Apr 15, 2020
IF IT TAKES A VILLAGE to raise a child, then how many people does it take to raise a mama?
I’m contemplating this when I should be watching my breath. It’s early morning in Bali and I’m sitting in a yoga shala trying to let go of some of the frazzlement of motherhood and stay present in a meditation practice… but the thought keeps creeping in. Maybe over the next five days, on my first retreat for moms, I’ll find the answer — or at least learn not to follow the thought down the rabbit hole when trying to be present with each inhale and exhale.
Less than a dozen of us have come to Desa Seni, a rustic-chic, eco-friendly village resort in the beachside town of Canggu, for Raising Happy & Healthy Mamas, an opportunity for moms to invest in themselves, recharge and take a step back from motherhood and family life to reconnect with themselves.
Carmela Fleury, who leads the retreat, refers to herself as “the village crazy mama” but the motivation that brought her to the point of developing these retreats is far from cuckoo. She’s a certified Wayfinder Master Coach, a certified holistic health coach, an Embodied Flow yoga teacher, and a yin-yoga teacher, studying toward the Insight Yoga Certification with Sarah Powers. She’s also a mom of two “short-crazies” as she affectionately calls them, so she’s right in the thick of child-raising, too. Over the years she’s been building up her arsenal of “women who do cool shit” and collaborating with them on retreats like this and workshops, but also just creating the opportunity for them to share their stories.
Some of the moms on this latest getaway arrive with babies propped on their hips while their barefoot toddlers jump along the stone paths. Others are kid-free for a week and have already secured a lounger by the pool, luxuriating in being able to read a magazine uninterrupted. The next five days are scheduled with yin yoga, workshops, dinner dates, long lunches, surfing and spa-ing, but we’re reminded that all are optional. Babysitters have been arranged so that the moms with children have some downtime for the activities— even though kids are always welcome. In fact, even the resort’s friendly old dog takes part when he wants. One day he plods in during our yin-yoga practice and curls into me as I’m reclined on my mat.
We meet in the mornings for meditation and yoga in the shala, and stretch out on the polished wooden floors beneath a thatched roof, surrounded by overgrown palms whose fronds reach into the space. Breakfast is taken in silence and we keep our words to ourselves until the first workshop of the day. It’s awkward in the beginning. I feel the need to make small talk but the quiet time is supposed to be a gift, given that most of us have frantic, loud mornings at home.
The breakfasts, like all the meals at Desa Seni, are plentiful and nourishing. The resort has organic gardens spread throughout the grounds and most of the items on our plate have a short commute. My typical cold cereal is replaced one day by poached eggs atop a bed of perfectly spiced quinoa mixed with raisins and shredded carrots, a chickpea-and-sweet-potato mash and sliced avocado; another day it’s gluten-free blueberry-mango pancakes topped with fluffy coconut custard.
Each day the workshops tackle a different topic. One session it’s the physical body. Think self-care, like a kick-ass morning routine that has us exfoliating and massaging ourselves. The simple practice we learn remains a non-negotiable part of my getting ready each day long after I’ve gotten home and back to my normal life.
We also uncover what those aches and pains are really trying to tell us. According to Louise Hay’s book Heal Your Body, which we talk about in one of the sessions, the nagging pain in my shoulders (that I’m pretty sure would shriek like a banshee if it had a voice) apparently relates to my ability to carry out experiences, and suggests I am making life a burden through my attitude. The thought of this cuts a little, but with two young ones and a full-time job it often does feel that I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.
Another day it’s a psychological focus that includes a brain dump of all the things we juggle at home, invisible load included. We also tackle the emotional, where through journaling and sharing to the group we’re allowed to be “emotionally slutty” as a friend puts it or “emotionally prudish,” as another offers up, as we cover topics that hit a nerve with moms. Mama guilt is a big one. Although I know that we need to nourish ourselves in order to be able to nourish others, feelings of guilt that I’ve taken a week off from parenting, leaving my husband to do it all, creep in during meditation. I inhale and exhale and try to let the feeling go. There’s vision boarding, where we put our dreams into picture form through cut-out images and words from magazines to create a collage. I’m left with a jumble of happy families, travel shots, inspiring words, and active pursuits from snowboarding to surfing.
There’s also a spiritual session where a local mother, Lisa, founder of bohemian fashion label Warriors of the Divine, shares her unconventional story (it’s a doozy) about how she found her calling. It involved a premonition from a Bali psychic, the archangel Gabriel, and a leap of faith that had her packing up a life and starting a new career in a new country with no back-up plan.
She’s one of several inspirational women who speak to the group. Another mother, who runs nearby Pineapple House, talks about her path to motherhood with her baby, just a few weeks old, sleeping blissfully in her lap. Then there’s a warm-hearted and bubbly member of our group who has been battling cancer and has grown through the process. Over a candlelit dinner beneath the stars she opens up about her journey, moving us all as we fight back tears.
Local healers are brought in, like Szilvia Galambos, a tarot-card reader, with whom we book sessions during our afternoon breaks. I’m nervous about what she’ll say when she pulls back each card, but her presence is like a warm hug and as she gives the reading my shoulders sink a little further away from my ears and soften. The mother-load is lifting.
We also fill our free time in the afternoons with massages and scrubs at the on-site spa. Who knew being slathered in yogurt could be so relaxing, especially after taking a surfing lesson during which I had evidently worn expired sun block (or was it actually insect repellent?). Reminder to self: always check the label.
Carmela has created the space here for us to “stretch our bodies and stretch our minds,” as she puts it, but she makes a point to mention throughout that she’s no “sage on stage— just a guide on the side.” She’s big on keeping the community going long after we say our goodbyes, with workshops and retreats planned for Bali, Sweden, the U.S. and Thailand through 2021, and an online mama village where many of the participants from past retreats keep in contact.
In the end I realize that it takes a village to raise a parent, but the first step is giving yourself permission to receive support. If we need to take care of ourselves, as parents, in order to take better care of our children then we should let those feelings of guilt about taking me-time fade away with the breath. It also helps if that breath happens to be taken on a beautiful, tropical island.
Carmela’s next Raising Happy & Healthy Mamas retreat takes place in Koh Samui, Thailand, February 22–27, 2021; carmelafleury.com; US$1,280. Desa Seni in Canggu, Bali, offers year-round accommodation and yoga packages; desaseni.com; doubles from Rp2,535,000.