I am sitting cross-legged on the floor of a teepee with my eyes closed, trying not to laugh self-consciously while two women raise their voices in chants and deftly drum animal hides. This is exactly the type of New Age agenda that provokes the sceptic in me, but I am determined to give it a fair chance.
The Anmon Resort on Indonesia’s picturesque Bintan Island, accessible via an hour-long ferry ride from the Tanah Merah terminal in Singapore, is precisely what the doctor ordered. The 100 deluxe teepee tents boast all the luxuries expected of glamping: spacious living quarters with a patio, private showers, air-conditioning and plush furnishings. Meals are taken in the rustic Compass Rose mess hall while pursuits span spa treatments, mangrove tours and water sports galore in the saltwater Crystal Lagoon, the longest man-made lagoon in the region.
Organised by V Integrated Wellness, a subsidiary of Landmarks Bhd, the Anmon Teepee Yoga and Sound Retreat embodies the brand’s premise of creating thematic wellness experiences. This edition, subtitled “Healing in a Teepee: An Immersive Soundscape Experience”, was a desert-themed three-day itinerary designed to restore mental well-being with methods such as sound bathing and medicine drumming.
Some of my concerns about the activities are addressed over a welcome dinner with our hosts. Jasvinder Kaur, who spearheads the wellness programme, has us alternately in stitches and gasping in shock as she describes the more unorthodox practices her team had been subjected to in their research of various therapies on the market. Some had unexpectedly hilarious processes or results while a couple, involving the consumption of concoctions, bordered on the dangerous. Assured that the team had done its homework, I allow myself to relax.
We gather bright and early at the Ankhmahor Tent the next morning for an hour of yoga and a crystal bowl sound bath with Christina Low Nikolovski, founder of Singaporean mindfulness and meditative collective, Space 2B. The yoga portion comprises a sequence of gentle stretches that encourage a restive state to ease the transition into the meditative sound bath. As we lie on our yoga mats, eyes closed and breathing deeply, Nikolovski strikes and rims the crystal bowls with a mallet to invoke varying sounds from the bowls of different sizes and shapes.
At first, they seem discordant, as though we are listening to something on a wrong frequency, but the tunes soon harmonise. I feel like I am riding on the rim of the sound, then sinking into it, surrounded by its fullness and resonance. Sound bathing supposedly aids focus and amplifies and transmutes energy as you follow the direction of the music. Nikolovski later explains that vibration and sound carry our intentions and the energy behind them, which it amplifies into manifestation. I cannot vouch for the veracity of this theory but I emerge from the tent feeling calmer.
After a day of exploring the resort, including a muddy ATV ride through the jungle and a much-welcomed massage, we meet Nikolovski and her colleague Scarlett in a dreamy makeshift tent of white gauze under the stars. Our final session together is a shamanic journey comprising soul songs and medicine drumming that would help lull us into a trance in which we might meet our power animals — spirit guides within us who can be turned to for wisdom or guidance. They are said to be rich in symbolism, often representing qualities or traits we see in ourselves: A pack animal suggests group orientation, for instance, while parallels can be found between man and beast in attributes such as dominance, cunning or courage.
We dance lightly to loosen up as the duo onstage break into a soul song, a melody consisting solely of tones and dismantled words, like singing in tongues. I am conscious of how ridiculous we might look to passersby, but try to focus on the music.
This is meant to be a journey into our deeper selves. The same way a walk in the woods or by the sea helps us reconnect with nature, internal reflections such as these put us in touch with the inner selves, whom we tend to disconnect from in our daily busyness. “We forget we are energetic beings and journeys like this, that call upon vibrations or energy, can help you feel alive again,” one of the duo explains.
We lie down and close our eyes for the climax — the search for our power animal. The guided visualisation exercise begins and I quickly discover I am not cut out for this. We are asked to imagine ourselves climbing into a tree hollow and following a downward path to a spirit realm. Subconscious me immediately rejects this idea and instead climbs up the tree. It takes much internal wrestling to finally descend and follow the slope underground, after which I seem to abandon the guiding voice altogether and pass the time in a fog of memory and dream.
At the end of the hour, I am surprised to find some of the participants crying. Their spiritual journeys have either led them to places of peace or realisation, and a few have even met their power animals — including an eagle and a mousedeer — silently recognising them as kin. One person has fallen asleep.
I take the long route back to my tent, contemplating the experience and come to the conclusion that, like most things, what you get out of this is what you are willing to put in. I entered this weekend cynical and guarded and ended it somewhat calmer, but those who came here open and optimistic found themselves deeply moved, even changed. Maybe what matters is not what is, but what you think it is. In holistic practices such as sound therapy, perhaps it is the willingness to be vulnerable, trusting and receptive that makes all the difference.
This article first appeared on Jan 6, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.