Feeling Free at the Yoga Barn, Ubud, Bali

There’s something happening in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. Something beyond the raw food cafes, over-priced yoga clothing and ethically-made jewellery shops. Head down to the Yoga Barn in Ubud and yes, you’ll be walking in to a world-famous tourist spot, but there’s good reason for its fame. An atmosphere of calm settles like a light cloud over the place, the sound of gently running water and hushed voices provides a backdrop for this safe space, where anything goes.

On the surface it might seem cliché, or even cliquey, as dreadlocked westerners sporting tassels and tie-dye sit around drinking vegan lattes and pondering the meaning of life, but I quickly realised that it goes far beyond that in what can only be described as my ‘hippiest’ experience to date.

When I left to go travelling in India and do my yoga teacher training one particular friend looked at me with a grimace and said, “oh you’re not going to come back a yoga dickhead are you?”. I assured her I wouldn’t, but that statement did come to my mind when I agreed to join my new friend Wei Ting at an ‘ecstatic dance’ session at the Yoga Barn. I was certainly sceptical, but have got into the habit on this trip of saying ‘yes’ to things I wouldn’t normally say yes to, and so we went.

We arrived 20 minutes early for the session and went to register; that was a mistake. There was only 1 slot left. I was ready to back out and let Wei Ting go it alone but the lovely ladies working there told us not to worry, they could sneak one extra person in. So we were branded with a wristband each and told to come back in 20 minutes. It turned out that most people arrive up to 2 hours ahead of the class time to reserve their place, queuing for a spot in the room. It occurred to me at this point that either we were about to have a truly amazing experience, or these crochet-bra wearing beauties were really dedicated to getting their cliché on….

We joined a throng of about 100-150 people gathered in the centre of the Yoga Barn complex, sitting in groups in the sun, sipping on fresh coconuts through bamboo straws and occasionally practising a handstand or two and I thought to myself, actually, what an amazing place this is. So many times on my travels I have been nervous to practice my yoga, or meditate, because inevitably I’m doing it in public. Other than one hostel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I have had no private space to practice, and so have always been aware of others around me. Now here I was, in this public space where public yoga was not only the norm, but celebrated. I watched a couple practising some acro yoga in the distance, while a girl close by to me was meditating, and felt grateful to be a part of this space. Just at that moment we were ushered upstairs to a beautiful wooden yoga shala overlooking the surrounding jungle as the session was about to begin.

The music was already playing when we got upstairs, with a DJ (Rob) manning the decks. People were already dancing and I realised this was no teacher-led session, but a come-as-you-are, do-what-you-like kinda thing. After a seconds’ hesitation (and a big F**K IT in my head) I started to sway to the rhythm. Now anyone who knows me well knows that I love to cut a few shapes on the dancefloor; but never have I been surrounded by so many people with an equal, if not more powerful, love for the same.

The only way I can describe the experience is like a sober, spiritual day-rave to music which seemed to me to be a mixture of divine-house and tribal-techno if that even makes any sense at all. The music seemed to rise and fall with the feeling of the group and when I say anything goes, I mean it; bare-chested men in bandanas were jumping around waving burning incense, girls in flowing skirts were throwing their arms wildly about the place, eyes closed, in complete reverie, one girl was just practising a few yoga poses and another guy just sat down in the middle of the floor, completely still.

No-one was watching anyone else (apart from me, obviously), no-one was judging, no-one was talking, everyone just moved (apart from that one guy) to the sound of the music; doing whatever their body told them to do, and without trying to sound like a ‘yoga dickhead’ it was beautiful. I felt like this must have been what it was like in the 60s at Woodstock, just without the organisation or the £7.50 entrance fee.

30 minutes passed by in the blink of an eye and I realised I had truly let myself get into this; my eyes were closed, I was sweating with the humidity and the press of bodies around me and there was a MASSIVE smile plastered on my face. True dance meditation. I was thinking about nothing, I had let the beat take over and felt truly free.

As the temperature and the energy rose DJ Rob pulled out some serious beats which were met with whoops and shouts from the crowd; people were clapping and some were just letting out pure animalistic growls. Some people had partnered up; moving completely un-coordinated around one another, some were even writhing on the floor.

After an hour and a half, I was spent. The music mellowed and Rob announced that this was the end of the regular session, but for the next 30 minutes they were going to carry on because Netflix were coming in to film a piece for a documentary they are making on dance expressions around the world. Wei Ting and I decided that our first foray into ecstatic dance did not need to be filmed for the world to see, so we slipped out then and left the writhing crowd of sweaty bodies to do their thing.

As we emerged into the daylight of the afternoon all we could do was smile at each other with shining eyes; we both felt incredible! If my friend back home could see me now….I thought…she’d definitely think I was a ‘yoga dickhead’ but I realised in that moment that I did not care one bit; I felt alive and free and happy and all because I danced like no-one was watching (because they weren’t).

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The Yoga Barn runs ecstatic dance sessions on Friday nights and Sunday mornings. The cost is 130,000 IDR for one session, or cheaper if you buy a bulk class pass (valid for 6 months). Arrive early to avoid disappointment, leave your inhibitions at the door.