Tag Archives: yoga

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!

WYF ganga arati.jpg

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

 

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.

FloVibe Omnivibes Set.JPG

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

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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.

The Future of Wellness: A visit to Balance Festival 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stillness in the Midst of Chaos: The OM Yoga Show 2016

One year ago I was a brand new yoga convert and attended the OM Yoga Show for the first time. I wrote about my experience as a yoga newbie and have since been doing my best to keep a regular practice going throughout the year. I also went to two excellent yoga festivals in the summer, Yoga Connects near Rugby, and the inaugural Soul Circus in the Cotswolds. The UK has seen a real yoga boom in recent years and the OM Yoga show, which took place from 21-13 October 2016, is always a good place to find out about new trends and take a few classes with expert teachers.

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Having been to a talk by Dan Peppiatt of Yoga Like Water at Yoga Connects in July, I was keen to try out one of his sessions and the first one I took part in was a blind-folded yoga class. Yes, I  know, sounds scary, right? We got each given an eye mask and pretty much hoped for the best! Just listening to the instructor’s voice without any visual queues required quite a bit of trust and finding balance with your eyes closed turned even the most basic asanas into a nice challenge. Do try it at home and see how you feel. Doing yoga blind-folded was definitely a real eye-opener for me!

The second session by Dan I attended was all about preparing your hands and fingers for arm balances and, phew, there weren’t actually any handstands involved in the half-hour session. Instead, Dan talked us through various muscle groups and movements, which are all essential in order to be able to balance upside down or even just for crow pose. It’s ultimately more about technique rather than strength (good to know). It was a very interesting lesson in patience and we learned that breaking any process down into individual steps is a great way of achieving a long-term goal. Something which is not only useful in the yoga world, but does also come in handy in other parts of our daily lives.

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Another workshop I really enjoyed was the Rainbow Kids Yoga class (see above) on how to get children of different ages excited about yoga. We went through a variety of ‘journeying’ and other playful sequences including taking the kids, or in our case, a bunch of adults channelling their inner child for half an hour, on a trip to New York (or wherever else takes your fancy) which included riding the ocean waves and flying across the sky. Yep, it took quite a bit of imagination, but we were all up for it and all the laughing, dancing and group bonding most certainly released a lot of happy hormones. What a lovely experience!

After having greatly enjoyed one of David Sye’s sessions last year, I was keen to do another class by the Yogabeats founder this time around too. Driven by rhythmic, fairly fast-paced music and lots of food for thought, it was another memorable workshop, the half hour it lasted flying by in no time. Do check out their classes and charity work online, if you want yoga for body and soul and not just in order to keep fit.

Something quite different, but also a nice challenge is the fairly recent trend of aerial yoga, which was a new addition to this year’s show. As was to be expected, it was incredibly popular and alas there were long queues for it on each day, but it’s  on my list to try sometime, maybe at a yoga festival next year.

Pip & Eugene of Acro Yoga Dance with were also at the show again this year. This brave little girl (see below) was definitely a step ahead of most of us, so great to see the yogis of the future!

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I also made sure I took out some time for talks on meditation and mindfulness, which are all part of a well-rounded yoga practice and something which I still find even harder to make time for than the asana-based work. The first session I attended was by Kat Farrants, founder of online yoga platform Movement for Modern Life and focused on creating a personal home practice. The other was by Neil Seligman who talked about a related topic, how to sustain a daily mindfulness practice. There were a lot of similarities between the two speakers. Both had come from a fast-paced work environment and performance-focused culture and had been keen to find a more balanced lifestyle. So both of them developed a personal approach to include yoga and mindfulness in their daily lives. The secret? Not rocket science, of course. Instead it is about breaking down your practice into bite-sized chunks, creating a dedicated mindfulness area in your home and sticking with it (the hard part, obviously)! It has definitely motivated me to keep up my own home practice, as imperfect as it often is.

In fact, the OM yoga show mirrors quite well what life is like for most of us. There is a lot of noise all around us and we are constantly being pulled in many different directions. The important part is to learn to stay centred amidst the chaos and focus on our personal goals. And just like last year, after three yoga-filled days, I came away with lots of good tips for my personal practice, a few nice product samples and some interesting new yoga contacts. Mission staying motivated for a regular yoga practice most definitely accomplished!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a one day press pass for the 2016 event in exchange for a personal review of the show 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.

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

Meet the Festival Makers: Matthew Miller of Soul Circus Yoga Festival

There’s a new festival on the block and it promises to be one to watch on the UK summer festival circuit. Soul Circus is a boutique yoga and wellness festival in the beautiful Cotswolds, an intimate ‘immersive escape’ for about 500 lucky folks who will spend an August weekend doing yoga in three themed tents (ambient, party, experiential), getting pampered plus enjoying quality local street food and live music every night.

Sounds awesome, right? I spoke to Soul Circus’ creative and media director (and Broga founder) Matthew Miller to find out more about the upcoming festival.

Life is a Festival: How was the idea for Soul Circus born and what makes it unique?

Matt: This past year, my business partners Roman and his wife Ella had what was billed as a ‘festival wedding’ over the course of three days in the Cotswolds. It was to date the most amazing wedding I have ever attended. Ever since I first moved to the UK from California a few years ago, I was totally enamoured with the idea of the British festival. We have loads of summer music festivals and concerts in the States but nothing, (besides Burning Man), that is an immersive escape from the world we know everyday and a chance to escape through nature back to a simpler, carefree and more joyful life, like when we were kids. We love the smaller UK festivals and thought, what if instead of having the wellbeing as a sideshow to accompany the music, we flipped it around and made the focus the wellbeing, and had the music as the add-on extra? A whole weekend of just being good to yourself and enjoying nature with a little bit of raucous fun instead of debauchery with a bit of detox rehab served on the side. Soul Circus was born.

Life is a Festival: The festival seems incredibly well thought out (stunning location, specifically designed yoga practice areas, posh toilets, health-conscious food offerings), how are you making this happen?

Matt: We threw our idea on Stunning Tents, who supplied the Cirque de Soleil quality tents and glamping accommodations for the wedding, and they loved the idea of hosting a luxury wellness and yoga festival. We have also kept it local in terms of catering. The spa treatment tent is hosted by the Holistic partner from the South West and the organic food and artisanal drink is coming from home-grown upstarts like The Core Cheltenham and The Little Gin Company.

Life is a Festival: Looking at the (very tempting!) Soul Circus website, you managed to get a number of amazing teachers on board, what sort of different sessions can festivalgoers expect?

Matt: Wherever you are on your yogic journey, we want you to have an ideal weekend. With 18 classes a day, guests can fill their days with vinyasa flow and relaxing yin classes, or branch out and try circus aerial or body painting yoga. Whichever way you flow, you’ll learn from the UK’s best teachers who are coming from far and wide to host creative workshops and classes. Not to mention there will be three distinct environments you will never get at your gym or studio at home: a party tent featuring DJ’s, live music and rave lighting; an ambient tent that will host both open air and steaming hot classes and an experiential tent with visual video projections on the walls to transport you to a different land.

Life is a Festival: What about the music, can’t have a festival without music, right?

Matt: Music is the heartbeat of Soul Circus. Our experiences range from DJ-powered yoga classes to acoustic musical meditations to the electric main stage performances. Whatever your taste, you’ll enjoy artists all day and into the secret woodland rave at night. You may even discover your next musical crush.

Life is a Festival: How about kids, is Soul Circus suitable for families too?

Matt: Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the kids! Soul Circus is totally family-friendly with dedicated kids activities and an on-site spa for some alone time as well.

Thanks Matt! So if you haven’t got any plans for 19-21 August 2016 yet, get your hands on the coveted Soul Circus tickets and join the yoga party. I, for one, am already super excited to add the festival to my packed summer schedule!