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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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Are You a Yoga or Festival Newbie, or Both? Give World Yoga Festival 2018 a Try!

Here in the UK we’re blessed with many options for amazing yoga experiences pretty much all year round and, as far as I’m concerned, summer festivals are the best way of combining time outdoors in nature with learning new things in the company of other friendly people. You might be thinking, but I’m not a yogi (yet) or I’m definitely not a camping person. I felt the same way a couple of years ago. Now I enjoy both so much that I wanted to give you a heads up to give them a try this summer. Who knows, you might just have found your new passion in life!

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One of the most inspiring yoga festivals around is World Yoga Festival, taking place for the third time this year at Beale Park, near Reading, from 19 until 22 July 2018 and founded by Ram and Sonali Banerjee. It focuses on traditional yogic wisdom attracting incredible speakers and teachers from India, the UK and beyond while feeding you the most yummy vegetarian and vegan food to fuel your weekend of relaxation and learning. I visited the festival for the first time last year (full review here) and was very impressed by the quality of teaching, the stunning serene setting as well as the welcoming and warm atmosphere all weekend.

Here is an FAQ on a few of the things people often mention to me when I talk festivals or yoga and they’ll hopefully help to put your mind at ease about giving a yoga festival a try this summer. You’ve got nothing to lose, but everything to win!

What are the essentials I need to bring to World Yoga Festival?

If you’re staying on site, bring your tent and anything you need to be comfy for a few days under the stars. Apart from essentials, such as your sleeping bag and your festival tickets, things that always come in handy are a sleeping mask and earplugs, sun cream or hot water bottle depending on the weather, flip flops, rain jacket and warm clothes for the evenings, swimming outfit (there is a beautiful lake!), bandaids, scissors, an extra battery for your phone, spare loo rolls, wet wipes and some sellotape. Don’t forget your yoga mat, of course (but if you do, you can purchase a shiny new one from one of the vendors), your refillable water bottle, as there is free drinking water on tap, some cash to pay for food during the weekend (most vendors also accept cards though). There are no cooking facilities in the camping area and nowhere to keep items cool, so either bring lots of fruit, veg and other simple snacks or enjoy sampling the delicious vegetarian food on offer. It includes South Indian, Tibetan and other healthy food options plus hot drinks and plant-based cocktails.

I don’t own a car, how do I get to the festival?

The site is close to Pangbourne train station and the festival offers a free shuttle to the site, but do check with them beforehand when it runs. You can probably walk it if you don’t have much luggage, it’s just over a mile. I used a local taxi company on my arrival day and put my name on the list for a shuttle on Sunday (sign up at the info table during the weekend).

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None of my friends feel like going to a yoga festival with me, what is it like attending by myself?

Festivals are fun, friendly events where people enjoy themselves and forget about their day jobs for a weekend. I almost always attend them by myself because it gives me the freedom to choose exactly how I want to spend my days and I still always end up meeting lots of like-minded people to have chats with over a meal, before or after classes. Don’t be shy to start a conversation with other festival goers like have they been before or what sessions can they recommend. There were so many different people of all ages and backgrounds at WYF last year, so it was a fantastic way to connect and exchange tips with others who are into yoga and meditation.

I’m a camping newbie and not too keen on the idea of sleeping in a tent and sharing showers. Will I still have a great time?

Absolutely! There are a few ways you can approach your first camping experience. Go with friends, bring your sleeping bag and let them organise the gear for you. Go just for a day without camping and walk around the campsite, talk to people and see what they pack and how big or small a tent would work for you. Stay for just one night. You’re probably crashed at a friend’s sofa before without much preparation and survived the experience, so think of it as an outdoor sleepover. If the weather is nice, a small/thin tent with just one layer is good enough. But bear in mind, that in this country the weather can often change quickly and the rain will get inside your tent if it doesn’t have two layers. I’ve been in this situation twice (obviously not having learned from it the first time around!) and it was a very uncomfortable, soggy and cold experience you don’t want to get in the way of enjoying your yoga experience.

I suggest: buy a smallish tent (mine is a ‘three men’ one, which despite its name just about fits myself and my gear), bring as little luggage as possible, but as much as you need to be comfortable. Even if you notice you’ve forgotten some essential item or need help setting up your tent when you get there, don’t panic, talk to your camping neighbours and most likely they are happy to lend you any spares they have, you can always treat them to a drink (no alcohol at WYF, but they had lots of delicious herb cocktails etc.) in exchange.

Regarding the showers, WYF has some of the best and cleanest ones around, no portaloos, but proper flushing toilets with sinks and mirrors (see my post from last year for pictures). As it’s a fairly small festival and the classes start early in the mornings people tended to not stay up too late, so I slept pretty well at night and you can always take a quick power nap after lunch, if needed. Plus there is a spa area by the lake for some serious chillaxing with many tempting pampering options on offer.

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I’m not sure if I can afford attending the festival, how can I still attend?

Most festivals offer a volunteering option, but you need to make sure you book your spot a good bit in advance. Here is all the volunteering info for WYF. If you do sign up, please be aware the festival team counts on every single individual and expects you to stick with your shift times and allotted job. However, especially if you’re attending by yourself, enjoy helping others and are good with people, it’s a great way of making new friends and getting to know a behind the scenes look at how a festival works.

There are so many great sounding sessions on offer, how am I supposed to know which ones are suitable for me?

The most important thing is to be realistic about how much you can fit in one day and make sure you plan in enough breaks. Unlike lots of other yoga festivals, WYF focuses less on a packed schedule of asana-based classes, but a lot more on personal growth and spiritual learning. While there are still plenty of physically challenging sessions on offer you can build up knowledge throughout the weekend by coming along to follow-up sessions by the same teachers or you can sample lesssons from lots of different styles and philosophical schools. I recommend reading up on the presenters before heading to WYF as it will give you a much better idea of whose classes are for you. All the teaching tents were spacious and airy, the perfect place for learning and relaxing. There is also some beautiful Indian live music scheduled for each evening in the main tent.

Upcoming festival highlights and booking information

This year’s line-up includes many of the very popular speakers from last year as well as some exciting new additions,such as Mumbai-based senior Iyengar yoga teacher Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh, Swami Ambikananda, founder of the Traditional Yoga Association of the UK, sound healer Sheila Whittaker, Vedanta teacher Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati and Dr. Ramesh Pattni, a world renowned authority in yoga psychology. You can check out the provisional timetable and presenter biographies in advance. If you’d like to find out more about the festival’s philosophy and history, you can read my interview with directors Ram and Sonali Banerjee, whose calm and positive presence throughout the weekend clearly set the scene for the very pleasent atmosphere at WYF.

Tickets are available from the festival booking page and feel free to get in touch for  questions anytime. See you on the mat this summer!

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

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

 

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.

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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!”

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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!

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

Meet the Festival Makers: Lou Wellby, Music Curator of FloVibe Festival

The tag line for the new FloVibe yoga and wellness festival taking place at Kelmarsh Hall near Northampton from 2-4 June 2017 is ‘where retreat meets festival’ and judging by the line-up, you could spend all your weekend learning new skills, getting pampered or partying in a relaxed atmosphere to some great live music. The above concept is nothing completely new, of course, but every festival has its unique story, focus and vibe, so I interviewed the event’s music curator, Lou Wellby, to find out more in order to make the best of the upcoming festival weekend.

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Life is a Festival: I’ve caught the yoga festival bug last summer when I attended Yoga Connects and Soul Circus and it’s so great to see Flovibe bursting onto the exciting emerging UK wellness festival scene this June. How did the festival come about and who is behind it?

Lou: Founder Jason Pooley created The House of Yoga in Putney which is a thriving community and local haven and he wanted to connect with other wellness communities and practitioners, to celebrate common ground and learn from one another. This developed into FloVibe Festival, bringing together yogis, musicians, sportsmen, movers & shakers to relax in nature, share ideas and let their wild side come through. Jason Pooley partnered with Matt Cooke (InFrame Media) and I came on board as Music Curator (I founded Jam Sandwich Live in 2011, hosting gigs for artists across the city).

Life is a Festival: FloVibe combines yoga and pilates with wellness and music, so there will be a lot of learning opportunities as well as a chance to relax and just party. What kind of experience do you want festival goers to have?

Lou: Exactly, the festival is about discovery, wellbeing, creativity and play. We wanted to create an experience where people could nourish themselves from the inside out and party with friends in nature – a weekend of discovery, without a week of recovery under the duvet! You can design your day to find your balance, between talks, classes, workshops, disco naps and letting loose to live music. We believe you can be wild and be well, there’s room to try new things, to restore, and to let loose.

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Life is a Festival: I had a look at the fab programme for the festival’s kids area and am sort of regretting being too old to take part in all the fun. What can festival families expect and are there any ways us grown-up kids join in a little bit, too?

Lou: Kids are very welcome, I think we can learn a lot from them about how to immerse yourself in the moment, in creating and in ‘being with’ yourself and others. Festival families will have their own camping area and can enjoy the beautiful lakeside setting together. Yoga, meditation, crafts and games for little ones – the festival is an opportunity to reconnect with your inner child, so yes, absolutely, grown up kids get involved too!

Life is a Festival: Have you got any suggestions for yoga newbies as well as experienced yogis, anything that we should definitely give a try, be it a class, food or treatment?

Lou: Oof that’s a tricky question…I’d say Acro Yoga (collaborative, balancing yoga) and SUP yoga (standing up / paddle board yoga) on the lake will bring a lot of laughter and fun to newbies, Yoga Nidra and Yin Yoga are lovely restorative practices for deep rest, especially after lots of dancing! I also tried Reflexology recently and LOVED it, go through the woods to see Georgie (Retreat 4 Your Feet), it is heavenly. The Bhangra Bus Cafe serves up healthy Indian vegetarian food, so nourishing. I could go on forever and as Music Curator I recommend ALL the music, of course!

FloVibe takes place for the first time from 2-4 June 2017, the line-up, tickets and teacher bios can all be found on the festival website. Camping is possible from Friday until Monday, but there are also day options available, if you’re short of time. Can’t wait to pitch my tent for a weekend of yoga, food and fun!

Disclaimer: All photography used in this blog post was provided by FloVibe festival.

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Mind Over Matter: Soul Circus Yoga & Wellness Festival 2016

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

yoga foto 3 main tent

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

Ushti Baba Soul Circus

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

breakfast Soul Circus

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

Meet the Founders Talk Soul Circus

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

tent village Soul Circus

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

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

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

Where Yogis Come to Play: Yoga Connects Festival 2016

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

Yoga Connects yoga outside Stanford Hall

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

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

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

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

Yoga Connects Opening night music

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

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

Yoga Connects slackline fun

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