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Shining A Light on Traditional Yoga: World Yoga Festival 2018

After having had a wonderful time at World Yoga Festival when I visited for the first time in 2017 (see review), I was excited to be back this summer for the third edition of the festival, which took place from 19-22 July 2018. The traditional yoga event focusing on a holistic approach to yoga was again held at Beale Park, near Reading, easily accessible by car or train and taxi (plus a festival shuttle at peak times).

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Since last attending I’ve somewhat fallen off the yoga wagon and am still struggling with making regular meditation part of my life. So I got on the train to World Yoga Festival with somewhat mixed feelings last Thursday, even though I knew at the back of my mind that I’ll probably return home more motivated after a weekend of immersion into yoga philosophy and practice, just like I did last year. A few days away from our normal routines is often just what is needed to get a new perspective on life and World Yoga Festival has it all: a fabulous location, wonderful teachers, a health-conscious but relaxed atmosphere (alcohol and smoke-free plus lots of delicious vegetarian and vegan food) and, maybe most importantly and unlike many other festivals, it exists in order to promote the ancient wisdom associated with yoga philosophy in the UK and the world and is (as of this year) completely run as a charity, the Arsha Kula Foundation.

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When festival founder Ram Banerjee made his opening remarks during the Welcome Ceremony, the first thing he said was: ‘Welcome back, welcome home!’ This was the perfect blessing for another weekend of yogic inspiration and another impressive array of teaching, talks and concerts from Thursday evening until Sunday night. As we were also celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of BKS Iyengar, one of the highlights for many attendees was no doubt the return of Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh from Mumbai, who tought a series of six two-hour masterclasses.

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There were also several opportunities for a gong bath with sound healer Nikki Slade in the Space tent as well as kirtan and other chanting sessions. This year I gave a Sivananda yoga workshop with Laura Creswell a try, which incorporated both meditation and asanas and was a good introduction to this type of yoga. The Fire tent in particular, the smallest of the open-sided venues, was once more the hub for spiritual and philosophical talks on Understanding Reality (Ram Banerjee), Sanskrit and the Yoga Sutras (Lucy Crisfield) and many other inspiring sessions. The classes in the Air tent (see pic below), e.g. Vijay Gopala’s Yogic Science of Sun Salutations and Pt. Radheshyam Mishra offering a meditation for Emotional Balance, were also very popular often attracting more attendees than fitted into the tent.

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The evening concerts, which were scheduled every night from around 8pm until 10pm, were another highlight and, as far as I’m concerned, are much more than merely entertainment. The music especially selected for the festival included many facets of Indian and some world music, including Jyotsna Srikanth (Southin Indian Carnatic violinist) and the Odissi dance of Pracheeti Dange, Prabhat Rao and band (Hindustani Classical musicians), Shammi Pithia and band (classical Indian music with modern touches) as well as New Zealand-based Sika Deer (tribal music; who also did an experiential sound journey session one afternoon).

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In between the classes I kept returning to the Chai tent at the bottom of which was one of the coffee and juicing stalls run by nutritionist Trish Tucker, who also gave a useful talk with many practical tips on health and wellbeing. Like all the festival tents, the grassy ground was covered in coloured carpet, a different shade each symbolising the four elements. This tent (see pic below) overlooking the lake and furnished with low tables and sitting cushions was the perfect base to recharge after a more vigorous class, read a book, write in your journal or simply enjoy the first coffee of the day or a cup of tea at sunset.

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In addition, the healing village offered complimentary therapy options, such as massage, reiki and energy healing in a serene lake side setting and there were also hot tubs for weary festival bodies. The Gotra family yoga area with many classes, games and crafty fun for the little yogis seemed even more lively and popular this year and it was lovely to see so many tiny humans run wild and free across the festival site with big smiles on their faces.

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The food options this year included again South Indian food from Lalita’s, such as mandala dosa (pancakes with curry and sauces), Beleaf from Bristol providing healthy salads (see pic above) and breakfast options, two coffee and smoothie stalls, a new pizza and pasta truck plus Taste Tibet, which offered yummy vegan curries and very moreish Tibetan momos (veggie-filled dumplings, pictured below).

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The botanical cocktail bar (see pic below), which got moved closer to the main tent this year, was also popular again, mixing a range of plant-based cocktails for festival goers to enjoy.

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Here are a few things I learned or re-learned at the festival this year: expanding our comfort zone can be scary but is ultimately worth it, self care is not an indulgence but a healthy part of life and it’s never too late to change unhealthy habits, appreciating what we have is important and life is not a competition, when we face life’s challenges we need to become better rather than bitter, a single step doesn’t form a path, but continuous practice does in order to slowly transform your personality for the better, focusing on self-expression and going beyond rituals is more helpful than being action-oriented, if we hurt nature or others, we hurt ourselves, without failure we would never know what we’re really capable of, unexpected insights can happen anytime.

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Given its success so far, World Yoga Festival certainly has the potential to become a permanent fixture, but having been mostly privately financed until now, it will need the support of many individuals to continue on its path. You can help the event grow and prosper by attending a future festival and also find out more about it and the Arsha Kula Foundation as well as potential sponsorship opportunities.

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Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2018 festival in exchange for a preview post and a personal review of the event. 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.

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Highway to Adventure: The Adventure Travel Film Festival 2017

The Adventure Travel Film Festival, which took place from 11-13 August 2017, had been on my to do list for a few years now and I finally managed to pay it a visit. It is a film festival showing mostly independently produced outdoor, adventure sports and travel documentaries combined with camping just a tube and a bus ride away from Central London at Mill Hill School. The annual event, which also has sister festivals in Scotland  (September) and Australia (February), is run by adventurers and filmmakers Austin Vince and Lois Pryce and apart from the extensive film programme offers talks by well-known explorers, workshops (first aid on the road, medicinal plants, bushcraft, spoon whittling) and even motorbike trial lessons.

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I managed to make it to two of the three festival days, but even though the films were repeated at different times it was really difficult to choose between them as they all sounded really enticing. Some of them also had filmmaker Q&As at the end, like Liemba (a journey on Africa’s oldest steamship), whose director Julie Clavier came over from Paris to present her film. The first film I caught was called Man with a Pram and featured Swedish adventurer and now family man Mikael Strandberg who set out on a two-month walking journey from Manchester to London together with his two-year old daughter Dana and assistant Georgia Villalobos. Alternating between staying with friends and acquaintances and wild camping along the way, the three encounter an intriguing cast of characters, old and young, friendly and odd, on their journey to figuring out what the English are really like as a nation. Definitely one to watch if you think travelling with children is (nearly) impossible, just put them in a pram, pack some nappies and off you go!

This was followed by a triple bill of shorter films: Kapp to Cape, a three-month high-speed cycle journey from Norway to South Africa by British Iranian Reza Pakravan; Two Bedouins, A Camel & An Irishman follows Leon McCarron and his local guide Musallem Faraj into the Sinai desert where they explore the fascinating landscape and learn about the traditional way of life of the nomads; In The Eyes of God Latvian extreme kayaker Tomass Marnics and a handful of his friends tackle the most dangerous rivers in remote Kyrgyzstan.

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Unlike at most other festivals I’ve been to, the venue provided all the food (and I’m assuming they don’t allow outside vendors), so if you’re planning on attending the whole festival, I highly recommend booking your meal plan in advance (this covered cooked breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday as well as dinners on Friday and Saturday night). As I wasn’t staying the whole weekend, I brought my own snacks and supplemented them with coffees and sandwiches from the indoor café (plus there was a BBQ, which included veggie kebabs and veggie sausages, for extra food options). Talking of practical things, there was a shower and toilet block not too far from the camping areas as well as portaloos and indoor toilets in the venues and plenty of drinking water available. I also picked some lovely blackberries right behind my tent, which made for a delicious foraged snack.

After dinner, it was time to attend a talk and the one by native Sri Lankan Dylan Wickrama was very inspiring. He decided to tackle the Pan American Highway on his motorbike and build his own raft to cover the Darién Gap (where no road exists) between Central and South America, resulting in a 30-day solo boat journey (bike on board), which made for a profound experience, including meeting a pod of inquisitive dolphins. It was a beautiful story illustrated by videos and photos from the trip.

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As the weather was quite windy and cloudy on Friday night, the Starlight Screening, which would have normally happened outside, was moved to the sports hall with hundreds of chairs set up for us. The whole festival was efficiently run by the organisers and dozens of friendly volunteers like Kathy and James, who checked me in on Friday afternoon. The feature on Friday night was called DugOut and was a film by and about Ben Sadd and James Trundle, who ventured into the Amazon enlisting a local man to help them fell a tree, turn it into a dugout canoe and then take it downstream for a river adventure. The film is a beautifully made testament to what can be achieved when you have an idea, follow through with it and are open to learning from the locals thereby discovering a whole new world and skills which our Western societies have largely lost.

After a lovely bluegrass live set by The Jolenes (including festival director and ace banjo player Lois Pryce) by the campfire on Friday evening and a peaceful night in the happy tent, the first sessions of the day started at 10am (sadly clashing with the morning yoga class). I picked the How to Make a Film of Your Adventure by festival director Austin Vince talk, who explained in an hour and a half the rules, pitfalls and ideas around making a TV-worthy travel and adventure documentary. So do remember to work with a shot list, vary your sequences (bits of story) and transitions (bits to link the parts of the story, i.e. maps, local flora and fauna, day counters with commentary and/or music), include children, older people and animals and aim to show interesting places, artefacts and experiences plus try and shoot only what you need.

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I also watched Paddle For The North, a Yukon canoeing adventure which, to my delight, included two puppies, Taiga (a golden retriever) and Zephyr (a wire-haired pointer), who made the already intriguing film even more fun to watch. I somehow managed to see a lot of water-based films during the weekend, another one was Rowed Trip describing Canadians Julie and Colin Angus’ seven months rowing and cycling trip from John O’Groats in Scotland all the way to Aleppo in Syria in 2008, particularly poignant to see given the current political situation.

The final event I attended was a talk by explorer Benedict Allen who, together with BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardener in his wheelchair (he was shot by terrorists), embarked on a quest to see Birds of Paradise in Papua New Guinea. It was another good example of how having a dream and following through with it is what adventure is all about. And this is what this festival is really good at. Inspiring people to turn their dreams into an adventure, learn from the experts and just go for it. But don’t worry, you don’t have to be an adventurous type to enjoy the event. In fact, the festival was definitely on the quieter side and is suitable for families, more laid-back folks (many of them into motorbikes) and anyone with an interest in travelling and filmmaking.

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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.