36 Hours At The Asheville Yoga Festival
By Sarah Schultz
In the heart of the ancient, mystical Appalachian Mountains lies Asheville, North Carolina. And every year, for the past six years, this mountain town has been the backdrop for one of the most sought-after wellness events on the East Coast-the Asheville Yoga Festival.
Amanda Hale, co-owner of the event for the past three years, says that their mission is “to manifest a diverse yoga experience that welcomes everyone equally and to direct yoga's arrow towards compassionate activism. We do this by collaborating with people and organizations who are committed to raising the collective vibration as activists and masters of their crafts.”
The 2019 festival was held during the last weekend in July, spanning over four days. Hale and her co-owner Sara LaStella handpick a variety of local, regional, and national presenters, and in true yogic fashion, strive for a balance of styles. Most importantly, says Hale, they “bring on presenters who are practicing yoga off the mat as much as on.”
The festival ran the gamut, offering everything from sound baths in salt caves to free yoga for the entire community. It beautifully captured the ethos of Asheville: a progressive, soulful city in the South, where “y’all means y’all.”
Saturday, 7 AM.
I’m exactly an hour’s drive from Asheville and with mat, journal, and GPS in tow, I skirt by cow pastures and western Carolina countryside, eventually snaking my way through part of Pisgah National Forest. I snag a parking spot and stroll down Lexington Avenue, a funky drag of vintage shops, eclectic restaurants, and used bookstores that feels comforting and familiar.
Saturday, 10:30 AM.
The first class I register for is Evolve: Tantra Vinyasa Detox at The Venue, one of many sprinkled around downtown. It’s a ballroom of sorts, with a glowing mandala that anchors the space. Master yogi and Detroit local Jonny Kest leads us through partnered meditation and movement, then intricate sequences punctuated with purposeful phrases. (Rumi’s “the wound is the place where the light enters you” really resonates.) After a two-hour detoxifying class, my mind, body, and soul are officially wrung out, reset, and ready for the weekend.
Saturday, 3:45 PM.
In need of some rest (and carbs), I tuck myself into the corner of Rosetta’s Kitchen, a yummy vegan-friendly spot on Lexington Avenue, and reflect on Rosie Green Mulford’s workshop: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light. What likely appeared to be a standard asana class from an onlooker’s perspective, was actually much deeper. We flowed through and held poses that were slightly different than our day-to-day warrior three and triangle pose. The thought behind the work is to break the wheel of addictive patterns and thoughts by finding comfort in the discomfort, ultimately finding grace.
Saturday, 6 PM.
I’m en route to my home-away-from-home for the night, to check in before the EPIC Celebration Party hosted by MC YOGI and DJ Drez. The Airbnb was a last-minute decision, one I made so I could attend the event and make it to Sunrise Mediation the following morning (know thyself). A twenty-minute drive over the French Broad River and through the woods led me to what was not the rustic retreat of my dreams. Likely due to a recent upsurge in yogic activity, my intuition kicks into high gear, strongly suggesting that I leave. Zero cell reception, a not-so-welcoming dog, dilapidated structures, and no sign of human activity are also factors.
Sunday, 6:45 AM.
After an impromptu sunrise meditation in my own space, I’m back on the road to Asheville.
Sunday, 8:30 AM.
Pranayama, or breathing techniques, is one of the eight limbs of yoga and a newfound priority in my practice. So, I chose to kick off today with a class aptly named Pranayama in Motion, led by Asheville resident Libby Hinsley. I was at another new locale, on the third floor of the Masonic Temple, which was softly lit and had a kind of jungle-boogie vibe. Another of the same glowing mandala shines in the background as we gently move, connecting body and breath.
Sunday, 11 AM.
Atlanta-based yoga instructor Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts asks, “What is your relationship to rest?” in her workshop Turn Down to Tune In. I think for a moment, and pen in my journal “Good, not great, often with guilt.” We take several rounds of nadi shodhana, or alternate nostril breathing, and some time for self-massage. An hour and a half into a clarifying and restful class, we lay down for a thirty-minute savasana. While the point of this pose is to rest while remaining conscious, Chelsea gives us agency to decide whether to stay awake or fall asleep. I promptly do the latter, guilt-free.
Sunday, 4 PM.
“There’s diamonds inside the heart … there’s these jewels embedded deep inside our being, but we have to be able to excavate and carve a path and move into a space where we can start to bring those gems, that treasure to the surface,” says California-based instructor MC YOGI. I switch my schedule around to end the weekend with him, an internationally renowned teacher and a personal favorite from Wanderlust SF a few months ago. He integrates freestyle and hip-hop flavor into class, alongside this poetic rhetoric that hits me on both a cellular and soul level.
Sunday, 7 PM.
As I drive home, I reflect. (I also play a cover of John Denver’s “Country Roads, Take Me Home” on repeat.) Yoga is, for me and many, the treasure map. A way to wade through the proverbial mud, a guide at various forks in the road of life—all to reveal the glittering goodness inside. It’s my treasure map, and my map home.
Starting in 2020, the Asheville Yoga Festival will be rebranded as the LoveShinePlay Festival. According to Hale, “We always envisioned the festival being about more than just yoga, and this will allow us to continue to bring in teachers and topics that relate to overall health, wellness, and activism, such as social justice issues, climate change, or bringing healing modalities to underserved populations.”
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