The Surprising Takeaways from a Yoga Festival

By Rachael J. Haylock

With promises of diverse classes, dynamic teachers, like-minded people and special performances, yoga festivals are popping up all over the world year-round. Everything from power vinyasa to yoga nidra draws you in with ideas of furthering your practice, deepening your philosophy and opening your mind.

Life is about the journey, and treating your time at a yoga festival as an integral part of this journey could lead you down a variety of paths — or change your course completely. By attending a yoga festival, you have the opportunity to use a week of yoga-based activities to help you make new decisions and learn new lessons. Here are some of the benefits a yoga festival can bring to your life:

Listening better to your body

It can be tempting to choose from a lot of physically-challenging classes that could leave your body worn out before the week is over. The best way to tell if you’re expanding your comfort zone or if you’ve gone too far is to tune into yourself.

“Our intuition is the ability to understand through feelings and not through facts,” says Maxwell Starkhouse, founder of Intuitive Yoga, based on the Big Island of Hawai’i. “If we’re in a posture and our feeling is telling us ‘This is too much,’ it’s having the wisdom to listen to our intuition instead of our logic or ego: The teacher said I should hold it for 10 breaths. Look how deep they are in the posture; I’m going to push myself until I get there.”

Learning to listen to your body’s wants and needs can result in you leaving the festival with revived equanimity and balance. If you’re having trouble going inward, Starkhouse suggests moving to the pace and rhythm of your own breath — not your teacher’s or your neighbors — to facilitate a deeper connection to your body, your intuition and your practice.

When you’re pushing your limitations, Starkhouse also recommends slowing down your practice. “If you’re in an aggressive class and don’t have the time to process the feeling of what’s going on in your own body, you lose some connection to the self and how you’re feeling. If I slow down, I start to feel what’s happening with my forearms, my elbows, my chest. Kind of like doing a body scan in each posture.”

When you pay attention, your body will let you know when to speed up and when to slow down, when to challenge yourself and when to relax.

Disrupting habits

Another benefit that yoga festivals offer is the opportunity to notice your routine — and your attachment to it, gifting you with a heightened awareness of your frame of mind. Becoming aware of which classes you gravitate toward and how you chose to organize your day can give you insights into your daily habits. What would your hatha practice feel like if you spiced it up with some vinyasa flow? Dropping old habits and introducing new habits, however small, can aid our personal growth in a multitude of ways.

Find presence by changing your routine and breaking your usual yogi habits. By stepping outside your comfort zone, you will allow yourself the space to grow. If you’re someone who always puts your mat in the back row, challenge yourself to practice front and center (or vice versa!) and see how that influences your practice. Approach every class or workshop with a new curiosity in order to break down any repetitive behaviours you may have acquired.

One way of expanding your comfort zone on and off the mat is by taking a partner yoga class. “Sometimes yoga can be so serious, but partner yoga lightens it up and adds some fun, says Crystal Galleher, a yoga teacher on the Big Island of Hawai’i. “It’s another way of being more present because you’re exploring the practice in different ways — you’re inviting someone else into your practice and supporting someone else’s practice at the same time.”

Setting intentions

During your time at a yoga festival, you will begin to find new spaces within your body. As you listen to your body’s wants and needs, taking the time to explore your practice in different ways, you will end the week feeling stronger and more supple; a perfect blend of ease and steadiness.

The body acts as a direct reflection on the state of the mind, so the more space you have in your body, the more you will find in your mind. Within these spaces, you will have the ability to find clarity on your situations and your direction.

For the Hawaii Yoga Festival organizers, having a theme for the festival was an important part of setting the right tone. “We set an intention of balance for the Hawaii Yoga Festival this year,” said Ali Slous, Director of Storytelling at Kalani Oceanside Retreat Center. “Not only because it falls squarely in the middle of Libra season, but to reflect what many of us are searching for lately: balance between work and play, effort and release, solitude and connection.”

You may discover new insights, or even just master that pose you’ve been trying to grasp, not to mention make connections with like minded-people from all over the world. With an increased awareness of your body, the habits you want to leave behind and the intentions you want to welcome in, it’s not hard to envision how you will be feeling at the end of the week.

What’s more, you can take the lessons you learned in the classes and workshops and apply them off your mat: remind yourself frequently to listen to your body and assess your options for growth, therefore maintaining a constant balance between strength and ease as you take on the waves and currents of life.

Photo credits: Zoltan Bovanovics and Melanie Heufert (middle)

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