Yoga & Music Festival in Our Backyard

Yoga, yoga everywhere!  It’s so exciting to see the exceptional trainings, workshops – and now yoga festivals in the Greater Chicago Area.  This year, over Labor Day weekend, the first annual 4-day yoga and music festival took place just a short drive from the loop.  And from reports of local yogis – this is a keeper.  We’re all looking forward to next year’s event.

by:  Elizabeth Harrison

As soon as I arrived at Sukhava Bodhe, I crossed paths with Stonehouse Farm’s beekeeper, who was carrying a tray of fresh honeycomb. He offered me a taste- directing me to stick my hand right in and break off a piece of wax and honey. I hesitantly agreed and was rewarded with pure, natural flavor. From that very first taste, Sukhava Bodhe continued to be perfectly sweet.

I began by exploring the Stonehouse Farm property. Located in rural Illinois, at least 20 minutes from any sort of town with nothing but corn fields on all sides, the farm is a little oasis. To the west, I found people practicing yoga near a campfire in a clearing in the forest. To the east, yogis enjoying a view of the pond as they did asana in the picnic pavilion or under tents set up for the festival. The main yoga space, the Shiva Barn, featured a makeshift roof of beautiful colored fabrics, attached to the farm’s giant red barn on one side and a row of trees on the other.

In the middle of it all were diverse vendors offering massages, energy healing, shamanic crystal journeys, unique yoga clothing, jewelry and henna tattoos. People gathered around food trucks- “Curried” and “Organic Gypsy”- and the House Cafe tent to sample wholesome vegetarian food.

The vibe of the festival was profoundly calm and relaxed. I enjoyed yoga classes from some of the Midwest’s best instructors in a retreat-like atmosphere. Instead of the usual sounds of cars outside or a yoga CD, I listened to the cicadas and subtle live music (drum beats, soothing singing) from the stage across the pond. When I began to sweat after a challenging vinyasa, a breeze would cool me down. Instead of being cued to reach our hands to the ceiling in twists, we reached for the sky- no roof above us. It was truly a delight to practice so immersed in nature.

Along with traditional yoga classes, the festival featured many unique workshops, like beekeeping, Thai partner massage, essential oils, slackline yoga, hoop dancing, acro yoga and meditation. For an extra fee of $10, festival-goers could sign up to try stand-up paddleboard (SUP) yoga on the pond (a great deal, as classes in the city range from $45-$60). SUP was so popular that every session sold out the first day- leading festival staff to add several new classes over the weekend. I tried SUP on Sunday and found it an absolutely exhilarating challenge. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Although I definitely took a dive into the pond when attempting to balance on the unstable board for tree, plunging into the water is really half the fun. It was amazing how much we could do on the boards- sun salutations, warrior sequences and even more challenging poses like full wheel and, for the advanced SUP yogi, headstand or crow. The experience of balancing on the water was liberating and, most importantly, great fun.

The most well-attended class of the festival was “Gong Healing” with the Starnes Sisters on Sunday afternoon. With over 50 yogis gathered in the Shiva Barn, we took an hour long savasana as we listened to the Starnes Sisters’ beautiful voices, rain sticks and giant gong. The hour flew by for me- a relaxing journey that seemed to bring up different emotions for everyone in attendance. It began to gently rain toward the end of the session, only adding to the cleansing feeling.

Although the atmosphere is calm during the day, when the sun went down Sukhava Bodhe turned into a yogic rave. Drummers, kirtan-inspired rappers and well-known DJs took to the main stage and fire dancers began to perform. Yogis gathered to dance freely around the stage.

When I took a break from the dancing to try a meditation walk in the “Labyrinth” (a circular maze of candles in the grass that made me feel as though I was walking in a mandala), it began to rain. The candles were extinguished and I headed back toward the main stage- where yogis continued dancing joyfully despite the downpour. I danced barefoot in the pouring rain to yoga-inspired electronica, and felt purely alive. It became hard to tell where strobe lights ended and lightning began. The green LED lights from the stage reflected on the forest behind us, mirroring the stars above. When I could dance no more, I flopped on the ground to enjoy one of the best views of the starry night sky I have ever witnessed.

All in all, Sukhava Bodhe was a welcome respite from the stress of city life- a sweet, rejuvenating and inspiring weekend that I will not soon forget.

Elizabeth Harrison is a registered hatha/vinyasa yoga teacher (RYT-200), originally from Colorado. She loves to hike, bike, travel and do just about anything else outside. When she is not teaching yoga, she occupies herself with Occupational Therapy graduate studies at UIC. The best way to follow her and her blogs online is to like her yoga page on facebook: “liz adare yoga” at facebook.com/lizadareyoga.

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