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My First Yoga Festival Experience

In early August, I attended my very first yoga festival – Return to Roots, a 5-day yoga, music, and flow event in southern New Jersey. Return to Roots is exactly what the name implies – a return to your roots, including port-a-potties, primitive showers and camping in the great outdoors.
To mentally prepare myself for the festival, I watched the short video on the event’s website, and it reminded me of Burning Man, but without the extreme heat or sand. I got nervous, anxious and a little worried about how me – an A-type personality – would do roughing it outdoors and letting my hair down. In my head, I was imagining psychedelic scenes from Across the Universe or Moulin Rouge and almost psyched myself out. Then, I pulled myself together with an internal pep talk telling myself that discomfort is good every once in a while.
Because it was my first yoga festival and also my first time camping outdoors, I wanted to start slowly, so I stayed for just one night. Inside the charming Christmas tree farm was a great tent community with performance and meeting spaces, vendors, first aid, as well as day and longer-term campers spread across acres of land. I found my home for the night far in the back of the property next to some fledgling pine trees almost a mile from the entrance. I could hear music in the distance from the stage a quarter-mile away, but mostly I heard the serene sound of crickets singing in unison. I chose a place close enough to the swing of things but far enough away that I could enjoy my experience connecting with my natural surroundings.
Once I was settled in my tent and ready to explore the land, it was almost time for the effigy – the ritualistic burning of a giant wooden tree. I was excited to experience “the burn” as I sat in front of the caution tape that was encircling the large fabricated tree. As the sky grew darker, the show began with fire spinners, and it was a magnificent site to behold. The performers had such skill and grace as they ebbed and flowed with their various fire tools. Once the final performer ran out of fuel, the effigy was lit and the fire slowly grew. Hundreds of people stood around this circle as a community watching in amazement as the fire grew larger and the firework explosions set off bursts of light into the dark night sky. The fire was a beautiful release – of worries, anticipation, setbacks, past experiences, inhibitions and anything else in the way of true unadulterated bliss. When the crowd ran to encircle the effigy, I sat behind and watched in awe and in complete comfort, knowing that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I didn’t feel the need to run with the crowd, but I appreciated the freeing feeling that they all felt in this experience.
The next morning, the unruliness of the night before died down, and it was then that I felt a real sense of belonging. I wandered the front of the camp and talked to the various vendors selling healthy snacks, natural skincare products, wellness tonics, clothing, hoops and other items. I got into deep conversations with some vendors about their passions. I talked to a woman about how she left her corporate job of 15+ years to own her own craft business, and when she asked me about my passions, I said, “I’m here for yoga.” She told me that she never tried it before but always wanted to, so I demonstrated a few sun salutations for her and had her follow along with me. Then, someone else joined in and did a few poses with us, and another person came by and practiced headstands. Then, a nearby vendor that sold holistic and wellness products asked if he could join in, and he volunteered to lead our practice. It was 10am and it was beautiful as six strangers were brought together to do yoga.
This was the first time I did yoga outdoors, and it was a glorious feeling. While we only went through a few sun salutations and then demonstrated some more difficult poses, it was then that I understood the community and the togetherness of this festival. For me at least, it was not so much about the structured workshops; it was about the people and the stories they share and the experiences that we all created together.

I walked away and realized that I missed the structured aerial yoga class, but I was so at peace with my mind and body that I didn’t let it bother me. I didn’t let time or to-do’s or the calendar dictate what I felt in the moment. I returned to the man who led us through the short yoga session and we chatted about natural wellness products and as other people joined our circle, he graciously shared his homemade kombucha and wellness tinctures.
There were many great community building workshops throughout the event whether you were into yoga, hula hooping, dance, music or other areas of self-expression. It was at these workshops that I met new friends and shared personal experiences and learned new skills. I even learned what my spirit animal is (a bird or owl) and how to speak to it to help guide me on the path that is right for me. I left Return to Roots just a day later, but with a sense of ease and happiness that I brought home with me and that continued to stay with me for many days afterwards.

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Krysta Shannon

Krysta is a staff writer and product review guru at YouAligned. She believes in the powers of healing crystals and essential oils, and never leaves home without them. Krysta is a true Jersey girl (in the best sort of way) who embraces a non-toxic and all-natural lifestyle.

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