The Transformative Power of Yoga: World Yoga Festival 2017

When I got off the train at Pangbourne, near Reading, on my way to World Yoga Festival, I noticed some graffiti on the wall opposite the station. It read “Buy More. Work Harder. Live Less.” A great reminder why it’s sometimes good to stop and think and take time out to reconsider what is important to us in life. World Yoga Festival, which took place from 6-9 July in the beautiful natural setting of Beale Park by the river Thames was the perfect place to do this. In fact, it was like a positivity boot camp.

WYF Gisela.jpg

The festival only started last year, but it felt like it’s been around for decades. Ram and Sonali Banerjee and their team have created something very special, which in itself reflects the power of yoga as a philosophy, that oneness is not just a theoretical, hard to grasp concept, but that by doing the right actions, big and small, and working actively towards positive goals with others we can achieve something incredibly beautiful. World Yoga Festival brings together renowned masters from different yogic disciplines and embraces all eight aspects of yoga. It is yoga in practice.

WYF swami.jpg

I don’t think I’ve ever been at an event where there was so much spiritual knowledge gathered in one place. I had never heard of most of the speakers and teachers before last weekend and I’ve still not been to India. But World Yoga Festival is probably the closest you can come in the UK to get a taste of spiritual India while also having a real outdoor retreat with a swimming lake, lounging in the chai tent at sundown, eating the most scrumptious vegetarian and vegan food and getting lots of healthy exercise. There were a number of gurus (removers of the darkness of ignorance) and swamis (spiritual teachers) present and every speaker I listened to (pictured above is Swami Satvananda Saraswati), had something helpful to add to our own practice, no matter where each of us currently was on our path of learning.

WYF lake view (1).jpg

In fact, the variety of festival attendees was quite astonishing. I met people from various countries, holistic practitioners, yoga teachers, lawyers, engineers, people making the most of their retirement by travelling and learning, seasoned yogis, musicians, groups of friends on a weekend away, families with little ones and older children, enjoying nature together and the craft workshops and classes on offer especially for them. All the volunteers were really into yoga and super friendly and we exchanged lots of tips about other yoga events.

WYF relaxation.jpg

It was also really easy getting to know new people before and after classes and over some of the yummy vegetarian and vegan food, which included salads, crepes, risotto and pasta, Mexican and lots of delicious Indian food, which was my favourite (South Indian masala dosa, savoury Indian pancakes, curries and dhal). In addition, there were stalls with yoga clothing, mediation cushions, a non-alcoholic cocktail bar, fresh juices, coffee and yogi tea.

WYF Indian food.jpg

By the lake you could learn to drum or play the didgeridoo, have a massage or simply lounge in the beautiful Earth tent, which was strewn with large cushions and little lights, which glowed beautifully in the dark. Even the toilets were amazing. I don’t often post pictures of something as basic as this, but it just underlines again how much care went into every detail of the festival. There were hardly any shower queues and it all made me feel like I’m at a holistic retreat rather than a camping festival. So nice.

WYF toilets.jpg

The main draw and best part of the festival, however, was of course learning from the wonderful masters and teachers, many of them from the birthplace of yoga, India. As at most festivals, there was a packed schedule divided across four stages (Space, the largest, where all the evening concerts and some ceremonies took place, Air, Fire and Water). The tents were spacious and each had a differently coloured floor with white walls and ceilings. It was a little overwhelming at first to choose between so many excellent sounding classes, workshops, gong baths (see pic further down), meditations and talks, plus a Bharatanatyam dance workshop by Ananya Chatterjee, which all seemed unmissable and to also get enough time to relax (or rather let all the teachings sink in!). So I just tried a few different ones each day.

Unlike at quite a few other yoga festivals, there was a huge emphasis on knowledge and learning. So rather than lots of physical yoga, even the asana-based classes in the water tent were often more on anatomy (e.g. by Sri Louise from the USA) or positive thinking (Neil Patel talking about yoga and cancer).

WYF Tao Porchon Lynch.jpg

My favourite teacher at the festival was 98-year young Tao Porchon Lynch (see pic above – the world’s oldest yoga teacher and ballroom dancer, who grew up in India, marched with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, was a resistance fighter during WWII, a top model before that term even existed, Hollywood actress, business woman etc.). I went to her first session on Friday morning and decided to go to the two other ones, too as I’ve learned from other festivals that it’s often good to stick with someone you can really relate to. Her personality, kindness, gentle sense of humour, fierce strength (shoulder stand with lotus) and resilience (three hip replacements, broken wrist etc. never stopped her) was just beautiful to witness. The first time that weekend when tears came to my eyes was when we did sun salutations with her to tango music. And she just kept reminding us that a positive mindset is everything, that she always feels every day is going to be the best day ever and nothing is impossible. How lovely that she felt grateful to be there with us this weekend just like we felt lucky to witness her boundless energy. What a role model!

WYF gong bath.jpg

Iyengar teacher Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh’s daily 2-hour early morning and afternoon classes in the large Space tent were also a huge draw. He went into lots of detail about the poses he taught and speaking to attendees afterwards, it was a very valuable learning experience, which I’m sad to have missed (as were Dr. Bali‘s sessions, another nonagenerian yogi!). I did catch a beginners’ Iyengar class with Uday Bhosale and Mary Niker, however, who were great at assisting us with different asanas and despite the hard work, the hour and a half went by quicker than I thought. The longer session concept of the festival with various classes building on the previous ones, was a good system, so you actually felt you progressed throughout the weekend. Alternatively, you could sample lots of different styles and talks and then continue learning more about specific ones after the festival.

I also attended various talks on non-duality and yoga philosophy, which began with festival director Ram Banerjee’s sunset talk on Friday night, followed by a Ganga Arati ceremony by the lake. Throughout the weekend I listened to a number of gurus and philosophers discussing complex concepts, usually with a lot of humour, but also lots of space for serious questions. It felt very good being able to sit or lie in a sun-flooded tent with others who were all keen to soak up knowledge, respectful of the speaker, the space and each other and take it all in. This year’s masters and teachers included some of the above mentioned as well as Swami Ambikananda, Guru Dharam, Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati and others.

The live music in the evenings was a great mix of traditional Indian musical instruments and singing blended with a more Western sound and I very much enjoyed Manish Vyas‘ quieter devotional music as well as Soumik Datta’s (see pic below) Saturday night set, which turned into a real drum and base dance party with an Indian twist at the end of the night. There were also some great outdoor lunchtime sets by Sam Garrett and Brett Randall. And how lucky (or well-planned) that Guru Purnima (homage to the gurus, i.e. our spiritual teachers) happened to be on Sunday, which was of course marked with a ceremony in the Space tent. To top everything off there was also a full moon on Saturday night, a truly auspicious weekend for a yoga festival!

WYF Soumik Datta.jpg

Writing this in my home in London and looking through other festival goers’ social media posts with lots of smiles and the sun shining on us all weekend long (we did have a lot of influential people praying for good weather!), I still feel buoyed by the vibrant and playful energy of World Yoga Festival. This is why this blog exists. Go out there wherever you are and find these special gatherings, be open to learning new things and you will see that the world is an amazing place!

My main take-aways from the festival weekend:

  • Meditate regularly (so please ask me next time you see me if I’m doing this as I really, really want to make it a habit, but find it even harder than my regular yoga practice)
  • Deepen my knowledge of yoga philosophy and my personal yoga practice
  • We can all achieve more than we think, if we believe in it and are open to learn (I improved my bridge, tree and dancer poses through simple but effective tips from Tao and Uday)
  • Travel to India (I’ve been wanting to go for years, but the more I learn about yoga philosophy, the more this is becoming an actual plan)
  • Remember to be more like Tao whose motto is ‘Nothing is Impossible’ as in ‘Everything is Possible’
  • Finally, return to World Yoga Festival, because it was just fantastic in every way!

WYF ganga arati.jpg

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend 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.

 

Advertisements

Americana Anniversary: Maverick Festival 2017

Maverick Festival, which took place from 30 June until 2 July 2017, at Easton Farm Park in beautiful Suffolk, East Anglia, was celebrating its tenth anniversary this summer and I’ve been lucky to have been to four of those in 2013, 2014, 2015 as well as this latest edition. It’s quite a special little festival and here are my top 10 reasons why I’m always enjoying it so much:

Sign Maverick 2017.jpg

1. Quality Line-Up: Most people who come to Maverick book their tickets without even knowing who’s on the line-up for that particular year, they just expect quality music, and the festival rarely disappoints. Paul Spencer and his team know the Americana scene well and always book a great variety of reliably excellent acts from the USA, Canada, and even as far afield as Australia as well as the best of what the ever-growing Americana scene in this country has to offer. It was great to see Police Dog Hogan, Case Hardin, Don Gallardo (see pic below), Erin Rae, Dean Owens, Hannah Rose Platt, Hannah Aldridge and Annie Keating again, make sure you give them a listen.

Don Gallardo Maverick 2017.jpg

2. New Discoveries: I love when I turn up at a stage not having heard of a particular musician before and then being blown away by their music and enthusiasm for their craft. This year’s favourite new finds included The Roamin Jasmine (New Orleans), Royal Jelly Jive (San Francisco), The Danberrys (Nashville) and Amy McCarley (Alabama). Two others who I regretted to have missed, but got thumbs up from various other attendees, were Tom Attah (UK) and Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes (Australia). Virtuoso US mandolin player Sierra Hull (see pic below) was also excellent, as were US duo American Young.

Sierra Hull Maverick 2017.JPG

3. Friendly Vibe & Hanging Out With Musicians: While headliners like two-time Grammy winning guitarist Albert Lee (great set with BJ Cole on pedal steel!) and Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes Earle were no doubt a particular attraction to some festival goers, another reason why I love this event is how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere is. It’s one of those festivals where you can just wander between the different stages and food stalls all day, sit under a tree and read a book, share a table with other music lovers or have a chat at the merch area with one of the bands playing. Despite the unrushed pace, it never gets boring because there is great music playing everywhere from late morning until about midnight every night.

Moonshine Sign Maverick 2017.jpg

4. Idyllic Location & Great Site Layout: When I first walked through the gates of Maverick Festival a couple of years ago, I fell immediately in love with the beautiful setting of the event. Unlike other festivals held on a big field with nearly no other natural features, Easton Farm Park boasts some beautiful historic farm buildings, meadows and lots of trees and it all just looks like you’re entering a set for a Western movie – including our equivalent of mustangs, the beautiful and rare Suffolk Punch horses (pictured below). As it’s a rather boutique festival, you can easily pop back to your tent for an extra jumper or during this good weather extra sun cream as the camp ground is only a five-minute walk from the music stages. And as the music finishes quite early (around 11.30pm) there isn’t too much noise late at night (apart from the odd folky session around a fire, which actually makes for a nice lullaby). While there aren’t very many showers (I counted only a handful), there are two buildings with proper toilets and lots of additional portaloos strewn around the site.

Mary & Duke Maverick 2017.jpg

5. Dog-Friendly Event: The one thing I’m often missing at other outdoor festivals is the lovely presence of dogs who are often not allowed on site for all sorts of reasons. Not so at Maverick. Everywhere you go you’ll meet smiling pooches likes this happy pair below, Moss and Sky, and I loved hearing about their (rescue) stories. You can find more pictures on my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. If you have a friendly dog who doesn’t mind crowds, it’s a great festival to take it to, as a lot of the music can actually be enjoyed from outside most of the venues, so pooches can be in the shade and away from most of the noise, but you can still have a good time. Win, win.

Moss & Sky Maverick 2017.jpg

6. Still Kicking Against All Odds: A fascinating addition to this year’s festival was a short, and retrospectively very funny, documentary entitled ‘The Peasants Are Revolting’ charting the journey from idea to festival and the difficulties faced by festival founder Paul Spencer before being able to run Maverick for the first time in 2008. He initially encountered a lot of resistance from a number of villagers who feared there would be a noisy ‘rave’ (anti banjo protests? goats vs sheep standoff? rowdy cowboy hat throwing competitions?) threatening their otherwise peaceful lives and that their quaint Suffolk village would be overrun by all sorts of undesirable individuals. As you can see from the pictures in this post, there was clearly a lot of cause for concern ;-). Luckily, the festival founders persisted and I am now even more grateful for the festival than before I knew about all these (pretty major) teething problems. The screening was followed by a live Q&A with Paul and Tim Dowling with lots more anecdotes from the beginnings of a festival which is most definitely here to stay!

Outdoor Stage Maverick 2017.jpg

7. Learning By Doing: I didn’t get around to any of the workshops this year, but there were a bluegrass as well as a banjo session plus a workshop on cigar box guitars and diddley bow. If you felt inspired enough to stick with your new chosen instrument, there were some music stalls with a choice of instruments to take home, including one with beautifully hand-decorated guitars and the pretty cool looking cigar box guitars (below).

Cigar Box Guitars Maverick 2017.jpg

8. Plentiful Food & Drink: As with many smaller festivals, there aren’t quite as many food choices as at larger events. But I was pleased to see that the veggie options had increased since I last visited and there were also quite a few vegan dishes on offer. I had Thai street food, pizza from a wood-fired oven and a squash and feta cheese pie with mash. There were also plenty of desserts, like waffles and ice cream, and a few stalls serving cappuccinos. Plus Easton Farm Park’s café did a decent if not very exciting veggie breakfast in the mornings. Drinks (variety of beer, local cider) were not cheap, but a few freebie cocktails in cans given out by a new sponsor made up for it.

Thai Food Maverick 2017.jpg

9. Fun For All Ages: As Maverick is such a safe and friendly environment, families will have no problem finding activities to entertain the little ones. I spoke to a few whose kids were already keen to return, which is no wonder given the many cute animals to pet and feed (goats, horses, llamas, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens) as well as an adventure playground, which even includes a mini-zipline. Nashville-based duo Chasing Summer also added to the kids entertainment by doing a lovely live show and art workshop on a new outdoor stage in the orchard, which was enthusiastically received by the children.

Chasing Summer Maverick 2017.jpg

10. Additional Gigs By Touring Musicians: Yes, post festival blues is a terrible thing and hits me every single time for a day or two after getting back home. Luckily, there is a silver lining as most of the overseas musicians booked for Maverick tend to also be on tour in the UK and other European countries while they are over here. So do look for their tour schedules and additional gigs the week before or after the festival. You might even end up on a train together, like I did with Royal Jelly Jive, who were on the way to their next gig in Belgium. A great way to extend the festival for another few hours.

You might not have heard of Americana as a genre of music before and be reluctant to book a weekend of bands you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry! Give a few of them a listen on Yotube before you visit and enjoy the fact that after attending Maverick you’ll be the one in the know giving your friends, who may well still be stuck in mainstream music land, the best recommendations for ‘the next big act’ like a pro!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend 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.

Glastonbury for Dogs: Dogfest 2017

While a certain huge live music event was taking place elsewhere in the UK, I headed to Dogfest for a day, which was promoted as ‘the ultimate summer festival for dogs’ and that’s exactly what it felt like! I’m not sure if I could have enjoyed myself even more if I had been a pooch, but I certainly had an amazing day. What started out in a field behind Channel 4’s Supervet Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick’s Surrey practice (pictured below with his border terrier Keira) is now a huge event happening on two consecutive weekends, Dogfest North in Cheshire on 17 and 18 June and Dogfest South on 24 and 25 June 2017, which I attended, at Knebworth House near Stevenage, about half an hour north of London.

Dogfest Noel and Keira.jpg

Getting to the Festival (hitchhiking with dog lovers included!)

As the directions to get to the festival site looked pretty straightforward online, I hopped on a train and then the 44 bus from Stevenage bus station, asking the driver to drop me off at Manor Farm, the nearest stop along a country road. So far so good. It looked like a 10-15 minute walk, at most, and I quite enjoyed the idea of it, yet alas, despite GPS on the phone, I ended up following a road that took me further and further away from the venue, so confusing. I ended up trying to wave down other festival goers from the side of the road and was super lucky lovely dog owners John and Katherine let me hitch a ride with them and Jack Russell Dodger (see pic below) in the backseat. It still took us and seemingly quite a few of the other dog enthusiasts a number of wrong turns until we were finally on the right track, but when we eventually arrived, it was like getting off at the kind of playground any dog-loving adult would enjoy: dozens and dozens of dogs of all shapes and sizes with their owners in tow were making their way to the main entrance. I could barely contain myself, it made me so happy to see all the wagging tails and excited pooches pulling at their leads.

Dogfest Dodger.jpg

Venue

The festival was spread out on a field behind Knebworth House, which was much larger than I expected, with many interesting stalls lined up around the edges of it. There were all sorts of accessories and nutrition for dogs on offer (including some useful looking dog cooling coats for hot weather), as well as holidays with dogs and health checks and grooming (weight management, ticks, canine massage etc.) and various stalls by dog and wildlife charities (even one for cats). I also spoke to Pete of Cold Feet Huskies, who had brought some of his dogs along and races them around the UK and further afield. I could have easily spent a couple more hours just taking a look at all of these. The food options were also quite varied (burgers, burritos, English fare, falafels, ice cream, proper coffee) including some good veggie choices.

Dog Activities

There were lots of great activities for the dogs to try including my favourite, the diving pool! There was a long queue all day for pooches to go for a swim in the tempting looking clean water as it was a pretty hot day. Some of the dogs were not quite sure if they really felt like giving it a go, but others couldn’t wait to jump into the waves, splashing the assembled audience with water left, right and centre. It was so much fun to watch and no doubt even more fun for the dogs who took apart. Other activities included learning to do agility with your dog, dog competitions, a ‘school for dogs’, hay races and a ‘temptation alley’.

Dogfest health check.jpg

Dog Welfare

I was a little bit concerned about this before attending the event, but as far as I could see anything humanly possible had been done to make sure the dogs were all right. There was a first aid and show vet on site plus containers with fresh water spread around the field (which some of the smaller breeds quickly identified as ideal paddling pools), some tented areas with hay bales for owners to sit on and one particularly nice tent with tables, chairs and a bar at one end, so you could enjoy a nice glass of cool wine and your dog could rest in the shade right opposite the ‘super stage’ where Noel Fitzpatrick did his talks and live music performances were on all day. I was generally very impressed with how well the hundreds of dogs got on with each other. Hardly any barking (apart from excited yaps!) could be heard all day and the event clearly attracted responsible dog owners and well-adjusted pooches. If you have a puppy, attending Dogfest could be a good opportunity to socialise it in a friendly environment, all the puppies I met and petted looked very happy indeed, including little Anakin, the Chihuahua (pictured below).

Dogfest Anakin.jpg

The Great Dog Walk

At 3pm hundreds of dog owners and their pooches gathered for the great dog walk in aid of The Humanimal Trust across the grounds of Knebworth House, either for a 2km or 4km stroll, and Noel Fitzpatrick brought his little border terrier Keira along for a short talk before it started. Once it was all go, the many happy smiley dogs dragging their owners across the field were a real sight to behold. Walkies on a giant scale!

Dogfest Great Dog Walk.jpg

Unconditional Love

Having seen ‘The Supervet’ Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick only on TV before, it was great to hear him speak live about his own career and the lives of animals and people him and his team were able to make a difference to. Some of the dogs from the TV programme, who had meanwhile fully recovered, were also present, which was lovely to see. He also talked enthusiastically about his charity, the above mentioned The Humanimal Trust, which aims to “reduce, refine and replace animal experiments with reciprocity – which means that we only sponsor research that helps animals with naturally occurring disease, not through the use of experimental models.” It’s a ground-breaking idea to help humans AND animals, so both species win, not one at the expense of the other. Noel spoke about the huge amount of unconditional love being present in this field on this day and how our love for our pets can really make a difference to our own and other people’s lives.

Dogfest Superstage.jpg

Pawmazing Day

All in all, it was a great day out for dogs and humans alike. My advice if you’re coming by car and are bringing your dog would be to either get there very early or in the afternoon in order to avoid the at times longish queues to get into the car park right beside the main entrance. If the weather is very hot, it might even be better to take a train and a cab (it cost only £6 for a single taxi trip from Stevenage rail station, which I should have opted for on the way there, too). And don’t worry if you haven’t got a dog, I don’t either as I travel too much and I still had an absolutely fabulous time. In fact, everyone was so friendly, I got chatting with quite a few dog owners and heard so many inspiring stories of rescues finding a forever home and friendships between dogs and humans, it was actually quite emotional. One of them was Blarney (see pic below) who was adopted from Ireland. It’s also a great opportunity for those looking at getting a dog to find out which breed or type of dog would be suitable for them, ideally of course a rescue dog, as there are so many of them waiting to be adopted in shelters around the country.

Dogfest Blarney.jpg

Cuddle a Dog a Day

If you’d like to see a few more pictures and some videos of chocolate lab Dizzy diving into the pool, the dog and duck (herding) show as well as footage of the Great Dog Walk, do check out my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. I started it in April this year as my daily goal is to pet at least one dog a day (or any fluffy animal really) and it’s been a great way of documenting the cute dogs I meet (pictured below are Spanish rescue Killick and Pomerian Lola) and of connecting with other dog lovers from around the world. I follow back genuine dog/dog parent or other animal lovers’ accounts.

Dogfest Killick and Lola.jpg

Not all Dogs are so Lucky

Lastly, spare a thought and maybe a few pounds to abolish an altogether different event, the horrifying Yulin ‘festival’ in China, which is sadly happening again right now (despite millions of people signing petitions and protesting around the world) and involves the torture and slaughter of thousands of dogs and cats. No animal should ever have to suffer like this. Find out how you can help and maybe consider minimalising animal suffering in your own community by reducing or cutting out meat from your diet and learning about vegetarianism or veganism.

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a complimentary ticket for the festival.

 

Meet the Festival Makers: Ram and Sonali Banerjee, directors of World Yoga Festival

World Yoga Festival, which will be taking place from 7-9 July 2017 just outside Reading, is the largest yoga festival in the UK and brings together a collection of expert teachers from around the world in traditional yoga and meditation plus offers live music and ample opportunities for learning and reflection. Unlike some other yoga festivals, this one focuses on going deeper in your yoga practice, no matter if you are a beginner or have been practising for years. The organisers‘ core aim is that once you leave the festival, you will go home with more understanding and carry it over into your everyday life.

This all sounded excellent to me, so I’m heading there for the first time in July and decided to interview the festival founders, Sonali and Ram Banerjee, to get a better idea about the upcoming event. Here is what I learned.

WYF 2017 logo

Life is a Festival: In the West, yoga is quite often reduced to practising and perfecting asanas and, to some extent, pranayama. You focus on a more holistic approach. How did this come about and what impact do you think it has on participants and the communities they bring this learning back to after the festival?

Ram & Sonali: Yoga should always be on a holistic level. To gain acceptance in the west, the early practitioners were obliged to strip out the spirituality and thus turn it into fancy exercise. The eight limbs (or aspects) of yoga as described by Patanjali go from truthful living all the way to Enlightenment. We aim to bring all these aspects back together in one festival to be offered as a platter of delicious items. Each item genuine, authentic and of the highest quality possible. These tastes may be new and unknown but they are presented for you to try. No one can describe a taste to you. You have to sample for yourself and once you do, and like it, there is no turning back.

At the festival, every guest has unrestricted access to all classes, to all tastes. Are you brave enough to try something new? If you do, that knowledge will stay with you forever. When you return from the festival you will enthuse others with the wisdom gained and start them on their own path to discovery. They say ignorance has no beginning but has an end, while knowledge has a beginning but no end. Our mission at World Yoga Festival is to offer the classes on subjects familiar and unfamiliar to you. For you to sample and eradicate ignorance on subjects with knowledge. How you choose to use and develop that knowledge afterwards is entirely up to you. This is always about YOUR personal journey to liberation.

Life is a Festival: In order to build knowledge, participants are encouraged to follow a series of practical workshops and talks by renowned yoga masters during the course of the weekend, which is something I’ve missed at similar events. Is this something that has always been part of the festival and how can it help the individuals’ progress on their yoga path?

Ram & Sonali: Everyone is on their own yoga path. There is no right or wrong path but your path may be restricted to what you have come across. The festival aims to offer a wide variety of yoga subjects – all at the highest level. In order to catch a glimpse of the depth of each of these paths, it is necessary to spend a little time on them. Not only do we have longer classes (up to 2 hours) so that the master need not rush to covey the wisdom but a succession of classes throughout the festival allows masters to develop on a theme and be more elaborate with the content. This allows for deeper learning.

Life is a Festival: I heard that there will be a world record attempt happening at this year’s festival. Can you tell me a little more about what is planned or is it still top secret?

Ram & Sonali: We are very excited to announce that we will attempt to beat the world record for the largest Laughter Yoga class. According to the Guinness Book of Records, this stands at 1129 people attending a single class. This is a tough challenge but it will be fun to try and break the record. I think this will appeal to a lot of people. It would be incredible to be able to say “I was there!”

WYF lake yoga

Life is a Festival: Are there any general tips you have for first timers at your festival, be it in the practical sense as in what to bring or leave at home as well as on a more spiritual level in terms of mindset and expectations?

Ram & Sonali: If you have a yoga mat then please bring that. If you are not into asanas then just bring yourself in the mindset to learn something new. Leave any judgement at home since you cannot learn anything new if you judge it immediately on hearing. All judgement is based on what you already know, hence you cannot learn anything new. Better to accept ‘subject to future verification’ and see if it makes sense to you by (a) hearing everything with such dedication that you can paraphrase it back (b) discussing and asking questions so that all doubts are removed and (c) sitting and contemplating to see if it is true for you. Expect your mind and your heart to be opened without drugs or alcohol amongst like-minded individual whose only mission is to learn to love and love to learn!

Thanks to Ram and Sonali for getting me even more excited about the upcoming festival! The masters confirmed to be teaching at World Yoga Festival 2017 include Tao Porchon-Lynch (who turns 99 this summer!), Rupert Spira, Dr. Madan Bali, Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh, Swami Ambikananda, Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati, Guru Dharam, Sheila Whittaker, Peter Russell, Swami Svatmananda, Swami Santatmananda and many others. There will be 12 hours of expert-led yoga each day, followed by entertainment and dancing in the evenings, delicious vegetarian world food, a healing area and also a dedicated family entertainment zone.

Namaste for now, see you at the festival!

WYF gongs.jpg

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by World Yoga Festival.

Community Spirit: FloVibe Festival 2017

It’s easy dreaming up an event, but actually making it happen takes a lot of courage, collaboration, resilience and many little steps towards that final goal, a beautiful new festival. It was around this time last year when FloVibe Founder Jason Pooley decided that he wanted to create another community besides the already existing one at his The House of Yoga in Putney. A year on, here we all were in a big field behind Kelmarsh Hall near Northampton, less than an hour from the bustle of London, but a world away from our hectic everyday lives. The festival site is just beautiful with large oak trees and a lake with a bridge across it leading to a hidden meadow where all the massage, reflexology and meditation sessions plus the SUP yoga took place. For a first-time event FloVibe, which took place from 2-4 June 2017, was amazingly smoothly run, which as far as I can see had both to do with the organisers successfully delegating different aspects of the event to people who knew what they were doing and trusting them to get on with it without interfering too much. As a result, and also thanks to the many fun, relaxed folks who spent the weekend there, it was one of the most chilled festivals I’ve ever been to.

FloVibe Meditation.jpg

As it was my first outdoor festival of the season, I really wanted to take it easy and not cram in too much. So after the happy tent was set up beside the friendly security crew and various creative folks helping to make the festival happen, I made my way over to one of the yoga tents for the gong bath (a ‘sonic meditation’ with vibrations helping to release energy blockages and stimulate healing) led by Kwali Kumara. It sounded like a great chilled first session to do, but having only been to one or two Kundalini Yoga sessions before, it required a lot more will power to stick with it than I had initially thought. The 75 minutes consisted of a lot of chanting of sacred mantras in Sanskrit (the linguist in me tried really hard to get them right) and, towards the end, we finally got to lie on our backs (yes!) to let the sounds of two giant metal gongs wash over us. I wasn’t sure how everybody else felt about it, but being sensitive to noise definitely didn’t help to enjoy it a lot. So instead of keeping my eyes closed, I watched the quite mesmerising performance. Definitely an interesting experience, but not necessarily one I would like to do on a regular basis.

FloVibe sunset.jpg

After grabbing some veggie dinner – there were some yummy options like Indian food from the Bhangra Bus Cafe (an actual US school bus from Georgia, which functioned as a café, so cool), a burger stall and Japanese food plus lots of smoothies, coffee, cakes and brownies – I was looking forward to the live music on the main stage. All the bands were really interesting and included Lunch Money, General Skank and The Turbans, one of my favourite festival live bands as they always get everyone dancing within five seconds.

FloVibe The Turbans.JPG

I slept incredibly well in the happy tent, so nice to be back camping after the winter and being woken up by rays of glorious sunshine in the morning! Saturday was just wonderful. After a coffee and some interesting conversations with other festival goers in the queue, I explored the programme on offer. There was a good variety of yoga classes (lots of vinyasa/flow classes, but also acro yoga dance, yoga nidra, yin yoga and tribal yoga dance) in large tents spread around the festival site, the above-mentioned wellness and meditation area, pilates and HIIT sessions (which were popular, but more for gym and fitness fans as far as I’m concerned) plus a kids zone with crafting, a cinema tent and face painting.

FloVibe cute kids.jpg

I took part in the ‘flow like water’ class before lunch, a ‘dance flow’ class (where we learned a fun dance choreography, which I really enjoyed) in the afternoon and a ‘flow to the beat’ session, which all took about 60-75 minutes. The festival had a system of splitting up available spaces into pre-booked and turn up on the day, which initially felt a bit frustrating as we had to wait for pre-bookers to get to the class before any additional spots would get released. As one of the sides of the large tents was open though, it was possible to just ad your own mat (inside the tents they were provided) in the grass outside for most workshops.

FloVibe gate.jpg

To my utter delight, there was a silent disco just outside the bar tent in the evening, which was probably the most fun silent disco I’ve ever been to. Everybody got really into it and the youngest dancers must have been around a year old, serious fun and the beautiful weather just made it extra special. There were no classes after 7pm, so I concentrated on the music line-up again, this time featuring bands like Bamboo Smoke (their singer Lou Wellby, who I interviewed before the festival, was responsible for the terrific eclectic music line-up all weekend), MC Xander, The London Afrobeat Collective and Plump DJs. Of all the bands playing during the festival I’d only heard of one before, but I was positively surprised by the variety and quality of music throughout. One of the musicians, Paul Jackson aka Omnivibes (pic below) travelled with a 19-year-old peregrine falcon in his van, the only animal on site, so I learned a lot about birds of prey and it was fascinating to see such a stunning bird up-close.

FloVibe Omnivibes Set.JPG

After we were blessed with such a sunny Saturday, Sunday turned out quite cold and windy and I spent a lot of time in the cute yellow curry bus sipping chai, reading and catching up on my journal. I also managed to persuade myself to do just the one yoga session, ‘Find Your Flow’, during which the rain really came down quite heavily. Being in downward dog pose, looking through my legs at the sky behind us, it was the first time I ever saw it raining upside down. What a simple, but fun change of perspective and the unusual weather scenario made the class all the more special. So lovely.

FloVibe view from happy tent.jpg

There was also a speakers’ corner at FloVibe including talks on spiritual atheism, diet and quitting your job to live your dream, but while I found them interesting to some extent, it would be really great to include some more in-depth yoga philosophy, anatomy talks or even just Q&As with the visiting teachers in future to dig a bit deeper. My favourite session all weekend was a meditation and interactive workshop with festival founder Jason Pooley called ‘Attention to Intention’. After a short guided meditation, we got to explore our dreams and learned that intention needs to be accompanied by attention, so we can actually achieve our goals. If there was one take-away from this lovely weekend of yoga, music and mindfulness, it was to concentrate more on the positive, what we’d like to happen, rather than the negative, what we’re afraid of. Interestingly, it is often the simplest things which are the most difficult to achieve and at the same time the most important lessons to be learned.

FloVibe buddha sign.jpg

Whether you are looking for a weekend of perfecting your asanas, want to learn more about meditation, get pampered in a beautiful setting, love dancing to live music or have your kids in tow, FloVibe is a super relaxed boutique festival you should definitely add to your summer festival list!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the festival.

River Party, Unplugged: Unamplifire Festival 2017

Imagine a garden party with friends right by the Thames, sipping wine, looking out over the river, a fire going in one corner, fresh food being cooked in another and the sound of beautiful music drifting through the air. Yes, this place exists (even if only for a day) and The Nest Collective somehow made it happen on a day without any rain. Hallelujah!

Master Shipwrights Palace.jpg

I was volunteering with Unamplifire Festival on 27 May and the first part of the adventure was finding the venue in Deptford, which was hidden away a few minutes off the high street, on the banks of the river. Master Shipwright’s Palace (built by master shipwright Joseph Allin in 1708) is a private residence and when I made my way around the building to meet Kelly, the volunteer coordinator, I found myself enviously gazing at the current residents sunbathing in the gorgeous garden dotted with apple trees. What a place to live! We spent the next couple of hours setting up the food stall, the bar and long tables decorated with hurricane lamps and rustic table runners made from burlap and somehow managed to get everything ready before the first musicians were due to be on stage. Phew!

veggie food.jpg

I was stationed at the entrance giving out wristbands to ticket holders for a couple of hours before I spent the rest of the evening moving between the four venues to enjoy the amazing acoustic music on offer. Hidden away on the first floor of the historic house is the piano room where I took a seat on the floor for the first set of the night by international music collective Kefaya (pic below), who I had already seen and very much liked at Shrewsbury Folk Festival a few years ago. There is such a vibrant, positive energy about the three guys on guitar, bodhran and piano and all of us huddled together on the floor of the sparsely decorated space listened in awe. The band also had a guest singer from Afghanistan, who treated us to a couple of haunting songs from her homeland. Later on, Dizraeli took to the same stage with his fascinating slam poetry and thoughtful songs perfect for such an event.

Kefaya band.jpg

As the sun went down over the river I switched between the other room upstairs, the aptly named River Room with a view of the Thames and the large garden, with sets by Nadine Khouri, Nina Harries, Marry Waterson and David A. Jaycock and the outdoor Campfire stage where James Riley, Owl Parliament and Gamelan Lila Cita (pic below) played in the open air. I also had a peek through the large window on the side of the tiny cranehouse, the most exclusive of the four spaces barely holding a handful of people, with lots more revellers gathered just outside, drinks in hand, straining to listen to the unplugged guitar sounds of Piers Faccini and others.

Gamelan Lila Cita.jpg

The Nest Collective ‘warns’ you online that “this is not a wild party, it is a festival of listening and music appreciation. There are no PAs, it is all unplugged, no sound checks, no line checks, just wall to wall music”. And this is exactly what makes this sort of event so special and so precious. It was delightful to see that there is a market for unhurried, pared-down, beautifully simple (in the best sense of the word), real music and it was a pleasure listening to it in the company of others who absolutely ‘get it’. People were free to move between spaces anytime they liked and some had quite young children with them. Nevertheless, it went without saying that everyone quietly found a spot to sit or stand, not disturbing anyone else and fully appreciating the intelligent, creative performances in front of them. I was very impressed.

sunset cranehouse.jpg

If you’re anything like the friendly security guard I had a chat with during my volunteer shift, who admitted he doesn’t really like folk music, maybe it’s time to not judge music and musicians so much by their cover or label. Take some time to give a few not so well-known artists a listen and you might just find the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard.

Ideas of India: The Jaipur Literature Festival at the British Library 2017

When events are successful in one place, it often makes sense to send them travelling so that people in other cities and countries can enjoy them, too. The fourth UK edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, taking place in the Pink City every January and started by writers Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple in 2008, was held for the first time at the British Library, from 20-21 May 2017. I was looking forward to exploring a culture and its literature which I knew very little about before the festival, although India has been on my bucket list for quite some time. The diverse two-day programme with authors from across the globe was made up of 30 tempting sessions for literature lovers and also offered some beautiful Indian live music, including a lively set by amazing Mumbai-based band Kabir Café on Saturday night. I did my very best to attend as many of the events as possible and came home with some great stories and lots of fascinating reading material in my very beautifully designed festival bag.

Jaipur fest piazza.jpg

The very first event on Saturday morning was a live music session with singer Vidya Shah and poet Arundhati Subramaniam introducing us to some mystical devotional Bhakti poetry in the Piazza tent set up for the festival in the courtyard of the British Library. I stayed on for ‘The Beatles in India’ with Beatles biographer Philip Norman, who had some very entertaining and surprising stories on the band’s time at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh.

Academic Rachel Dwyer’s interview of Bollywood director Karan Johar was predictably popular. Having not been much of a fan of this genre of film before, it definitely made me curious to find out more about its history and place in Indian culture in future. One of my favourite panel discussions on Saturday was ‘Migrant Words’ with writers Amit Chaudhuri, Lila Azaam Zanganeh, Meera Syal and Prajwal Parajuly very ably and humorously chaired by Anita Anand. The panellists shared their thoughts on and issues with identity and home, which all of us not living in the countries we were born in can certainly identify with. One of the most surprising and enlightening events for me was ‘The Genetics of Skin’, which I hadn’t originally had on my to-attend-list. Dr. Sharad Paul talked eloquently about the history of the human skin and skin colour and how it affects our health in a myriad of ways.

jaipur litfest panel.jpg

The ‘India Votes’ as well as ‘The Rise and Fall of Mughal Art’ sessions were a great reminder why I love festivals so much as places of informal learning, as I picked up a lot of information about Indian politics and art. While most of the other attendees I spoke to had a connection with India and therefore an obvious reason for being there, there were also other members of the audience who had been brought along by friends or were planning a trip to India in the near future. As far as I’m concerned, festivals which promote a particular culture or country are a great place to do research for your travels as – unlike in most regular guide books – they provide you with up to date information on current events (e.g. recommendations for The Sacred Pushkar Festival and The Ragasthan Festival) and access to lots of knowledgeable people to quiz about your chosen destination.

The second and last festival day was equally busy. The ‘Footloose’ travel session, which was one of my favourites purely because it was such a pleasure to hear some of the top travel writers read from their own work, in this case William Dalrymple, Anthony Sattin, Hugh Thomson, Samanth Subramanian and Monisha Rajesh. A little later, British writer Giles Milton told us the fascinating story of ‘Nathaniel’s Nutmeg’, which highlighted the many issues and quite gruesome conduct during colonial times. Food for thought indeed.

‘Shaping the Novel’ with writers Kunal Basu, Sarvat Hasin, Amit Chaudhuri and Tahmima Anam discussing the art of novel writing with festival director Namita Gokhale and ‘Ideas of India’, a panel discussion with some of the festival authors, were a real treat at the end of this wonderful festival, which was illuminating in so many ways. Most importantly, it has put India on the map for me and I’m not just talking about its vibrant, diverse culture, but the many individual voices I listened to over the weekend, the identities this vast country is shaped by and their hopes for a common humanity, which we can all learn from.

Jaipur fest books.jpg

On a more practical note, all weekend the three festival venues inside the British Library, the large knowledge centre theatre, the Piazza tent and the BL foyer (these events were free to attend, which was good to see given that all events at the original festival are free, too) were brimming with lively energy. I have rarely seen such a smiley – even if naturally extremely busy – festival team. Every single event I’ve been to was very well attended, which suggests that the organisers might look into expanding the venues in the years to come. It would also be lovely to see additional, possibly more interactive events, in order to draw in a younger crowd, too, as well as some Indian food and drink to also get to know the various flavours of Indian cooking.

Quite exhausted from the two-day literature marathon, but very happy to have learned so much about the many different Indias, I am now even more keen to make it to Rajasthan for the original Jaipur Literature Festival, which is the largest free festival of its kind. Those of you based in the USA or heading there later in the year might like to know that the festival will also be travelling to Boulder, Colorado (another place on my ever-growing bucket list) in September 2017. You just can’t escape extraordinary literature!

jaipur fest hashtag.jpg

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a press pass for the festival.