My goal here was to eliminate the processed, unnatural stuff, and I mostly succeeded, with a few tiny, unthinking slip-ups.
Stick your tongue out, he says.
I'm thinking about the PR email that said I shouldn't point my toes at the guru as a sign of respect. And now I'm about to stick my tongue out at this guy.
He looks at me very closely, eyeing my body in a way someone might if they were sexually interested in you. But his look is not sexual at all. It is purely of concern.
"You have hurt on your spine and your lower back," he says in broken English, which is actually pretty good considering I can't speak one word in Balinese.
"And sometimes, you hurt in your legs and your stomach and your sex area."
My sex area?
I think immediately to the weird jolts of pain I sometimes get in my groin area. Do I have prostate cancer at 31? My mind starts to wonder.
How can this guy know all this? It's as if he's read every recurring pain I've ever had in my body just by looking at my tongue. To say I'm confused is an understatement.
"You will come to Bali one day, I think," he says to me with a huge smile.
I smile back. Not one of those forced, "I'm a New Yorker and I've been told this is the social cue I have to perform even when I don't really mean it" types of smiles. A genuine smile.
I am sitting with my legs folded and now have my hands laid out in a meditative stance, palms faced up so that the guru can see them. He lightly touches my fingers, the side of my hand and the palm.
"You have a very happy life," he says, looking at me with delight. "Your energy is magnetic."
I stop and think about this for a second.
Does he say this to everyone?, the pessimistic side of my brain quickly jots a mental note.
But in actuality, he's seen something in me that maybe most people can never tell about another person. And surely he's seen something that I would never really discuss out loud. I actually do have a pretty happy life. I've worked very hard to get to this place, to be surrounded with the people I am surrounded by and enjoy the things that I do. I am, in fact, happy. It's almost alarming to confront. Am I allowed to be happy and admit that?
Guru Made is a healing shaman visiting from Bali. He has been on a plane for over 23 hours. Mandara Spa (with U.S. locations in Orlando, Las Vegas, North Carolina, and many other international locations) has brought him here to this penthouse room at the W Hotel with a fancy veranda overlooking midtown Manhattan that probably costs $1000/night. On the veranda, there are yoga mats neatly laid out next to a large tent-like structure. I am currently sitting in that tent structure.
As a spa, Mandara weaves Balinese practices and traditions of healing to transform how a person feels from the inside out. This can mean dealing with the physical, but also the emotional, during a treatment. Guru Made (pronounced ma-day) is currently touring six countries to introduce energy and yoga healing, and today, I am lucky enough to be getting a preview. Before I start my treatment with him, I'm told that he will customize it based on the assessment of my tongue and what I tell him I need.
Earlier inside the tent, the guru asked me what he could do for me. It's such a simple question we don't often ask ourselves. It requires a lot of thought about your mental and physical state.
Guru Made now asks me to lie down on my back. I close my eyes, even though I'm not sure that's appropriate or what I should be doing in the presence of a guru healer.
He circles his body around mine and places his hand on one my right nostril, gently using his other fingers and hand to touch certain areas of my neck and shoulders. For the next 15 minutes, he takes me through a set of breathing exercises that instantly reduce my pain in the areas he has me concentrate my energy on. It almost seems hokey to say. He starts the breathing exercise in my tailbone, and as I let in and out the deep breaths and channel my energy there, I can feel an instant relief in pain. Same thing as we move the breathing and energy to my "sex area," my stomach, my heart, my throat, and my eyes.
After the first set of nostril-blocking, breathing exercises, the guru repeated the sequence on the other side. I'm already feeling better than I normally do after 50 minutes of deep tissue body work on a massage table. The pain in my spine and lower back has been relieved, but it's his next exercise that really puts this treatment over the top.
Standing up this time, the guru hovers around my body and starts to stretch and push my legs in directions I never could imagine them going. There is immediate pain in the first couple seconds as I was very tight from a Row House class earlier in the day. The pain, however, disappears instantaneously, and I'm left feeling as though I've taken a two week vacation from exercise, which is something I regularly do to reset my body.
For his last magic trick, I sit again, facing the guru. He hands me a glass full of water which he instructs me to hold flat in the palm of my hand. Being a somewhat clumsy person, this is already a scary proposition, as I can imagine the water spilling all over myself and the guru with the slightest gust of wind. Next, he tells me to close my eyes, positions my free hand in a position over the cup, and instructs me to focus my energy pouring out from my mind into the cup.
"Like a waterfall," he says. I can't understand at the moment why he wants me to do this, but in retrospect it all makes sense — the guru was trying to flush out all the negative thoughts in my head.
I focus for what seems like an eternity, doubting myself and whether I really have the ability to quiet my mind enough to pour my energy into a glass full of water I just secretly cannot wait to drink. Seventeen floors below me, I hear sounds of New York traffic — trucks rattling over potholes, taxis honking at pedestrians trying to cross the street when they don't actually have the right away, the sound of a halal cart shuffling up the bike lane. It takes almost a minute, and somehow the guru can sense this, but I'm finally able to quiet my mind, and the energy starts to pour out and into the cup. As I clench my eyes tighter to keep out the light, I can see the outline of the cup and begin to see water rushing into the cup in my mind.
The guru thanks me for my time, even though I should really be thanking him, and allows me to drink the water I've just poured every thought I've ever had into.
He's put me in such a calm, blissful state that I can barely stand up. I quickly realize that this is like no other spa experience I've ever had, or will probably ever have again.