Too expensive. That was the main reason that kept me from going to yoga festivals for a long time. I thought, how many classes can one possibly take a day and how can it ever be worth it, spending so much money?
I got the chance to review my doubts when I got invited to the Yoga Conference Germany in Cologne. The experience reached far beyond the practice of yoga asanas. In those two days, I laughed until I cried and I cried until I laughed again.
I hugged strangers and became close friends with people I had known from yoga classes for a while but never really connected with. I sweat a whole ocean, I sang, I danced and slept like a baby—and overall I felt inspired, happy and in love with my life.
Yoga festivals are a special and often life-changing experience. In the summertime, there's a yoga festival happening almost every weekend in the US and Canada, and I can't wait to check them out.
Yes, these events can be pricey—but they don’t always have to be. Almost every festival offers selected classes and side-events for free. Most of them have spots open for volunteers that donate their time to support the festival team in exchange for free classes.
If you are still not sure about whether a day-long yoga celebration is the right jam for you, here my top 5 reasons to at least give it a try.
1) Relax and Re-new: A yoga festival is an active mini-retreat.
If a yoga class can be your mini-break from everyday routines of moving (or mostly not moving) and thinking (or mostly worrying), a yoga festival can be a mini-retreat and your go-to when you need quality-time for and with yourself.
Whether the event is happening in a far away place or right in your neighborhood, as soon as your feet touch the festival grounds, you are entering a completely different world. Everything here is set up to make you feel awesome! Far away from your daily routines and to-do-list(s), all you need is to exhale stress and enjoy the offerings of the program to relax and energize.
Yogis are known to be a mostly positive, warm and open community wired to connection, so don’t worry to come along on your own or bring a friend if you can.
2) Learn From Masters: Renowned yoga teachers share their personal practices.
Yoga festivals usually invite the most renowned teachers from all over the world that have dedicated their lives to yoga. Some of them teach traditional yoga styles like David Williams, who was one of the first Western students of Ashtanga founder Pattahbi Jois in Mysore, India.
Some teachers created their own yoga style like Dana Trixie Flynn and Jasmine Tarkeshi (Lotus Flow), Bryan Kest (Power Yoga), David Life and Sharon Gannon (Jivamukti Yoga). Some are known for their physical mastery of yoga poses, like the Canadian yoga Goddess Meghan Curry, while others have specialized in the philosophy and mythology of yoga, like Anna Kaivalya.
Where else do we have the opportunity to meet and practice with so many different expert yogis? It is extremely inspiring and motivating to listen to, and learn from, passionate teachers who live what they teach and teach what they live.
3) Be Inspired, Stay Inspired: Time to explore and discover new sides of YOU.
Most of us in everyday life stick to our one or two favourite teachers and beloved routines without hardly ever trying something new. Yoga festivals are a great opportunity to explore new territory.
Most yoga festivals offer a wide range of yoga styles and related topics. The die-hard Power Vinyasa Yogi might discover the bliss of Yin Yoga. The serious Ashtangi may fall in love with the playful AcroYoga. One might explore mindful and fun “sister” disciplines like aerial yoga, Thai yoga massage, dance, hula hoop or parkour. The others might find the time and peace to dig into meditation and breathing techniques.
As much as we need certain routines to save energy, the constant drive on auto-pilot, that many of us so easily get trapped into, can eventually make us feel chronically tired or even depressed. A weekend in the vast and colourful yoga world is opening the door to step out of our comfort zone. Meeting new people and absorbing new ideas can inspire us to a new perspective on our practice and on our life.
4) Unity in Diversity: Meet your tribe and celebrate togetherness.
Yoga attracts people of diverse cultural and social backgrounds. While the diversity of the community makes part of its beauty, separating concepts of our mind like age, nationality, gender, religious beliefs, or political backgrounds dissolve into a sphere of acknowledgement, yet insignificance, when you meet in yoga pants.
Breathing and moving together creates a sense of belonging with others around you and really brings the uniting practice of yoga to the forefront. Being present at a yoga festival allows us to celebrate that fact with other like-minded people, from all over the country or even the world, while celebrating the wonderfulness of the practice itself.
5) Wild and Free: Wholehearted living outside the comfort zone.
It is this open and safe space of acceptance that can open doors you might not have known even existed. Suddenly you catch yourself climbing on a stranger’s body in acroyoga as if you were born to do so. You take the courage to try that handstand off the wall and fail in laughter.
You gaze into a fellow student’s eyes in a partner meditation and don’t feel shame for tears running down your cheeks. You sing and dance your heart out at the Kirtan concert and forget that, just a minute ago, “chanting” didn’t seem to be your thing at all.
Are You a Yoga Festival Newbie? Here's What You Need to Know
*Best deals: Look for Early Bird Prices OR apply to be a volunteer. This way, you are supporting your favorite yoga festival and get to go to classes for free. Yay!
* First-come, first-served: Reserve, if possible, or come to classes early and save your spot. Most workshops, especially those of very popular teachers, will be filled and sold out quickly.
*Plan your day: Prepare a schedule with favorite classes and one alternative class. That way you can quickly re-schedule if needed, and you still have enough time to go to a different location.
*What to expect: Hundreds of happy and gleaming people in pants or shorts. It can be overwhelming at first but don’t shy away: You are one of them. Latest after the first class you will feel it.* Plan wisely: It is best to alternate asana classes with physically less demanding classes like meditation, massage or mantra chanting. That way you are less likely to burn out and can enjoy the practice even more.
*Food and water: Don’t forget to take breaks to eat and digest. Most yoga festivals cater with delicious vegetarian and vegan meals and desserts. Treat yourself—your body needs the nutrients, and hey, this is your quality-time, remember?
*Pack list: You might need to bring your own yoga mat as not every festival offers rental mats. Also: Water bottle, towel, enough yoga wear to maybe change during the day and a cardigan or sweater for cosy Savasanas, healthy snacks like fruit and nuts, flip flops for changing locations and public bathrooms, tiger balm for sore muscles, tampons, since the next drugstore might be far, and a personal journal to note down every spontaneous insights you will probably have.
Don’t forget: Unless you are practicing aparigraha (Sanskrit for non-greediness or temperance), you might want to bring some extra cash and extra space in your luggage. There will be some stands with tempting yoga wear, Ayurvedic oils, yoga books, malas, etc.
It is the heart-opening mixture of intense practice and a supporting and warm community in yoga festivals that melts away our inner limitations. Beyond fear, (self-) doubts, and shame wakes a deeper truth of ourselves: We are full of potential. Our life can be ecstatic and adventurous. We are wild and free. We are love.
Image credit: YogoGirls