yoga gatherings & gathering yogis

hippies1So I’ve been following the recent coverage of last weekend’s Wanderlust Festival in Lake Tahoe, CA with mixed sentiments. The first is fascination (what does this mean for the greater yoga community and how we gather together? what does this say about the continual merging of yoga and pop culture), and the second is a kind of repulsion (an event full of mediocre indie rock, hippies and yoga rock stars).

This isn’t the first time yoga has been integrated into a rock music festival – Sri Satchidananda kicked off Woodstock’s opening ceremonies, calling music ”the celestial sound that controls the whole universe” – but it’s definitely the most overt and marketed. I have nothing against combining yoga with partying (though they can be hard to do at the same time, and perhaps a little dangerous) and it’s refreshing to see a yoga+music festival that doesn’t feature the usual old kirtan singers. Celebration is awesome, and so is embracing a yogic practice as an affirmation of life.

But there are some things here that concern me, especially the “yoga teacher as rock star” and “yoga as entertainment” aspects, which underlie all the marketing and presentation of this event. And I won’t even get into the all-too-obvious emphasis on asana (though who wants to talk philosophy or chant mantras at a music festival? Yawns!).

Not that I feel that people should come together to practice yoga in a way that sanctimonious and sequestered from the world – but seriously, should entertainment agencies be organizing yoga gatherings? (Or representing yoga teachers, as discussed on YogaDork last week). For me, this is not a question of whether yoga, music and hedonism mix – instead, I’m asking if this kind of event creates an environment in which people can deepen their practice? And what is the point of all this?

According to the New York Times, the festival organizers “envisioned Wanderlust as a way to capitalize on movements that started as subcultures and have now become mainstays, from yoga to indie rock to environmentalism.” Keyword here being capitalize. And ‘mainstay’ could easily be replaced by mainstream.

It’d be easy to criticize the organizers for wanting to make money off yoga/music lovers, but the irony here is that the festival didn’t even break even. There’s transformational potential in a large gathering of yogis. There’s also consumer energy which could be directed towards affecting actual change in the world. Instead, these resources went into paying the plane fare and fees for performers and yoga teachers, and all the other myriad expenses involved in putting on a high profile festival in the mountains.

Anyway, it’ll interesting to see how this festival evolves. Up until this point, yoga conferences have been one of the few ways that masses of yogis from different traditions and practices get together under one roof. But Wanderlust is part of a growing movement towards a new way of gathering. This summer we also see the Telluride Yoga Festival in Colorado and the Yoga Festival Toronto (which is proudly grassroots, features no yoga stars, and throws a little Ayurveda, shamanism and mysticism in the mix), and the upcoming World Peace Yoga Conference in October.

Read reports from people who were actually at Wanderlust:
NY Times

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  1. I agree, yoga+celebrity is a strange combination. I guess it fits with the “lulu” crowd of yogis, drinking starbucks as they march on over to a Bikram studio- and yes I consider Bikram to be a self proclaimed celebrity.

    what to do? perhaps these pop-cultured watered down versions of yoga will bring some people to true yoga that wouldn’t have otherwise… for some yogis this is a nice, safe introduction (safe from a spiritual sense, not health).

  2. Thanks for the fascinating report.

    I tend to agree with EcoYogini that these types of events are good for Yoga in general, even though they might be off the mark from a philosophical point of view. This is how most people learn about Yoga for the first time (either this or at the gym for excercise.) Plus they have their own non-Yoga attractions as events in themselves.

    My own Yoga practice is almost entirely study, meditation, and breathing now, but I originally began Yoga to imrove my tennis!

    This blog was particularly interesting because I was in college in the San Francisco in the late sixties when the original Yoga with rock fusion was occurring, with the Beatles and others. Indian culture and sitar music was all the rage. The term “hippie” was just being invented for young people dropping out for a supposedly more spiritual existence, and living on pennies in Haight-Ashbury. I was studying literature and playing flamenco guitar at the time.

    Bob W.

  3. hey, if there’s a way to make a buck off of yoga in OM-merica, someone will do it. it’s just another cash cow.

    the thing is, those of us who can’t afford the “yoga management agencies” and PR firms to get our “message” (i.e., the dharma) out there are left by the wayside.

    people, even “yogis”, are always impressed by the flash. more people will fill a room to watch Ana Forrest perform than to go to a meditation class. as Judith Lasater once said, yoga in America is about a mile wide and an inch deep.

  4. Thanks for commenting, everyone! Yeah, I agree that it’s a good thing to introduce yoga to people through whatever means. However, this kind of event doesn’t fulfill that goal. Only the most committed, diehard yogis would be willing to shell out cold hard cash for yoga (a 3-day pass for the festival, including music and yoga with the non-famous teachers, was $170; the “VIP” pass, which included practices with the “luminaries,” was $650 – the daypasses for only music were $25-$70, but didn’t include any yoga classes).

    And I’m not sure if anyone actually made any money off this, because festival expenses are so fragmented. Perhaps some hot dog vendors made some cash, and the teachers made something (and, I have to admit, they deserve whatever they were paid. What I’m still interested in here is how yogis gather together to practice, and what this means for the evolution of how yoga is disseminated in North America.

    In my opinion, the best outcome from this would be if it inspired yogis to organize similar events in their communities, with local teachers, hometown music, relevant social change organizations and neighbourhood restaurants. It’s exciting to see yoga paired up with music that’s not typically “yogic,” and it’s great to expose music lovers to the joys of yoga – but I’m not sure if it needs to happen on this huge festival scale.

  5. Thanks for the perspectives, girlwarrior.

    Interesting blog and discussion. Look forward to the next one.

    Bob W.

  6. I remember when I first read about Wanderlust I thought it sounded cool (and containing at least one indie rock performer who I considered better than mediocre)…then, though, seeing pictures of it, I gotta say, it looked just a little too…what’s the word…yogic…by which I mean, it looked like a cool scene to do and learn about yoga and meet other yoga people, but kind of a weird scene for rockin’ out…

  7. LOL, Dr Jay! I’m sure there was lots of rockin’ out at Wanderlust ~ it’s just that most of the blog/media coverage of the event focused on the yoga stuff. Otherwise, Wanderlust was just like any of the other music festivals happening around North America this summer.

    I think I was feeling particularly curmudgeonly when I was writing that post, because I actually do agree that not all the performers were “mediocre”…