Being a fully paid-up member of the ‘No Pain, No Gain’ gym philosophy, for me the concept of fitness and fun is quite alien. For ex-pat Australian Karen Willis, it was a niche opportunity to recalibrate her life.
“I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been. I no longer have a job, I have a life,” says the former fashion retail strategy executive. Together with her life and business partner Wayan, she’s created Sharing Bali, a rural compound in the tiny village of Singaprang near Ubud where a whole raft of adventure fitness programs and boot camps come with lashings of laughter and cultural immersion. You may not be wearing khaki fatigues at this exotic boot camp, and at some point, you may feel somewhat fatigued, but there’s nothing utilitarian about working out your personal health and wellness strategies in this piece of paradise.
So how did local artist Wayan and his Australian fashion-industry partner Karen come to create boot camps Bali-style?
“The words that spring to mind are organically and gradually but Bootcamp Bali-style was an idea that became a game changer for us,” said Karen .
“We’d had our first patch of land in the hills, no electricity or running water, and a simple hut to sleep in for a few years but from that one Bootcamp in 2008, we’ve gradually expanded to running up to 30 retreats a year including Pilates, Fitness Adventure, Yoga, CrossFit and Fusion Fitness,” said Karen.
They’ve also discovered that people are wanting to connect with others as well as themselves and be part of local life rather than experiencing culture as a part of packaged tourism.
Offering a major prize to the inaugural winner of Michelle Bridges’ online 12 Week Challenge Program was another game changer.
“We are the perfect reward – an active, healthy holiday,” said Karen. As a result, Sharing Bali now offers an exclusive members’ deal at their Body Transformers Bali Retreat and Bridges has become a Bali devotee.
Forming partnerships with like-minded people is part of their modus operandi, the most recent one being a writers’ retreat and workshops run by Londoner Jacq Burns who helped create bestsellers including Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and Who Moved my Cheese. Overlooking rice paddies, budding writers kept the creative juices flowing aided by fresh healthy food, yoga, massage and a celebratory brunch at the local hot springs.
So what key trends do Karen and Wayan predict for their Wellness business in Bali?
“I’m passionate about the idea of Simple Luxury, it’s at the heart of everything we do for our guests,” said Karen.
Talking about simple gestures that put a smile on peoples’ faces or thoughtful touches that take them by surprise, she sights the daily thermos of fresh ginger and lemongrass tea left on their bungalow balcony and fresh flowers scattered on the bathroom floor.
“It’s walking through the river uncaring of wet shoes or trekking through the forest by torchlight on the way to greet the sunrise at the volcano summit while nothing beats lopping the top off a coconut and drinking the juice from a banana leaf. My mission to redefine luxury at Sharing Bali doesn’t leave a deluxe-sized dent in the credit card,” laughs Karen.
As they continue to mine the convergence of mind, body and soul, 2015 will see the emergence of new retreat concepts including partnering with a psychologist on a retreat to empower women, connecting with your intuition through spiritual discovery and a ProSport Bali Bootcamp run by ex-Hawthorn footie player Tim Hazell.
“The premise of the group is on internal value systems, learning to love your bodies and the ‘striving’ for happiness. An opportunity for ‘self’ to be explored and valued, guests will be encouraged to venture beyond their comfort zone through treks and outdoor fitness sessions combined with little indulgences,” said Karen.
Aesthetically, Wayan’s grand plan is to continue sculpting Sharing Bali into “…a place where we are surrounded by a bamboo forest and the sound of cascading water.” As an artist, he treats every object, bungalow, pond, winding path or section of garden as a Balinese-style work of art.
While the notion of cashing-up and taking off for exotic climes is increasingly attractive to a growing number of baby boomers, we asked Karen about the set-backs and pitfalls.
“Cushion the blow by making the final break from the full-time commercial world just another step rather than a frightening leap off the ledge. It’s easy to be captured by what appears an idyllic situation but not everyone is prepared for being a full time “foreigner”. Language, culture, legal restrictions, financial complexities and distance from a familiar support network of family and friends can leave anyone feeling isolated and at times vulnerable. You can gradually integrate into local life but be prepared to be considered an outsider to some degree. Once you’re comfortable with this, sometimes a bigger realization kicks in – that you don’t have roots anywhere – making the nurturing support of local community really important.
“In my view, the best way to deal with this is to be happy wherever you are. No matter where I am, I no longer wish I was someplace else. I have learnt the lesson of being ok with right now, right here”, she said.
Sounds like the perfect concept for a Sharing Bali Bootcamp right there!!
For more visit www.sharingbali.com
Driving the back roads, Karen and Wayan from Sharing Bali take us behind the scenes and share a few of their favourite things.
Spa treatments at Body Works in Ubud. He’s from a family of healers and their exfoliating scrubs, baths, massages, pedicures and manicures cost a fraction of the more exclusive spa enclaves.
We both love textiles and visit Payagan at Ubud market for original cotton batiks for our home furnishings and silk sarongs.
Local satay joint Satay Bali cook succulent sticks over coal fires. Order 3 hours beforehand.
Visiting fabric wholesalers and retailers on Jalan Suleweisi in Denpasar is always rewarding.
We source our primitive garden sculptures from Jumu in a small hamlet outside Ubud.
The village of Tagallalang has wonderful homewares, arts and crafts including basket weaving, bamboo and carvings.