By Cat Wheeler
Ubud – Bali – Indonesia – March 31st – April 4th 2010
AN EMPIRE UNDER THE PALMS
Meghan Pappenheim didn’t come to Bali to build an empire. But looking around, it seems that an empire has indeed sprung up around her in Ubud.
Meg’s businesses include her trendy restaurant KAFE, Tegun Folk Art Galeri and a yoga clothing shop nearby, successful BaliSpirit website, popular Yoga Barn with its health food restaurant and the internationally recognized Bali Spirit Festival.
It all started in 1995 with a craft export business, followed by a funky little restaurant that was a hit from the moment it opened its doors. Then the New York-born entrepreneur and yogi established the first official yoga studio in Ubud and the second in Bali in 2002.
It was shortly after the Bali bomb, an act of terrorism that shook the holiday island’s tourism-based economy to its core. Meg trained as a yoga teacher and her doting partner Dekgun built her a lovely little studio above the KAFE. After conducting her first and last yoga class, Meg realized that despite her love for the practice, she didn’t have the patience to teach. She turned the studio over to friends who were teachers, and regular classes began to take place. Soon, demand exceeded its small space.
“I sensed that yoga was going to be very big and that Ubud, as a traditional healing centre, could have a place in the international yoga scene,” Meg says. “I had a vision to create an urban oasis for yoga and other practices. Ubud was growing fast, with all the noise and bustle that comes with that. Dek and I found a piece of land with an unfinished building on it, just to the south of our other businesses. Here we created the Yoga Barn.”
Dek drew on his experience as a carpenter and his business that brought recycled wood from Java to Bali to create one of Ubud’s most arresting buildings. The two-storey Yoga Barn is crafted entirely of wood, much of it recycled, set in rice fields and verdant tropical gardens. Since it opened in December 2007 the Yoga Barn has grown organically, adding more small structures of old teak with thatched roofs as offices and treatment rooms. Its two airy 35-mat yoga studios provide venues for 52 sessions a week, which include yoga classes, meditation, talks, martial arts, dance, and guest workshops of every kind. A 50-seat open air organic and raw food restaurant provides a place to hang out between classes. With WiFi, of course.
The tranquil grounds also provide space for a small gift shop, Ayurvedic Shala and a Healing Hut for cranio-sacral, massage, chiropractic and acupressure sessions. “All my staff want to work at the Yoga Barn,” Meg grins. “It’s definitely the cool place to be. When I’m grumpy I go there and feel grounded and calm right away. All of Bali used to be like that, but Ubud is quickly losing that dimension. So the Yoga Barn really has become an oasis.“
Meg is famous for starting a new business while the last one is still getting off the ground. “I’m a conceptualizer, not a manager,” she explains. “ I get these inspirations and ideas, and in the past I’ve just forged ahead because I believed in them. But as the ideas get bigger, I’ve learned to rely on people who know more than I do about the business end of things. I also love business partnerships. The more people involved in a project who believe in it and are invested in it the better. ”
Meg’s greatest inspiration to date is undoubtedly the Bali Spirit Festival, a celebration of yoga, dance and music. Now in its third year, the Festival attracts leading yoga teachers, musicians and dancers from around the world. “I studied African dance from masters in New York City from the time I was 18,” Meg points out. “Growing up in a melting pot of world music and multiculturalism, I wanted to create something similar here. I began to brainstorm with Robert Weber, a musician from Hawaii, and we decided to throw the kind of party we really wanted to go to ourselves.”
The Bali Spirit Festival takes place in a huge park-like setting south of Ubud. It’s five days of non-stop adventure and sensory excitement. The colourful crowds move between yoga classes, dance workshops and a sound stage separated by acres of rolling lawn with healing tents, break-out spaces, food outlets, fortune-tellers and craft booths. The activity and excitement is interspersed with islands of calm, with two yoga spaces offer sessions all day to students of every age and background. This year’s visiting yoga teachers include Shiva Rea – Prana Flow, Bridget Kramer Woods – Anusara, Mark Whitwell – The Heart of Yoga and Danny Paradise – Ashtanga. After dark, the palm trees sway to beat of great music with the audience dancing on the moonlit grass. The Bali Spirit Festival, drawing an audience from Europe, North America and Asia, takes place this year between March 31 and April 4. Check outwww.balispiritfestival.com for event details.
“The Festival is an a amazing experience,” says Meg. “It creates a space where people –- especially Asians –- can become inspired to live their lives differently. My vision is to put Bali on the international stage as a platform for cultural expression. It keeps getting better.”
Next month, join us for a Meg’s eye view of the third Bali Spirit Festival in Ubud and tales of doing business in Indonesia.