YOGA CULTURE + WANDERLUST

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I’m stoked to say that this year Claire and I will be teaching at Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Vermont for the first time. Wanderlust’s Yoga & Music theme is something we really resonate with and it’s the meeting point of these two passions that forms the basis of all three of the workshops… we will be presenting there, including the Yoga of Bass.

We’re going to be teaching at the Vermont festival but there are 3 Wanderlust Festivals around the country as well. And Wanderlust isn’t the only Yoga festival that’s enjoying a boom right now either. They’re sprouting up any where there’s an empty field like magic mushrooms from cow dung in June! Festivals like Hanuman Festival, Bhaktifest, Evolve Yoga and Music festival are also flying the flag for the Yoga massive.

So why is it that people in the West are so attracted to spending our time and money on this ancient and foreign tradition? We could be buying iPods, new clothes, taking expensive vacations, and eating anything we want from all over the world delivered direct to the local supermarket in any season. Why should we give a shit about a 3000 year old tradition practiced by long haired hermits living in mountain caves?

I put it to you that it’s part of a larger movement in western affluent countries, that we are starting to reject the assumption that the current consumerist paradigm has the answers to the question of how to live a sane and happy life. The Occupy phenomenon is part of this same movement, and so is the slow food movement and the downshifting movement. For 50 years we all happily drank the Kool Aid, but even the most rabid of free marketeers is now starting to realize that this particular brand of corporate Kool Aid is giving us physical, mental and spiritual diarrhea.

Wanderlust FestivalYoga Journal printed a study saying 6.9% of U.S. adults – 15.8 million people – practice yoga (meaning the physical poses). And that Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products, double the spending of 2004.

That’s insane!! On one hand 15.8 million people are hitting the mat on a regular basis and learning that a sense of well being can be generated from an internal and inexpensive source that doesn’t have to come with a commercial transaction once we have learned how. Kinda like a zero point energy source that has actually made it to market (take that, Redbull!). And on the other hand Americans are spending $5.7 billion dollars a year on Yoga schwag! Yoga is selling like crack and yet it’s philosophy is meant to be anti materialistic and anti consumerist. WTF?!!

We live in miraculous times that were literally unthinkable for most of human existence. Even the least wealthy of us can exhaust nigh on every possibility of sensual gratification that even the historical royalty couldn’t have dreamt up let alone fulfilled, but tho this is the case, the cracks in the consumer capitalist veneer have started to appear. Or maybe BECAUSE this is the case. In the West we’ve become wealthy enough that we can buy most of the ‘stuff’ we thought would make us happy and then found out the hard way that buying ‘stuff’, the raison d’être of our current paradigm, just doesn’t hit the spot. We invested everything in our careers, our cars, our clothes, and did some questionable things to get them… and for what?

If we don’t completely comprehend our situation here in the US, thank God for the brutal honest of the Brits. In an article in the August issue of Adbusters last year entitled “Generation F*cked”, Neil Lawson of the Labour political party’s think-tank Compass bleakly admitted: “Society is hollowing out, but not just in the rotting boroughs of south London. The middle classes are anxious too. Many are richer but few seem happier. Mental illness abounds. White-collar jobs are outsourced to India. Everyone looks for meaning in their lives – but all they find is shopping.”

But is this all depressing news with no hope in sight? Are we all going to hell in a handbag, even if it is Prada? I don’t think so. In fact now we have some hope of real change. Here’s some interesting stats on why I think festivals like Wanderlust are booming in the US, and perhaps the reason why consumerism will eventually eat itself. Even in the relatively affluent West, according to the same Yoga Journal study, 44% of yogis have household incomes of $75,000 or more; 24% have more than $100,000, and 71.4% are college educated; 27% have postgraduate degrees. So is Yoga about having a good education and being well off? No. But success in money, career, and education sure as shit help us reach the point where we realize that happiness doesn’t come from success in those things. They may get you ahead in the rat race, but as the old adage goes “the problem with the rat race is that, even if you win, you’re still a rat!” And it don’t feel good to slave for the man 12 hours a day, get all the big toys, and still come up rodent.

Even on the unemployment benefit you could still have the realization that the dangling carrot of consumer capitalism is a fruitless (boom boom) pursuit, but having enough dollar lying around to really indulge in the options that are SUPPOSED to make you happy seems to greatly speed up the realization that they don’t. Considering the rampant poverty in India, the birthplace of the Yoga tradition, it might explain why we in the affluent West are much more likely to show an interest in Yoga than most people in modern India.

So what has this got to do with Yoga in the West? The Yogic worldview is one very good way of saying a good old fashioned “Fuck You” to the powers that be. In fact it is probably one of the oldest fashioned Fuck You’s we know of. For 3000 plus years real Yogi’s (women and men that live the Yoga philosophy off their Yoga mat as well as on it) have approached life based on the realization that buying shit just because it is available to us doesn’t give us any more than an anemic spike of tinny happiness. It’s the view we take when we’ve realized that becoming OCD shoppers isn’t going to make us or anyone around us happy. It’s the same ideal that Kurt Cobain, Chuck D, Johnny Rotten and Funkadelic all fought for. That money and the stuff it buys, the approval of others or any other external superficialities won’t bring us the fulfillment we’re looking for.

Wanderlust FestivalBut rather than ending up in a downward spiral of cynicism that killed some of music’s best and finest (RIP Kurt), the hardcore yogic view is also the view that says if I can’t be a good person to those around me now, it’s going to be no different when I’m a successful musician/DJ/Producer/whatever-I-aspire-to-be. So a Yogi works to change their mind and body into a vehicle that’s fit for this worthy goal: To be a good sane person that is together enough themselves to be available to help others when they need it. Yoga ain’t about looking good while doing scorpion pose in your underwear like this woman in the Equinox Gym ad.

So if this is the aim of the Yogic lifestyle, how in God’s good name are we managing to spend 5.7 BILLION dollars on Yoga swag- destination retreats, Lululemon, and Manduka? Come on, we’re doing a practice we could do in a loincloth on a rug in a cave, like the old days! Well, if you’re like me you need a little help to get the revolution going. And this is where festivals like Wanderlust fit in. They provide all the cool shit we love about festivals in general. Great food and music, and a chance to get out into the country and hang out with our mates. But it also has incredible teachers like Kelly Morris, Lama Marut, and Seane Corn that know the Yogic texts and physical practices inside out and can help us engender this inner revolution that will change the world we live positively much faster than a paint bomb on a McDonald’s store front will.

What about the $350 festival ticket, is that just another consumerist ploy? Personally, I know I could spend $350 bucks on one night out in LA on food, drink, and a club and have nothing to show for it the next day but a headache and some embarrassing pictures on Facebook. I feel encouraged by the fact that people are actually spending their unmatched affluence on something that could change their lives and the lives of those around them for the better. Back in the day these teachings were considered so valuable that seekers would convert all our possessions to gold, grind it up and lay the pile of Gold dust at the feet of the spiritual teacher the wanted to teach them as a request for lessons. And then watch as the teacher threw their life’s earnings handful by handful into the wind. So paying $350 for a ticket for the secrets of these ancient traditions is way cheaper than the way we would have gotten it in India 3000 years ago… and we get to keep our iPhones and sneakers and Manduka mats while we do it. Which, I have to say, isn’t such a bad thing at all . ☺

Here’s our the class schedule if you want to join us:

2-3:20 pm – Friday – The Union of Shiva and Shakti in Music, Dance, and Sound – with Lama Marut and Cindy Lee – The Big Tent
2-3:30 pm – Saturday – Art, Music, and Spiritual Practice – Manduka’s Nest
12-1:30 pm – Sunday – The Yoga of Bass – Manduka’s Nest

Tickets for the full festival are on sale now, here’s the link.

  • Katy

    Can you tell me how you incorporate ahimsa into your practice and teachings?