May 28, 2011

Let Your Hair Down: Rasa-Lila Yoga Festival. ~ Melissa Carroll

The sun dipped below the tree line of slash pines and sabal palms as West African drum beats pulsed across a wide field.

“Ladies, if your hair is up take it down, shake it out,” celebrated yoga instructor Ashley Halley called into her mic from the stage.

My male friend (with short hair) on the next mat turned my way and chuckled. I balked. Was she serious? My thick mane was slicked with sweat in a pile on my head. I’d been chugging water and panting for the last hour, practicing an energetic flow class outside with over 175 other students—and this was in Tampa, where walking to the mailbox usually caused sweat stains. But this was a fire class: bonfires and tiki torches surrounded us as night fell, and Ashley led us through flow sequences that ignited our inner fires through pranayama (and lots of goddess poses).

It was clearly working: we were all drenched in sweat and deliriously happy.

Onstage the band, the Yum Yum Drums, picked up the rhythm. The music flooded out bodies. Ashley invited us to move into our own selves, to get creative with our flow, to let that shakti really kick into gear. So I ripped the hair tie out of my tangled locks, closed my eyes and began bopping around my mat. I probably looked nuts, and I didn’t care one bit.

Normally I would have been much more inhibited on my mat, worrying about how awesome—or most likely not-so-awesome—I looked in pigeon or any other pose. But this was not a time to waste energy worrying about how I looked to the other yogis and yoginis—they certainly weren’t interested in that ego business, since they were all having too much fun relishing their own versions of shakti booty shaking.

Suddenly the field erupted into a yoga-style dance party, and the less you cared the better. “Get off your mat!” Ashley said, and we did. It felt surprisingly liberating to leap off the boundary of my mat and let my feet bounce around the dirt and grass. Things got primal as we connected to the more authentic sides of ourselves. (If only more business meetings started off with a little shakti flow.) There were ten-year-olds to sixty-year-olds in that class, but in those moments we all became kids on the last day of school. We flung our arms and legs and hips and let our hair fly.

After a whole day of yoga and meditation at the first annual Rasa-Lila Yoga Festival, my body and mind were ripe to let go. I found that the more I let go, the more whole I became.

The energy on that darkening field in Tampa was nothing short of pure joy—with the sweat to prove it.

That class was the culmination of the whole day, where over 600 students, teachers, vendors and volunteers flooded Camp Brorein. It makes sense why yoga festivals are all sorts of amazing: the deep immersion in practice, the chance to experience incredible teachers and the good vibes of being around happy, Om-ing folks.

Of course, if you live in Tampa Bay you’d need a plane ticket before you could unroll your mat at a festival.

“I looked at the cost of going to a festival,” Nathan Bangs said, “and realized I should just create my own.” The founder of Yoga Tampa Bay, Nathan Bangs set out to galvanize the burgeoning yoga community in the Tampa area.

To celebrate the organization’s two-year anniversary, Nathan developed the yoga festival Rasa-Lila, which can be translated from Sanskrit as “divine play.” And play we did.

April 16th opened up at 9am with a beautiful ceremony by Swami Vidyananda (whose guru, Swami Satchidananda, performed the opening ceremony for Woodstock 22 years ago—no big deal) accompanied by Sound Journey by Scott J Simon. There were different all-day yoga classes to suit everyone’s asana styles, from Ashtanga to vinyasa to Jivamukti, each led by the some of the region’s most respected teachers.

Festival-goers could learn about ayurveda, ahimsa, and much more at eighteen different workshops, or simply bliss out in lotus for a while at the meditation sessions, which included yoga nidra and antar mouna.

At Eluv’s Crystal Bowl Healing Sound Journey, nearly one hundred of us filled a lakeside cabin to listen, breathe, chant and feel good. I’d been to crystal bowl meditations before, but I was literally vibrating after this incredible hour. And if that wasn’t enough, the vendor village was like a yogi’s dream mall, with over forty-five local artists, restaurants, and wellness sponsors.

Mini yogis were welcome, too, with a Kids Festival sponsored by Kidding Around Yoga, complete with chanting, kid-friendly lectures and, of course, yoga. Still not enough? The festival ticket included kayaking and paddle boarding on the campground’s Lake Moon. (Doesn’t that just sound yogic?) The fire class wrapped up with kirtan and a midnight drum circle, and many tents dotted the campground for the night.

And then we all slept like, well…yogis.

“Everything went perfectly,” Nathan said, “and we’re going to hold an even bigger, better event next time.” Rumor has it a fall festival is in the works, so it might be time to add Rasa-Lila Fest to your list of Wanderlust and Iowa City.

As for the Tampa Bay yoga community—and those who traveled to join us—we are pumped to get our divine play on again.


Melissa Carroll is a writer, poet, and yoga instructor in Tampa, Florida. She teaches at YogaDowntownTampa.com and her chapbook, The Karma Machine, is fresh from YellowJacket Press. Check out her stumbling path to enlightenment, with plenty of detours, at www.ZenOnTheRocks.blogspot.com.

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