Shakti Fest 2018: A Capricorn's Highlights, Tips & Take-Aways
By Ashley Shires
I have had an amazing, transformative experience every time I've attended Shakti Fest, at the Joshua Tree Retreat Center, and this year was no exception. The festival is a full weekend of live sacred music and yoga with the most open-hearted people I've ever met. Reflecting on the 9th annual festival, I was overwhelmed with highlights, but the practical Capricorn in me has a few tips and take-aways I'd love to share with you.
Highlight: The landscape. Shakti Fest is held at Joshua Tree desert, high in the dry California desert. The light is luminous, reflecting off the hot sand, and the sunsets are stunning, the sun dropping behind distant rock ridges.
Practical Advice: Bring sunscreen, lots of it, a hat and sunglasses. The temperature can rise to over 100 degrees during the day, but it drops precipitously at night. My boyfriend looked at the forecast and decided not to bring a sleeping bag, afraid that he’d be too hot to sleep. But desert nights get cold, and the temperature dipped to 50 degrees this year. The second night, we made a run into town and he bought a blanket, which made him very happy.
Highlight: The Yoga. The teachers at Shakti Fest range from Kia Miller, a glowing yogi who teaches a transformational hybrid of vinyasa flow and Kundalini kriyas, to Govind Das, a dreadlocked Bhakti yogi, transplanted from the East Coast to Los Angeles, who teaches ecstatic flow to the accompaniment of his wife, the incredible musician, Radha, to Oleg Flow, a Russian yogi who instructed us in hand-stands, emphasizing breathing, which he charmingly called "Breezing."
Practical Advice: Don't expect to do a single triangle pose, possibly the entire festival. If your thing is vinyasa flow, this might seem unthinkable, but trust me, you will be okay. You will be more than okay. Bhakti means love, devotion, and I promise that the yoga at the festival will expand you in new, unexpected ways. Often the yoga classes escalate into an ecstatic, full-blown dance party.
Highlight: The Music. There are two music tents at Shakti Fest, an enormous one, where Jai Uttal and MC YOGI play until way past midnight, and a smaller music tent, where we found Kirtronica, a kirtan/electronic night-club-style dance party was happening. The music overall is eclectic and interactive, focused on kirtan, call-and-response chanting. I love that the musicians all perform in an improvisational way, the guitars, harmoniums, drums and tingsha cymbals all building momentum with the energy of the crowd and the transformational power of the mantras.
Practical Advice: It helps to read up on your Indian Gods and Goddesses before the festival. It is so much more powerful to sing mantras to Sita and Ram, knowing the background of their love story and the devotion of their BFF, Hanuman. The first times I attended Bhakti Fest and Shakti Fest, I fell in love with the music, but I was pretty vague on what we were singing. As I learned the symbolism behind the sanskrit words, the music had an even more powerful, transformational effect, and I fell in love with it even more.
Highlight: The People. Bhakti Fest and Shakti Fest are the only festivals I’ve ever attended where even the security guards give hugs. In the pre-immersion, Saul David Raye asked us to partner up and stare into each other’s eyes for five minutes, which was at first uncomfortable, then emotional, then transformative. In Kia Miller’s class, she asked us to walk around the room while the musicians played live music, gazing into the eyes of strangers, one by one, until it felt like we were all truly seeing the light in each other, our differences melting away.
Practical Advice: When you depart Shakti Fest, please remember that not everyone at the airport wants to look deeply into your eyes, especially TSA. It is amazing to spend four days in such a truly open, authentic place, but sometimes such raw vulnerability and deep sharing are best done in a safe, supportive environment, with strong boundaries. Kia Miller also taught us kriyas where we strengthened our auric shield, helping us to stay centered and grounded. She led us through a yoga practice to help build inner fortitude, steadiness and consistency. “Make your mind sharp,” she said, “so you can pierce through to the deeper levels of self.” She continued, smiling her warm, encouraging smile. “Be focused,” she said. “Be you.”