Wanderlust Festival Squaw Valley!

In all my years of yoga, I’d never once thought about going to a festival. I’d been to music festivals, food festivals, art festivals, but the thought of doing nothing but yoga for 4 days honestly scared me. Wouldn’t I be tired? What if I was too junior or too advanced for such a big group? What if the teachers weren’t for me? What if the vibe wasn’t for me? It was the draw of a road trip to Squaw Valley that got me to go. But now, as I sit here writing this, post-Wanderlust, my very first festival, I feel so uplifted and energized that I wonder what took me so long. I’ve always dreamed of some magical fairyland where everyone is loving and kind to each other, and now I realize that place actually exists...at Wanderlust!  

It hit me when I was on the tram, of all places. Riding down the mountain, I was checking out the 360 view of Squaw Valley feeling particularly shaken. I got up that morning at 7am to go up to the tip of Squaw Peak and sit for a Past Life Regression meditation with Julie Rader Wellman, a gifted Yoga Nidra teacher, and I hadn’t packed a sweater (California newbie over here). Like most of the group that morning, I’d had an intense visualization in a short amount of time that I wasn’t expecting. It was beautiful and helpful and powerful, but after the meditation I boarded the tram to go down, dazed. And that’s when the stranger sitting next to me, a lovely lady named Amanda, looked over at me and offered me some food. I was hesitant to take from her breakfast, but she assured me, ‘that’s ok, I love sharing and it would make me happy.’ I perked up, and so did the girls around me who witnessed her gesture. She told me about Dharma Mittra, and I decided to go with her to class. 

When I arrived, the 70-something year old Yogi was standing on his head, no hands. He had a screen up in the giant room with illustrations of the pose he wanted to start with (he’s been documenting asanas since 1967) and it showed 5 versions of the pose, from beginner level to most advanced so that anyone could follow along, regardless of experience or flexibility. The class was invigorating and educational without being too physically demanding, so that once I was done I was relaxed and open for more. I wandered by a meditation tent in a wildflower garden and stopped in to do a Love mantra meditation with Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda playing devotional music. Kirtan is not normally my thing, but the group was so warm and inviting, and Sianna Sherman’s words so relatable (she suggested we sway from side to side because we’re in California - ha!) then I got right into it. An older lady in the group who seemed to be on her own announced how thankful she was that everyone was so inviting. Totally blissed out, I crossed the creek on the way to lunch and told my new friends we were all going swimming.  We hiked up Squaw Peak a bit and jumped in a waterfall. If that sounds unbelievable, it was.  But don’t be jealous because you could go too.

The next day, I decided to try some Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga is like foam rolling in that it opens up your fascia, but you can get in to spots the roller just can’t. Heather Tiddens, a teacher from Santa Barbara, took the time to make hand-outs for us about the relation between our series of poses and the Chinese meridian and accu-point system. During class I encountered yet another act of kindness when I accidentally spilled my water bottle in my neighbor’s face. And hair. And on her mat. And she just laughed and helped me clean up, because we were at Wanderlust and everybody’s happy at Wanderlust.

With so many renowned teachers and interesting classes, I thought I’d be overwhelmed. But somehow, by the end, I realized I had tried classes and workshops I might never have gone to had I not devoted my weekend to a yoga festival. And I loved them all.  There was Yin Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Acro-Yoga, Slack-Line yoga, SUP Yoga on Lake Tahoe, Kirtan, Meditation, Buddhist Meditation, Yoga Nidra Meditation, Yoga for Psychic Development, Past Life Regression, dance parties, hilarious open mic situations, hula hoop contests, inversion workshops, balance workshops, neuroplasticity workshops, sound-healing booths, Aveda beauty and spa booths (yes please!), mandala-making art classes, nature walks, pool parties, AMAZING music, trail-running, tons of food, free giveaways, probably even more that I’m forgetting because there was that much stuff, and of course there was the absolutely insane backdrop of Squaw with its friendly staff, endless trails and wildflowers, with the creek snaking through it so anyone could pretty much jump on in anywhere. Which we did. A lot.

When you set out with the intention to do something great for your spirit and soul, the results can be good. But when a thousand people all gather with that same goal, the results are outstanding, and it’s almost impossible not to feel the love. Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, like one guy I met who came up for a day with some buddies just to see Stephen Marley, you’d still be in it. Everyone I talked to was sincerely interested in everyone else. No one checked their phone mid-conversation. Junior yoga teachers came to study with their senior teachers, like my friend who went to all 6 (!) of Kia Miller’s Radiant Body classes. There were yogis of all ages and levels, moms and daughters, ladies on lady-trips, and definitely more guys than I expected. I got to hear one of my favorite musicians, Son Little, strum his guitar against the backdrop of Squaw Peak and Lake Tahoe as I practiced Vinyasa with the adorably hammy Eion Finn and several assistants (including an orthopedic specialist) milling around checking our alignment to avoid injury. Which, for me, is pretty freaking great.

Bottom-line, Wanderlust is for everyone. Everyone who likes to feel good, that is. I don’t know why it took me so long to discover such a beautiful thing, but I’ll definitely be back. See you soon, Wanderlust.

To learn more about upcoming Wanderlust events and festivals, click here.

Photo: Courtesy of Wanderlust

Post written for SFYogaMag.com