Wanderlust, the largest yoga festival in the world returns to Squaw Valley on July 20-23 | SierraSun.com

Wanderlust, the largest yoga festival in the world returns to Squaw Valley on July 20-23

Fitness, relaxation, and mindfulness are just three benefits of practicing yoga; training the body to relax and focus on the present moment can be more difficult than pushing it into an especially tough pose.

The experts who host Wanderlust practices around the world are dedicated to helping people focus on what's really important.

"It's not about trying to nail touching your toes or to do a handstand," said Donny Starkins, one such yoga expert and instructor at this year's festival.

Starkins teaches vinyasa-style classes around Phoenix, and is the official yoga instructor of the National Basketball Association's Phoenix Suns; he specializes in working with athletes and their yoga practice. "It's about feeling more than we felt before. Part of the practice is mindfulness and awareness, knowing what you can do and what you can't do; going to your edge, that becomes your mind and ego, and then starting to push past your edge, beyond, relaxing and being able to breathe there."

This year's festival will hit Squaw Valley next week and offers a weekend of exploration and adventure, boasting a schedule with so many events it's impossible to see it all.

"There is so much that is new and exciting this year," said Wanderlust director of publicity Kim Small. "We simply can't wait to return to North Lake Tahoe."

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The online calendar clearly lists classes spread out throughout the day, and includes highly informative seminar descriptions, recommended ability level, and instructor bios.

"At Wanderlust you're able to choose your own adventure, whether that means filling your day with a variety of activities including yoga, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and more; or taking it more slowly, with meditation classes, watching food demos … (and enjoying live music)."

To make the scheduling process easier, experts from Wanderlust's organizing team, yoga instructors and one artist in particular, have offered their tips on how to get the most out of the event this year.

Schedule Yoga Classes

Classes for all skill levels are sorted in the online calendar in categories: Yoga, Meditation, Hooping/Slackline/Dance/Other, Hikes & Runs, Speakeasy Talks & Food Demos, Premium Activities, Premium Food Experiences, Bonus Activities, and Music.

"It's very important to be mindful of your skill level," said yoga guru Maty Ezraty, who has studied yoga since her early 20s in a practice which took her to India and led her to start Yoga Works, and later sell the company.

"I think it's important for the students to read the teacher's descriptions of their classes and really listen to what they say," she said. "If the teacher says it's intermediate and you're not an intermediate student then just don't go for that class."

Ezraty, who has taught at Wanderlust and other yoga festivals for the past six years, called attention to an important tip for Wanderlust participants: don't over do it.

She suggests building a schedule based on exactly what the class descriptions say, and highly recommends breaking up a schedule between challenging and relaxing classes so people don't burn out.

"Of course the instructors accommodate for whatever each class needs, but people should be mindful of where they're at because if half of the intermediate class is at a beginner level and the other half is truly intermediate, the entire class suffers and needs to be simplified to find some common ground — it's not a truly intermediate class then," Ezraty said.

Ezraty's classes are set to the sound of your own breath; she opts for a music-less atmosphere and focuses in deeply on traditional yoga, and how to do yoga well. She focuses on breath and awareness of how the yoga and the body are integrated.

"I teach how you integrate the body, the mind and the yoga all as a way to heal and a way to move into your life with more compassion and more understanding. I bring it down to the roots, down to the basics," she said.

Taking one of Ezraty's classes next week will be challenging, but in the best way, she helps students dig a bit deeper.

On the complete opposite end of the class spectrum is a Starkins practice, where he pumps up the volume to ignite energy in his class.

His classes are a balance between power and flow, using flow to warm up the body, and using breath to create stillness.

"Our mind doesn't always know what our body needs, when we come to our mat and steady our minds we can feel more and let the practice give us what we need for the day," Starkins said.

Modifications and props will be used in class to make poses more accessible to a range of students, while some classes will also feature assistant teachers, roaming the rows of students, and assisting where needed.

Wanderlust event programming manager, Emily Hacker, explained the philosophy behind the event's class offerings.

"At Wanderlust we strive to create a safe space for students of all experience levels. There are classes for everyone, whether you've just started doing your first chaturanga or you've been teaching yoga for years. Wanderlust wants to meet you where you are at and connect you with an expert teacher to take your practice to the next level — whatever that next level may be."

A complete class schedule is available at http://www.wanderlustsquawvalley2017.sched.com.

Participate in Activities

"In selecting activities for outside of yoga, we look to create a space for people to build community and to explore. Self-discovery, connection, balance — these are things that people seek when they come to Wanderlust and we look to create those "aha" moments for attendees both on and off the yoga mat," Hacker said.

Much of the emotional gain is achieved between scheduled yoga classes, as Hacker explained, "aha" moments can be experienced "by the playful joy of hula hooping for the first time since childhood, the centered intensity of stepping onto a slackline, or a newfound connection to nature through learning about wild edibles."

Throughout the weekend guests can experience seminars in personal bodywork and self massage to relieve pain, hands-on workshops in preparing fresh and healthy dishes, even crafting classes creating unique wall hangings with natural materials.

Speakeasy talks will be hosted during the festival, bringing lectures on positive body image, discussing what "the future is female" really means, and changing your perspective on money, wealth and spending, on top of other enriching topics.

One particularly special event highlight is a live art piece entitled, "Morning Altars," by artist Day Schildkret.

Currently on his third leg of the Wanderlust tour, Schildkret will create a large installation in the heart of the festival using wild, foraged materials.

"I think that there is a really great collaboration between Morning Altars and Wanderlust in the sense that we're both looking to change lives, and to open people's hearts and help people come into a practice that allows them to connect more with the earth, their bodies and their consciousness — to help bring more health to people and communities and to the planet," he said.

Schildkret's work is displayed through social media as it isn't permanent, which, he says, is part of what makes his altars so beautiful and special, what allows them to also teach an important lesson.

"My art isn't permanent, we see art as you make it and it's going to last forever. One of the reasons I love connecting people to my art and to nature is to help them be in connection with change and impermanence," Schildkret said.

Morning Altars are colorful mandalas created solely out of arranging items found in nature in a beautiful design. Schildkret says he uses a seven-step process to create each piece.

After foraging for supplies, finding the piece's ultimate location, clearing a blank canvas on the earth, creating the piece and dedicating an intention to it, he walks away, lets it change and be impermanent, going through the different forces of nature and daily life.

The final step in his process is to share an image of the finished piece on social media, which he says has resulted in a community of likeminded people spanning different countries who share images of the Morning Altars they create in their hometown.

Each piece takes from 10 hours to four or five days to complete; each is unique and carries special meaning.

"The pieces I create are at the heart of the festival, where a lot of people come for meditation, emotional processing, peace, to sing songs, tell stories, and be in the presence of something beautiful," Schildkret said.

Morning Altars will be constructed during Wanderlust, to follow Schildkret's journey and chronicles of impermanent, beautiful mandalas made from nature, follow him on Instagram: @morningaltars.

Explore

Wanderlust will host The Uncommons, an area for outdoor slacklining, acro-jamming, napping, and relaxing while shoppers can enjoy various booths staged throughout Squaw's village offering snack, wine and spirit tastings, pop-up performances, and more.

Walking through the Kula Market guests will find local artisan goods displaying their handmade works; and in Rue Boheme guests are invited to a laid-back, mid-day party set to live music.

The Food Co-Op will have a variety of nourishing snacks and beverages to keep people going between classes and seminars, while the Beauty Bar will help visitors freshen up with an eco-friendly, complimentary treatment.

A huge lineup of talented musicians will play from Thursday through Sunday. Among the lineup is DJ Drez, as well as The Dustbowl Revival.

A complete lineup of live music can be found at http://www.wanderlust.com/2017-lineup.

Cassandra Walker is a features and entertainment reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at cwalker@sierrasun.com, 530-550-2654 or @snow1cass.

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