Yoga has been around since about the second century BC, at least in India. Westerners were slower to catch on — not to mention to establish civilizations and invent sticky mats. But, since we citizens of the new world are at least as good at pursuing pleasure as we are at following rigorous disciplines, it was just a matter of time — OK, a couple millennia — before somebody thought to mix yoga with other fun activities. And when it comes to exercise, making it more fun is an excellent idea.
This summer, Vermonters can sample not one but two festivals that combine yoga with more hedonistic activities. One is homegrown, the other a newcomer. In addition, two Burlington women are launching a series of retreats that pair a couple of local passions: yoga and mountain biking. Do we smell a yoga-plus-something trend?
In Vermont, Jane Jarecki Lanza and Ben Lanza, both 28, set a standard four years ago when they created Liberate Music & Yoga Festival. The three-day encampment at Sheldon — on 50 acres of land owned by Ben Lanza’s parents — is “an eco-friendly, intimate family festival celebrating music, yoga, consciousness and community,” explains Liberate’s website. In other words, you can do your asanas and shake your groove thing over a long weekend and throw in some meditation and healthy food for good measure.
The concept came together when Jane, a Kripalu yoga teacher and cofounder of Laughing River Yoga in Burlington, and Ben, a mechanical engineer and concert producer, married and combined their interests. Under the umbrella of their own Eclectic Music Productions, they held their inaugural, one-day event at the Bundy Center for the Arts in Waitsfield in 2008, then moved it to Sheldon the following year. That site will mark its third such weekend fest this August. Last year, about 1000 people showed up, not including the musicians.
“In Liberate, the yoga and music are intermingled,” explains Jane. “Yoga starts in the early morning; the music starts in the afternoon. When the bands break, we do more yoga in the tent; then there’s more music.” The days conclude with yet more yoga and dancing into the night around a campfire. “People like fire,” Jane observes.
Why do yoga and music go so well together? Both represent a form of liberation, posits Jane: “The bands provide the music of surrendering, some experience of freedom. Yoga offers the same thing … it creates meaning, tapping into something greater.”
Tying it all together, perhaps, are “philosophical discussions” with the likes of Prem Prakash, a teacher from the Green Mountain School of Yoga in Middlebury. This year’s theme, Jane says, is tantra — a concept encompassing the spiritual, ritualistic aspects of yoga. Also expect soul movement, ecstatic prana dance, kids’ yoga, hooping, tai chi, qi gong and electronic soundtracks from yoga-centric DJ HyFi.
On stage, the music tends toward the “positive and uplifting,” Jane says. “We like to have music from all over the world.” After the little ones go to sleep, the nighttime party is more “tribal electronic,” she notes, “done in a way that’s fresh and original and, in a sense, ancient.”
This all sounds like good, clean fun, so it’s not surprising that someone else had the same idea.
Wanderlust Festival was hatched in 2008 by Velour Recordings co-owners Sean Hoess and Jeff Krasno, and Krasno’s wife, Schuyler Grant, a yoga teacher. “Originally we wanted to do one on the West Coast and the East Coast,” says Hoess by phone from his home in New York City, “but we started with one in Lake Tahoe — an easy drive from points in California.”
He says the concept came to them because, after 11 years in the music business, “we got older, and other things in life started to become more important.” Such as? “Attending an event where you left charged and energized rather than exhausted and hungover,” Hoess says. “While we still love music, in our early forties as we are now, you don’t want to just stand around and stare at bands.” In addition, he notes, “We wanted something beautiful, not a muddy pit.”
Wanderlust has the same basic formula as Liberate, but kicked up a notch: bigger-name acts and speakers, glitzier venues, and a correspondingly higher ticket price. It was a “great success” in Tahoe, Hoess reports. “It turned out, there are a lot of yogis who were music fans.”
He and Krasno tweaked their model slightly, deciding to offer yoga by day and music by night instead of intermixing the two. Last year, they debuted a one-day fest at the storied Fillmore in San Francisco — yoga in the club followed by a concert. “That led us to ‘Why don’t we take the one-day concept and bring it on the road so people can get used to it?’” Hoess says.
And so they did, on both coasts. This year, Wanderlust will host a number of one-day events around the country; a second large fest in Tahoe; and their first “epic, 4-day yoga throwdown” at Stratton Mountain in Vermont. The musical lineup at Stratton includes Michael Franti and Spearhead, Andrew Bird, Krishna Das, and South African troubadour Vusi Mahlasela. A highlight of Wanderlust’s “speakeasy” series is best-selling author and body-mind-healing guru Deepak Chopra. And the daytime yoga teachers, including world-renowned John Friend, “are coming from all over,” Hoess says. “They’re the rock stars of yoga, if you will.”
If mingling with actual rock stars seems antithetical to the spirit of yoga, Hoess says Wanderlust has gone to great lengths to “be respectful to the seriousness of the practice — we make sure the space is floored, there’s amplification, and everyone can receive good instruction. Once the teachers saw that,” he says, “they liked it.”
Hoess predicts Wanderlust’s fest in California will attract about 15,000 this year. For Stratton in its first year, he guesstimates “1500 yogis a day and a couple thousand music fans a night.” Separate tickets can be purchased for yoga and concert offerings, or packages for the whole deal.
You might expect Jane Jarecki Lanza and Ben Lanza to resent Wanderlust’s arrival in Vermont. But, in a determinedly generous yogi spirit, Jane says, “I believe in abundance. I think the market can bear all of it.”
In fact, she and fellow Laughing River cofounders Sofi Dillof and Emily Garrett will be among the teachers at Wanderlust. “It’s important to have ties to local communities,” acknowledges Hoess. “We’ll bring in farmers markets, too.”
If Wanderlust takes its yoga on the road, Singletrack Mindfulness takes it off. Burlington residents Jenn Childress, 32, and Jennie Date, 38, have just launched their own spin on the “yoga-plus” concept: mountain biking and yoga retreats. The pair — partners in life and in this business — “are piloting some day retreats this summer at Catamount as well as some longer retreats throughout the state,” informs their press release.
In accordance with the Eastern idea that we are all interconnected, Singletrack is related to Laughing River: Dillof is leading the yoga part of the first retreat on July 9. Date is a substitute teacher at the Burlington studio.
What inspired the combination of activities? Simply Childress and Date’s interests in both. “I’ve been mountain biking about 15 years and trying to figure out what I should be doing for a career,” Date says. “About 10 years ago, I picked up yoga. It’s a good balance to the aggression of mountain biking, very calming and meditative.”
Date suggests that yoga is the yin to the yang of biking. “I saw how well the two worked together and just wanted to share it,” she says.
Date has already taught mountain biking to kids through camps at Catamount Outdoor Family Center in Williston and programs such as Dirt Divas. She and Childress have taken “about all the training there is” for teaching two-wheeling. And Childress, too, hopes to be certified as a yoga instructor in the future.
The yoga at each retreat is tailored to correspond with the planned biking activities. For instance, “The first day is bike setup, so it’s about upper-body strength and flexibility,” explains Date. “Plus mental applications — dealing with fear, working with the breath when biking.”
Date says she has “a whole bunch of little jobs” right now, including carpentry, teaching yoga and working at Earl’s Cyclery & Fitness in South Burlington. Childress is a literacy specialist at Sheldon elementary and middle schools. Both hope that Singletrack Mindfulness — named for the “sweetest trails you can find,” says Date — will eventually turn into a full-time gig with a winter variation. “I know another woman interested in backcountry skiing and yoga,” Date says.
What’s next — yoga and tennis? Yoga and soccer? Yoga triathlons? Well, why not?
“Yoga really allows you to lay a foundation for a lot of other things,” enthuses Date. “You have more self-awareness; you get in touch with your breathing, which allows you to pay more attention to whatever you’re doing.”
And on a mountain bike, she says, “You’re more open to everything going on around you, the flow of landscape beneath your wheels.”