(This arti­cle may or may not con­tain affil­i­ate links. What does that mean?)


I thought I was tough. I was sporty and strong in the unre­mark­able gym sort of way. When I took my first yoga class, it was a lev­el 2/3 on a VHS tape. A measly lev­el 1 begin­ner class did­n’t sit well with my self-image but I want­ed to learn the pos­es before I did them in front of peo­ple. I grunt­ed and groaned and fell all over my liv­ing room then put the tape away for about a year. I need­ed yoga on so many lev­els back then and had no idea why.



Since then, I’ve embraced the jour­ney through many phas­es of my prac­tice and even start­ed attend­ing retreats and yoga fes­ti­vals. Last year, I dis­cov­ered the Shak­ti and Bhak­ti Fes­ti­vals at the Joshua Tree Retreat Cen­ter and they lift­ed my prac­tice and aware­ness to a whole new lev­el. Bhak­ti Fest was start­ed as a promise ful­filled by founder Srid­har Sil­ber­fein to his guru, Swa­mi Satchi­danan­da when he intro­duced the holy man to the largest crowd ever assem­bled on Amer­i­can soil at Wood­stock in 1968. Sil­ber­fein said some­day he would gath­er just as many peo­ple to prac­tice yoga and sing Kir­tan music but in a spir­i­tu­al, drug and alco­hol free envi­ron­ment and forty years lat­er, he did just that. Shak­ti Fest is Bhak­ti’s sis­ter fes­ti­val and trans­lates to mean a cel­e­bra­tion of the fem­i­nine divine. Since Shak­ti Fest is always held around Moth­er’s Day, it’s the per­fect excuse for a girl’s week­end or a chance to intro­duce yoga to the fam­i­ly since kids under 12 are free. So far, though, I’ve always tak­en the girl’s week­end option. Though, I do hope to come back with the fam­i­ly soon since it’s such a great day trip from Los Angeles.

Both times after my fes­ti­val expe­ri­ences, my body felt clean and strong and my mind felt con­nect­ed to those around me, despite the fact that we were all so dif­fer­ent. I was sure that every­one need­ed yoga and I began to won­der if the rea­son the yoga mas­ters con­tin­ued their prac­tice after so many years was a key to the secret of its pow­er. So, I decid­ed to ask.

There are three yoga halls at the Joshua Tree fes­ti­vals, only one of which is indoors. When the sun is still nes­tled between the desert hills, Yoga Hall 2 isn’t as hot as it lat­er becomes. The sky is daz­zling­ly blue and the cot­ton clouds encour­age hope that the tem­per­a­ture will stay on the mild side. The morn­ing brought us beau­ti­ful Hemalayaa.


Hemalayaa own­ing the joint


She was all sparkle and shim­mer radi­at­ing from a ground­ed spir­it. Her ener­gy com­mand­ed we dis­card our per­cep­tion that we are all some­how divid­ed and unite in our beau­ty no mat­ter what we looked like. At the end of her class, we were all danc­ing, as a Kir­tan band played behind her on stage, with her recipe to dis­cov­er­ing our cre­ativ­i­ty and dis­card­ing our bag­gage through Kun­dali­ni-dance yoga. There was scream­ing involved and it could have felt weird out­side of this spir­i­tu­al haven but on that day, for a few min­utes, we sparkled right along-side Hemalayaa. I asked her lat­er why she does yoga and she said, “So I can show up every sin­gle day. So I can get rid of the B.S. and get to the Bhak­ti.” Bhak­ti, accord­ing to some web­sites, is the essence of love and devo­tion. The theme of her class was trans­for­ma­tion; get­ting rid of what’s block­ing you through breath­ing, dance and move­ment to get to your full poten­tial “like we were six years old again.” Her tip to begin­ning a prac­tice: “The jour­ney of yoga is a vast one with many lay­ers and places to find depth and con­nec­tion with one­self as well as the divine…Find many teach­ers, not just one. Find your men­tors, teach­ers and guides, to be in your fullest, rich­est expe­ri­ence of life.” You can expe­ri­ence the mag­ic of Hemalayaa at Shak­ti Fest in her class­es (with Live music by DTO of Bud­dha Music Group) Sat­ur­day, May 13th and Sun­day, May 14th at 3:30 pm — 5:00 pm

One thing about both Shak­ti and Bhak­ti Fes­ti­vals is they are very pop­u­lar. If you want to take a class with a well-known yoga teacher, you have to have a strat­e­gy. Some­times your strat­e­gy does­n’t work out and you’re forced to find anoth­er class and for­tu­nate­ly, the fes­ti­val is full of them. That’s how I dis­cov­ered Yogr­ishi Vishvketu.

Blue skies threw the sun’s heat-soaked rays around the dessert’s open-air stu­dio. We gath­ered on our mats try­ing to find spots hid­den from the blaze above. Sand dunes, with pock­ets of sprout­ing cac­ti and joshua trees, greet­ed us as we relaxed into our spaces. We were back at Yoga Hall 2, though the “hall” was com­prised of a music stage and an over­hang cov­er­ing the prac­tice area with a translu­cent fab­ric. My girl­friends and I had no idea what to expect, so when a lit­tle man in monk’s garb appeared before our group and start­ed to talk about mak­ing lit­tle bee nois­es, we just went with it.


Yogr­ishi mak­ing lit­tle hon­ey bee sounds


Yogr­ishi’s sooth­ing voice, coat­ed in a sweet Indi­an accent, chuck­led between irrev­er­ent words. He told us that the moan we make when we are in pain and the moan we make when we are in plea­sure are almost iden­ti­cal. In yogas­peak, mak­ing this sound is called a mantra. Yogr­ishi says this sound sends a sig­nal to the mind for heal­ing. I actu­al­ly found myself try­ing to adopt this into my prac­tice for weeks after his class. He spoke about the true path to hap­pi­ness and told sto­ries like the the one about the bun­ny and the cock­roach who are both look­ing for it. I decid­ed true enlight­en­ment has to include humour. He told us true love has to be based on truth. “What is real can nev­er be tak­en away and what is unre­al can nev­er be kept.” I asked him at the end of class, why he does yoga. He respond­ed, “To be nor­mal,” and he laughed. Real­iz­ing I want­ed more, he elab­o­rat­ed: “To con­tin­ue to be nor­mal and con­tin­ue to be con­nect­ed to my high­er self, to be com­pas­sion­ate.” Well, I loved that and after I got home I looked up his ashram in the Himalayan Moun­tains and dreamed of going. He holds a PhD and is the founder of Akhan­da Yoga, which is a holis­tic approach to yoga that includes teach­ings and med­i­ta­tion in every class. His tip for begin­ning a yoga prac­tice: “Pay atten­tion to your breath.” Per­son­al­ly, I think that’s for an advanced prac­tice. He is com­ing back to Bhak­ti Fest on Sep­tem­ber 7, 2017.


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Besides yoga, the Bhak­ti and Shak­ti Fes­ti­vals are full of things on which we want­ed to spend mon­ey. Ven­dors from around the world brought out­fits we would­n’t find on racks in Big 5, foods that nour­ished our body while mak­ing our sens­es jump for joy and jew­el­ry that is priced far below the unique­ness of it’s qual­i­ty. We took time to explore their offer­ings between class­es and lec­tures. Fuel­ing our bod­ies with clean nutri­ents for an entire week­end, ele­vat­ed our moods which con­tributed, I’m sure, to our shift in con­scious­ness. When you feel good phys­i­cal­ly, your mind is more open to process new experiences.


Sub­ur­ban moms, Rachel Rus­sell, Rina Nehdar and Lori Cal­abrese enjoy­ing the scene at the food court


There is a stag­ger­ing amount of work­shops and lec­tures held through­out both fes­ti­val week­ends. Pre­sen­ta­tions range from cre­at­ing sacred rela­tion­ships to remov­ing the block­ages that past expe­ri­ences have caused us. There are work­shops on chant­i­ng, heal­ing and dance. Gen­der-divid­ed ses­sions in the Wom­en’s Lounge and Men’s Tent address top­ics of a more pri­vate nature that become a forum for dis­cussing our col­lec­tive, more per­son­al expe­ri­ence. We wan­dered into a work­shop on Tantric Sex­u­al­i­ty that involved star­ing into the eyes of a stranger for the longest minute of our lives and the feath­ery touch of rose petals. We sat in on a talk by Rad­hanath Swa­mi who told ancient sto­ries about devo­tion and over­com­ing obstacles.


Rad­hanath Swa­mi Inspir­ing us


Each left our brains buzzing pleas­ant­ly with the gift of explor­ing ideas that we did­n’t have time to think about in our real world.
We ate our meals in the court­yard in front of the Main Stage where musi­cians per­formed from morn­ing until late into the night. We brought beach chairs and left them with the under­stand­ing that oth­ers are free to use them until we need them again. I had nev­er appre­ci­at­ed Kir­tan music because it always felt for­eign and dis­con­nect­ed from my expe­ri­ence but with the great vari­ety sud­den­ly avail­able, I was able to appre­ci­ate some of the artists. I bought a CD by Sean John­son & The Wild Lotus Band to lis­ten to while I worked.

We fin­ished our yoga day with a jour­ney into the world of Mas Vidal, mas­ter yoga teacher and ayurvedic prac­ti­tion­er who has just writ­ten a book on both called Sun, Moon and Earth: The Sacred Rela­tion­ship of Yoga and Ayurvedic.


Mas Vidal at Bhak­ti Fest pho­to by Mas Vidal


With the fad­ing sun and the dark­en­ing sand dunes as his back­drop, he walked around us while we froze in pos­es of his choos­ing, head clean-shaven, impos­ing, toned fig­ure wrapped in genie-styled, peach-col­ored pants and a black tank top. He shared about life from his empow­ered per­spec­tive. He told us “Bliss is your birthright” and it sound­ed fair so we believed him. He told us, as we held chair pose far longer than nor­mal, that ini­tial­ly our envi­ron­ment is more pow­er­ful than our will but then our will becomes more pow­er­ful than our envi­ron­ment. He shared a tip about our most nat­ur­al action, our breath. In Ayurvedic med­i­cine when you breath in, your stom­ach should go out and when you breathe out, it should go in but, he explained, when peo­ple have expe­ri­enced trau­ma, they do the oppo­site. I tried to see what my nat­ur­al incli­na­tion was but it was too hard to tell since I was judg­ing myself.
I asked him, after he sang to us at the end of our strong class, why he prac­tices yoga. “I do yoga to real­ize my spir­it is one with all of exis­tence,” he answered. His tip for some­one about to start a yoga prac­tice: “Make it sim­ple, make it con­ve­nient. It should work eas­i­ly into your lifestyle.” He also rec­om­mends spend­ing time with some­one who already has a yoga prac­tice so you could learn from them and have a part­ner to share your discoveries.


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Both Mas Vidal and Hemalayaa will be back in Joshua Tree for Shak­ti Fest, Moth­er’s Day week­end, May 12–14. They will be joined by many yoga teach­ers includ­ing Mark Whitwell, Shi­va Rea, Kia Miller and Saul David Raye. Musi­cians from all over the world like Trevor Hall, Jai Uttal and Krish­na Das will add a sound­track to the fes­tiv­i­ties. Gurus and Swamis will join the gath­er­ing as work­shop speak­ers to share the wis­dom of their expe­ri­ences and save us the heartache of hav­ing to learn their lessons the hard way. Reverse osmo­sis water will be avail­able to all with a refill­able bottle.

There is on-site hous­ing and camp­ing but we’ve always rent­ed either hotel rooms or hous­es through Home­away or Airbnb. It’s nice to be immersed but it’s also nice to get away.

The beau­ty of the yoga and music fes­ti­vals is that they allowed us to explore many more teach­ers and styles than I was will­ing to com­mit to finan­cial­ly at home. It exposed us to music, food and a cul­ture out­side of our sub­ur­ban bub­ble. It opened my mind to pos­si­bil­i­ties I did­n’t have time to think about as a busy mom, class­room vol­un­teer and in between chores writer.

Shak­ti and Bhak­ti Fest is the oppor­tu­ni­ty to wake up and come back to our­selves. It’s also an oppor­tu­ni­ty to give back since part of the tick­et prices are dis­trib­uted between five char­i­ties. For more infor­ma­tion or to join us there vis­it http://shaktifest.bhaktifest.com