Profile: Yoshi Aono Of The Hanuman Festival, June 9-12, 2016 In Boulder, Colorado
By Ashley Shires
The Hanuman Festival is a four-day yoga and music festival with a fantastic lineup, held in Boulder, Colorado, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The festival is heading into its sixth year under the leadership of Yoshi Aono. SF Yoga Magazine caught up with him to talk about the wild journey that has taken him to where he is today.
Before founding and directing the Hanuman Festival in Boulder, Colorado, Yoshi Aono has had a rock star life. Literally. He moved to Colorado in 1990, when he was in his twenties, to join Acoustic Junction, playing lead guitar and mandolin, traveling the world and playing Red Rocks. “That whole rock and roll thing,” he said, “was a trip. It was an interesting path for me, because I had been headed on a yoga/tantric path in Hawaii and then I transitioned to this rock and roll lifestyle. But I had the background; the spiritual leaning was always there.”
Originally, Yoshi grew up Japanese via New Jersey. His parents were from a Buddhist/Shinto lineage, but he was raised, he said, without labels. He studied religion in college and the Jewish faith spoke to him. Yoshi said that he asked his dad if they were possibly Jewish – it just resonated with the way he had been brought up. Yoshi said that his dad laughed and paused in his Zen way. “If you have to put a label on it,” his dad said, “you can say we’re Buddhists.”
Yoshi’s introduction to yoga was also remarkable, on a nude beach on the North Shore of Kauai, where he was living in a tent. “The next thing you know,” he said, with his trademark humor, “I’m living in Maui in a vegan tantric community.” From there he moved to Colorado, where he spent five years playing lead guitar for Acoustic Junction.
“It was a good lesson for me about the ego,” he said. “Like how big it can get and how impermanent it all is.” After leaving the band, he forayed into record producing, engineering, and working as a mortgage broker. He said that at the time, he was caught up in the material wealth of this culture, making a lot of money but finding there wasn’t much purpose behind it. And that is when he turned to humanitarian work.
“I was looking to go to Costa Rica to volunteer in orphanages,” he said, “when the tsunami hit Thailand.” A friend invited him to go and help there instead. “It was one of the most transformational experiences I’d had up to that point, to be of service, to gain perspective: I’m a guy who lives in Boulder, Colorado, who plays in a rock band.” He said it was a realization about karma, about how we have to give back. “I could have been born into the slums of Haiti or Africa, an orphanage in Cambodia.”
After Thailand, Yoshi continued to do humanitarian work in New Orleans and Africa and Haiti, facilitating special ops aid distribution, figuring out how to get aid through borders and customs to tent cities.
In 2010, one of his friends, a yoga teacher, had a concept about a yoga festival. “I did my due diligence,” Yoshi said. “Putting on a yoga festival is a hard path to go down. I knew if I did this, I would have to be completely devoted to it.” He said they were looking for the name of the festival and Hanuman came up. “The story of Hanuman really resonated with me; Hanuman represents ultimate devotion and service – the strength and will in all of us to do anything in this lifetime.” Yoshi said that being of service, doing humanitarian work, had shifted his entire perspective of his existence.
“We pour our hearts into this event,” he said. “It’s about empowering people through the teachings. It allows people to open up and understand that they themselves have all the potential in the world.”
And Hanuman gives back to the local community, too. “We did a flood benefit in 2013,” Yoshi said, “and raised “$15,000 in 24 hours and contributed half to Boulder High School (the venue for the Hanuman Festival), and the other half to First Responders who lost their homes while they were out helping others.”
Yoshi and his partner, Dayna Seraye, have expanded the concept for the festival into Hanuman Adventures as well, leading retreats to international locations, offering yoga and seva, a chance to engage with local cultures. Their March 2016 retreat in Bali will work with the disabled population, and another retreat in Peru, in October 2016, will be held in the Sacred Valley, working in an orphanage and visiting Machu Picchu. Yoshi said, “We want to offer a rejuvenating, healing, transformational adventure with like-minded people.”
And his favorite part about the Hanuman Festival? Yoshi laughed. “Seeing old friends, jamming out on guitar, and connecting with all the yogis who are having such a deep, wonderful experience.”