Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Bali May 7-11th, 2025

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The Value of Community

I’m not usually a big thon fan. Running a marathon strikes me as an enormous amount of effort for questionable reward, and when I took part in a tennisathon more than 20 years ago, I played for three hours and won a grand total of one game (but oh, what a game).

For a yogathon, however, I’ll make an exception. It’s the first time I’ve trekked down to Canggu from Ubud, so I take the time-honoured approach of setting off in what seems to be the right direction and stopping regularly to say “Canggu?” to Balinese people, then heading off wherever they point.

It’s surprisingly effective (who needs Google Maps?) but, as you might expect, it’s not the speediest strategy, with the result that, by the time I arrive at Desa Seni, the morning sessions have come and gone. I miss out on the chance to take Simon Low’s Dynamic Flow class, and Octavio Salvado’s Conscious Vinyasa. Still, there’s always lunch, which is delicious. I restrain my appetite, with the intention of keeping myself match-fit for the afternoon sessions.

I’m not especially good at community. As a writer, I do some of my best work barricaded behind headphones. It bears mentioning, however, that the entire focus of this event is to bring kula (community) together in seva (selfless service), with the intention of raising funds to support Ayo! Kita Bicara HIV/AIDS (Let’s Talk About HIV/AIDS), a charity that works with young Balinese people to stem the near-epidemic levels of HIV and AIDS on the island.

It’s another face of yoga, less glamorous than the one revealed by countless selfies on Instagram, but arguably more effective. It’s hard to estimate exactly how much bulé (foreigner) influence in Bali is positive, but contributing to Ayo! surely falls into that category.

That said, it’s hardly a sacrifice to spend a day in the exquisite surrounds of Desa Seni, lounging by the pool, listening to beautiful music, eating wonderful food, taking great yoga classes, and chatting with friends. If all thons were like this, I’d be a thon convert in no time.

I take Eka Septifana’s vinyasa flow class, and follow that up with a trip to Bernd Windhofer’s yoga nidra (yogic sleep) session, which relaxes me so deeply that it’s possible I actually do fall asleep. Certainly, it seems to pass very quickly; Bernd conveys a palpable sense of kindness, which is very reassuring, and I leave deeply refreshed and ready for something more active.

Due to the vagaries of the timetable (classes at the Trimurti shala start on the hour, while those in the Mahadevi space kick off at quarter past), I know I’m going to be a little late for Jess Kamell’s Embodied Flowtm class, but I manage to sneak in, and wind up practicing right at the back, directly opposite a new friend. Aside from a few hair-raising moments during handstand practice, it’s a fun and different arrangement. Plus, I get to celebrate a personal milestone when I nail the most challenging version of Natarajasana, with the full shoulder rotation, for the first time. Only on the left side, but, hey, there’s always room for improvement.

Following all that excitement, I take Angela Perez’s yin class, where I hear this speech from the late Alan Watts for the first time.

It touches me, and captures my imagination with a whole new perspective on divinity: the idea that we are divine beings dreaming our mundanity. I’ve always found the brashness of ‘goddess culture’ a little distasteful (I am British, after all), but this concept that our divinity is genuine, yet is hidden even from ourselves due to the vagaries of being incarnated in human form, appeals greatly to me.

Angela’s class is wonderfully soothing, and I leave feeling ready for dinner. Initially, I plan to head straight back to Ubud, but after a little negotiation, a group of us head out into Canggu, where we feast on chocolate and (in my case) tacos, before travelling to Ubud in convoy. It’s a perfect conclusion to a day intended to celebrate community: good food in the company of new friends.

I don’t know exactly how much money was raised on the day, but I’m sure it must have been a considerable amount. If it prevents even one young Balinese contracting HIV, it was certainly worth it, although I can’t help feeling that we, the fortunate bulé with the incalculable privilege of being welcomed onto this magical island, are the true beneficiaries.


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Written by : Russel Price 


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