So 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.