When I first started thinking about a jaunt in Bali as a way of ending our trip, I immediately considered doing a yoga retreat. I’ve been practising yoga on and off since I was 18, and I’d looked into doing a retreat in Thailand in the past, but had never got round to it. “What better way to end this trip than by spending a week or two practising yoga in stunning Ubud?” I asked myself.
Then I saw the prices.
The cheapest ones I could find were close to the $1000 mark, and that too with shared accommodation. While the idea of spending a week doing nothing else but practising yoga and drinking smoothies, the price tag was simply way too much to justify.
Then I decided that I didn’t want to give up on the idea. I love yoga and I really wanted to deepen my practice in a place like Ubud, which is known for its yoga studios. Therefore, I opted for the next best thing: buying a month’s pass at one of the town’s best studios and doing it myself. But was this a viable alternative to going on a proper retreat?
Deciding on the studio
Ubud has a number of yoga studios, the most famous being Yoga Barn. Launched in 2007, it is now the biggest full-service yoga studio in Ubud, and you can find pretty much every type of yoga being taught there from power yoga to restorative, yin, hatha and even Thai yoga massage.
They also offer various workshops (The Yoga of Chant and The Seeds of True Self are just two examples of the ones that are on this May – no, I don’t have a clue what either of them are, either), pilates, Tibetan bowl meditation, kirtan and all kinds of other things to help soothe your mind and body.
Now, without a shadow of a doubt, they offer the most rounded and extensive programme of events and classes, however, the price for a monthly pass was approximately $190. I probably wouldn’t have minded this had I not found out how much cheaper the one at Radiantly Alive, Ubud’s second biggest yoga studio, is.
Considerably smaller than its rival, RA still has three studios and an extensive programme of classes, including vinyasa (my favourite), yin, hatha, and even Tibetan heart yoga. There was also Flying High yoga which is basically a variation of acro yoga – that is, yoga done in a harness (sounds kinky, but it’s not).
So why did I choose Radiantly Alive and not Yoga Barn? Well, for one the price. The RA monthly pass cost $114, which was considerably cheaper than Yoga Barn. Sure, YB offers all kinds of other things like kirtan and meditation, but I was only really interested in furthering my yoga practice.
As an introvert, I was also put off by the fact that Yoga Barn’s classes are notoriously busy. I like busy classes, but not to the point where your neighbour’s feet are in your face.
I also found some online reviews of RA, and having read only good things about them, I took the plunge and bought a month’s pass.
I attended class every day for just under a month. As I mentioned, I’ve dabbled with yoga on and off over the years and what I really wanted to do was a) deepen my practice and b) become stronger. Being on the road for nine months has made me lazy; over the course of our journey, I’ve tried various fitness apps to help me stay in shape, and while they were good while they lasted, over time I got bored. Yoga, I find, is the only form of exercise I keep coming back to, and I wanted to get better with my practice so that I can confidently do it from the comfort of my own living room.
At the beginning I found even the gentle flow morning classes a bit challenging. Holding downward dog for longer than a few seconds made my arms ache, and I felt really tight in areas that I had never been before, like the hips and shoulders. I found myself getting frustrated during the first few classes. All I kept thinking to myself was: “I could do this before, so why can I not do it now?” Ankit had to gently point out to me that I cannot expect to be as good as I was before when I haven’t put in the hours. “It will take time, baby,” he told me as I frowned and drank my coconut water.
And he was right. Within just a week I noticed a massive difference in my strength. I could hold poses without feeling like I was about to topple over, and my flexibility started coming back to me. I started looking forward to my daily morning class, despite the horrible 6am wake up call. And by the end of the month I was also managing to do poses that I’ve never done before. For example, I finally managed to get my head to the floor while in wide-legged forward bend. I used to try and do this back when I practised Bikram yoga four times a week and could never manage it, so it was a momentous occasion for me when I finally felt my head reach the wooden floor.
Most yoga retreats include a healthy daily menu, which is typically along the lines of vegetarian, low fat or raw. While the idea of having someone take away the stress of having to decide where to eat everyday was tempting, I had read that Ubud was famed for its health-conscious food scene, so I knew that eating healthily wouldn’t be too much of a challenge.
And, boy, was I right. We will write a big food post on Ubud soon, but what I can tell you now is that the town is a haven for anyone looking to eat raw/vegan/vegetarian. It’s a health food mecca!
For one, there are loads of health food stores dotted around town, Bali Buddha and Down to Earth being two of them. Here you’ll find shelves full of things like raw cacao powder, nibs, and chia seeds, as well as bottles of fresh coconut water and raw desserts. In fact, my post-class ritual was to go and buy a bottle of coconut water and some cardamon energy balls from Bali Buddha.
Then there are the restaurants/cafés. The whole time we were there, neither of us ate meat, as it was that easy to be vegetarian. In fact, I haven’t eaten meat since I’ve left Bali, which is something I’m really happy about (I feel that being vegetarian is a) healthier and b) better for the environment). Some of our favourite meals in town were the massive classic salads at Kismet (they come with skewers of things like vegetarian satay, tofu and tempeh), the vegetarian eight-layer burrito at Taco Casa (not the healthiest one, but the ingredients were ridiculously fresh), and the tofu egg scramble at Atman.
Ubud is full of guesthouses, so finding somewhere reasonably cheap to stay wasn’t too hard. We stayed in many places over the course of the month because we found that the good places get booked up quickly (tip – if you’re going to book a guesthouse and want to stay put in one place for longer than a few days, book way in advance).
Our favourite area was Hanoman Road. First of all, it was just a ten-minute walk away from the yoga studio. Secondly, the road is full of lovely little shops selling things like yoga clothes, handmade jewellery and incense. Our favourite eateries were also on that road (Atman, for example) or just off it (Kismet). Plus, it was far away enough from the tourist madness of the main road; that’s not to say that there weren’t any tourists around, but it was certainly a little bit more laid back.
Things to look out for when deciding on a place: a) make sure hot water is available (it’s not a guaranteed thing in Ubud), and b) ask about the WiFi if you need to work (the internet in general in Bali is really slow, but some places are worse than others).
We can recommend the following guesthouses:
1. Teja Guesthouse – a little more expensive than the other places we stayed in, the plus sides are big rooms (ask for the superior rooms for the new ones), great breakfast and it was only a ten-minute walk from the yoga studio. On the downside, their WiFi sucks.
2. Bucu Guesthouse – we got this for a steal (at around $23 a night) and it really was a great deal. The internet was the best that we found in Ubud, the rooms were huge and comfortable, the breakfast was good, and the owner couldn’t do enough for us. Definitely the best value for money.
So, was the DIY version of a yoga retreat up to the mark? In short: definitely. While I think that going on an organised retreat has its benefits, particularly if you’re a solo traveller looking to meet people, going it alone if you’re on a budget definitely has its benefits.
For one, I was able to stay in Ubud for a month and still spend less than I would have had I taken a seven-day retreat.
Ubud is also the perfect place to do a DIY retreat because of the food that’s on offer; I only ate ‘unhealthily’ a couple of times during the whole month because the options that were there were so vast and delicious! So food needn’t be a worry, either.
And as for my time at Radiantly Alive? I loved the studio and I loved the teachers (a few tips: Erica is quirky and fun, so her classes are a riot, Acacia kicks your ass but always adds a spiritual spin to class, Sanna’s vinyasa classes are intense). I came away feeling stronger, more flexible and more focused, which is exactly what I was looking for from this month.
Also, since I got back to the UK I’ve started practising at home and I know for sure that my time in Ubud has helped me with this. Not only am I able to follow YouTube yoga classes with confidence, I’m also able to string together my own practice from memory, which feels amazing. I bought myself a Manduka Pro Lite yoga mat, too, as they use the same ones at RA and they’re amazing!
So, I’d definitely recommend Ubud for a DIY yoga retreat. The setting is stunning, the yoga is world-class, the food is healthy and yummy, and there are plenty of accommodation options. The question that remains is: what is stopping you?
How to choose between Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive
Looking for a community feel
Are interested in meditation and kirtan
Like doing yoga in busy classes
Then you should choose: Yoga Barn
Looking for a smaller studio feel
Are price conscious
Are mainly interested in just doing yoga
Then you should choose: Radiantly Alive
Here’s a little video of the studio space:
Have you ever been on a yoga retreat or done a DIY version like mine?