The organizers of the Asheville Yoga Festival have big plans for this year's event, which will be held July 27-30 in downtown Asheville. It's the second iteration of the festival under its new owners, locals Amanda Hale and Sara Levine LaStella, and they are getting ready to unleash a weekend of peace, harmony, and, yes, plenty of yoga, on our asana-loving mountain town. Both Hale and LaStella have deep roots in Asheville's yoga community, but they're also looking outward, to renowned teachers from across the region and the country, to bring new energy into the mix.
Hale and LaStella have a simple goal: "Our hope is that you come for the amazing yoga we are offering," says Hale, "which you'll experience in the awesome container of Asheville, our vibrant, eclectic, diverse, super fun community. Even if you're a local, come for the yoga, enjoy the beautiful city, and remind yourself that these mountains that have been a healing mecca for centuries. Come and nourish yourself in a community that we hope feels inclusive."
The festival's motto sums it up: "Love. Shine. Play." Hale explains: "The love part is take care of yourself first; come and nourish yourself so that then you can go and be of service in whatever way you're called to in your community. Shine by doing what you can—with what you have and where you are." And the play? "Have some fun," says Hale. "Soak up what you need. We have a little bit of everything."
Below, we've profiled a few of the teachers and global yoga community members who will be coming to town for the festival.
Bhakti Flow Yoga
Sessions: Flower of Power (7/28, 10:30 a.m.), Bhakti Flow Master Class (7/29, 8 a.m.), I am a Tree (7/29, 3:30 p.m.), How to Build a Boat (7/30, 10:30 a.m.)
San Francisco-based Rusty Wells (Gopa) teaches Bhakti Flow and has been an important figure for Hale, who first trained with him in 2009 and who credits her experience as life-changing. "It was love at first chant," she laughs. "They do a lot of chanting in Bhakti Flow, and it cracked my heart open in a way that had never happened before. In Bhakti, I melt in a way that I don't in other practices."
So what is Bhakti Flow? Hale describes it as "the yoga of love and devotion, yoga of the heart." Practice includes asana (the physical poses), as well as singing and chanting. If you go to one of Wells's sessions, expect a "super sweet, sweaty practice wrapped in love and devotion, with plenty of chanting," says Hale. Nervous about chanting? Hale's got some advice: "Sing louder," she says. "Approach it with a beginner's mind, be open to the experience, and then decide later whether it's for you or not. It's no big deal if you're not in tune. The important thing is to just be open to the process."
The practice of chanting has been integral to yoga for centuries. "Chanting is a mantra practice," says Hale. "'Man' means 'mind,' and 'tra' translates as 'protector,' so when we practice mantra and repeat ancient words, even if we don't know what they mean, it's making a joyful noise, and it's very uplifting. Rusty makes it really accessible for everyone."
Wells will lead four sessions throughout the weekend.
Chelsea Jackson Roberts
Yoga, Truth, and Healing Change
Sessions: Finding Comfort in Our Purpose: How to Use Our Yoga Practice to Reflect, Heal, and Impact Change (7/27, 9 a.m.), A Conversation with the Body: Using Our Yoga Practice to Speak the Truth (7/28, 10:30 a.m.), Yoga Mix Tape: A Restorative Vinyasa Flow (7/29, 8 a.m.), Stay Vigilant, Mindful, and "Woke" (7/29, 3:30 p.m.)
Chelsea Jackson Roberts is technically Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts. Holding a PhD in Educational Studies from Emory University, Roberts focuses on issues of access, inclusion, and diversity in her teaching. Her recent research focuses on the experiences of black teen yoga practitioners, and she also runs a Yoga, Literature, and Art camp for teen girls, with support from the Race and Difference Initiative of Emory University and Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.
Roberts's immersion on using yoga to heal and impact change (Thursday, 7/27) will highlight yoga as "a practice to reflect, heal and impact change," according to Hale. "The theme focuses on how yoga is super essential as a self-care practice. It awakens our bodies and extends beyond them, making connections between the body's experiences and the mind's processes." The session will also focus on inequality and inclusion in the yoga community, and will be particularly useful for teachers curious about how to bring more inclusiveness into their classes. (Being a yoga teacher is not a requirement for this course.)
Roberts will also be part of a panel discussion with Carrington Jackson, Michelle Johnson, and Kerri Kelly on Saturday that will focus on staying mindful and "woke" in an age where social justice is an increasingly important pursuit.
Joining Yoga and the Arts
Sessions: Spiritual Graffiti: Finding Your True Path (7/28, 1 p.m.), Mantras, Beats, and Meditations with MC YOGI and 10,000 Buddhas (7/29, 1 p.m.)
Amanda Giacomini's 10,000 Buddhas Project will be a highlight of the festival this year, and even if you can't get into a class with her and husband MC YOGI, you can still see her mural project, a street art-styled representation of the Buddha that she'll install on the side of Strada and the Social Lounge in downtown Asheville.
If you already have a spot in Giacomini's sessions, count yourself among the truly lucky: A class with the artist and MC YOGI is an unforgettable experience, complete with uplifting beats, a sweaty and satisfying asana practice, and plenty of dancing around.
Sessions: Lean In, Play Big: It's Time to Show Up! (7/28, 10:30 a.m.), Perfectionists Anonymous (7/29, 10:30 a.m.), Disrupt: Yoga for Rebels (7/29, 1:00), Stay Vigilant, Mindful, and "Woke" (7/29, 3:30 p.m.)
After Kerri Kelly lost her firefighter stepdad on 9/11, she turned to mindfulness practices to help with the grieving and healing process, and quickly realized that she wanted to take those skills to the larger community to initiate collective change. She created CTZNWELL, a community organizing group committed to democratized well-being that works to address issues of social justice in the United States. Kelly will be leading several practices throughout the weekend and will be on the panel with Roberts, Johnson, and Jackson on Saturday, July 29th.
Kelly's weekend sessions invite participants to leave their comfort zones and come into the safe space she creates in order to explore and play with more challenging poses, like arm balances and inversions that help students confront the fear of failure. "Yoga for Rebels" will be a challenging core practice that will connect participants to their strongest inner selves.
AcroYoga & Thai Massage
Sessions: Melt More in AcroYoga Therapeutics (7/28, 10:30 a.m.), Partner Yoga, Thai Massage, and Flying Therapeutics (7/28, 3:30 p.m.), Thai Massage: The Art of Giving and Receiving (7/29, 8 a.m.)
Haitian-born, Philadelphia-based Jean-Jacques Gabriel brings his soaring spirit to the yoga festival with sessions over two days that highlight the playful freedom and therapeutic benefits of AcroYoga. Gabriel has taught Acro since 2008 and provides a comfortable environment to experience flight through his therapeutic flying workshops, which provide a supported release for the body in suspension. He couples this with Thai massage, a clothed form of massage that opens lines of energy for deep healing.
Gabriel is also a skilled artist, so be sure to check out his work on his website. This talented yogi has completed trainings in Ashtanga, Anusara, AcroYoga, and has trained with Darren Rhodes. He also teaches yoga to underserved populations, traveling to public schools, prisons, summer camps, and offices to bring his unique brand of movement, breath, and play.
Got your tickets to the Asheville Yoga Festival yet? For more information on teachers, sessions, and methodologies or to reserve your spot, click here.