Having arrived from LA on the Thursday we immediately felt the energy of Joshua Tree Retreat, a desert centre of yoga and spirituality. With two Kirtan stages surrounded by some really wonderful food and trade stands, we were soon swept away by the blissful energy surrounding us.
I hadn't managed to sign up to any of the classes in advance, but luckily I was able to slip into the Govindas and Radha class (see govindasandradha.com). A husband and wife team with the wife singing and playing the harmonium and her husband teaching. We were led through a wonderfully slow and at times deeply sensual practice. The Bhakti bhav created and experienced throughout the class culminated in us all dancing with joy to the most wonderful music. It was really a delight.
Whilst I was enjoying the above, my other half Alex was enjoying an interesting talk on the Beatles and Yoga by Phil Goldberg. Goldberg discussed how the Beatles helped to introduce Yoga to the West and propagate the acceptance of mediation and Yogic teaching. Pointing out also how they helped to legitimise the use of words such as mantra, giving an overview of their spiritual history.
In the early evening I decided to try out some of the wonderful therapies on offer at the Healing Sanctuary. I experienced a really amazing Thai massage with Alok (see www.rockwaterhealingarts.com), who it turns out is also a Yoga instructor. Alok expertly opened up my body by not only employing his Thai massage skills, but also with acroyoga. I was brought into happy baby pose upside down which made me start to giggle uncontrollably- quite an experience! While I was enjoying my treatment with Alok, my other half was under the spell of integrative body worker, otherwise known as the Body Magician- Maura Rassman (www.maurarassman.com). I could not believe the transformation to a now extremely chilled and relaxed individual. I feel that the treatments really helped us open our hearts to the Bhakti spirit.
We reopened our eyes to twinkling lights in the darkness and Kirtan lacing its' way through the evening air.
I rose early and walked to the main Bhakti village as the earth was waking to the light of the sun. There was a very light coolness to the air at that hour rarely found in the desert any other time.
I signed up for classes and headed straight to a session of shadow yoga taught by Scott Blossom. Scott is not only a shadow yoga teacher, but also a traditional Chinese Medical practitioner and Ayurvedic consultant (www.doctorblossom.com). Having never tried Shadow Yoga before, it was a true joy to be taught by Scott in his very easy going way. Shadow Yoga focuses on working from the feet and shins especially into the marrow of the bones to bring true health to the body. So lots of strong leg work!
On a raised shaded platform facing North out over the desert hills as the sun rose and a cool gentle breeze blew. Scott beautifully moulded the students through our warm up and then with care and love we were taken through a gentle shadow Yoga sequence working with uddiyana Banda. I was brought to a place of wonderful stillness, purity and joy.
With a brief break in between, I then ran off to the 9am class. Saul david Raye (www.sauldavidraye.com) accompanied by his band inspired us with his wisdom throughout the practise. One phrase that really stood out for me was Saul's "Yoga is a moment to remind yourself who you are". In this particular practise we worked on stimulating our kidneys, backbends and beautiful heart openers with dips into the martial arts tradition. Our focus was brought to Mother Earth as we rode through the peaks and troughs of this energetic experience. I really felt like this class was breaking barriers on the emotional and physical level. My fingers were tingling and pulsating with life by the end of the class.
A well deserved breakfast smoothie and an early lunch were enjoyed in the cool of the shade as we explored some of the stands. I found a few really interesting companies and charities. Om Shanti clothing was perhaps my biggest moment of weakness when I purchased six of their beautiful cotton tops, which I am now in love with- every time I wear them they remind me of the desert heat and joy emanating from it. Flower of life essential blends had the most beautiful essential oils made from ancient recipes with names such as Goddess Bliss, by a wonderful lady who I got chatting to. I indulged in a few of the oils for my personal meditation practise which I am hoping to deepen this year.
In the afternoon I was able to enjoy one of my beloved teachers Shiva Rea's class. In the true Bhakti tradition we worked on the heart space. Opening with a collective humming mandala with one hand on our hearts and the other on the closest persons' back. This served to bring together the heart magnetic field. We then opened the heart or anahata chakra with Kriyas to great music. We were reminded that our "bodies are a vessel" that we need to cleanse before we can fully nourish and receive. Working on a true Bhakti practise where every movement is healing as we excavated the heart and central channel. Shiva always brings a sense of transforming heat and she did not disappoint.
On this particular evening I decided to go for something totally different to my usual choices and experience a Shamanic healing with Eric Majeski (www.innergeniushealing.com). I found the whole treatment fascinating. It involved an array of things, a bit of body work and muscle testing, then some blowing wind sounds for energy clearance. Eric was very intuitive with his work and it really helped me to open up a few areas in my life, clearing a few questions that were perhaps holding me back. The energy clearing and removing of resistance in the body was very effective, I truly felt as though a weight had been lifted.
In an extremely relaxed and slightly lighter, hazy state I finished my evening by chilling to the sounds of Deva Premal who sings some of the most beautiful tunes that I love to include indy classes.
My final full day at Bhakti fest, it was all going so quickly!
Again an early rise, as I had much to fit in. I found myself in Scott Blossom's class again, the maestro of Shadow Yoga. We opened the class with a beautiful chant to hanuman which this time was accompanied by a very cool little band which Scott had 'inherited' during the festival. Shadow Yoga was brought deeper into my being through this practise. I don't know if it was the music or my more relaxed state by having a bit more of an idea of what I was doing, but I felt deeply rooted in this movement as we dipped in and out of the Chi Qong tradition. My deep thanks to Dr Blossom or Dr Squat as he is playfully known, I learnt much, both for my personal practise and to bring to my fellow student teachers back in London. I would definitely love to pursue this line further in the future.
Shiva's class was next and I was eager to allow my heart to feel more. In London, at times I feel numb and believe this is simply because there is too much energy around us. So this was really a way to bring my heart and body back into alignment and remind myself how good it feels. Working in a mandala we looked at how love flows through Yoga by chanting and loosening the lower back which we then developed into beautiful flowing backbends. Each movement was very organic, so I got far more out of my body than initially anticipated. After the class I went back to my caravanserais and entered into a very deep healing sleep, I felt my body processing all the healing and openness that I had experienced in the last couple of days. I woke up feeling amazing.
In the afternoon I explored my way to the breath work workshop hall, a purple carpeted and curtained hall, which seemed bizarrely cosy in the heat. I wanted to hear two owners of iloveyoga.com Moses and Zeina talk of chanting and kundalini Yoga. They were really interesting and both very young ( or at least looked it). Their aim in holding the workshop was to give us tools that we could work with in the future. They had been travelling in a van for the last year around the country to share their chants and energy as well as visiting hundreds of sacred sights. I found them both charming and insightful. The chants combined with kundalini yoga were really useful and I will be introducing some of them to my classes in the future. The collective chanting lulled me into a beautiful floating state and stayed with me for the days that followed. The gong bath always gives me so much joy ( see previous blog on gong bath), bringing me to a peak of almost vibrational fear as it is all dissolved into an overwhelming sense of relief. It took me quite a while to bring myself back together after all of this.
However, I was able to get it together in order to be able to have a good chant and boogie with many other bhaktas and Krishna Das singing on the main stage. I must admit, I thoroughly surprised Alex when I knew all the words to the first few songs. Krishna Das is an amazing heart felt singer who I have been to see in London, it is always a joy to hear his voice and such an honour to be at Bhakti fest to do so. On a total high I was able to make my way slowly to my bed. On my final night in this desert paradise I took a moment to look up to the twinkling stars in a very clear sky. I took in this incredible sense of space above and around me, the warm breeze blowing through my hair really brought home to me what a truly humbling and liberating experience this really was.
Bhakti Fest really is an amazing place and experience. I could feel my body had prepared myself for this. Blockages in my body were brought to the forefront building them up to an almost unbearable pitch, so that I was almost itchy inside. The readying of the organs to dispel them here. It was a truly amazing few days filled with some extremely emotional moments, but nevertheless incredible in whatever form they have taken. I feel blessed to be able to experience so much.