakfast yoga every day and an hour of dusk yoga, and in between we were furnished with exquisite meals at the communal table in the central villa. Cooked by the lovely local staff, the food was lavish, fresh and delicious, and involved plenty of home-made sambal.

Built into the week were three "bliss-day" activities, which we chose from a selection. I did a surfing lesson (and stood up, which may well have been the highlight of my year), a Balinese cooking lesson with an ancient and wise saronged lady in a traditional kitchen, and a truly blissful half-day-long ride through the north of Bali, beginning at Mount Batur and passing through paddy fields and traditional villages by way of Bali's oldest banyan tree.

The yoga was intense but Raine was wonderful at calibrating the classes to each person's skill level. We alternated between traditional sequences such as sun salutations and more-complex standing and balancing poses. There was a short meditation at the end of each class, which ended with a chime and the knowledge that it was followed by either breakfast or dinner.

All of which helped to ease the hardship.


Getting there Garuda Indonesia has a fare to Denpasar from Sydney and Melbourne for about $845 low-season return, including tax. Fly non-stop from Sydney (6hr 35min) and Melbourne (6hr 15min); see

Staying there A seven-day Bali Culture, Wellness and Yoga Retreat at Bali Goddess Retreats is from $US2795 ($2725) a person for a shared villa room. Phone +1 858 997 0808, see