Category Archives: Festival Reviews

The Future of Wellness: A visit to Balance Festival 2017

With wellness having been such a trend for big city dwellers in recent years, London is the perfect place to put on an event like Balance Festival, which was held for the first time from 12-14 May 2017 in East London’s Truman Brewery. It is aimed at ‘Londoners embracing a healthy lifestyle’ with a big focus on fitness and healthy nutrition. Organised by Allegra Strategies, who also run the London Coffee Festival, the event included a health summit with a series of cutting-edge talks by speakers from the world of health and fitness, which I attended on the industry day on Friday.

book balance festival 2017.jpg

Fortified by a super yummy breakfast, which consisted of fresh berries and Pip & Nut butter on crispy bread from Flour Power and almond latte from Ozone coffee roasters, I was ready for the morning of inspiring talks. The programme sounded fairly businessy, i.e. dry, at first, but turned out to be really interesting! Oren Peleg, CEO of Fitness First, explained how he guided a failing global business back on track by concentrating on different priorities for different markets, e.g. dance and fight classes in Asian gyms, as well as making the gyms a community focus with feedback from local managers. The rise of ‘Veggie Pret’ (from doing a poll to running a pop-up to a permanent shop) was charted by their brand director Caroline Cromar and it was exciting to hear how well specifically their vegan range is doing – vegan brownies I’m coming for you!

Berries Balance Festival 2017.jpg

We also heard about the latest industry trends from Daniela Walker and Jessica Smith of The Future Laboratory, including sleep retreats, recovery sleepwear, chroma yoga and wearable technology. Cardiologist Dr. Aseem Malhotra and nutritionist and chef Dale Pinnock explained that health and weight management needs to become much more individualised, focusing on preventive metabolic and nutritional health rather than fixing things with pills. The final talk of the summit was an interview with Ella Mills, founder of Deliciously Ella, who spoke about the challenges of being in the spotlight, sticking to a healthy lifestyle and her latest foodie creations.

In the afternoon, I had a look around the exhibitors’ stalls and came across some very inspiring ventures. The first one was ChicP, founded by Hannah McCollum, who turns surplus vegetables into sweet and savoury hummus and is also going to be at a few UK festivals this summer. Another idea I really liked was Balanced Tourist, who provides a service sending you a curated box full of travel-sized plant-based whole-food snacks which comes in handy to all of us travel lovers as they are cabin-size-friendly. I also had an espresso from Volcano Coffee Works whose roastery is based in Brixton. While customer manager Sarah popped the plasticy looking pod in the machine, I was thinking, oh no, here we go, it’s not environmentally-friendly, until she told me, it is actually 100% compostable. Cool!

Hannah of ChicP BF 2017.jpg

So, should you make space in your calendar for this 3-day celebration of food, fitness and wellness? Absolutely. If fitness and healthy eating is your priority, you can learn a lot about the latest industry trends and sample classes from some of the most innovative fitness and yoga companies in London. If you’re mainly into yoga or are a more introverted type, some of the summer yoga festivals (more reviews coming up in June and July) might be a better choice for you, unless the talks and quieter sessions could be moved away from the live-DJing areas and busy food court to a separate space, e.g. upstairs in the future. All in all, I had an interesting day networking with lots of friendly fitness enthusiasts and start-ups and picked up a lot of beneficial health and nutrition tips.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a VIP pass for the festival’s industry day.

Where Travel Blogging Conference meets Festival: Highlights from Traverse 17

I found out about Traverse 17 at World Travel Market last November and immediately thought that their programme sounded a lot like a really tempting festival schedule: crazy golf, parties, workshops and walking tours all in the company of around 500 travel bloggers from around the world. Who wouldn’t want to sign up for that?

Traverse Ravensbourne view.jpg

Cultural Events, Fun Experiences & Networking with Travel and Lifestyle Brands

Being based in London proved a big plus for this year’s conference as I managed to attend a good few of the 40 or so events the Traverse team put on during the week. Our first meet & greet with fellow bloggers took place at Kouzu Restaurant near Victoria Station whose prosecco and delicious Japanese food was incredibly moreish. On Tuesday I gave Junkyard Golf at the Truman Brewery in East London a try and we learned all about Gran Canaria as a travel destination. My God, it was like escaping into a parallel world where dinosaurs devour pigs (eek!) and in teams of 4 or 5, colourful cocktails in hand, we fought our way through a maze of neon-lit rooms, fun slides and derelict car parts. We also got to toast our excellent choice of attending this conference on the rooftop terrace of the Expedia office near Angel station one night and at the digs of the Lonely Planet publishing team south of the River on another night where we learned about their Pathfinders programme.

team pic at Junkyard Golf

Whyte & Brown café just off Carnaby Stret welcomed us for an influencer breakfast courtesy of Carnaby followed by one of my favourite events of the week, a practical youtube skills walking tour led by Tom Hooker of Out The Box. He was so great at giving tips and sharing advice and it was super inspiring. So were a lot of the bloggers I met that day and during the whole week. I also headed to the Olympic Park for a Tea, Tour & Tech tour run by London City Steps, which included a visit to the Orbital (sadly we were too late to give the longest, highest slide in the world a go…) and the Olympics 2012 Aquatics Centre (now a really stunning looking community swimming pool) plus learning about the local history.

Tom Hooker youtube tour.jpg

The Friday night welcome party thanks to Jet2Holidays took us to Skyloft on the 28th floor of the Milbank tower with the most amazing views over night-time London. Just wow! On Saturday night we boarded a Citycruises boat for a sunset cruise on the Thames sponsored by Cheapflights and, naturally, we made the best of it with lots of social media posts, good conversations and selfie-opportunities galore. The closing party on Sunday night was held at Iberica Restaurant in Canary Wharf courtesy of the Spanish Tourist Board and their truly lovely UK team. The food, authentic tapas with some good veggie options, was absolutely gorgeous, the venue looks fantastic and is well worth a trip across town.

Traverse Thames sunset.jpg

Life and Career Advice

With all the fun events happening I tried to also make it to a few more serious workshops, both held at WeWork coworking spaces around London. At WeWork Paddington a smaller group of us worked on developing a new business concept in the ‘Half-Day Company’ session and at WeWork Moorgate we picked up time-management tips from Alice of Teacaketravels and learned about positive thinking and NLP from cognitive hypnotherapist Gemma Holmes. Of course, the real work is finding a system that works for each of us personally, but learning from the experience of others and sharing thoughts and ideas in a supportive environment was very motivating.

Traverse speaker Abi King.jpg

Learning from the experts during the conference weekend

I’m going to talk about the excellent sessions I attended during the conference weekend in a separate blog post sometime soon, as there is just not enough space to go into detail about them all here. One thing which quickly became obvious to most of us during the conference weekend, however, was that you had to pick wisely from the 50 classes and sessions on offer. I tried to attend a mix of more business-related classes as well as generally inspiring ones, all of which tended to revolve around relationship building with brands, followers, fellow bloggers, SEO, professional branding, marketing, PR, book publishing and contracts. There was also an opportunity to arrange a one-to-one pro-bar chat with conference speakers and a chance to meet the representatives from various destinations and brands, such as Spain, Ireland, Hamburg (London mini festival coming up in October 2017!), Cathay Pacific, Agoda, affilinet, Donkey Republic, Topdeck and Trip.com in the lobby area of the Ravensbourne where the conference was held.

Traverse 17 programme

Making new travel blogger friends from around the world

From the very first event on Monday night until the closing party on Sunday there were plenty of opportunities to get to know other travel bloggers (and in fact some food, fashion and lifestyle bloggers too), be it at the larger events with a couple of hundred attendees or at the smaller workshops and tours for a dozen or so people. I was amazed at the fascinating stories I heard and the things I learned just by talking to a couple of new people every day who included Anna of Would Be Traveller, Nicole of Lost in This Whole World, Tom of Spaghetti Traveller, Charlotte of A Much Prettier PuzzleIk Aldama, Gemma of Little Miss Gem Travels, Teresa of Brogan Abroad, Liza & Pepe of TripsGet, Heidi of Take Me To Sweden, Eulanda & Omo of Hey Dip Your Toes In, Alison of Up & At Em, Juuli Aschan, Corinna of Aussteigen Bitte!, Lexx of Travel Lexx, Annemarie of Travel on the Brain, Katy of Untold Morsels, Inka of Inka’s Tour, Lauren of Bon Voyage Lauren, Asma of Jet Set Chick, Sara of Speaking of Sara, Janos of Solaris Traveller, Jess of Jess In Your Ear, Becky of Munchies & Munchkins, Ant & Lou of Vanutopia, Anne-Sophie of City Cookie, Emily of London City Calling and lots of other friendly travel-crazy content creators. When I was on my way home after the closing party, a bit sad that it had all ended after such a fun week of events and meeting like-minded people, I heard a guy in one of the tube stations playing ‘What a Wonderful World’ and I thought, absolutely, thanks for summing it all up for me!

Travel bloggers Canary Wharf.jpg

A big thank you to the organisers Michael Ball, Paul Dow and their team for making this ‘conference’ so incredibly festival-like, to the speakers for their awesome advice and to all the brands and sponsors for treating us like royalty with various goody bags and competitions, but most importantly their enthusiasm for their destinations and brands, which was truly refreshing to see. More blog posts in the pipeline, watch this space.

Next year’s Traverse 18 will be held in Rotterdam where I’ve never been, so now I have the perfect excuse for a trip and I suggest you come along for the ride. I also cannot wait to find the city’s best cultural spots, veggie cafes and cuddle and snap some handsome dogs for my new Instagram project @cuddleadogaday (thanks to Heidi for the suggestion!).

Sea, Sun & Fun: Grinagog Festival 2017

Officially billed as a ‘weekend of mudless mischief by the sea’, the brand new Grinagog Festival, which took place from 7-9 April 2017 in Torquay, Devon, had a pretty enviable start. Most summer festivals in the UK would have been thrilled with three days in a row of sunshine and temperatures of around 20 degrees, never mind a location right by the sea – and it was only the beginning of April. I travelled down to Torquay on the train (3 hr journey for less than £40 return and a direct connection from London) and combined my festival experience with exploring the nearby attractions.

Torre Abbey Grinagog

Most of the festival venues were located in and around historic Torre Abbey (originally founded as a monastery in 1196) and the Riviera Centre right next to it. With a family day taking place on Saturday (graffiti workshops, crazy golf, family rave, storytelling, the lot) and most headliners (Akala, Rat Boy, Congo Natty) having been scheduled for way after midnight for the younger party crowd, the event catered for distinct groups of festival goers while also allowing everyone to get a taster of music they might not have heard of, but might well enjoy. I also managed to catch the world premiere of a documentary on the rise and fall of ‘The Lost Vagueness’, a quirky part of Glastonbury for many years. On Saturday afternoon, everyone gathered on the lawn beside the RICC and followed the giant Grinagog paper mache puppet (lovingly made by Egg Shed Arts) and the Grinagog Carnival & Samba Band down to the sea.

Saturday was also my favourite day music-wise as the London-based The Nest Collective put on a great selection of well-known and up-and-coming folky acts in the chapel, the ballroom and the undercroft downstairs. These included Miranda Sykes & Rex Preston (who apparently won’t be together as a duo for that much longer, what a pity), The Carrivick Sisters (who play about five different instruments each), Cynefin (singing in Welsh), folk duo Phil & Hannah and The Ceilidh Liberation Front, who put on a great ceilidh in the Spanish Barn. There were also lots of opportunities for local music acts to show off their skills on the Soundlaunch Buskers Stage outside Torre Abbey and some of the other tents.

Grinagog Puppet

Fair play to the organisers (including DJ Chris Tofu of Contintental Drifts) for putting on such a huge variety of live music plus talks, films and lots of side activities, such as a roller disco, paddle boarding, trapeze workshops, swimming pool parties etc. Personally, I found the huge line-up a little overwhelming and due to the great weather a lot of the acts scheduled in the many indoor venues earlier in the day were playing mostly to only a handful of people. I trust, however, that once the festival has established itself on the event calendar, many of those details (maybe a few additional food vendors including more veggie options, more site art/themed decorations, less noise interruption by drop-in visitors at quieter gigs) will be ironed out eventually. The main question a new festival like Grinagog needs to ask itself is what kind of event it wants to be and what it wants to achieve. I’m a big fan of specialised festivals (one genre of music, documentaries etc.) as the attendees tend to just have more in common and it’s often still possible to make them accessible to a wider audience by offering a taster day/sessions. Having said that, more general, but uniquely branded festivals, such as End of the Road or Larmer Tree, which appeal to families as well as other groups of festival goers and attract repeat customers by offering an escape from everyday life with well-known music acts as well as quality arts and culture programming, can also be hugely popular. While the possibilities are endless, the financial aspects of running a festival successfully, especially in today’s economic climate and such a crowded market, cannot be overestimated, and are a big factor for survival.

The best part of the weekend, as always, were the passionate people making it happen and the friendly punters. I met a couple with a toddler who’d just returned to Devon after living in Japan, two visiting yoga teachers, a local financial advisor and part-time musician and lots of other locals, many of them with adorable dogs of all shapes and sizes. Especially the younger ones were thrilled to have this new kind of event in a traditional English seaside town where chippies, souvenir shops and bars putting on cover bands tend to dominate the main street. There is definitely a great potential for more collaborations with local businesses to further bridge the divide between traditional and new and creative in future. It will be exciting to see what a big smiling beast of a festival Grinagog develops into in the coming years. I, for one, was chuffed to have been invited to its first birthday bash and hope it will be with us for many more years to come!

Torquay harbour sunset

P.S. If you’re visiting Torquay or one of the nearby towns I can recommend a walk to Cockington Village with its thatched cottages, less than half an hour on foot from Torquay train station and a stop at The Blue Walnut Café along the way (it even boasts a tiny cinema). From Cockington take the path down to the sea, it’s idyllic. I also really enjoyed a return ferry trip (30 mins each way, £3 return) to Brixham, strolling along the fishing harbour and watching kids catching crabs as well as walks to Baddacombe beach and Anstey Cove, which has a basic but friendly café right by the sea, well worth the 15-minute detour on foot.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the 2017 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

Mind Over Matter: Soul Circus Yoga & Wellness Festival 2016

I started my yoga journey nearly a year ago and it must have been around the same time when the idea for Soul Circus (19 – 21 August 2016) was conceived by the festival founders, Matt, Ella and Roman. When Matt contacted me about the event earlier this year I was very impressed by their concept: a wellbeing-focused yoga festival with music and food thrown into the equation and thereby bridging the gap between the yoga, music, foodie and wellness communities. It was an experiment I was most happy to be part of.

yoga foto 3 main tent

YOGA: The top reason most of us gathered for Soul Circus in a rural part of Gloucestershire on a fairly rainy, windy weekend in August was the yoga classes with teachers from the UK and abroad. Three distinct yoga areas (Hot Tipi, Experience Tipi & Main Sail Tent) plus an arial yoga set-up offered plenty of options to choose from. As I had hurt my hand just two days before the festival and felt a bit under the weather in general, I soon realised that instead of energetically throwing myself into all sorts of exciting workshops, I’d have to adjust my expectations to match my physical and emotional state. How refreshing to then discover a class by the lovely Kate Lister whose positive energy was seriously infectious and we found ourselves giggling more than once while trying to balance in a particular pose. And there was even group singing, woohoo. Without the self-imposed pressure of having to try as many classes as possible, I opted for quite a few meditative and theory-focused sessions instead. This turned out to be an excellent choice as it not only helped me to keep my energy up throughout the weekend despite the partly adverse weather conditions, it also inspired me to focus more on the spiritual side of yoga. The mindfulness talk by Charlie Taylor Rugman in association with Warrior Wear (another inspiring yoga start-up story) in the Experience Tipi on Saturday as well as his pranayama class the next morning provided a lot of food for thought and motivated me to further improve my own home yoga and meditation practice. The only class I decided to go to despite my inclination to hang out on one of the cosy beanbags around the corner instead was a yin yoga class by Evelyn Cribbin. I know I need more yin to balance out the many yang aspects in my life, yet this has always been the most challenging part of my yoga practice. But hey, I got through it (Evelyn’s soothing voice and clear instructions were a great help) and, in time, I might even learn to enjoy it. The last session of the festival for me was a very interesting and down to earth yoga anatomy class with Emily Young. In the large Main Sail Tent we had 90 minutes to explore pretty much every muscle in our bodies, do some partner work and learn how this knowledge could benefit our posture and lives in general.

Ushti Baba Soul Circus

MUSIC: Being a big fan of quality live music I was very curious what The Fat Hat Collective from Bristol would come up with on their live music stage. Let me tell you, they didn’t disappoint! In fact, it was a great pity so many of the yoga classes overlapped with some excellent band slots, but I’ve noted all their details and they will most likely appear on another part of this blog at some stage. Their mix of dub, gypsy, folky, jazz and R&B sounds plus some spoken word and even a Mongolian acrobatics display were wonderfully eclectic and all excellent. In case you’d like a taste of the fab music we enjoyed for three days, make sure you give these guys and the rest of the collective members a listen: Lounge Cat Ideals, Mount Nakara, Snufkin, The Inexplicables (who I missed as I was already wrapped up in my sleeping bag by that time, but who come recommended), Ushti Baba & Solus. Kudos not only to the musicians but also to the stage crew who successfully battled wind and rain most of the weekend to provide us with quality sounds!

breakfast Soul Circus

FOOD: I admit I’m a big fan of burrito and wood-fired pizza stalls at festivals which would be a great addition next time around. However, the food on offer at Soul Circus was of some of the best quality I’ve ever had in a festival setting! Raw vegan chef Jay Halford and team as well as the always cheerful Asparagasm crew did a particularly good job of offering a yummy selection of breakfasts, mains and desserts all day long. In addition, there were also other options, such as a curry and salad stall, (vegan) ice cream and croquettes. Some of the festival partners, such as Plenish, Wholefoods Cheltenham (the knowledgeable local team did great wine & cheese tasting sessions), Positivitea and Rude Health also offered snacks, hot/cold drinks and breakfast items plus there was a daily gin happy hour provided by The Little Gin Company in the Kit and Ace lounge, so it is well worth upgrading to a VIP ticket. With their concept of working with select sponsors/partners who enhance the festival experience while helping to provide funding for the event, Soul Circus seems to have struck a positive balance. This might not work for every festival on the planet, but particularly in the high end sector, it can be a clever and sustainable strategy, if the partners are well-aligned with the values of the event.

Meet the Founders Talk Soul Circus

WELLNESS & LEARNING: With the weather being less than ideal, especially on the Saturday, many festival attendees took advantage of the onsite sauna, hot tubs and complimentary treatments by Liz Earle Spa, who also provided some luxurious toiletries in the showers and toilet block. I personally greatly enjoyed the ‘Food and Travel’ talk in the Kit and Ace lounge by Tom Perkins, author of ‘Spices & Spandex’, who told us of his –  sometimes very adventurous – travels, mostly by bike, around the world and the deeply inspiring encounters with locals he had had along the way. Another session hosted by Kit and Ace which proved very interesting, was the ‘Meet the Founders’ talk with Plenish founder Kara Rosen, and Soul Circus founders Matt Millar and Ella Guilding. As with so many things in life what really counts is having a good idea, finding business partners who complement your own skills, getting genuine target audience feedback, tweaking the product or service accordingly, getting influencers on board and keep working hard towards your envisaged goal.

tent village Soul Circus

All in all, a well-planned first edition of a growing event with a lot of future potential (not only) for the UK the yoga community in the years to come. I made some lovely new yogi friends (among them @76sunflowers, her own review here) from different areas of the UK and further afield and was genuinely impressed by the many friendly volunteer helpers who always seemed to have a smile on their faces. And even if you aren’t a yoga addict (just yet), with this much entertainment and pampering on offer, you could happily spend a day or too relaxing, eating nurturing food and enjoying the fantastic live music. If there is anything that could still be optimised it would probably be keeping the yoga tents and the music stage a bit further apart, so each can be enjoyed fully and separately. It would also be wonderful if bottled water used across the site could be switched to mostly tap water and the transport options for train users could be improved in order to further decrease the ecological footprint of the festival. Other than that, Ella, Roman, Matt and the rest of the team are definitely onto a successful festival format, which is bound to add greatly to the growing yoga festival circuit in the UK.

Read the Life is a Festival interview with Matt Millar, one of the Soul Circus founders, on how the inaugural festival came about here.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a VIP pass for the 2016 festival in exchange for a personal review and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers.

Where Yogis Come to Play: Yoga Connects Festival 2016

Yoga festivals have become hugely popular around the world in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that there are also more and more of them starting out in the UK. This summer was the second time Yoga Connects (14-17 July 2016) was held in the stunning surroundings of Stanford Hall, near Rugby, less than an hour on the train from Central London. It’s a boutique festival (only a few hundred people), which focuses on gathering yoga enthusiasts from around the UK and further afield and offers classes by top international teachers, shamanic ceremonies, a holistic area by the lake, SUP yoga (balancing on a surfboard in the water), gong baths, talks on mindfulness and wellbeing as well as live music in the evenings.

Yoga Connects yoga outside Stanford Hall

After setting up my tent, I headed straight to my first yoga session of the festival led by Emma Henry, who taught a lively jivamukti-style class with chanting elements to a live soundtrack of hypnotic grooves courtesy of Filter Coffee, it was time for the shamanic opening ceremony in the Warrior Tent led by Sally Griffin, one of the festival founders. This was followed by the most beautiful music by Peru-based healer and musician Misk’i Takiy, which I could still faintly hear when I was already snuggled up in my sleeping bag.

After a super early volunteer shift, I joined a class by London-based Anusara yoga teacher Katy Bateman in the Stanford Hall ballroom. Lying on my back, gazing at the painted ceiling of this special room made me incredibly grateful to be here this weekend. Katy’s class was really uplifting, grounding and intimate with only about 15 of us practising in the space – well, plus one adorable Jack Russell, Peaches, who had come along with one of the attending yogis.

The session which impressed me the most on Friday afternoon was by Yogi Ashokananda, an Indian-born expert yoga and meditation master. The many different breathing exercises were a timely reminder of the vast amount of knowledge passed on by our ancestors we can all build on if we are open to it. While travelling and festivals are a great adventure and outer journey which continue to inspire and energise me, the inner journey of getting to know ourselves is just as exciting a challenge and a fascinating, lifelong path to follow.

My favourite session all weekend was the charity yoga class in aid of Our Mala, a wonderful London-based non-profit founded by yoga teacher Emily Brett in 2011 and offering yoga and English classes plus additional support to refugees and asylum-seekers. The class was led by Dylan Werner, whose hang drum playing was the perfect intro to a beautifully paced and challenging class (his teaching was clear, humorous and inspiring) with a specially created soundscape by Amir of Rudimental as well some live gong playing by Martyn Cawthorne. It was one of the most peaceful yoga experiences I have had so far, surrounded by nature and practising alongside lots of friendly other yogis.

Yoga Connects Opening night music

I also joined a great Saturday morning class by Canadian-born UK-based vinyasa yoga flow specialist Mercedes Sieff and attended an inspiring mindfulness talk and guided meditation by Brett Moran in the lovely cushion-filled Zen Den tent. With so much calorie-burning and concentration-challenging activity going on, there was luckily enough veggie and vegan food to keep me going all weekend (incl. Caribbean stews, handmade sourdough pizza, brownies, smoothies and Routes Coffee with about five types of milk alternatives!) and I also made sure I had some me-time just lying in the grass with a book. The perfect yoga retreat!

Despite the fact that music was not as much of a priority as at most of the other summer festivals I usually attend, the line-up was wonderfully eclectic. Saturday night in the Warrior Tent started on a quiet note with Brooke Sharkey and Adam Beattie, whose atmospheric sound and musical storytelling had us all under their spell. They were followed by a set by talented indie four-piece Nonta and the final act of the night was 47Soul who had everyone dancing their flip-flops off with their contagious Middle Eastern sound. The following night it was time for the yoga rave! Before that, however, we got treated to an exquisite set played by Shirish Kumar on tabla and Bansuri-player Jason Kalidas and some songs by gifted spiritual singer Aiswarya. Next up were the very good Burnz, a multi-style musical project with a great vibe. Their sound also attracted a few revellers from the nearby motorcycle festival and one or two brave souls even joined in when the yoga mats got rolled out again for the yoga rave organised by Nine Lives. Way to go! As I heard some drumming from the fire circle outside, I ventured over for a bit and we sang some tribal chants dancing around the fire in the dark led by Antarma. Afterwards I returned to the Warrior Tent for another half hour of energetic dancing before retiring to the happy tent for the night.

Yoga Connects slackline fun

There were quite a few festival yogis with me on the train back to London on Sunday night and we were all in a playful, happy mood. It occurred to me then how special it is to get to spend a few days around so many positive thinkers and creative folks. The event felt very safe and relaxed, children and adults were playing and learning new things all the time (e.g. someone brought a slackline, which became the centre of all the non-scheduled activities) and many of the attendees were also yoga teachers with an enviable combined wealth of styles and knowledge. Another thing I really loved was the proximity of the camping area to the yoga tents and food stalls, so you could quickly pop back to your tent for your mat, some snacks or a little nap if needed. While a few of the organisational details (more showers, maybe creating a proper festival brochure, getting the plastic-free ethos and recycling policy across in a positive way, less gaps in the class schedule, additional food vendors etc.) may still need to be ironed out in future years, what makes a festival truly great is leaving enough space for spontaneity to unfold and just see what happens. So if you’re already a practising yogi or are new to it, it’s a great opportunity to expand your comfort zone, learn and play with some seriously inspiring people! ॐ

Myths, Music & Storytelling Magic in Wales: Beyond the Border Festival 2016

My first festival of the summer was Beyond the Border Wales International Storytelling Festival, which took place from 1-3 July 2016 in the grounds of Atlantic College and the medieval St. Donat’s Castle near Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan. It’s a fairly small but well-established biannual festival, attracting between 2000 and 3000 visitors and many of the festival goers have been regulars for years, if not decades.

BTB programme

This year’s themes included Stories from the Celtic World, Myths of Gender/Gender in Myth, Myth and Music of India and Greece as well as Blacksmith Tales and Legends. For such a compact festival it had a whopping 9 festival areas, some in tents, some outdoors and one larger indoor venue at St. Donat’s Arts centre (which was sort of the festival hub for artists and attendees and had wifi and a café with sea views).

As it was my first storytelling festival, I had no idea who the big names were and what styles of stories I would enjoy most, so I tried a whole variety. Unlike at music festivals, where you can listen to partial sets of different bands and still get something out of it, I quickly learned that here it was best to catch the whole story from beginning to end.

Various people had recommended Ben Haggarty to me, a very accomplished storyteller who did an impressive performance of ‘The Blacksmith at The Bridge of Bones’ on Friday night. His style was a little too theatrical for me, but he seemed immensely popular and his performance was quite mesmerising and entertaining, here is a taster.

Right afterwards I caught a beautifully inventive story called ‘UniVerse’ by Irish-born and London-based storyteller Clare Murphy whose sense of humour I loved straight away (and made me a bit homesick for Ireland) and whose wonderfully original style had the audience spellbound. Read her blog post on what storytelling is and definitely check out some of her videos online (I dare you not to giggle!).

BTB Blue Garden

I started the Saturday with a yoga session in the Blue Garden led by Diana O’Reilly, with the morning sun shining down on us, which was a blessing in itself, as was the wonderful location overlooking the sea and the calm, welcoming atmosphere at the class.

As my volunteer shift happened to be in the Pavilion, I caught Jo Blake Cave and Laura Pocket (on double bass) with a reimagined version of her post-apocalyptic magical story ‘The Girl Who Became a Boy’. This was followed by travelling back in time to 14th century Venice by top Italian storyteller Paola Balbi.

I also greatly enjoyed listening to the Welsh-Indian band Tŷhai before it was time for some bilingual tales (partly in Welsh) by Dau Dafod (Jez Danks & Dafydd Davies Hughes). After grabbing a yummy veggie meal from The Parsnipship I decided to give ‘Beowulf’ a try, which was expertly and very humorously told by Jesper La Cour Andersen and Troels Kirk Ejsing. The Danes had the audience really engaged in the story (‘rowing’ a boat, being guests at a Viking party etc.) and it ended up being my favourite show of the festival, so much fun!

Later that night it was time for some music again and a very special collaboration by Mumbai singer Tauseef Akhtar and Welsh singer-songwriter Gwyneth Glyn. Ghazalaw is one of those projects which gets the balance exactly right by merging the music and song of two cultures in a very beautiful way including tabla, fiddle, harmonium, kora, harp and guitar. Their first album is fantastic and they also played some new songs for us.

BTB kids area

After another yoga morning session, which always helps to put me in a poised and happy mood for the day, I caught the first part of another brilliant Clare Murphy show, this time with Tim Ralphs and the (to a bunny person like myself) very enticing title ‘Tales of the Rabbit God’. Luckily my next volunteer shift was at the Pavilion again, so I managed to listen to Native American storyteller Dovie Thomason whose story was called ‘Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight?’. It was fantastic to learn so much about storytelling traditions of different parts of the world all in one weekend in rural Wales.

The finale of the festival on Sunday night was a wonderful parade with everyone and their handmade lanterns and costumes moving from the festival grounds to the Big Top led by the Rajasthan Heritage Brass Band. After the closing ceremony and the burning of a giant fire sculpture (created by Goffee) in a field overlooking the sea, it was time for the last act of the festival, a (mostly) Eastern-European dance party with The Turbans, which was the perfect end to a vibrant, story and music-filled weekend in Wales.

BTB fire sculpture

So if you like your festivals small and friendly where you get woken up by sheep bleating in the field next door, both old and young will have a good time and you can learn a thing or two in a relaxed atmosphere, do put Beyond the Border in your summer calendar. The nearby small town of Llantwit Major (hourly bus from near the festival grounds or a half hour walk away) is also worth exploring for an afternoon and has some very cosy cafes.

P.S. As a linguist, I’d like to give a special mention the the amazing sign language interpreters at the festival! I’ve never been at an event where they seemed more engaged and passionate than here at BTB. Find out more about sign language interpreters here.

Stretch, Breathe, Laugh, Repeat: The OM Yoga Show 2015

There are many reasons why people get into yoga. Mine was slightly different from the usual ones of finding calm or getting fit. As a festival enthusiast, I had often been enviously eyeing the many fabulous yoga festivals and had always felt a bit left out as I don’t usually enjoy most organised forms of sport and had felt too inflexible to join in. I had tried yoga a few times in the past, an open class in a museum in Australia and a small group class in New Zealand when I was travelling, but I had never really wanted to do it again until this September. Having just returned from a holiday visiting family, I decided to give yoga another go. I searched for some online classes and quickly came across Yoga with Adriene. I told myself I’m going to stick with it for just the one half hour the video lasted and if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to do it again. Then something amazing happened. I woke up the next morning and the first thing I thought was, I must try another one of those Adriene videos (and did I mention her adorable dog Benji features in some of them, too, and she is from the live music capital of the world, Austin!). I couldn’t believe it. Trying out yoga once had pretty much instantly turned into a near daily yoga habit – thanks Adriene ;-).

Coco class

Of course one of the first things I did next was to look for nearby yoga festivals, so I came across the OM Yoga Show at Alexandra Palace in London from 23-25 October 2015 (which should really be called the OMG Yoga Show!). The organisers were so nice to give me a free ticket to the show (thanks guys!) and I decided to write a blog post on my first yoga “festival” to show other beginners that it’s all about giving it a go and facing your fears.

On the Friday morning I was super nervous. The programme looked amazing and most classes were for “all levels”, but did that really include the half an hour a day yoga for barely six weeks me? My heart was pounding when I walked through the doors until I found the aroma yoga session with Sophie Bickerdike. I looked around. The people on the mats (women and quite a few men of all ages) seemed friendly enough. Right, I thought, what have I possibly got to lose? I sat down on a mat and have not looked back since!

I ended up trying a couple more classes that day, Dru meditation, yoga for health and wellbeing (run by the British Wheel of Yoga) and Kundalini yoga. All of them were intriguing and each instructor made sure each of us felt comfortable and included. I also loved the general atmosphere at the event. Unlike at many other trade shows, it was all very friendly with lots of enthusiastic smiley people and an incredible amount of tempting colourful yoga outfits, props and retreats on offer.

The next morning I felt completely different than the day before. I couldn’t get to Ally Pally fast enough and was circling a whole number of exciting looking sessions in the programme on the bus. Alas the first class I had picked was totally oversubscribed, so a quick decision was needed and I joined a laughter yoga class with Harish Chavda. OMG! How much fun we had acting like children wearing props such as Christmas hats while actual children were looking on incredulously probably thinking, what are these adults doing?? After such a relaxing start to the day I stayed on the same mat for the Let it Flow class by Tiffany Mackenzie-Shapland. Despite some tech issues (the only downside to the show all weekend), it was a lovely, peaceful session, which left me floating for the next couple of hours. Another highlight of the weekend was the Yogabeats class with David Sye, which made me quite emotional in a good way. Their approach and projects are really well worth checking out and supporting. Beautiful stuff.

Lotus class

I also had a chat with Sirrka Fisk, who has written a lovely children’s yoga book called Ommie and the Magical Garden. The lecture stage at the show had quite a few interesting sessions as well including one by Louise Palmer-Masterson of CamYoga on running a successful ethical business whilst overcoming self-limiting beliefs, which really applies to any business, not just to teaching yoga. As the yoga for horse riders class had sadly been cancelled I headed home a little earlier. This turned out to be very lucky, as I ran into the fabulous Tara Stiles, who owns Strala Yoga in New York, at Finsbury Park station. Another one of my favourite online yoga inspirations, she was super friendly and I just couldn’t believe how much fun I was having this weekend.

There is always the dreaded last festival day and it was no different at OM Yoga Show. I absolutely tried to make the best of it though and gave quite a few different yoga styles a go. I started the day with a raw vegan chocolate making workshop (yes, there were samples and all food at the show was  vegetarian or vegan!) followed by a Dance on Your Fears class by Eleonora Zampatti, who also happens to be on the OM Yoga Magazine November cover. The description had sounded relatively general and I liked the idea of learning to deal with my fears, but had had no idea it was all about arm balances! However, once I was on the mat, there wasn’t really any way of getting out of it, so, to my utter amazement and thanks to Eleonora’s precise and encouraging instructions, I gave Crow Pose a go.  I managed to lift myself up on my beginners arms for about a second at a time and felt like this pose might become a friend much sooner than I could have ever expected. Wow!

The rest of the day was equally enlightening. I took part in a wonderful and fun Animal Asanas class with Jenny Mace, right before which I bought a fantastic t-shirt from My Mantra Activewear with “I just want to drink coffee, save animals and do yoga” written on it – I couldn’t have put it any better! Next up was Yoga Bou with Chaco from Yokohama, using a Japanese stick. I love Japan (travelled there twice) and Chaco made the class super fun while we also got a really good workout. I should have probably called it a day after this session (especially my arms were screaming ‘stop’ at this point), but couldn’t resist the Yoglow class (the only 45 minute one I did) with Michael from Yogangster. Even this early on I’m already a big fan of flow classes and despite feeling sore from three full-on yoga days in a row I managed to stick with it.

coffee animals yoga tee

Alas all festivals come to an end at some point, but luckily OM Yoga Show seems to have two sister events in Glasgow (2-3 April 2016) and Manchester (20-22 May 2016) and now that I’m completely hooked on yoga, there are so many other things out there to try. Acro yoga looked amazing for instance and I cannot wait to teach a few basic animal asanas to my little nieces during the Christmas holidays. So if you, like me not so long ago, think you’re not flexible or patient enough to give yoga a try, just give yourself half an hour or even just 15 minutes a day, do one of the Adrienne videos online and notice how you feel. I completely agree with Tiffany of Croyde Yoga, whose session I attended on Saturday, that trying out lots of styles and teachers is a great idea. You never know, yoga could become your great new passion. It has definitely already changed my life so much for the better. Namaste 🙂