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F is for Festival: my first International Yoga Festival

In this edition of the A to Z of Yoga, I share my experience attending the International Yoga Festival (IYF).

If you’ve never heard of it (I hadn’t either), the IYF is held annually on the banks of the Ganges river in Rishikesh, the “world capital of yoga”. Held over 7 days, it boasts dozens of presenters/teachers and included attendees from over 75 countries around the world.

Woman standing in front of the International Yoga Festival 2024 banner
International Yoga Festival 2024

The daily program runs from 4.30am and finishes with dinner at 8.00pm: needless to say, it would take some stamina to keep up with this schedule.

The yoga retreat I was participating in included tickets to 3 of the days. I thought that the most challenging part would be deciding which sessions to attend, because I only knew of one teacher on the program. But the overwhelm was reduced by going with the recommendations of our retreat leader, Lisa.

On two of those days, I surprised myself by getting up at 4.45am to make the 6am class. (I know this will also surprise those of you that have requested 7am classes with me before!) The trek from my hotel involved travelling by prearranged tuk tuk and then walking across the Ganges on the pedestrian only suspension bridge. (Pedestrians and cows, that is).

By day, Rishikesh is loud with the tooting of horns. At this time of the morning, still dark, it is peaceful. We pass few people, although there are some sleeping outside shops or next to carts. I don't know whether they are business people who live far away and want to open early to capitalize on the increase in passing festival trade. Or if they were wandering Sadhus (holy men) who have renunciated all material possessions. Or they may have been homeless people; I never find out. We pass many cows and dogs on the path, also sleeping in the early morning.

Attending the festival is a bit like attending a conference, or in some ways like a music festival. There were multiple sessions being offered in each timeslot. The next challenge is finding which room, tent or stage your chosen session is being held in.

A daily plenary (panel discussion) offers inspiration, 3 meals are provided, and sacred ceremonies or musical or dance performances close the day.

There were people who had travelled from all over India to participate, and many from all over the world. Very few were in the tight yoga pants we see in the west. There were swamis dressed in orange robes, Kundalini teachers all in white, foreigners in their locally purchased loose pants; covered in images of elephants and depictions of Hindu gods.


sacred morning fire ceremony
Sacred morning fire ceremony

There was yoga I was familiar with, such as Vinyasa with Seane Corn (the only teacher I had heard of). There were lineages I had next to no experience of and practices I had never done. Mantras, mudras, breathwork and kriyas, I was learning new words let alone practices.

Some had me weeping with tears of love and connection. Others had me laughing at the impossibility and difficulty of the moves being taught. Especially those taught by a world renowned and respected teacher who happens to be an 82 year old woman. She could do them with ease!

At each meal break, my fellow yoga retreat participants gathered around a table and shared whose class we had attended and what practices we had done. In some ways this allowed me to experience even more of the festival than just the sessions I had attended myself.

Some classes moved me, others were profound, some I didn’t enjoy at all. Which reinforces something that I tell people who ask me about starting out.

There are many practices that fall under this umbrella we call yoga, many lineages and traditions to try. And even within one style, each teacher will have their own unique way of sharing it.

So it's a good idea to try a range of teachers and classes. That's why I will forever be a student myself. What a blessing and privilege.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend a yoga festival, I highly recommend it.

Two yoga teachers pose for the camera
Meeting Seane Corn

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