Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Bali May 1-5, 2024

Yoga Dance Music Healing

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Heart Opening for the Cynical Yogi

I think I’m so clever. A few minutes before Simon Park’s prana flow handstand workshop, I stake out a perfect spot beside one of the pillars. Balé Up (a balé is a traditional Balinese hut with a thatched roof), is not blessed with walls, so such prime real estate is a rare commodity, prized greatly by aspiring handstand practitioners.

The black and white makes him look moodier than he really is. (Photo credit: Ulrike Reinhold)

Simon is a step ahead of me, however. As I’m engaged merrily in flipping up against the pillar, using the surface to prevent myself from falling, he rearranges the room so all mats are facing towards the middle. I doubt this move is exclusively for my benefit, but it has the effect of ridding me of my comfort blanket and forcing me to focus on attempting handstand in the middle of the room.

Somewhat inappropriately for a yogi, I long ago realised that I’m not really a morning person. Even waking at 7am and arriving for class an hour later is a bit of a stretch (no pun intended) for me. Proper yogis – the kind who can wrap their beards around their ankles and who practice in their loincloths at 3am – are a mystery to me. I can barely understand how they manage to stay awake, let alone devote their single-pointed focus to piercing the veil of ignorance that shades human eyes from eternal truths.

The class begins to fill up, and waves of yogis fill the balé to bursting point, overflowing onto the patio. Given the increasing heat, I can only admire their dedication. Simon appears totally composed, orchestrating repeated reshuffles to accommodate as many people as possible. I, meanwhile, am indulging my grumbly self. It’s too hot. There are too many people. The class has started too slowly. I’m delightful once you get to know me. Honest.

Simon really starts to win me over with his playlist. Boards of Canada? Portishead? Stevie Wonder? Forget focussing on the asana, I’m continually suppressing the urge to holler ‘chooooon’. This is coupled with the fact that, about half an hour in, we move directly from warm-up exercises to attempting to jump into handstand. Suddenly, my grumbly self lacks the energy to complain.

Yoga Journal described Simon as “one of the most influential and gifted … next generation of yoga teachers”. It’s easy to see why. Everything he does seems effortless, from simple poses to advanced transitions (handstand to chaturanga, in total control of the movement at every stage, anyone?). He does it all with a smile on his face, too, and seemingly boundless generosity towards his students.

Watching him float into handstand, I’m reminded of the phrase ‘sthira sukam’ (usually translated as ‘steady and easeful’). Patanjali, the sage who compiled the yoga sutras a couple of millennia ago (I bet he could wrap his beard around his ankles), virtually ignores asana. All he says about it is that asana practice should be ‘sthira sukam’. Simon Park appears to have taken that phrase to heart.

“Now lift your back leg off the floor and try to kick me in the face”. (Photo credit: Ulrike Reinhold)

His energy is infectious. By halfway through the class, I’m beaming between postures (and occasionally during them). Have you ever wondered what it means when a teacher tells you to open your heart? Exerting myself to attempt postures that are usually beyond me, sometimes with the assistance of a good friend, I get a taste of it.

Ten minutes before the session concludes, the splash of a fellow festival-goer diving into the nearby pool reaches my ears. Post-savasana, my first priority is to follow their lead and immerse myself in the cooling waters of the Bali Purnati pool. Eoin Finn is teaching yoga for surfers in the Yoga Barn Pavilion next door. I overhear him delivering my favourite line of the festival so far: “These days, we’re more interested in Prada than prana”.

A beautiful day. A strong practice. A brisk dip. Good craic. In these circumstances, it’s hard to resist being open-hearted.

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Continue the conversation on Twitter – use #balispirit in your posts on festival highlights, photos and shares.

Written by : Robert Wolf Petersen


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