Nilufer Atik reviews a transformational retreat in Seminyak, Bali led by psycotherapist Jean-Claude Chalmet and finds true psychological as well as physical healing.
I have been to all kinds of retreats over the years – yoga and meditation, fitness, detox, juice, even one that involved standing in a freezing chamber daily to boost blood flow. But while all these experiences benefited my physical and mental health in various ways, the effects were always temporary. No supposedly life-enhancing getaway had ever affected me deeply enough to cause profound, long-lasting change. The Place in Bali promised to be different. Rather than offering guests a temporary escape from the stresses and strains of their lives, it claimed to bring about ‘a fundamental and deep transformation.’
I arrived on the doorstep of the retreat, situated along a narrow side street in the affluent beach resort of Seminyak, on a warm May evening, looking wiped out and feeling exhausted. Yes, it had been a long journey – over 20 hours in total door to door – but my tiredness wasn’t due to the onset of jetlag. I was worn out by the demands of my busy life. Juggling caring for a two-year-old with full-time work, endless domestic chores, a chronic illness and the constant barrage of negative self-talk that seemed to plague me, had left me feeling burned out, both in body and mind. My eight-day stay at The Place had come at just the right time.
After being shown to my room – a luxurious beach-hut style abode with an outside bath and shower set in a private garden – I was offered a refreshing lemon water before being ushered to the treatment room in the main house for a Balinese massage.
There are two parts to the retreat; the guest accommodation area and the main house, where founder and psycotherapist Jean-Claude Chalmet resides. This also offers extra accommodation when there is an overflow of guests, although they don’t tend to book in more than seven people at any one time, due to the intensity of each programme. ‘Most people come here for more than a month because real transformation takes time,’ explained Jean-Claude as he welcomed me.
My massage was wonderful. Powerful, intensive, and pain alleviating. Just what I needed following a long flight. And after a filling meal of tuna steak, sautéed potatoes and salad, I retired to my four-poster bed before awaking to my first full day at The Place.
The morning began with a group Kundalini yoga session in the outdoor studio. As we sat ourselves down on bolsters and closed our eyes, I began wondering how long into the class I’d begin to wish I was elsewhere.
I’ve never really enjoyed yoga you see. I prefer more high energy activities like running or interval training and find holding poses for long periods of time uncomfortable. But I really wanted to try and get into it this time. I knew my body needed something calmer.
‘Kundalini incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras,’ explained yoga teacher Alma Romanello. ‘The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness.’ It wasn’t what I expected at all. Instead of downward dogging, we danced around for the best part of an hour to upbeat music with our eyes closed as Alma instructed us to ‘feel the energy’ moving through our bodies.
I felt silly and self-conscious at first, swinging my hips cautiously. But when I sneakily opened one eye and noticed that everyone else around me was jumping around, my inhibitions vanished. I began flailing my arms and legs around with wild abandon. It was literally like shaking the tiredness from my body. The class ended with a chanting meditation, using the mantra Sa Ta Na Ma, which is intended to bring complete mental balance.
What struck me about the morning Kundalini sessions the most was that each one was different. In some, we would focus on breath work, in others, on stretching and movement. But none of them were like the stereotypical yoga classes I’d experienced before.
‘The private therapy sessions with Jean-Claude were where the real self-work took place. I had five during my stay and achieved more in terms of emotional healing in those few hours alone than I’d had in two years of counselling’
Following another hearty breakfast, I experienced Craniosacral therapy for the first time with spiritual healer Elisa. Again, this wasn’t what I’d assumed it would be. Instead of massaging my head, she placed her hands lightly on various parts of my back, neck, shoulders and belly, gently asking me questions about myself the entire time.
‘I’m not feeling anything at all,’ I thought, wondering what this treatment was meant to do. But slowly, I found myself opening up to Elisa, telling her how I’d been feeling the last few months, about the traumatic birth I’d gone through and post-traumatic stress I’d suffered as a result, the difficulties I’d been having with my partner, with work, with life. She listened, really listened and, when my hour was up, I felt like a huge cloud had been lifted. I hugged and thanked her, surprised by how tearful yet happy I felt.
After lunch I spent the rest of the afternoon sunbathing in the garden, marvelling at how, in such a short space of time, I was already beginning to feel different. That was one of the things I loved most about The Place – there was plenty of time to just ‘be’ in between treatments and classes.
I used this precious time to relax, read, meditate, or walk down to the beach alone to watch the glorious sun set early evening. I never felt unsafe walking around Seminyak alone. The locals were so friendly and welcoming and all spoke English.
Some evenings I’d sit at the dinner table post-meal chatting to the other retreaters there. Two were professional men in their early 30s who had arrived feeling lost in life and the other, a young Greek woman who’d just got out of a turbulent relationship. Each had their own story to tell and didn’t mind sharing it, which created an instant bond between us. For the first in a long time, I began to feel like me again.
The private therapy sessions with Jean-Claude were where the real self-work took place though. I had five during my stay and achieved more in terms of emotional healing in those few hours alone than I’d had in two years of counselling. ‘I am good at what I do you know,’ he kept telling me. I didn’t doubt it.
Although it seemed disconcerting at first revealing my innermost thoughts and feelings to someone I’d been sharing jokes with across a dinner table an hour or so earlier, there was something about Jean-Claude’s self-deprecating manner which made me feel like I was confiding in an old, trusted friend rather than a therapist.
We sat in a cosy, musk-scented room in the main house for our sessions. The smell reminded me of my grandmother’s home – a place where I’d always felt safe. I talked about my childhood, my relationships, how I felt about myself and where I wanted to be in life. Instead of sitting there silent and nodding as counsellors I had seen in the past had done, Jean-Claude questioned my beliefs, probed when I needed him to, and presented me with alternative viewpoints. It was a real eye-opener. I’d never had psychotherapy at a retreat before – or come across any that offered it, but that’s what really makes The Place unique. The healing is addressed from the inside out.
On my last day Jean-Claude took me through a regression exercise using deep relaxation. I was brought back to myself as a five-year-old, teenager, and young woman and asked what I wanted to say to each ‘me’. The message was clear – I couldn’t truly rebuild myself until I learned to love myself, and all my old selves. It was knowledge I took home with me, along with a list of Kundalini exercises, JCs number so we could continue our sessions via Skype, and books on inner child work. Having finally begun my journey of self-healing, I didn’t want it to end just yet.