Note: A shorter version of this story ran in the Los Angeles Times.
On a crisp summer night, beneath a bright half-moon that illuminates the cliffs of Squaw Valley’s dramatic “Tram face,” MC Yogi, a yoga teacher and DJ from San Francisco exhorts a crowd of several thousand to “Take a deep breath and let it all out.” Then, “Say namaste!” he shouts into his microphone. The crowd, which had been doing both all day long, does them again anyway. But this time they also raise a collective glass, and call out with enthusiasm not usually displayed by a bunch of lithe-bodied Lululemon-clad yoginis.
Welcome to the Wanderlust Festival.
This four-day yoga-retreat-by-day, dance-party-by-night is the sort of event that could only happen if a pair of indie rock producers shared office space with an internationally renowned yoga teacher. Which is exactly how Wanderlust was born.
About five years ago, “We realized that there is a crowd that likes to dance and drink, but they are also serious about their yoga,” says co-founder Jeff Krasno, who conceived of the festival with his yoga-instructor wife Schuyler Grant, and college band-mate and business partner Sean Hoess.
That first event, held in Lake Tahoe, featured mostly traditional yoga classes and lectures during the day and music at night. Four years later, Wanderlust is taking on a life of its own, say the founders. “Each year more artists show up — they create temporary art installations around the grounds — and we’ve added some alternative yoga offerings. Classes like slack-line yoga and hoops yoga (a combination of yoga, hula hooping and dancing) are packed. “We throw in things you can’t do at your local studio,” says Hoess. Stand-up paddle board yoga, anyone?
This year’s Wanderlust line-up featured hundreds of yoga classes, lectures on topics such as “Living Truth,” and “Writing for My Life,” meditation hikes, music workshops, and special events such as river rafting. Many of the instructors are stars of the western yoga world — e.g., Shiva Rae, Seane Corn, Baron Baptiste, and Jonny Kest — who pack as many as 600 people onto mats under huge tents that shield the high-altitude sun. (Most classes have many fewer participants.)
Wanderlust has been more successful than Krasno, Hoess, and Grant could have imagined. Today there are multi-day festivals in Lake Tahoe, Vermont, Colorado and British Columbia, plus one-day events in Santa Monica (September 9), San Francisco and the founders’ hometown, New York City. This year, the four-day Tahoe event saw some 14,000 people attend yoga and meditation classes, listen to music, and wander among the temporary boutiques set up in the ski resort’s village, which is usually very quiet during the summer months.
“Wanderlust brings a super colorful crowd to Tahoe and the event is an eclectic jumble of art, music, food and culture,” says Alex Cox, owner of 22 Bistro, a restaurant at the entrance to the village. Cox says the weekend is his busiest of the entire summer. “Whether you want to party and dance into the wee hours or do yoga at the crack of dawn, it’s all here,” he says.
“Wanderlust is so much more than just yoga,” agrees Patti Battram, a travel agent who traveled from Raleigh, North Carolina to attend. Battram sat soaking in a hot tub, having taken three classes earlier in the day, and told a reporter that she was looking forward to attending a sunset meditation hike, accompanied by composer and bassist Garth Stevenson. Battram also plans to attend Wanderlust Whistler, later this month.
“I like the part of the Wanderlust message that you can practice yoga and still enjoy life,” says Sara Ivanhoe, a first-time Wanderlust instructor who does most of her teaching at YogaWorks’ Santa Monica locations. “In our culture we have lost sight of the fact that the practice of yoga is meant to serve us and make us feel better, spiritually and physically,” she says. “Yoga shouldn’t be punishment, it shouldn’t be about whether you are doing it ‘correctly,’” she says. “I’ll definitely be back next year.”
There are critics of the Wanderlust ethos, but at least one changed his mind after he experienced the event. “When I first heard about the concept, I was not disappointed that I wasn’t invited to teach,” says Rod Stryker, an Aspen, Colo.-based yoga and meditation instructor. Stryker had reservations because “It was hard to tell what Wanderlust was, and I wondered how much yoga would there really be.”
But when a few friends, and teachers whom he respects told him that he ‘had’ to go, he decided to participate. “I was more than pleasantly surprised,” he says. Stryker notes that “modern yoga is very hard and at Wanderlust people can work a little less hard and experience something different, something festive.” This was his second time at Wanderlust Lake Tahoe and he also plans to return in 2013.
Plus, Stryker adds, “If we opened yoga to only people with no vices, no one would do yoga.”
After MC Yogi has left the stage, Ziggy Marley walks out with his band and plumes of marijuana smoke rise like steam from one of the nearby hot tubs. Everyone breathes in, once more, with feeling. Tonight they might let loose, but tomorrow they’ll be lined up before 8:00 a.m., ready for another dose of downward facing dog.
So will you ever ski again? It was a question I was asked countless times during the months that I hobbled around on crutches. My answer for 266 days, until the morning I finally limped out my front door without a cast on my foot was, “Of course.”
That day, though, I had a moment when I wondered: Is it really worth it? Being on crutches for seven months and in a cast for nine…unable to drive for half a year…three surgeries and thousands, upon thousands, of dollars in medical bills….leg muscles so atrophied that I feared I’d never get them back. Oh, and I had a toddler and a preschooler at the time. It was a major inconvenience.
Today I happen to be thinking about those long months because it’s the 10th anniversary of the day I skied into a tree. Back then, when I explained to people who asked what had happened – that I had lost my balance when I veered into a tree-well while skiing in deep powder – the observations that followed ranged from “You’re lucky that’s all you hurt,” to “Skiing is just an accident waiting to happen.”
Yes, I was lucky. And the sport is relatively risky. But so is riding in a car without a seatbelt. What about smoking, skydiving, sitting on the couch and watching television for 15 hours a week. I don’t do any of those things. Skiing is my calculated risk. And I still love it.
I can be riding a chairlift to the top of Mt. Rose, the resort closest to my house, 35 minutes after pulling out of my driveway. In less than an hour, I’m at Squaw Valley. I’m a lifelong skier yet I still feel the thrill of anticipation before each run. Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud as I tear down a slope, or whooping with joy.
I was never more patient with my children than during their earliest days on skis.
Before my accident, without fail, I would stop at least once during the day, take a deep breath, look at the snow-covered Sierras surrounding Lake Tahoe and think, “I am the luckiest person on the earth; I have parents who taught me to ski as a child; I live in this beautiful place; I am healthy.” That hasn’t changed.
These days, though, I also feel the pinch of one of the pesky screws that remains in my right leg every time I push against the tongue of my ski boot. This is what my not-so-bionic leg looks like:
One of these days I’ll succumb to another surgery and have all the hardware removed. But in the meantime, that pesky screw is just another reminder of how lucky I am to be out here.
Have you ever been injured doing a sport you love? Did it change the way you do things?
Or: That One Day that my Kids Thought I was Cool
Every once in awhile I get to do something that makes my kids think I’m sort of. I got to go to the , for example, on behalf of Fitness magazine. Of course they didn’t get to come with me so it wasn’t that cool.
is a day of guided skin instruction day with a mission to “ski more and talk less” (that’s my takeaway anyhow). This day a few members of the local media had been invited but I was the only one who showed up.
Jonny is a local legend, having won anin moguls in 1998, along with other titles too numerous to list. He’s also a super nice guy. At least he was that day. Twenty women, plus my two kids, followed Jonny all over Squaw’s upper mountain, trying to move as gracefully and powerfully down the hill as Jonny did.
At the end of our day, Jonny gave Liam a pointer: “Push forward more in your boots,” he said.
When our day was over, Liam had just two words for me: “Thanks, Mom.”
But here’s what I imagine he was thinking: “OH MY GOD, that was the best day of skiing I’ve ever had. I SKIED IN JONNY MOSELEY’S tracks for THREE hours. He told me I’m a great skier.: I have the coolest mom in the world.”
He’s a teenager so I’ll never really know, but I’m just sure that’s what he was thinking.
Ever do anything that makes your kids think you’re cool? Ever?
My son, who is a suddenly sarcastic teenager, recently told me that I should quit my job as a writer and pursue a new career: police photographer. “A cop because you are such a rule enforcer,” Liam said, “and a photographer because you just l-o-v-e to take pictures.”
Fair enough. I will admit to being a rule follower. And I do love to take photos — especially of my kids. I tell them often that when they have kids of their own they will not be required to take a single photo of them. Ever. But while they live with me, they are subjected to my whims.
We were skiing a few weeks ago at Squaw Valley and I shot this video to submit to Good Morning America’s Your Three Words. If you haven’t seen this Saturday morning segment — it’s usually the last five minutes of the show — check it out.I just love it. Each week the producers pick a song and then they flash a series of quick video that viewers have sent in. They have themes on occasion. For example, a few weeks ago all the videos were of Oscar nominees. Anyway, it’s fun. Here’s my entry:
My video hasn’t appeared on GMA yet but even my kids think it’s not as embarrassing as they thought it would be.
What have you done to mortify your kids lately? Do tell.