March 18, 2011

The Rise of the Yoga Festival. ~ Ashley Herzberger

All Wanderlust Photos: Brad Coy

“Yoga doesn’t just relax, rejuvenate and strengthen, but it rallies activism from within our community…”

In 1969, in a field in Bethel, New York, the music festival was born. The associated culture featured an atmosphere of exuberance, overindulgence and furious passion. Alcohol, drugs and stories. Memories.

Since then, and especially in recent years, music festivals have thrived on offering America’s young (if only young at heart), a respite from the trials and tribulations of that long-winding, mysterious journey down a path called life.

At a music festival, friends converge into a crowd to be swept away by the musical genius and soothing sounds of their favorite performing artists. They go home with new experiences under their belts, newfound favorites and maybe some new friends. They look forward to the next year, if they can afford it, or they say once was enough. And life goes on.

In 2011, a new type of festival is brewing—one quite distinct from the harsh, over-stimulated environment of festivals past. It combines yoga and music, mindful living, peace, community and conscious action for a better life and a better world. It’s the Yoga Festival, and it’s this generation’s rebellion against an American way of life hampered by war, recession, financial disaster, partisan politics, obesity and a lack of concern for the consequences of our daily choices.

In the beginning, Yoga Journal decided to bring together the growing yoga community in one place to share ideas, techniques and expertise:

“We wanted to bring the pages of Yoga Journal to life and give people the opportunity to study with the very best yoga teachers in the world,” says Elana Maggal, Yoga Journal’s Conference Director. No better people to do it than the authority on yoga in the U.S. today. The conference has grown to multiple locations across the country, and Maggal says they all   come close to selling out.

According to Yoga Journal’s 2010 “Yoga in America” study, 16.5 million people in America practice yoga, and the industry generates $5.7 billion a year. Yoga is becoming mainstream, which paves the way for mass awareness and acceptance of the ancient practice. It’s becoming stylish, with paparazzi constantly snapping photos of celebrities emerging from studios carrying Manduka and Gucci.

It was only natural that all the buzz would evolve into something more. Onto the scene burst Wanderlust, a weekend experience combining the musical aspects and talent of the larger music festivals with the consciousness of yoga in a pristine location.

“Wanderlust is trying to create a large, mainstream platform for yoga—and other aspects of the mindful life,” says founder Jeff Krasno, a music industry veteran. “Yoga is no longer a hippie with a crystal in a field. I think Wanderlust is dispelling anyone’s lingering perception that yoga is a marginal practice.”

Wanderlust draws yogis and music lovers alike to beautiful Lake Tahoe for a weekend of experience. This year, the festival is also expanding to Miami and Vermont.

For the 2011 festivals, heeding the calls of eco-conscious advocates wary of extra carbon emissions and the waste produced by large events, Wanderlust hired Zero Hero—a greening consultant based out of Fort Collins, CO, to advise on sustainability initiatives.

Despite the attempts of Krasno and many others to bring yoga and sustainability to the masses, one recurring theme rings true: yoga’s popularity, or at least the general awareness and acceptance of its benefits, seems most pronounced in large urban centers or areas known to embrace a lifestyle more conducive to open-mindedness and fringe thinking. Sure, New York, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles know a thing or two about Yoga. And yes, Boulder, Eugene, Portland and small towns in Vermont boast avid practitioners. But what about the vast number of Americans living in say, Ohio, Iowa or Kansas? What about Middle America?

Turns out they practice yoga too. The Iowa City Yoga Festival, founded and produced by James Miller, popped up in 2010 to serve all those yogis who aren’t able to travel to tourist destinations and join in on the fun. Miller understands the difference in culture and aims to meet that untapped demand with his own idea of the Yoga Festival.

“My event isn’t a Wanderlust or a BhaktiFest, and I’m not trying to fuse the yoga scene with the music festival scene.” Miller says. “I do want for there to be a celebratory aspect… the yoga demographic want[s] to experience joy and community.”

In it’s second year, The Iowa City Yoga Festival features a weekend full of yoga, laughter (yoga), dance and even comedy (more laughter). The teachers are a mix of well-known names and locals, giving the festival a truly hometown feel. The atmosphere is fitting for Iowa City, but the cultivation of joy, peace and compassion is no different than anywhere else.

“We can, as a temporary community of like-minded, spiritually oriented people, demonstrate through our actions the profound effects of practicing yoga,” insists Miller. “Maybe that’s not the goal of a yoga festival, but it is a definite byproduct.”

It was the draw of community and her desire to bring health, fitness and yoga to the masses that led Valerie D’Ambrosio to her lifelong dream of bringing her message to more people. D’Ambrosio founded Hanuman Festival in Boulder, CO, to bring people together from all walks of life.

Photo: Aiden Grey

“Festivals have given people the opportunity to experience more of the yoga, the union, the yoking created around celebration, music, chanting, breath, meditation, seva (selfless service) and so on,” says D’Ambrosio. “I’d like to think that the vibration and intention stays with the participant of a festival and extends out into their own lives, families and communities.”

Hanuman Festival’s slogan, “Raise Your Vibration, Unite in Celebration,” speaks to D’Ambrosio’s desire.

Come June 2011, the first Hanuman Festival will take over downtown Boulder with classes, workshops and music from some of the most talented and well-respected teachers and musicians in the industry. Off the Mat Into the World, the festival’s designated charity will even host a session where yogis practice asana, ride bikes to a local farm and harvest food that will be sold at the Boulder Farmer’s Market the next morning.

The purpose is to demonstrate activism and selfless service—an overriding theme of Hanuman Festival.

“There are so many intentions for putting on this festival,” says D’Ambrosio, “bringing community together, raising vibration and awareness, supporting local economy, creating a platform for local teachers with so much incredible talent, raising money and consciousness around local and global causes and so much more.”

And it’s not just D’Ambrosio’s Hanuman Festival that aspires to raise awareness about seva. Wanderlust also partners with Off the Mat Into the World for a charity class. Last year, Seane Corn’s class raised $8,000 for her organization.

It’s the scale of a festival that gives one options. And it’s the options that resonate with so many of America’s yogis. They live modern lives, but sometimes need to escape from the fast-paced world that brings stress and illness. No epiphanies needed, no Samadhi, transcendence or floating (but if that’s your style, no one is holding you back). It’s that feel-good feeling of yoga, coupled with the satisfaction of helping others and the prospect of connecting with like-minded individuals that keeps people coming back.

“Yoga doesn’t just relax, rejuvenate and strengthen, but it rallies activism from within our community,” says Wanderlust’s Krasno. “Hopefully we can spark some ideas and generate some passion.”

Ready to attend a Festival? Check out the 2011 lineup:

Hanuman Festival
June 16th – 19th, 2011
Boulder, CO

Wanderlust – Vermont
June 23rd – 26th
Bondville, VT

Yoga Journal Conference – Lake Geneva
July 7th – 11th
Lake Geneva, WI

Wanderlust – Lake Tahoe
July 28th – 31st, 2011
Lake Tahoe, CA

Bhakti Fest
September 8th – 11th
Joshua Tree, CA

Yoga Journal Conference – Estes Park
September 18th – 25th, 2011
Estes Park, CO

Iowa City Yoga Festival
October 7th – 9th, 2011
Iowa City, IA

Ashley Herzberger started practicing yoga in college to balance out her hyper-Type A personality. Each day, she faces the challenge of not making a big deal out of something small. A lifelong student, Ashley aims to learn from those around her, from books and from herself. She is passionate about public relations, communicating and telling stories. Ashley moved to Boulder, CO, in 2006 from suburban Cleveland, OH—needless to say, she suffered mild culture shock. It didn’t take long for her to drink the kool-aid, start working out and eat healthy foods. Then she started practicing yoga. Then she started receiving acupuncture, taking enzymes and burning incense every now and then. Today, Ashley does marketing and public relations for CorePower Yoga, public relations for Hanuman Festival and writes for fun on the side. Her German last name loosely translates to “heart in the mountains.”

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