This past weekend was the Mahabhuta Yoga Festival. I had never been to a yoga festival
before and was really interested in attending since yoga has become a big part of my life over the last few months. I was hoping to do a workshop or two, maybe walk around as a family, and see some live music over the weekend. I have recently found a love for what I think is called chanting music? Though I am not exactly sure the genre name, I do know that after many good yoga classes, the songs played during my practice will often play in my head and bring a sense of calm.
I went to my regular Wednesday class last week and with the yoga festival approaching in the following days, the teacher played Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band during class since he would be playing music Friday night then teaching yoga throughout the weekend. I had heard his music before but it struck a chord in me during class and I decided I wanted to see him live. After some passing mention of the festival to my husband, then casually having him sample some of the music, I finally nailed him down to commit to going with me. He is very open-minded but since he does not practice yoga himself, I feared he wouldn’t quite be on the same plane with me in regard to the atmosphere of the festival. And, I was correct though he raised some good questions about stereotypes. His reaction also gave me a chuckle and reminded me of my Grampy, so it was all good.
Friday night we went out for a couple of drinks prior to the show because the festival is a no-alcohol event. After some good conversation and two drinks each, we went to the show. I knew immediately when we walked in that this was not going to be his cup of tea. There was twirling, chanting, and clapping; hippie skirts and blankets; and a bouquet of essential oils floating in the air. We stood looking in to the large open room and decided to dive in, so we took off our shoes, walked in and sat down. We arrived just as one song was ending and Johnson began telling a story. He then asked everyone to make the sound of a monkey to which many enthusiastically did; in fact, I was quite impressed with some of the howler monkey impersonations. Then, he began playing Jai Hanuman which is a powerful song and as soon as the energy built, the outskirts of the crowd surrounding those sitting on blankets at the nucleus, bound up and began twirling and jumping around dancing. I immediately felt the energy and it was amazing! While I didn’t twirl, I instantly smiled and bobbed my head. It was about mid-way through the song that the hubs said he was ready to go. He was willing to attend with me even if for only a short time and for that, I am grateful.
On the drive home, hubs almost seemed irritated. He asked why yoga inherently has to be hippie. Does one have to be hippie to enjoy yoga and how does this chanting music have anything to do with yoga? While I had many thoughts and possible explanations on the matter, I left it alone that he doesn’t share my love and passion for yoga and that is okay, we do not have to be passionate about the same things yet it meant a lot that he went anyway. And after some thought on his questions, here is my take on the hippie factor in yoga and/or a yoga festival:
It is the nature of the art that draws out a particular group of people to this type of festival. The raw, organic food, the chanting music, the beaded jewelry, the hula hooping, yoga, massage, meditation, etc.; these things are practiced in a population typically seen as hippie, free-spirited, open-minded, or progressive, but it certainly does not mean that you have to wear the oils and the long skirts to do yoga or be a part of the festivities. In fact, conforming to a style to be a part of the action takes away from the action itself. I wore my jeans, boots and a long sleeved t-shirt, I did not twirl or make howler monkey sounds but I felt the music, I felt the energy and I loved it. I am happy that other people were expressing themselves and sharing their positive energy.
As the lovely yoga instructor I interviewed last week said, everyone can do yoga, but not everyone can experience yoga. There is a lot of truth in that statement. You have to be ready, willing and open to the yoga experience which is far more than stretching. It is meditation, silence, breathing (pranayama), surrendering, forgiving, feeling, accepting, loving and embracing. It is music, chanting, opening the body, mind and soul.
We came home and I felt I needed more but was doubtful that I could convince my husband to attend again as a family. We woke Saturday and while weekends are typically for family time, I wanted to do a workshop and since I am freelance writer and just finished a piece on a yoga instructor who would be teaching a workshop, I felt it was justified. My wonderful husband encouraged me to go feeling that maybe he had robbed me of an experience because of his own taste difference. So, I went. And on my own, I noticed the saturation of “hippie” as soon as I arrived. There were people hula hooping, smells of sweat and essential oils, beans cooking, drums playing and a man singing/talking gently reminding us to listen to the birds chirp and the bees buzz. I found it all very entertaining and beautiful. I wandered about, met the publisher of the publication for which I wrote and then walked to the community room to set down my mat and take a workshop on Mudras & Movement. I introduced myself to the instructor as having spoken to her the week prior for an article, then I took my spot.
As often occurs in a good yoga session, I learned about ways to release and let go, how to use our bodies to deal with obstacles in our life. I learned the story of Ganesh and a Ganesh mudra. I love the idea of telling symbolic stories creating imagery to handle life’s challenges and this works for me, not for everyone. Does the fact that I cry in yoga class, listen to chanting music, feel the positive energy from a group expressing their personal freedom make me a hippie? Possibly, but I have no need for that definition nor does it change anything about my life.
This past year has presented more challenges than I would have anticipated at its beginning. I have grown in ways I was not looking yet feel that I have learned more about myself than any other point in the past. I have had moments of anger and frustration this year. Times when I felt misunderstood or judged. I have felt grief for a relationship that has morphed into something that I didn’t think I wanted, yet, pushing through the challenging times has led to greater awareness of the truth and with it anger toward those distant and others close has dissipated. An understanding of what “is” versus what I thought I wanted has taken place in my heart so that I am better allowing relationships, people, and myself to just be. Are yoga festivals just a congregation of hippies? Yes, hippies love a good yoga and music festival, but so do many other people, like myself who are just looking for better self-understanding and acceptance of others and the world.
Tolerance is what I seek and hope to give.