Arriving in Ubud felt like coming home. This little yoga paradise is colourfully vibrant, with so much to see and do – especially around health and wellness. Ubud is a must-visit for any travelling yogi. I could easily have spent a month exploring the many deliciously healthy cafes and amazing yoga studios.
It was my second time in Ubud, and two years after my first visit it felt pretty much the same – in a familiar and inviting way. In true holiday style I easily forgot what day it was and wasted hours wandering around finding fun places to eat, getting massages, bargain hunting, sunbaking and yoga-ing. It’s easy to accumulate a handful of favourite digs and spend your days at the same places, but with a goal in mind, I set out to discover as much as I could of the Ubud yoga world in the relatively small amount of time I had, especially given the abundance of wholesome, yogic goodness to discover.
Of course my first stop was Yoga Barn – Ubud’s biggest yoga studio that feels like a small village. Arriving at Yoga Barn I felt aware of my urge to fit in. Beautiful, svelte yogis laughed and socialised, or floated into one of the many yoga classes. It’s true, Yoga Barn is the place to be and the place to be seen for all the young, Lullulemon clad yogis. But there are so many pockets of magic within it, and as soon as I began exploring the classes I was soothed by the teachings of some of the most inspiring yogis I’ve had the pleasure of practicing with. There are lots of beginner friendly classes too, and you can just as easily leave your trendy threads at home and practice in shorts and t-shirt.
Yoga Barn is home to four yoga shalas (two that are hired out for private teacher trainings and retreats), a healthy café, juice bar, healing centre and shop, as well as chic bungalow accommodation with beautiful rooms and a relaxing pool area. All of this is surrounded by pockets of lush rainforest, fields, streams and natural beauty right in the heart of buzzing Ubud. The shalas have huge windows that show off the luscious nature, and there’s an authentically Balinese feel to the design. A beautifully shabby spiral staircase accesses the top shala, and as you wander up to your class you can admire the ponds of fish swimming beneath. The teachers at Yoga Barn are world-renowned and there’s an abundant class schedule of up to 17 sessions a day comprising of yoga, kirtan, ecstatic dance, sound healings, meditation and more.
During my first class, my teacher Bex spoke about Bali being a place of offerings, and how that energy infiltrates the community. This resonated strongly. That same morning at a cafe I watched as a woman performed her morning offering ritual, something that became part of the landscape of Bali. Offering bowls filled with flowers lined the footpaths, and the role that ritual plays in the culture is inspiringly beautiful.
When I visited Radiantly Alive it was pumping. This spacious studio with two beautiful light filled shalas and windows looking out onto rainforest green (despite being in the middle of the city) was packed with devoted students. American expat and owner Daniel shares his knowledge and passion through his signature style RA. A must visit for any serious yogi, and of course there are plenty of options for beginners on the expansive timetable of up to 7 daily classes.
A visit to Intuitive Flow was absolutely worth the walk up the many stairs to arrive, I reflected as I admired the expansive view of the Ubud treetops from the classroom windows. This down to earth, cosy space was full of students of all levels and was inviting and accessible. I took a class with a Balinese teacher whose cues and energy were encouraging and clear.
A short stroll from the hustle and bustle, Ubud Yoga House sat amongst the rice fields, so I could combine a morning of yoga and rice field wanders (a popular tourist activity in Ubud). The serene studio felt authentic and well established, with views overlooking the rice fields and several traditional styles on offer.
I attempted to attend a class with Ketut Arasana at Ubud Bodyworks, but was turned away as the class was full. Don’t you know who I am? I felt like yelling. Now move aside and let me in! Instead I sulked away and gently reminded myself of the opportunity to surrender, then drowned my sorrows in a chai tea. The moral of the story? Email ahead and make a booking. His classes came highly recommended by yogi friends, and apparently this guy is the real deal. He also teaches regularly at a nearby Ashram, Ashram Munivara.
Other classes that came recommended by my yogi friends but I didn’t get a chance to visit (I may have been distracted by the amazing, vegan food) were Frog Lotus and Taman Hati – where a Balinese teacher offers classes in his family compound.
Ubud is a playground for yogi foodies. Many cafes are at least vegetarian and have a huge variety of vegan options as well.
Earth Café had an infuriatingly abundant menu that makes it impossible not to experience a little food envy. Think macrobiotics, vegan and raw (plus a few indulgent options) in a bright and airy upstairs space. There’s also a health food store downstairs with all of your home favourites and more.
Just across the road, Kismet was authentically Balinese with a vegetarian menu. I couldn’t go past the Asian bowl with tempeh skewers and still dream about that glazed tempeh with peanut sauce.
Atman is a bungalow style café with something for everyone – including a huge vegetarian menu and a great selection of kombucha on tap. It’s also a perfect place for people watching.
Kafe is where I spent most of my time. This trendy space is filled with digital nomads and expats, and has an amazingly yogic menu including kitchari for breakfast and every raw desert you can imagine.
All of the above are within easy walking distance of Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive – the most central yoga studios.
As I moved further towards the busy streets of Ubud I found Seeds of Life Café with all sorts of healthy treats and yoga classes on offer too. In the same street, Biah Biah was a real treat with lots of Balinese indulgent offerings with a cosy, buzzing atmosphere. It was great value (the cheapest place I discovered), and the line out the door didn’t deter me from indulging in a deliciously authentic meal.
Clear Café had temporarily relocated when I visited, but was one of my favourite places the first time I was in Ubud, and a delight to go back to. The amazing healthy smoothies and vegan menu are served in beautifully chic surrounds.
If I had to choose a favourite, it would have to be Alchemy Bali. Maybe it was the huge hill I had to walk up to get there, but this place just felt special. Alchemy served the mother of all smoothie bowls (think subway but for vegan smoothies) for breakfast in a deliciously quiet pocket of Ubud.
With so much to explore, no yogi is at risk of getting bored in this bustling yoga playground. I spent the time between vegan indulgence and yoga wandering around the rice fields, hunting for bargains at the Ubud Art Market and moseying about. If you’re not into bargaining, there are plenty of air-conditioned shops with set prices and a plethora of yoga fashion stores. Utama Spice is home to lots of essential oil goodness and the best, most natural incense. Ganesha Bookshop is just across the road from the Radiantly Alive studio and sells lots of yoga reads that you can later sell back for half price.
My favourite central place for massages was Zen Bali Spa, on the path towards Yoga Barn, but there are so many spas and treatment spaces to explore. Away from the hustle and bustle, Bali Botanica Spa (bookings are a must) offers amazing traditional Balinese and Ayurvedic treatments (the Ayurvedic Shirodhara will change your life).
The fun doesn’t stop there. There are plenty of offerings of ecstatic dance, ceremonies, traditional Balinese rituals and healings, cycling tours and so much more. Join the Ubud Community on Facebook with over 40,000 members to stay up to date with local news and events.
When I left Ubud I felt invigorated and in love with my practice again. With a slightly heavy heart I left a place that I could easily call home. After only a week I’d found myself in a comfortable groove and eased into a routine that felt so yogic and natural. It had been so easy to delve back into the healthy, active life that I’d abandoned over the winter months and I felt noticeably lighter and more energetic. I romanticised over my next visit (there’s always Spirit Fest in March) as I tucked a little piece of Ubud in my heart to take home.
Words by Jessica Humphries for Australian Yoga Journal.