The annual Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud has become a global attraction for like-minded lovers of nature, culture and the arts. (Photo courtesy of Matt Oldfield)

Festivities for the Mind, Body in Bali

APRIL 10, 2015

The Bali Spirit Festival is often misunderstood,” says event co-founder and Ubud local Kadek Gunarta.

“It’s not only a global celebration of yoga, dance and music; we also wish to invite people to engage in discussions and exchange ideas related to the progressive development of humanity.” 

The Bali Spirit Festival (BSF), which ran from March 31 through last Sunday, and is now in its eighth year, has clearly marked itself as an international event attracting participants, presenters performers and volunteers traveling from over 50 countries to Ubud, the cultural heart of Bali. 

Hari Cinta Keluarga (Family Love Day) closed this year’s BSF on Sunday and is dedicated to future generations, who were introduced to some fundamentals of body-and-mind consciousness with children-focused workshops in both Indonesian and English.

The festival attracts attendees across all age groups.  With ever-greater local and international media coverage each year, the core message of inspiring personal empowerment and world peace reaches further around the planet. 

 “As the event grows, we aim to increase awareness and get more people involved so they may be inspired to create positive changes within their own lives — and then go out and share this within their communities,” Gunarta says.

The five-day extravaganza of activities is spread over two venues: the Purnati Center for the Arts, south of Ubud in Batuan, and the series of evening concerts at the One World One Stage music venue at the Agung Rai Museum of Art. Kicking off on a high note, the opening party at Ubud’s Yoga Barn on the March 31 was a celebration of devotional songs ushering in the festive spirit of the event.

“Not only are we enhancing the reputation of Bali, the BSF has also become a platform to promote indigenous Indonesian cultures to the world,” Gunarta says. 

Aceh was the focus of last year’s festival. This year, Borneo takes center stage with the Spirit of the Hornbill Dayak Dance Academy from Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan, performing at One World One Stage and presenting workshops at Purnati. 

A screening of the documentary film, “Long Saan — The Journey Back,” by New Zealand author David Metcalf and local filmmaker Erick Est was a emotional and beautiful insight into Central Kalimantan’s landscape and people. 

“The purpose of the film is to raise awareness about rainforest conservation while focussing on the connection of the indigenous tribes with the land,” Metcalf explains. “Dance is at the heart of the Dayak culture.”

A large, diverse selection of music and performances throughout that Friday night meant that there was something for everyone’s taste. While some acts showcased musicianship and ambience over being danceable, others acts like headliners Dustin Thomas, Deya Dova and the Desert Dwellers were high energy experiences, whipping the crowd into a sweaty frenzy. 

Each year the BSF benefits from increased accessibility to land at the Purnati site allowing it to grow in size and stature. The festival invites some of the world’s most renowned instructors offering assorted workshops and presentations in yoga, meditation, health and the healing arts, and with ten separate venues at Purnati and over 100 programs, participants had an enormous number of options to choose from. 

With a majority of the BSF entry tickets sold at the special early bird prices, value for money for was guaranteed for many of the more than 5,000 attendees. 

One of the highlights at Purnati was Colombian dance maestro Daniel Rojas, with over 20 years experience as a professional dance and theater performer, who first wowed and then shared a dynamic array of dance moves with enthusiastic workshop participants. 

Meanwhile, the pool area was the venue for an unconventional part of the BSF program: aqua therapy. 

“Aqua therapy or Watsu is an intuitive dance-like connection between the facilitator, the participant and the element of water,” says facilitator Michael Hallock. 

The participant, with the aid of flotation devices, is led through a series of sweeping motions in the arms of Michael. 

“What appears like a physical therapy is really for the heart and mind recalling experiences of the womb in an unconditional space of love and care.” 

“Modern living is all too often a mental experience,” says first-time BSF attendee Adam Christopher, from Seattle. 

“We sometimes forgo the responsibilities of a healthy mind and body. The festival encourages us to understand the body by getting outside of our minds and engaging in nurturing practices.”

While the BSF has its critics, arguing that it is inaccessible to the local population and is akin to neocolonialism, the extent of the BSF outreach programs deserve much attention and credit.

Initiatives such as Bali ReGreen, in partnership with the Environmental Bamboo Foundation, since 2013 is revitalizing arid and economically marginalized regions of East Bali by transplanting bamboo and teaching the locals the necessary skills to benefit from the resource. The project rehabilitates the land and contributes to developing small-scale micro economies with opportunities for some 8,000 villagers. 

Meanwhile, the AYO! Kita Bicara HIV & AIDS (Come On! Let’s Talk About HIV & AIDS) program has for the past four years conducted EduSpirit workshops in 71 high schools, reaching out to more than 2,200 students and 180 teachers throughout Bali. 

The island is increasingly becoming a meeting venue for the global community, and while the economy benefits, tourism has become relentless and there now appears to be no low season. The once-quiet artists’ village of Ubud has become an overcrowded tourist mega hub. 

Yet with such a meeting of international interfaith, yoga and community-conscious leaders as gathered for the BSF in Ubud, is the next step to create a larger platform for discussions that results in greater global activism?

What is essential in this global climate of corporate governments attacking the sovereignty of the individual and the planet’s resources, is opportunities that bring together like-minded people from diverse backgrounds to engage and build networks. BSF is one such event that allows participants to addresses some of the issues that are negative byproducts of our modern culture.