How My Yoga Training in Bali Changed My Practice

By Guest Blogger: Cat Woods


In September this year, I traveled to Ubud, Bali to undertake Yoga Teacher Training with Denise Payne. That was not the first time there, though. My first visit was in 2014 when I fell in love with the luscious green forest, the humidity, the scent of incense morning and afternoon, the open-faced welcoming attitude of Balinese people and the yoga, wellness and esoteric seekers who congregate from all over the world in this tiny island sanctuary.

Upon advice from TripAdvisor, I managed to find my way to the well-hidden Yoga Barn right near Monkey Forest. Usually, if lost, following the group of people toting yoga mats is a dependable method for finding good classes and good food.

It was on this first visit that I practiced Power Yoga with Denise Payne. I won’t lie – She's is a formidable presence. With heavily tattooed arms, shoulders and a no-nonsense air about her, I was intimidated and can’t say that this entirely dissipated that first trip. But I knew I had found my teacher. I walked out of those 2-hour classes feeling invigorated, energized, excited by looking at people, nature, food and the living world afresh after class. That was an entirely new world – so far separated from the daily gym regime I was accustomed to in Melbourne.

How My Yoga Training In Bali Changed My Practice
Featured Beauty: @martimegghi Featured Product: 7/8 Legging Geometric Season Photo: @sigismondiphotography 


Denise can seamlessly transition from telling the tale of Rama and Hanuman, reciting from the Sutras, through to discussing the upward and downward currents of liberation and manifestation, respectively. Her classes are dynamic in every way – physically challenging, intellectually stimulating, and spiritually, energetically revitalizing. I knew that I wanted to appreciate more of this integrated yoga where the everyday meets the infinite in momentary glimpses over and over again. Not purely yoga for shapely legs. Not yoga for something to do after a run. Not yoga for the sake of saying you do yoga. Yoga for life.

So, it was almost inevitable, I think, that I returned in September this year to do further Yoga Teacher Training with Denise Payne and her assistants Ade and David. Challenging, stimulating, I found my own practice altering by the minute. The old cues that I heard like a broken record in daily classes in Melbourne were challenged and dropped. “Square the hips? How, why?" I found a new length and stability in Pinca Mayurasana, agility in the Bakasana to Chaturanga jump-back and discovered the “sacred space” between my heels in Tadasana and also Vasisthasana. That gentle, subtle internal rotation from the hips enables stronger Mula Bandha connection, or core engagement if you like.

Ubud is a teacher in herself. Luscious, wild, equally home to some of the most scenic and beautiful natural landscapes and also too dirty, noisy scooters that crowd the narrow streets like angry ants. Ubud is the teacher who holds your hand and guides you but also runs on ahead and challenges you to find your way to her again in the dark. If you haven’t been, it belongs to your Yoga Bucket List.

How My Yoga Training In Bali Changed My Practice
Photo: @cat13gram


I always look forward to my first meal at Kafe in central Ubud. I can’t recommend Alchemy enough if you are inclined towards plant-based pizza (sundried tomato – you really must!). For raw food, Sayuri is a delicious education in how to eat flavor-packed, non-processed food as close to its intended nature as imaginable.

I was also fortunate enough to see Gerry at Karma House for a traditional hand-poked tattoo. Far from your suburban tattoo parlor experience, at Karma House, you are inducted into the experience with incense and a smoke ceremony to cleanse and prepare you energetically. There is no trivial chatter and mobile phone use while the tattoo process is happening. Quite a number of people do opt for the traditional hand-poke process as an honoring of the place we’re in, the history and cultural traditions of tattooing and the skills of the artists at Karma House. There’s often international guest artists and everyone is matched stylistically to the artist best suited to what they want to achieve and by what methods. Recommended. If you’re lucky, Aren Bahia, the founder of Karma House will be around to tell you about how Karma gives back to charities and supports local education and health initiatives.  

For anyone deliberating over whether they’re ready to do Yoga Teacher Training, I’d say there is no pressure to become a teacher just because you do the intensive course that inducts you in the history, tradition, purpose, and intricacies of yoga. For students who never teach, they have a deeper understanding of the 8 limbs of yoga. They have workshopped their alignment, sequencing, breathing and meditation techniques. For those who do choose to teach, it is vital to know that your teacher is living, breathing and delivering lessons that align with your intention as a teacher also. My fellow students in Bali had met and really connected with Denise. For many of us, it had taken years to work out how we could logistically get to Bali for a month and dedicate our lives to daily doses of her. I can’t recommend enough that you seek to get out of your daily life and routine to immerse yourself in Yoga Teacher Training also. Just like inversions, flipping your perspective upside down enables you to absorb everything you’re learning without the daily preoccupations that hinder an open mind and unhindered spirit. For me, Bali is a spiritual hotpot of energies that feels a bit wild, beautiful, strange and full of love and curious souls. I recommend it. I’ll see you back there.


About the Author:

Cat Woods is the Australian founder of Ballet Sculpt. She is also a vinyasa yoga teacher, mat Pilates instructor, freelance journalist, and blogger. Visit her website and her Instagram.

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