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''I was cynical before I participated in a 'women's circle' in Bali. I left completely changed.'

I’m sitting crossed legged on a batik cushion in a circle of women, grateful to have worn my comfy Balinese wraparound pants. We’re in a traditional wooden joglo near Ubud’s Monkey Forest.

In the centre, is a Tibetan sound bowl and a selection of stones representing each of our seven chakras.

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Video by MMC

Soft waves of smoke from burning incense float directly towards me and I swallow nervously, praying the smoke won’t trigger an uncontrollable coughing fit. Today is a new moon. And my first women’s circle.

“Would you like me to remove the incense?” asks Lisi, the group facilitator, noticing my discomfort.

Ten pair of eyes turn towards me. “No,” I say, suppressing a cough.

“I’ll just brush it away when it wafts in my direction.” I swat my hand awkwardly to demonstrate and attempt a zen-like smile.

I couldn’t have done this a year ago. It would have been totally out of my comfort zone. That was before I relocated to Bali with my family.

For someone who approaches new things from a “no” perspective, saying “yes” to uprooting our lives in Sydney, heading to the tropics for a few years and enrolling our daughter in Bali’s environmentally-focused “Green School” was pretty scary. But here I am.

I’ve tried being open to new experiences since arriving in Bali. Flying high yoga (the ropes gave me skin burns), sound healings (I slept rather soundly) a super moon dance party (I giggled through the cacao ceremony and scoffed at the Yogis doing headstands).

I even took part in a Wim Hoff cold water immersion therapy session (it isn’t hard to plunge your-self into freezing cold water when living in constant heat). It was all fun if not a little frivolous. But opening up to a group of random women? Some of whom I’m likely to bump into at school pick up? It feels like next-level stuff.

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womens circle
"I couldn’t have done this a year ago. It would have been totally out of my comfort zone." Image: Supplied / Abi Mayall

A women's circle is a safe space to come together and be heard. It’s a place to empower each other and share wisdom. Most are centred around a new moon as a form of renewal and goal setting for the coming month.

And they’re not only taking off in hippy havens like Bali.

“Many of the women I’ve talked to are yearning for connection with other women,” says Merri Joy, who runs circles outside of Melbourne through The Wild Women Project - an international movement of circles and spiritual gatherings.

“They want and need a sense of connection with sisterhood. Women who can really relate to each other on a deep feeling level.”

In fact, women have been gathering in support across different cultures since the beginning of time. Many of these ancient women’s groups were linked to menstruation and a new moon.

Lisi hands us a copy of a 7-minute chant we’ll be singing (twice) to channel our vocal cords and encourage communication.

A fleck of skepticism kicks in. I don’t like the sound of my own voice at the best of times...but decide to switch off my inner cynic and focus instead.

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Chanting thankfully complete, we are then challenged to an exercise. In pairs, we are instructed to take turns speaking for 7 minutes, sitting shoulder to shoulder, looking forward.

The speaker can talk about whatever she likes. The listener must remain silent without offering advice, asking questions or interrupting in any way.

My partner speaks first. It’s a tough ask staying silent. At the very least I’d like to offer some type of encouragement to help her feel comfortable.

When it’s my turn to talk I notice how freeing it is to speak without interruption. It helps channel what I’m really feeling, knowing there won’t be any judgement or feedback. I feel the mask start to drop. It’s a great ice breaker.

We regroup and offer observations about the exercise. When someone speaks, she must hold a ‘talking stick’. When finished, she gongs the sound bowl and hands it to the next person. I begin to relax. I was expecting to feel judged or out of place or just weird. But I don't.

During a guided meditation, Lisi asks us to think about how we communicate with our friends and family and what we might like to change moving forward. It’s amazing some of the thought bubbles that pop into my mind.

I think about my own circle of female friends back in Sydney: six women I went to university with who’ve remained close friends for 30 years. In our late teens and on the cusp of careers and womanhood, we talked for hours about our deepest hopes, struggles and dreams.

These days it’s challenging finding time to meet in between kids birthdays, work and family holidays (even more so for me now I’m living in Bali). I long to feel the same connection with them I’m now feeling with these women I barely know.

By the time we discuss our insights, the three-hour session is over. Between us, we’ve laughed, cried and expressed feelings never aired before. I’m left with an overwhelming feeling of peace and being truly present in the moment.

Maybe Bali’s doing more good for me than I realise.

Sandra Radice has been a journalist, writer and TV producer for 25 years. In August 2018 she relocated from Sydney to Bali in search of a "green change" with her husband and daughter.

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