Hula Hooping in Ubud, Indonesia

Sacred Circularities is a hula hoop retreat that happens every year in Indonesia. Finn heard about it from someone at Burning Man last summer and since we were going to be in Indonesia anyway it sounded like a fun thing to do. It’s really expensive to attend, so we filled out a long application form and got accepted as volunteers during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of the retreat.

The retreat was held in Ubud, a town in the middle of Bali that westerners flock to for yoga retreats, fancy hippy gear and spiritual living. Indonesian architecture is different from the other places we have visited in Southeast Asia. I liked the use of decorative parasols. The vegetation was taking over every brick, vines crawled through cracks in the walls and trees spilled over the streets. The air was heavy with tropical humidity. We rented a motorbike for the two weeks of the retreat in town and drove it to Ananda Cottages, the retreat venue.IMG_0663

My volunteer job was to write three blog posts per week for the Sacred Circularities website, for which I was given free accommodation and access to all the retreat programming. The general volunteers could only access two workshops per week, plus the yoga and ‘inner alchemy’ sessions. My guess is that they wanted the bloggers to have the full retreat experience so we can write about it and also to keep us happy so we write nice things, but it seemed unfair that the general volunteers were given access to so little.

The resort was on a completely other level from the places Finn and I had been staying on this trip. Our room had a huge four poster bed, air conditioning and a patio with a table and chairs. Right outside our doors was a view of palm trees, rice paddies and a swimming pool. All the buildings at the resort were made of brick and thick wood beams, with detailed decorative carvings.IMG_0628
At the first volunteer meeting in the afternoon before the retreat started we helped prepare the welcome gifts for participants and the volunteer coordinator went over our responsibilities and privileges for the retreat. General volunteers like Finn were only entitled to attend two of the nine workshops each week and at the meeting we learned that food was also not included. We were also told to buy a phone so that we could be contacted, which seemed like an annoying expense to require of volunteers. I told the volunteer coordinator that I was disappointed to learn food wasn’t included and now we were being asked to buy a phone and Finn is only allowed to participate in two workshops per week. It got tense. She said Sacred Circularities is a luxury retreat and we couldn’t expect to access it as general volunteers.

After the volunteer meeting was the opening ceremony. The participants were all female and of diverse ages, from 20 – 65. They were mostly white except for some black and east Asian participants. The majority were from North America, a disproportional number from Alberta, lots from Australia, several from the UK and a smattering of people from other countries such as South Africa and Japan.

I guess I should have been ready for the hokey, new age-y spirituality of a retreat called Sacred Circularities, but it was more than I had prepared myself for. Words such as Intention, Magical, Sacred, Manifest, Spirit, Eternal, and so on, were overused. I was at the retreat to meet fun people, play with toys and get better at hooping, but other people attended because they believe the hula hoop is a ‘sacred’ circle. About ten to fifteen people took advantage of the invitation to place a personal item on the ‘alter’, which was a table at the back of the room. Some special rocks were passed around the circle for each of us to hold as music was played, group singing took place and a local priest blessed each person. Then we danced in a circle and twirled into the middle one by one to say our name and our intention for the week before being showered with flower petals and given a candle to place on the alter.

I went jogging most mornings before the daily schedule at Sacred Circularities started off with yoga or a “spiritual version of Zumba” called African Dance. It felt great to have already gone for a run and yoga class before eating breakfast. A breakfast buffet was included in the price of our room, so it was a daily struggle not to overeat first thing in the morning. I binged out on fresh fruit, yoghurt and granola with peanut butter and honey. I drank a fruit smoothie and coffee too. The problem was that I went back for a second helping of granola. The bigger problem was when I went for a third. When I topped it off with pancakes my mouth was in heaven, but later I felt like a bean bag. I felt like I should be rolled to the first workshop like the greedy blueberry girl in Willy Wonka. I loved the breakfasts so much.Breakfast buffet

There were hula hoop workshops and ‘inner alchemy’ (meditation and spirituality) sessions throughout the day and a hoop jam in the evening where everyone played and danced with their hoops. During free time I sampled delicious restaurants around Ubud, got a few massages and drove past the monkey forest. I didn’t end up actually entering the monkey forest, but there were monkeys all over the parking lot so it was fun to look at the animals from the road.

At the end of every class the teachers did a recap demonstration of the moves they taught so that participants could film it to remember later, but volunteers were told we are not allowed to film the recaps. The founder, Jaguar Mary, said it was because the recaps were a ‘special gift for participants’. That sounded didn’t seem to fit the concept of ‘eternal abundance’ that was brought up throughout the retreat. It’s supposed to mean that there will always be enough for everyone, which is obviously not true. There wasn’t enough space in the workshops for volunteers to participate, for one.

One of Finn’s jobs was to assist in some of the hoop workshops, which sounded like a great job because he would be able to attend more workshops, but then he was tapped on the shoulder and told he wasn’t allowed to participate if he was volunteering. He had to wait behind the teacher just in case the mic volume needed to be turned up of down, but wasn’t allowed to pick up a hoop.

In the middle of the first week there was a holiday called Nyepi. It was explained to us that it is a day of reflection, on which no one is allowed to go into the streets. Religious people fast for the holiday and stay in their homes with the lights off. The resort management wrote on a big chalk board that we were not to leave the property. At breakfast everyone ate together and everything was usual, even the resort staff were talking and laughing without restraint, but after that most of the Sacred Circularities participants I saw throughout the day were silent. A bunch of people hung out by the pool all day without talking. It was boring and too bad that we missed the opportunity to get to know each other better. I was glad Finn was there so we could talk to each other in our room at least. I already did a 10 day silent meditation retreat last year, that was enough for me.

The next morning one of the Sacred Circularities participants complained that disrespectful people were so loud during breakfast on Nyepi. Being spiritual just for the sake of it annoys me, but being holier than thou about it really gets on my nerves. I asked her if she was Hindu and she said she wasn’t, but she thought we should at least talk quietly on this holiday that we all just learned about, even though we were only among foreigners. I told her I didn’t maintain silence because I’m not a practitioner of the local religion. There are lots of holidays I don’t celebrate. We all spent the holiday on an isolated resort so our voices weren’t disturbing local people. I should have pointed out that we weren’t fasting or leaving the lights off either, which are also part of Nyepi.

The equinox, solar eclipse, and new moon were big news around the retreat. The moon cycles and how they affect our bodies and minds was a hot topic. I overheard participants talking about their concern that they were absorbing the dreams of the people who had stayed in their room before them. They would need to clear out the old dreams with a sage smudging session as soon as possible.

I was responsible for writing three blog articles per week and provide a photo to attach, which sounded easy, but I felt at a loss for what to write. I felt alienated by the particular brand of hippiness and didn’t know how to write about it. For my first two articles I took some things that other people said and wrote about them. I wrote about the special, supportive community of Sacred Circularities and the healing power of a movement practice like hooping. I had heard people saying these things, so I thought they would go over well. I was happier with my third blog article, which was an interview with one of the teachers, but when I let her read it over before posting it she wanted me to take out most of the more interesting stuff. I didn’t want her to be unhappy about the way she was portrayed, so I allowed the changes, but I’ve learned my lesson not to give future interview subjects control over their interviews.

I met some great people at the retreat, despite the annoying ones. All the hoop teachers were very down to earth and fun to be around, and I really enjoyed some of the participants and volunteers. I was happy to make friends with people from around the world because now I have a reason to go visit places.

In the second week I was in the swing of blogging and was much happier with my articles. I wrote about the hoop balance class for my first post, which turned out nicely. For my second post I wrote about how the hula hoop community is mostly female and how it feels to be in a female space. I don’t particularly like being in a female-dominated space, I much prefer gender balance, but I didn’t want the article to be negative so I wrote that I like gender balance as well as positive things about a female only space. I also interviewed female and male participants for the article.

The other blogger for the second week, Fenixx, and I were responsible for proofreading each other’s work, but it turned out that Fenixx didn’t like my writing. She said my first article was too focused because it was only about one workshop. She said my second article was too general, that it wasn’t the right format and that she wanted to talk to the founder of Sacred Circularities, Jaguar Mary, about it. I told her I would send it to JM myself, and when I did I got an email response from Fenixx saying that Jaguar Mary wanted me to rewrite my article and make it more inclusive. I was sitting at breakfast when I got the email and Jaguar Mary was in the room, so I went over and asked her what was up.

Jaguar Mary told me gently that my blog article may alienate men and make them think they aren’t welcome at Sacred Circularities. She carefully communicated that she wanted me to rewrite the article and make it less man-hate-y (it wasn’t). It’s her event that she’s trying to promote, so I agreed to make some changes.

There was a ‘tribal market and performance showcase,’ every week, but the week before it couldn’t happen because of the holiday, Nyepi. Vendors came to Ananda cottages to sell expensive, beautiful hippy clothing and jewellery in the afternoon and then Sacred Circularities participants, teachers and volunteers performed for everyone. The performances were fantastic. I had no idea that some of the participants were such great performers and the teachers blew everyone away. The show was a big highlight of my time at Sacred Circularities.

Sacred Circularities had enjoyable moments, despite my complaints. I liked to swim in the pool and just be near it. I spent a lot of time practicing hooping, juggling and spinning poi, in and out of the workshops. I worked on doing a handstand and slowly improved. Lots of people gave me tips. I liked the nightly hoop jams where everyone played and practiced together with loud music. It wasn’t until the last two nights that I realized how much my hooping had improved. I was able to do a bunch of moves that I couldn’t before and I felt comfortable flowing with the music.

My favourite moment was the second to last day of the retreat during free time when an impromptu pool party started in the afternoon. The weather was perfect, someone put on music and we had fun together. Helly, one of the participants, made a compilation video of a bunch of us hooping that day. You can see it here:

I was working on this blog post on the last day of the retreat and had been writing down all the things that annoyed me before going to the closing ceremony. I didn’t want to do anymore silly ‘get into your body’ dances, I was sick of metaphorical workshops with little substance and wanted to be out from under the authority of the volunteer program.

In the closing circle I realized that I was the grinch in the group. Sacred Circularities wasn’t for me, but it was exactly what most people wanted. I was the negative one who dislikes silly exercises and hippy spirituality and that was my problem. The mic was passed to each person to share something with the group and most described a feeling of connectedness and love. They described spiritual awakenings and life changing experiences from the week as they broke down into tears of joy. It was such a dichotomy from what I felt. I’m glad that lots of people love Sacred Circularities, but by the end of two weeks I could hardly wait to get away from it.