Bali is rich with indigenous healing traditions. Movies, books, articles, blogs, Facebook and now “tweets” are full of information and revelations shared by tourists and expats in Bali about their “Balian healing experience”. As is well-known, a local Ubud healer (Balian) made headlines some years ago with Julia Roberts’ portrayal of Elizabeth Gilbert in the Hollywood movie “Eat, Pray, Love”. The result was a lucrative business born for a handful of healers who have benefitted financially from the thousands who have sought them out for answers. Yet, against all odds, these healers have maintained their course, despite a foreign influx that could have compromised integrity, boosted egos and cultivated greed. Balinese healing is now on the radar of international spiritual tourists and health seekers alike.
Traditional Balinese healers have been a fixture on this island for thousands of years. It is estimated that there are 8,000 healers working tirelessly, day and night, to help their communities heal. Blending elements of Hinduism and indigenous healing traditions, Balian healing encompasses a number of different modalities, depending on the specialty of the healer and, in some instances, the sex of the practitioner. For most foreigners, the tradition is wrapped in mystery in regards to how it works, what it does and what exactly the Balian is doing. Ultimately, it requires a deep understanding of Balinese culture and spiritual traditions that many of us will never grasp. But, the attraction to seek these unique healers out is on the rise and therefore, so is our responsibility to educate ourselves as best we can about the process. The guiding principle in creating balance in Bali is the concept of Sekala and Niskala which could be translated (respectively) as the tangible and intangible. Good and evil, dark and light, north and south, and east and west must be honored through ongoing offerings, many of which you see on streets, in homes and in the many temples. Keeping this balance is a big part of Balinese Hinduism and is believed to be the key to healing the body, mind and spirit.
According to the Balinese, there are two qualities that may affect your health. Some can be seen and measured, and are called Sekala. This is more like western medicine. A broken bone would be under the category of Sekala. Balian healers do treat these problems, but more and more locals will head to the closest rumah sakit (hospital) to deal with such issues. Opposite to the more scientific Sekala is Niskala, a more subtle force that cannot be seen. Stress, blocked chakras, angry spirits or disharmony with ancestors are some of the things that dominate this realm. When Niskala is out of balance it can create all sorts of health problems, even issues like gambling addictions or scooter accidents.
If you plan to see a Balian, it might be helpful to have a better understanding of how a session might unfold…
As is common in Balinese cultural etiquette, a session would not begin by getting straight to the problem, but rather, by sitting down first together, to share a drink and have a friendly chat. Typically the Balinese bring family members or friends to these appointments which gives the healer a chance to get to know them and offers an opportunity to observe the patient with other people. Locals bring an offering of either money or palm leafs, but if you are a foreigner your offering will likely take the form of Indonesian currency (Rupiah). The Balinese approach to healing differs from a westerner’s approach of “pay and go”, and often the completion of a session is just the beginning of the entire healing process.
Female clients are discouraged from visiting a healer during menstruation. In some indigenous healing traditions around the world, a woman who is menstruating is considered ‘unclean’ and forbidden to enter places of worship. In Bali, this is not the issue. However, as women are often considered more sensitive at this time, both emotionally and physically, it can be challenging for both parties during a therapy session. To avoid any miscommunication during a treatment about what hurts, or what one feels, it is considered best practice to do the healing work at other times in a woman’s cycle. Furthermore, healers have kamar suci (holy rooms) which are on par with temples. This energy is powerful and sacred and can bring up difficult memories and feelings.
Never give the healer money directly, but place it in an envelope, a box or on a table at the end of your session. Some healers will see you privately by booking an appointment while others do walkins. This can take a few hours of waiting and the appointment can be as short as five minutes. Many healers see their clients in public, so be prepared to share your story with others.
“Pak Man” Arya Dunung is a Taksu Balian with decades of experience. Originally from Tampaksiring and now based in Ubud, he welcomes all types of problems from cancer, strokes, diabetes, broken bones, bad backs, migraines, digestive disorders, drug addiction, depression, stress to black magic. He uses therapeutic massage and his own crafted oils and medicines to heal. Pak Man’s focus is to help patients find the root cause of their suffering and learn to heal through the cultivation of their own wisdom, responsibility for their own health and honesty. He believes that it is then that people can peacefully move on to enjoy life’s challenges, be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.