Bali has long been a destination for those seeing spiritual awakening. (Photo: iStock)
Having a mid-life crisis? Join the steady stream of women retracing the footsteps of writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s sojourn to Bali in search of their own spiritual transformations.
Nearly a decade after Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love memoir about her post-divorce sojourn across Italy, India and Indonesia became a multi-year bestseller, her fans are still inspired by Gilbert’s message of self-discovery. The only exception is that now they’re younger, wearing pricey yoga clothes, and drinking kombucha.
Bali’s cultural capital Ubud has long been a spiritual and natural wellness haven for tourists drawn to the tolerant atmosphere, ornate Hindu temples, artists’ galleries, and picturesque terraced rice fields.
Yet the global rise of yoga and spa culture, a new crop of upscale raw food eateries, and a long list of Vinyasa offerings have sustained Ubud’s reputation as an inexpensive place to get over a breakup, drink some green juice, and detox your aura. The trend also helped fuel Indonesia’s tourism boom that saw a 7 percent increase in foreign visitors over the previous year alone. Then there’s the Eat, Pray, Love legacy.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ lives on. (Photo: Sarah E. Richards)
“I didn’t want to spend my 30th birthday at home,” explains German tourist Melanie Seldei, who was inspired to book a solo trip to Bali after seeing the movie version starring Julia Roberts a year ago. “I wanted to find myself. I’m in between relationships, and I wanted to learn that it’s okay to be alone.”
Remember the lovable healer Ketut Liyer who famously told Gilbert that the way to heal from the implosion of her marriage was to “smile in her liver?” He’s now suffering from dementia. Nevertheless, his son Nyoman Latra still offers $25 USD palm readings to women who make the 15 minute trek from Ubud. (His advice to this reporter: Think positive. Don’t think too much. Work hard so I can be famous like Elizabeth Gilbert.) The family has also opened a sparkling hotel and spa.
Nyoman Latra now reads reads the palms of women attempting to retrace Gilbert’s journey. (Photo: Sarah E. Richards)
“As soon as I saw it listed on AirBnb, I thought, ‘I have to stay here!’” says Mexican traveler Mariana Aguilar, 25, who credits the movie for inspiring her to move to Paris to be with the French boyfriend she’d been dating long-distance for two years. “I wanted to take a chance. The Eat Pray Love writer decided she wasn’t happy and went for it. She wanted to really live her life and not just sail through it.”
As for the traditional medicine woman who treated Gilbert after a bus crash, Wayan Nuriasih still crushes herbs and mixes powders in her cluttered shop on a side street in central Ubud. Her daughter Tutti is all grown up now, and Nusiarih commands $250 USD for four sessions from travelers who see her for everything from stomach troubles to mental fogginess.
Wayan Nuriasih treating Irish woman. (Photo: Sarah E. Richards)
“People keep coming because of my quality – not because of the movie,” she insists, showing me a stack of magazine articles and patient testimonials as a small tour group walks by. “Sometimes I can’t even see them all.”
The first stop for many foreign visitors is the Yoga Barn, a sprawling retreat and community center that hosts outdoor Monday movies and a Friday-night sober and sweaty Ecstatic Dance Party. (Man bun alert!) Opened in 2007 as a small third-floor studio, the Yoga Barn now has five studios and offers more than 100 classes a week. Guests lounge on cushions sipping detox tea at the Garden Kafe in between colonic irrigation sessions and shamanic breathwork classes.
Class is in session at the Yoga Barn. (Photo: Sarah E. Richards)
“Ubud has always been a place where people go to heal. Yoga teachers have been bringing people there for decades, but there wasn’t a yoga community the way there is now,” says Charley Patton, who founded Yoga Barn with Meghan Pappenheim of Bali Spirit, a digital guide to holistic Bali.
“The Eat, Pray, Love effect was huge. Gilbert struck a chord among single female travelers,” says Patton who estimates that 80 percent of his guests are women between the ages of 25 and 40. “Bali is all about warmth, beauty, and a Hindu culture that embraces people so it’s a safe place for single women to travel to.”
The girl power ethos inspired 27-year-old Sierra Foster of Durango, Colorado to start her own yoga clothing line called SOL Yoga Clothes with strategic stripes to help beginners visually master their alignment. “I’ve had the idea for a while, but when I was traveling in Ubud last year, the unique entrepreneurial spirit and yoga community made me decide to go for it,” she says.
Feel good from the inside out with a meal from Clear Café. (Photo: Clear Café )
In the world of nutrition, young yogis love healthy vegan and macrobiotic food – and free WIFI so they can post Instagram pictures of all their meals. At Clear Café , visitors check in their shoes before climbing the multi-level airy sanctuary with panoramic views of a hidden temple and hanging vines that make you feel as if you’re in the movie Jurassic Park.
Balinese massage is an essential part of any spiritual quest, and you can always find a decent $8 USD rubdown around most corners. Other pricier stand-outs include Taksu Healing Haven, an idyllic center overlooking a river and landscaped with lotus pond that offers past life regression sessions, Japanese facelift massage, and life coaching. My own favorite was a two-hour $30 USD aura overhaul with healer Agung Vijaya, who works out of the Sehati Guesthouse on Monkey Forest Road. After opening with a ceremony in which he throws your imaginary bad karma in a bucket, he goes through a sequence of reflexology, acupressure, and massage that leaves you glowing.
Rid yourself of stress with a massage in Bali. (Photo: iStock)
You can also check out Ubud Bodyworks Centre, located in a compound off a busy street that was founded 25 years ago by traditional Balinese shaman healer Ketut Arsana. Among typical deep tissue and relaxation sessions, you can also try lymphatic healing and exfoliation massages.
You might not achieve Elizabeth Gilbert-levels of self-awareness in a week or two, but a mini retreat can do wonders to heal your soul and recharge your spirit. When you can’t stand one more macrobiotic bite, get ready to return to Western world of gluttony with a heavenly Australian Angus burger (topped with cranberry and walnut slaw and carmelized onion jam) and a glass of pinot noir at the newly opened Watercress Café.
Related: Welcome to Myanmar’s Empty Capital City, President Obama!