How I Opened My Heart at Bhakti Fest
guest written by Jillian Love
Bhakti Fest is one of the most high-vibe festivals out there. With 72 yoga classes and 108 consciousness expanding workshops in three air- conditioned workshop halls, plus 84 hours of sacred music from sunrise till 2AM, it is no wonder everyone is walking around smiling. Before the end of my first day at the festival I already had quite a full experience: I took two yoga classes led by acclaimed yoga teachers Saul David Raye and Sean Johnson before luxuriating in the warm evening air while dancing at the main stage alongside hundreds of other inspired attendees to the playful beats of MC Yogi.
The music was predominantly Kirtan style performed by different artists in varied musical genres, everything from hip hop to reggae to latin. The call and response devotional chanting of ancient Sanskrit chants had the audience engaged vocally with the musicians and created an interactive community group singing and music-making experience that felt somewhat like a spiritually inspired night of karaoke. There is nothing like the magic of chanting live with musicians and hundreds of participants adding their energy to the chant.
Around the midnight hour I meandered down the desert path just behind the festival to my quiet tent nestled between the cactus plants and put myself to bed, appreciating the way my whole body was buzzing on the natural high of pure clean feel good fun. I chose tent camping—the cheapest option and super easy—though other accommodations included everything from tent “glamping” to air conditioned dorms. You could drive your car right to your tent site and there was plenty of room to pitch your tent right next to your vehicle…just watch out for cacti and don’t expect to sleep past 8am (the sun is relentless). There were some not very fancy sort of warm showers showers available at no extra cost and porta-potties in the camping area, and a few showers with hot water up at the pool area.
This was an intimate event, way less than 5,000 people, and I definitely started to recognize some faces and repeatedly crossed paths with friends over the course of the weekend. It was generally a health conscious group of people, some yogis and yoginis and many others who were just every day folks of varied ages that were enthusiastic to connect with one another in what felt to me like a very open hearted and authentically sweet manner.
Water is available at central water station in the center of the festival; I had a water bottle on me at all times to avoid dehydration and also frequented the food vendors for hot beverages in the evening and a plethora of cool energizing elixirs and juices during the day.
It was easy to find the location by car, and I was surprised to find such a secluded desert oasis of magic just a five minute drive from civilization. There were large supermarkets, a health food market, gas stations and many more stores close by the event site if you needed anything last minute (ins and outs were allowed). As a first timer showing up just on the heels of Burning Man I was incredibly prepared with my own superfood smoothies, some pre-made salads and snacks, and water just in case. Aside from my yoga mat, a few stylish yoga outfits, my tent and sleeping gear and personal toiletries, there was not much I really needed. All the dance floors, yoga halls and workshop spaces were shoe free so the best footwear choice is sandals that you could easily slide off and on. Bring some that are easily identifiable as it will make sorting through piles of shoes much easier, but I never felt uncomfortable leaving my belongings unattended.
This was an alcohol free event with only vegetarian food offerings including fresh juices, superfood smoothies, cacao elixirs, and fresh young coconuts, plus heartier fare like wood fired pizzas, quinoa bowls, raw vegan salads, indian dosas and kitchari bowls. Many people were particularly enthralled by the “Eat Good Fats” booth that was offering their one dollar treat called “Ghee Spots,” a grass fed organic ghee-soaked medjool date served with a dollop of almond butter and some shredded coconut. Chase that with a “Shilajit Latte” from the “Medicinal Foods” booth for a wonderful natural buzz.
There were a total of two main music stages, one sound healing area, three yoga halls, and give workshop spaces, all of which were either inside air conditioned buildings or covered in shade cloth. The main stage was definitely the star of this event with a beautiful colorful tapestry backdrop and two large carved wooden statues on each side of the stage. If you were close enough to be right in front of the stage you would see a lovely altar decorated with spiritual deities, candles and photos of any number of gurus. The decor in the workshop spaces and yoga halls was sparse, as focus was directed towards what was going on in the class itself. Outdoor Yoga Hall 3 was the exception to this minimalistic rule; it’s location on a cliff with an open air backdrop set a gorgeous natural desert scene.
MC Yogi with DJ Sol Rising were the opening night performers, and had the crowd enthusiastically on their feet for hours singing and dancing to tunes which blended raps about Hindu deities and yoga culture with hip hop, electronic and reggae music and turntable antics. On Friday night, Grammy nominee Jai Uttal’s ecstatic chants were the big draw, and if you made it util 1:30 am you’d catch high energy artist and festival legend Fantuzzi’s late night inspiration. World renowned Krishna Dass pushed through a fever to take the stage on Saturday for an incredible three-hour performance, followed by the authentic Sufi Qawwali seven-piece ensemble Fannah Fi Allah dazzling the crowd with their passion vocal delivery of the mystical verses of Sufi poets. Trevor Hall closed out Sunday with his poetic music, sharing stories between songs about how much of his music was inspired by his own deep spiritual journey through India. After returning to the stage for a crowd solicited encore he finally closed his set with an unexpected duet with Govinda Das that left the audience, at last, fulfilled. Well, at least for that moment.
Over the course of the weekend, I felt my body being reprogrammed by the mantras we were singing even though I didn’t know what the words meant. I took a total of eight addictively good yoga classes in four days even though I generally only practice 30 minutes a day on my own, and I pushed my body through the asanas, taking rests when needed, just so I could stay in the classes and drink in all the knowledge and wisdom of the incredible teachers. Note that many classes require pre-registration and the willingness to deal with a crowded room.
From indulging in healthful raw food, to engaging in daily yoga practices, to being exposed to consciousness expanding spiritual downloads from modern day yoga gurus, to the non-stop immersion in devotional chants, to the constant spontaneous outbursts of ecstatic dancing… the energy was super loving and joyful. We were all absolutely high on doing good things for our bodies and minds, and after my experience at Bhakti I have a deeply rooted appreciation of the power of yoga, beyond its popularity as a way to keep trim. Bhakti yoga, like any other form of yoga, is a path to self-realization, to having an experience of oneness with everything. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of Love, and the festival turned out to be an unexpected journey of heart opening and love.