In my explorations of Balinese healing, some themes and similarities have come up across healers, methods, and approaches. I think they’re worth noting because some of it is applicable, or could be used, in western contexts as well.
Smile and be happy
As I wrote about before, smiling and being happy is the number one piece of health advice in Bali. People say, don’t worry about money, don’t stress, don’t think too much, just smile. Be healthy, be happy, be grateful for your family, that’s all you need. I’ve heard the advice to just be happy from herbalists, healers, and common people alike. The thing is, when you think about it, it is really true. The key to health is being happy. My Chinese medicine teachers mentioned it too: the connection between negative emotions and cancer. This is just good advice: smile and be happy. Even forced smiling eventually can make you happy.
Herbs are more than just their chemical properties
In Bali, herbs are more than just plants themselves. The first time I heard this was from the Healing Arts program leader: without the intention of the healer, herbs are just chemical properties and no different than pharmaceuticals. (Although I disagree with the last part of that statement.)
The Balian healer I’ve observed numerous times, depending on the situation may choose any random collection of herbs, but the key is what he does to them. He blesses the plants, chooses the leaves or flowers with the special intention he has in mind, writes sacred symbols on them, and uses them as a conveyance for his intention. The patient may not even need to eat herbs, just holding them or placing them on the belly may be enough to receive the healing power of the plants. The plants offer a connection to nature, land, and being ‘grounded.’
When I took the Jamu-making class, and the teacher directed me to stir the pot or grind the herbs, she told me it was important that I talk to the herbs. I could sing songs, tell them how I wanted them to help me, ask them to improve whatever condition, thank them for coming to me and their wonderful benefits, and talk lovingly to them. (I have to be honest though, talking out loud to a pot of turmeric water is a bit much for me 😛 )
Many of the healers I’ve seen in Bali have used at least some massage. Even those healers who do “spiritual healing” (see below), often use some massage. Healers who specialize in muscle and bone conditions definitely use massage. A ‘guru’ that I stumbled upon, used massage as part of his purification. And the massage is not necessarily just on the back: hands, arms, stomach feet, face, and head are very popular areas for massage.
The Jamu-making teacher did a small massage for me when she applied the body scrub and mask I had made. In the Balinese palaces, elaborate health and cleansing rituals included massage. These (now less ritualized) treatments, including 60-minute massages, have become available to the general public in spas around the island.
There is something amazing about the healing power of touch: from the connection with another human, the relaxing flow of the movements that push tension out of the body, the sense of calm as endorphins are released and cortisol drains away, and how peaceful you feel afterward. Asia much more so has a culture of massage than does the US; its annoying (and disappointing that) massages are so expensive in the US. So many people could benefit from more affordable and therefore, more often getting massages.
Many of the healers in Bali include cleansing or purification rituals as part of their treatment. Sometimes the soul needs to be cleansed, sometimes the body, maybe evil (black magic) needs to be purged, and the consciousness purified. Maybe we are hanging on to our past, maybe we won’t let bad habits die, maybe we still hold a grudge, maybe we are still waiting to forgive or be forgiven.
To be honest, this is part of the Balinese traditional healing I understand the least. But its been used in many if not most “healings” I’ve seen performed by Balians. On both locals and foreigners.
And its not just about purification, it is about tapping into your inner god, about the connection between the healer and patient, about the energy that binds us all, and most importantly believing you can get well. Sometimes it includes special breathing, sometimes chanting, certainly meditation, and the requisite utmost faith in renewed health. In what I call the “spiritual” side of Balinese health, there seems to be something beyond the tangible that aids the transformation into health.
Perhaps it is exactly these themes lacking in our own healthcare that is causing the nation as a whole
to get sicker rather than healther.