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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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Maverick Festival 2018 Preview

Maverick 2018 Logo

The Maverick Festival launch event in London always feels like the start of summer festival season! Every March, the festival organisers present some great live acts, who this time included previous Maverick artists Don Gallardo (see below) and ‘The Living Bluesman’ Tom Attah (see last pic), to press and industry and you get to catch up with what everyone is up to over the summer months. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine summer ever coming back with the weather we have had here in the UK in the past few weeks. But I trust once June and July roll around, we’ll be in the mood for cocktails and ice cream again and some great live Americana from the UK, the USA and further afield.

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This year’s line-up is as tempting as ever. In just one weekend you can listen to lots of quality Americana, folk and country artists you already love and find some new favourites you had maybe never heard of before. I was really happy to hear to that the following singers and bands are all joining the line-up this year: Jonathan Byrd (US), Lachlan Bryan and The Wilds (OZ), who I somehow managed to miss last time, Anna Tivel & Jeffrey Martin (US), Southern Avenue (US), Bonnie Bishop (US) as well as awesome UK live bands like Danny And the Champions of the World, The Mountain Firework Company and The Vagaband.

There will also be a special feature with music from Hawaii, which I’m already super excited about, including the Hawaiian singer and dancer Kehau Kahananui. Other highlights include Nashville cult favorites The Cordovas, native Tennessean pianist and  songwriter Hans Chew and Arkansas-based Dylan Earl.

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The Maverick programmers always manage to book artists that had been on my list for quite a while and find Americana jems that I was glad I discovered at the festival. This year is no exception. I’m already looking forward to getting a chance to listen to The Local Honeys (US), Bonnie Bishop (US), The Most Ugly Child (UK), Imogen Clark (OZ), Arkansas Dave (US), and many more live at the farm this summer.

I’ve been to the festival quite a few times now and it’s been one of the most relaxed and  enjoyable outdoor events on my summer calendar ever since. Read my previous reviews and my top 10 reasons to attend to get an idea what the atmosphere is like. You can buy day tickets or stay for the whole weekend, which I recommend, of course, as it’s just a lovely place to hang out for a weekend.

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If camping is not your thing, you can book a nearby B&B, the closest train station is Woodbridge and Easton Farm Park is not too far from the sea and nestled in beautiful rural Suffolk countryside. On top of all that, it attracts a super friendly crowd, dogs are allowed at the festival site and there is some yummy food and drink on offer (think Suffolk cider and local ales), so you definitely won’t go hungry or thirsty.

Make sure you keep an eye on the Maverick Festival website for the full line-up so far and for any additional acts, which are likely going to be announced in the coming months.

Disclaimer: All photography in this blog post was provided by Sophie Boleyn Photography.

Room For All: A Guide for Shrewsbury Folk Festival Newbies (including festival review 2017)

I first attended Shrewsbury Folk Festival in 2012, signing up as a volunteer very last minute and had a wonderful time, as it is just an incredibly well-run and relaxed event. It not only bursts at the seams with incredible live music and dancing, it also has an ideal location being walking distance from the centre of the historic English town of Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, not far from the Welsh border.

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The 2017 Festival

For me, this year’s Shrewsbury Folk Festival (26-28 August 2017) was all about collaborations. Some of the exciting collaborative projects were The Passerine (Folk duo O’Hooley and Tidow with musicians from Egypt, India, Sudan and other countries) as part of the new Room For All Initiative celebrating cultural diversity, all female ‘supergroup’ Coven (Grace Petrie, O’Hooley and Tidow, Lady Maisery) and the closing performance in the newly named Bellstone tent (Marquee 1) ‘Faith, Folk & Anarchy’ with Steve Knightley, Tom Robinson and Martyn Joseph. As festival co-founder Alan Surtees sadly passed away earlier this year, there were lots of emotional tributes to him as well as a CD to support the newly created Alan Surtees Trust. Other local and international artists included Loudon Wainwright, Le Vent du Nord, Skippinish, The Unthanks, Daphne’s Flight, Sarah Jarosz, the Oyster Band, Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, The East Pointers and Ragged Union. While SFF is very much dedicated to folk music in its many forms, performers from other genres, such as the excellent Stockholm based US blues musician Eric Bibb this year, also always find a musical home here. My favourite new discoveries were The Fitzgeralds from the Ottawa region of Canada, who also offered an excellent step dancing workshop, which was attended by well over a hundred people. There was also a new stage this year, The Launchpad, near the food and bar area, showcasing up and coming musical talent, e.g. the excellent The Trials of Cato (who are based in Wales, but met each other in Lebanon, of all places).

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What accommodation options are there?

As a general punter you can arrive to pitch your tent from Friday morning (the music starts in the early evening) and the festival programme usually finishes around early evening on Monday, so most people leave around then or stay until the next morning (the last unofficial gathering in the onsite Berwick bar with lots of craft beer and cider on tap is always a highlight). If you’re in a campervan, you can park it beside your car or a car park across the road, depending on how much space there is when you arrive. I always come by train and the taxi to the site is less than 5 pounds or a 10 minute walk. There are three permanent toilet buildings (the one in the bar has mirrors and plugs for drying your hair) plus some nice toilets with sinks dotted around the site. The free showers are also good (and nice and hot) and there are drinking water taps available, too. Alternatively, Shrewsbury has a number of great hotel and B&B options, just make sure you book fairly early as it is a very popular weekend (with other events like a large steam fair on as well).

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What is it like to volunteer at the festival?

I always have a great time volunteering at SFF. You make new and meet up with old friends, are part of a lovely motivated team and help making the festival a success. In exchange for about 15-16 hours of work, you get a festival and camping pass for the weekend and work shifts of 2-4 hours at a time. You can also arrive a day early on Thursday from lunchtime. It is advisable to sign up as early as possible, i.e. email the festival for more details about steward applications. You can then choose one of the teams to work in, but please be aware that you might not always end up on your preferred team (especially if it’s your first time) and that it is not always possible for you to see all the artists you might want to see (but you can always try and request one or two). Some shifts also run fairly late (I had an evening shift until 1am), but this depends on your particular team. You can also volunteer to do setup and takedown, if you have time to arrive early and leave late and thereby be free during most of the festival.

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What kind of food and drink can I expect?

There is an outdoor food area around a large tent with tables and seats right beside the main marquee and it offers all the food you could possibly want (burgers, pizza, Mexican, Indian, Italian, fish & chips, two specifically veggie/vegan stalls, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream and cakes). This is supplemented by two large bars, the Berwick bar in an actual building and the beer tent beside the food area, both with tables and chairs, so you definitely won’t go hungry and thirsty!

What is there to do at the festival apart from the live music concerts?

I tend to focus on the concerts, but I often meet people who spend all weekend in trad sessions or in the dance tent. If you play an instrument, there are many tuneworks sessions, which include fiddle, whistle, guitar, accordion, melodeon, ukulele and even mountain dulcimer. You can bring your own instrument(s) or, for some of the beginners classes, borrow one for the class or the weekend (but please confirm this before you arrive). There is a whole separate Children’s Festival section (0-10 years) with a circus tent, lots of music, craft and acrobatic workshops all weekend and a lovely lantern procession in the dark. Older kids (11-20 years) can join the Refolkus Youth Festival and also improve their samba drumming or singing skills, be part of a dance battle or try some aerial acrobatics.

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How accessible is the festival?

SFF does its best to be inclusive to everyone. The location has paths leading to all the main venues, which are suitable for wheelchair use and mobility scooters and wheelchairs can be rented for the weekend. Accessible toilets and showers are also available beside the Berwick bar and there is a special disabled camping area beside between the Sabrina marquee and the bar. Most of the venues have an easily accessible wheelchair area (usually in the front) and the volunteer stewards can point you to it in each venue.

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Can I bring my dog?

Yes, you can, if it’s friendly and you look after it well. Which means you pick up after it and don’t leave it in your car for hours on end. Dogs are not allowed inside the main music venues, but there is usually space on the grass at the back or side of the tents where dog owners can spread out a blanket and enjoy the show with their four-legged buddies. I petted so many nice dogs (you can see a selection on my Instagram account Cuddle a Dog a Day), including a number of adorable puppies, this year and it’s nice to find out their stories and a great way of getting to know people, which is super easy at SFF anyway as most people are very friendly. There are also many dog owners in Shrewsbury itself and there is a great app/website called Doggie Pubs to find out about dog-friendly places to eat and drink around the UK.

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Will I enjoy myself even if I’m not a big fan of folk music?

This depends a bit about how open you are to trying out new things. The good thing about folk music is that it covers many different styles and SFF only book top class musicians, so if you’re willing to be open-minded, you will definitely have a great time. Plus, you can learn a new instrument from scratch over the weekend, improve your dancing skills, do some yoga, browse the many clothes and pressie stalls or simply chill in the sun (which we’ve had buckets full of this year, not a drop of rain!). Don’t worry about visiting by yourself, it’s practically impossible not to get chatting to some friendly folkies at SFF and lots of people return year after year. You can always opt for a day ticket to start with and I’m sure it’ll be a weekend pass next time around ;-).

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Is it worth checking out the town of Shrewsbury while I’m here?

Absolutely. The birth place of Charles Darwin has a number of museums and historic sights and is just a lovely, lively town to explore any time of the year. During SFF there are lots of morris displays (my fav this year was Pig Dyke Molly from East Anglia) and a parade around town on Saturday and Sunday. The city’s many cosy pubs, cafes and restaurants serve excellent food, including quite a few veggie and vegan options and I often head into town for breakfast to start my festival day. I also always do a charity shop crawl as there are a good dozen or so dotted around the city centre. A few of them also have stalls at the festival itself. In addition, Shrewsbury hosts lots of other interesting events year round, including the Shrewsbury Literature Festival in November. Free festival shuttles take you in and out of town on Saturday and Sunday, but the ten-minute walk along the river is a great way to stretch your legs, especially if the weather is as nice as this year.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.