10 things I learned at my first yoga festival

Be prepared for sore limbs, pack a gluten-free sandwich (and wine), and other tips for those considering rolling out their mat at a weekend yoga fest.
(Photo: Ali Kaukas for Wanderlust)

While I love the occasional vinyasa class for mind-clearing and muscle relief, in general, box jumps feel more natural to me than Baddha Konasana. And the last time I wore a flower crown I was probably 10.

So although yoga festivals like Wanderlust and Bhakti Fest have been gaining popularity from Oahu to Aspen, I could never quite picture myself rolling out a mat for four days of asana and meditation.

That changed this June, when I headed to Wanderlust Vermont at gorgeous Stratton Mountain, where I practiced creating a “practice” with star instructors like Seane Corn (inspiring) and Eoin Finn (happy-inducing), danced to yogic beats provided by DJ Drez, and even maintained eye contact with another human being sitting on my mat while reciting a mantra. (I survived, somehow.)

To help other yoga fest virgins gain some insight into whether or not the bendy festival scene is right for them, I put together this list of insights gained from countless chaturangas. Here are 10 things I learned at my first yoga festival, in no particular order:

1. You’re not just going to play in the grass. Classes are mostly inside (buildings or tents), which was a huge surprise and disappointment to me. Although, looking back, I would have been as red as a tomato if I had been allowed to salute the sun during every session. Also, Vermont in June can be cold in the early mornings and evenings, so whichever location you choose, it’s probably better to be protected from the elements.

2. Extreme body fatigue is unavoidable. Day 1: I keep commenting on how classes are so much easier than I thought they’d be. Day 2: Wow, it’s surprisingly difficult to stay in downward dog without muscles shaking. Day 3: You want me to stand up?! I did the calculations and at the end, I had completed nine class hours in a 50-hour period (including sleep time). Not all of those minutes were spent in motion, but the majority were, and that amount adds up quickly. By the end of it all, every chaturanga felt like diving into a face plant (and all my conversations were about soreness). That nearly seven mile all-uphill trail run I signed up for in between yoga sessions? It ended up being one of my favorite moments—but ow, just ow.

3. Acroyoga is everywhere. You will see men spinning women around on their feet, handstands being executed on the hands of other standing yogis, and other acrobatic feats, some of which are completed on slacklines. It’s mesmerizing.

(Photo: John Suhar for Wanderlust)

4. But you really don’t have to be a handstand pro to go. You don’t need acro skills. In fact, everything was very accessible. Wanderlust clearly labels classes by level, and, in the larger ones, you could theoretically lay on your mat in child’s pose the whole time and no one would even notice.

5. Do pack your studio best. Just like at Coachella, there’s a definite festival fashion scene. It plays out in different ways, from the free-spirits wearing flower crowns, body paint, and flowing skirts to the athletic types decked out in head-to-toe Lululemon to the hipsters in ironic tanks paired with art-print leggings. Find your tribe, or don’t.

8. (Some) yogis drink!  There was a surprising amount of alcohol consumed once the sun went down, despite the presence of the sober dance party set.

9. But they don’t eat enough food. There were a few great food vendors whose stands are open during the day, but not as many as you’d expect, and lines to buy $15 single-serving kale pizzas were always super long. Pack a gluten-free sandwich.

(Photo: Monica Justesen for Wanderlust)

9. Yoga’s gone corporate. I heard Toyota had an insane corporate set-up at Wanderlust Vermont last year, and while they weren’t offering test-drives this season, the sheer amount of marketing and selling you’re subjected to every second can be overwhelming. You’ll walk past the Lululemon D’Om to get to the Greatest Place by Gaiam, across from which Kashi is plying you with cereal samples while Garnier accosts you with moisturizer. Savasana.

10. Meditation might actually be for me. For all of my skepticism, that eye contact thing I mentioned earlier wasn’t all that bad. It happened in a particularly inspiring LovingKindness class with Southern yogi Michelle Johnson, and I left feeling like I had finally found a type of meditation I could wrap my head around.

Oh, I forgot to mention I’m really good at hula hooping, so I was bound to get sucked in to this yoga festival thing, right? —Lisa Elaine Held

For more information, visit www.wanderlust.com

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