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On the eve of her first Bali retreat, culinary shaman Sarah Eve Cardell reflects on what makes the magical island such a spiritual hot-spot...Images: A Walk In Ubud by Arya Lisantho via

bali ubud statue by arya lisantho on

Bali is affectionately called the Island of the Gods (and Goddesses!) and viewed as a spiritually charged destination for good reason. From its outstanding natural beauty alone, the majestic mountains and volcanos, breathless blue beaches, fragrant fauna, vibrant wholesome cuisine, hospitable locals, artisanal crafts, and so on, one can easily interact with divinity here.

Additionally with nearly 20,000 sacred sites, Bali is an island of temples. The Balinese people make daily prayers and offerings to the communal temples, as well as at personal altars in their family compounds, animating a continuous aura of holiness. Ceremonies are so customary that the remnants of the canang (offering trays made of leaves) often line the streets, filled with colorful flowers, used incense sticks, fruit, coins, etc. As a result, the ancient and mystical culture is all-pervasive.

Of course, there are other theories why the healing energy is so prevalent here – one of my favorite being that the island is sacred because it’s home to two major volcanoes. Mount Agung is said to represent the divine masculine, a manifestation of Shiva, and Mount Batur and Lake Batur the divine feminine. These two godly sites seem to proudly protect and serve as a connection to the spiritual realm.

Incense in ubud by arya lisantho on

Ubud in particular, where I am offering my retreat, attracts those seeking healing and balance. With countless yoga studios, raw and vegan cafes, healing centers, crystal shops, and massage, it is a seekers’ paradise. The name Ubud itself translates loosely to “medicine” in Balinese, the holiness of the land and rivers in the area offering natural healing and direct connection to spirit. Whether one is sensitive to energy or not, there is a general consensus that one feels some form of transformation after travelling to this magical island.

For me the journey to Bali was one of deep introspection and trust, of coming into my own. I went to the island with the intention of only staying for two weeks. My heart called to participate in the Bali Spirit Festival and although I had little money, certainly not anywhere sufficient to pay for a ticket to the festival, I knew I had to come to Ubud. Immediately after landing I was graciously given a place to stay for free while I found my ground.

In the first week I also met a taxi driver who soon became a close friend and who I attended temple purification with often. On one shared taxi ride, I was introduced to a big name yoga instructor from Australia who needed a part-time assistant for his booth at the festival…and voila! I was gifted entrance. These synchronies and connections were prevalent daily – my thoughts directly manifesting before my eyes.

palm trees in ubud bali by arya lisantho on

This began to lead me to trust deeper in my inner wisdom, and the harmony of the Universe. I shortly moved into the homestay of a queenly woman in Ubud who embraced me like a daughter. She dressed me in traditional kebaya and sarong, took me as her date to weddings and other familial affairs, and introduced me to all of her spiritual friends. Living in her homestay showed me the importance of community and of family, her daughter-in-law additionally treating me like a sister and taking me on vacations, inviting me to dinner parties, and to temple ceremonies at all hours of the night.

During my stay, I practiced yoga daily, sometimes more western styles and sometimes with local Balinese yogis. I prayed daily to my personal altar, made a weekly trip to my favorite water temple for cleansing, and met countless Balian (Balinese shaman) by synchronistic encounters. Every day felt magical and unbelievable. The meetings and meditation sessions with the Balian taught me to even more sincerely trust my own intuition, and to take the next step as a healer and space holder.

I was humbled and honored to teach yoga to Balinese teenagers, who perhaps were some of my greatest teachers. My heart opened as I surrendered, prayed, meditated, and connected daily to the wisdom of the Mother Nature. I will forever be grateful for my year in Bali and am privileged to be able to share the best of my experiences during the retreat – the selflessness and devotion and faith of the people, the respect for the land, the vibrancy of life. Everything is so beautiful, colorful, and peaceful.

a walk in ubud bali by arya lisantho on

As “the culinary shaman”, I see no boundary between food and medicine, a concept that has only been strengthened by my time in Bali. One of my favorite dishes from Bali, Gado-Gado, is a delicious peanut sauce covered vegetable dish, and something I make often but made healthier with no added sugar and with almonds instead of peanuts.

I love using fresh turmeric, vanilla beans and of course, raw cacao, which I infused into my diet and cooking while in Bali. I completely fell in love with soursop (aka sirsak in Balinese) and the cleansing properties of this fruit. As a form of organic cancer prevention, this fruit is one illustration of the natural medicine of the island, along with mangosteen, young coconut water, noni, and so on.

Every day on the retreat will be shamanic in nature as we will be honoring the elements and our connection to such. We will have shamanic drum meditations on sacred sites, a divine full moon healing circle, and a fire ceremony for purification. There will also be a unique workshop featuring the natural healing plants of Bali.

offerings in ubud bali by arya lisantho on

So how do I incorporate the teachings of Bali into my daily life in NYC? Although I did value community before Bali, I now spend much more time and energy developing a spiritual community in New York, with bi-monthly moon circles, vegan collective dinners, and other assorted events. I more deeply understand the power of spirit offerings and prayer – feeding the altars I create here with flowers, incense, and fruit. I also drink jamu, a Balinese healing turmeric tea, daily.

Above all, I reflect often on the serenity and beauty of the Balinese people and their language, which has no past and no future, and use this as a reminder to remain always peaceful and in the present moment.

1535429_10103436679039473_1392601280_n Sarah Eve Cardell will lead Soulful Awakening, a 7-night shamanic retreat in Ubud, from May 31-June 7 2015. For more information, and to discover more about Sarah’s work as a culinary shaman, visit

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1 Comment

  • Rion says:

    I’m headed to Bali in June for 8 days. The trip got planned rather quickly, as I saw a window of opportunity, and took it. I’m going for a yoga retreat, but have worked with plant medicines and shamans before and would like to explore further while in Bali if possible. Any recommendations would be much appreciated.


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