How has my summer progressed since my last update? Well, it’s been a busy one and quite honestly one of the most fulfilling of my life… here’s some details
World Yoga Festival
When I heard about the World Yoga Festival being in Reading I was a bit dubious. However, in its first year they had Mooji teaching so this seemed like a good sign. I had some friends who visited last year and said they had a really great time so it was on my list of places to volunteer this summer (partly because I assumed Mooji would be there again if I’m honest – he wasn’t).
Despite this they still had some amazing teachers including the oldest yoga teacher in the world Tao Porchon Lynch, who at 99 has some stories to tell. A member of the French Resistance during WW2 she then moved to Hollywood and taught stars such as Marilyn Monroe what she knew about Yoga. She visited India to learn with BKS Iyengar and at the age of 86 took up ballroom dancing and has won numerous competitions since then. She still cuts a glamorous figure around the field and tottered about everywhere on her high-heels. After 2 hip operations you would think she might cut back on some of the asana practice but it doesn’t stop her. “Anything is possible” is her mantra and it’s something you can really believe when you see her.
Other amazing teachers included:
Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh – an Iyengar teacher with great presence and humour who really opened me up to this style of yoga.
Sheila Whittaker – my gong teacher who led several relaxing gong baths in the main tent
Dr Madan Bali – another 90-something who shared a powerful teaching about breath and refining the subtle body
James Russell – a young teacher who shared some really energising kriyas
There were plenty of others as well who I have missed but I must also mention Ram and Sonali Banerjee who were organising the whole event. I loved Ram joining the stage after the evening music performance to tell us all to go to bed in time for yoga the next morning.
I had a great time with the other volunteers at this festival. We were a small team and easily recognisable by our bright orange t-shirts. The work was simple and although we did some long shifts they were kept interesting by the folks I got to know.
My second time at this festival was a vastly different experience to my first. In 2013 I was splitting up with Sophie and almost the only person I knew there was her mate “Eligible Dave”. I enjoyed hanging out with him but it felt a little awkward and I wasn’t in a hugely outgoing mode to meet new folks so I ended up feeling quite lonely and isolated for stretches of the event.
This year though, after spending 4 years going to events on the “scene” in the UK it seemed I knew people everywhere I turned. Couple this with the Volunteer team who were also awesome and I spent most of the event hanging out with people. From volunteers at other festivals to tantra workshop people, yoga students and even folk I knew from India.
I did a couple of yoga classes, some dancing, a cuddle workshop and a sound journey which was cut short due to the reggae disco in the dance tent being too loud, and not a lot else over the whole week.
This was partly due to tiredness after some long shifts in the camper van field. I was parking up vans and trying to
make sure there was enough space for everyone while also keeping the fire lanes clear and attempting to accommodate people’s needs. It’s amazing how much space a camper and an awning and a bell tent and maybe my friend who is coming in half an hour and can we go on the end and sometimes you just have to say no. Running around this field was fun, if a little stressful at times so I was happy to just relax when I had free time.
Highlights included a ritual chanting around the Buddha statue that left me in a trance and watching the sunset in a cuddle puddle.
I was bemoaning the lack of Kirtan to a volunteer over dinner and discussing Sivani Mata who we both knew from London. Then I walked off for a chai and decided to take a look in a teepee. Who should be sitting there about to start Kirtan than Sivani herself. “Hello Ian” she welcomed me as I ducked my head under the awning.
About an hour from Lyon Sahajananda and Hridaya have bought a Chateau which is currently being renovated and set to open next spring (2018) as a yoga centre and retreat space.
I was looking for somewhere to volunteer for a longer period this summer as an alternative to festival living and this popped up as the obvious and perfect option. I arrived the night before Sahaja left and was lucky enough to also be there when Swami from Agama paid a visit.
I was there when there were only 4 of us for the weekend and I’ve been back when there were over 30 people working away.
I spent the time there cleaning the newly bought professional kitchen gear, scraping walls of paper, cleaning hallways and toilets, cooking food, putting up wallpaper, helping with content for the new website and leading yoga and meditation sessions. (I’m sure there was more but I forget right now!)
Outside of work time we had fires and singing, dancing, trips to Lyon and the local lake and time to relax in the local nature (and hammock).
There is still plenty to do there (and hopefully the place will be a permaculture paradise in no time – see below) but the spirit is high and I appreciate the constant pointings to stay in truth even in amongst the hard work.
Santosa Yoga Camp
Ah Santosa. This tiny yoga camp is truly a wonderful world away from it all. It’s the only festival where I’ve been for a week without at some stage wishing for home comforts. It’s so relaxed and blissfully community focused. I was there as a karma yogi offering the joyful service of cleaning the compost toilets. After a couple of drop-outs I was actually left to this task almost to myself but it wasn’t half as icky or challenging as it sounds. In fact it added some additional structure to my day and added some purpose to the periods where not a lot was going on.
Santosa is the kind of festival where you can easily do nothing all day but at the same time there is plenty to keep you interested. They offer Yoga Nidra five times a day for up to half an hour and in case you don’t know this involves lying down and being talked into a deep relaxation, something close to a trance state. It’s fair to say they have a relaxed crowd. Other than this all kinds of yoga are on offer as well as meditation, dance, an ecstatic cacao ceremony with special shamanic guests from Brazil, contact improvisation and a lot of Kirtan. Sivani was there again to lead an intense psychedelic session and the Babaji Temple Singers had the roof of the Hanuman temple tent nearly coming off as we danced the whole way through.
Add to this a sauna, outdoor showers overlooking Glastonbury Tor for one of the best views while bathing I can remember, communal coming together for meals (and free chai at the morning meeting) fires, fun and friends made this an absolute highlight for me.
NB the festival was so relaxed I completely forgot to take any photos…
Living Tantra 1
I’ve written a separate piece about Jan Day’s LT1 which should be appearing online soon but suffice to say it was a week of wonderful company, amazing food, challenging exercises and deep blissful states. From dynamic meditation to strong processing exercises I surprised myself with my willingness to go into the practices. The course was a week long but it felt like a month, in a good way. The intensity is full on and towards the end I didn’t feel like I was sleeping because my body was so buzzing with energy. It was a different feeling to an insomnia where thoughts are running through the head but a real physical experience of stuff moving. A powerful reminder of this path which inspired me even more.
Permaculture Design Course
While I was at Hridaya France the first time Christoff Schneider came to visit. He’s a Hridaya teacher but has been a “permie” for a lot longer, spreading the word about sustainability for around fifteen years. He gave an inspiring talk which encouraged me to sign up and learn more about these techniques for living a more ecological lifestyle.
I came straight from LT1 which meant I was in a strange space and the course was full of information and mental work which was a big shift. For the first few days I thought it was all too much and I was struggling with it but at some point I overcame these issues and became inspired again by the potential.
Longeval, the site of Hridaya France, is crying out to be converted to permaculture. There are 11 hectares of land and I designed an area where raised garden beds could be built to provide veggies for the visitors and staff. Using techniques that we learnt for passive irrigation and solar design to make best use of the environment we are given the design principles involve working with nature in a kind of dance.
As a way to judge if a design is able to be self-sufficient we have the five pillars of permaculture as taught by Christoff:
Water – where do we get the supply and how do we store it and use it
Energy – Where do we get our power – solar, wind, water etc
Food – Not just making sure we have enough harvest but also making sure the soil is kept in good shape by composting properly and closing the loop in this way (including compost toilets)
Shelter – Using the best materials for the location to provide comfort with the least amount of energy (eg in our northern European climate straw bale houses have great insulation and cheap!)
Knowledge – Learning which techniques work best in your particular climate zone and also spreading the knowledge and ideas
Using this as a guide and a whole host of techniques including zonal planning you can really begin to make changes and I feel inspired to find some land, build a straw bale house, grow veggies and really start living the Good Life. I just need to learn how to stop plants dying in my care and be more comfortable wielding a spade but I’m sure all this will come…
First of all though I’m leaving for India, a few months of yoga and exploration with hopefully some volunteering at organic farms thrown in for good measure to learn some of the practical skills I was talking about.
It’s going to be a ride, as ever…