You know the saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation?” Six weeks, three countries, and over twenty cities after my extreme cleansing experience in India where I literally expunged all of my foodie sins since birth Ayurveda-style, I turned up in Bali, Indonesia, completely depleted. Fortunately, I’d rolled into Ubud, the yoga and spiritual epicenter of the city, known for providing visitors (most notably Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote about her experience in a little memoir called Eat, Pray, Love) with a heaping dose of healing.
Determined to have the kind of transformation Gilbert describes, I sought a Balian, a medicine man/traditional healer (like Ketut Liyer, whom Gilbert saw) to heal my mental and physical ailments, most specifically, the complete exhaustion I felt from leaving my New York City life behind, traveling the world, and having no idea what the heck I as going to do when I washed back up on American shores. Balian’s believe that your body’s ailments are physical manifestations of the mind (or even tangible forms of spirit), so addressing mine, the logic went, should kick start getting my mind/body connection back in order, I hoped.
How to find a healer in Bali
The important first step of my mission was not an easy one, because Balians don’t advertise or market themselves online or in public—and if they do, you should be wary.
Here’s the thing, though: Balians are important and sacred pillars in the Balinese culture and most people will seek one out before going to a conventional doctor, so locals often know where to find a reputable one. After a lot of asking around, I got a recommendation for healer named Pak Man Arya Dunung, who seemed promising.
I tried to research Pak Man’s creds, but Balians don’t go to traditional school; it’s believed that they’re destined to become healers. There are also no organizations to vouch for their abilities, so I just trusted that he was legit, and learned the cultural nuances that come with visiting him:
What to know before visiting a healer
Before visiting any Balian healer, your legs and shoulders must be covered (yet another reason to buy a sarong). I also couldn’t be menstruating, which is some places here is still considered “unclean.” You also can’t put money directly into a healer’s hands, so I was prepped to put the 450,000 IDR, or about $35, on the table.
The next day I hopped on a motorbike taxi to Pak Man’s house where I was greeted by him and his British wife Lucinda, who serves as his translator. We sat outside and talked about my journey, and why I decided to see them. I was plagued by feeling incredibly exhausted by my travels, as I mentioned, but—TMI alert!—I also had to pee very frequently (granted, I was chugging bottles of water due to the heat), and I was getting in a mental funk with the anxiety of going back to New York City and the daunting task of job searching. Armed with that info, Pak Man took me into his “office.”
What the healing experience is like
The space was a separate room from his house with not much in it except an altar with burning incense and thin mattress—Pak Man rubbed a clear thick paste around my gums (medicinal herbs of some sort that luckily didn’t really have a taste) and said a short blessing before I laid down and he got cracking.
I’d heard that Balinese massage included long, fluid strokes but this hour-long one was intense and at times a very painful. With every knead, Pak Man seemed to be digging into or chasing my blockages, not unlike like a massage therapist who’s really determined to get that knot out of your back while you’re almost in tears.
The session ended with an “opening of the heart,” the results of which I can best describe as getting an injection of red bull.
I was sitting up while Pak Man pulled my arms from behind and thrusted my chest forward, kinda like what happens in bow pose. Whether it was from a rush of blood to the area or the adrenaline rush of wondering what he was up to, my body filled with energy and, for the first time in ages, I just felt amazing.
I felt so energized when I left that I took my first yoga class in Bali, spent the rest of the day exploring Ubud, and watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (limited DVD options) back in my room. I woke up the next morning after the most incredible, deepest sleep ever—and ready to tackle that job search. —Nara Kim
For appointments in Ubud, contact Pak Man at 081-338-935-369