Wanderlust yoga festival returns to Stratton Mountain

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STRATTON >> An international yoga festival expected to bring several thousand followers of the meditative and spiritual practice will touch down for four days at the Stratton Mountain Ski Resort, beginning Thursday and running through Sunday, June 19.

The Wanderlust Festival, which began in Squaw Valley, Calif. in 2009, now offers about 35 such events in venues across the world, in spots like Argentina, Chile, Germany, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as well as multiple locations across the U.S. The Stratton Wanderlust Festival, launched in 2011, was the first one to branch out from their Squaw Valley starting point, said Sean Hoess, the co-CEO and co-founder of the Wanderlust Festivals. Not all the events worldwide will be four-day long ones like the one planned for Stratton, he added.

That's a rate of growth that most CEO's of any organization would enjoy pointing out, but Wanderlust's mission is more than one-dimensional.

"We think our mission is to help people find their 'true north,' he said. "For us that means helping people be inspired ... yoga is one piece of that. Yoga is part of a bigger lifestyle picture, where food, diet, exercise, personal development, relationships, community and spirituality all come together."

What is "true north?" It's a path, a journey, and a yearning to explore and connect to your life's purpose, according to Wanderlust Stratton's website, and the four-day event that kicks off on Thursday has more than 100 events scheduled to help yoga practitioners move towards that destination. They range from working on basic yoga postures "on the mat" to experiences that go way "off the mat," and include career counseling, outdoor hikes and runs, yoga on the water, aerial yoga, music — from developing a yoga playlist to some top-end musical entertainment lined up for the weekend when it's time to just have fun — and speakers in the "speakeasy" series. There will be more than one nod to sustainable agriculture and healthy foods and diets, from a "salt and smoke" barbecue to farm-to-table dinners. Another new activity added this year is "kirtan," a form of sacred call-and-response singing.

Those attending the festival will also be able to take advantage of an expanded camping program, designed for those unable or uninterested in staying overnight for one or more days at the lodging options in and around the mountain, Hoess said.

"This is a gathering spot for people who share those values," Hoess said, referring to the various forms and aspects of personal growth the festival aims to embrace. "I think yoga and meditation are at the core of what we do. Both are a form of practice, like music, or long runs and hikes."

Bob Speck, a local yoga instructor based at Heart of the Village Yoga in Manchester Village, will be one of the group of leaders for some of the planned hikes. Those who register and sign up for one of his hikes will find there's more involved than a leisurely stroll through the woods, he said.

He'll be leading "themed" hikes drawn from yoga practice, using archetypes like "the warrior and the healer" and "visionary and the teacher" to help his hikers practice a central yogic principle of living in the present moment and learning from nature.

"We often look to find ourselves in nature," Speck said in an email. "The group hikes that I lead at Wanderlust will be intended to help folks see things in nature that may help them see things more clearly in themselves...The 'warrior and healer' hike will look for ways that we stand up and are present in our lives, while also being wholehearted. The 'teacher and visionary' hike will look for ways that we are open to the outcome without attachment...walking the path of our life's dreams."

Speck, who has been a ski and snowboard instructor at Mt. Snow and Stratton, as well as at Snowbird in Utah for more than 40 years, also plans some meditative moments as well as practicing postures or "asanas" en route, he said.

Lisa Kelly, a spin biking instructor at Stratton, as well as a leading force behind "Unplugged," a local nonprofit which aims to disconnect adolescents from online devices like smartphones through outdoor experiences, will also be leading hikes around the mountain during the four-day event, with a different hike on offer each day. They will range from hiking to Stratton's summit, or to Stratton Pond, or to the fire tower on the eastern side of the mountain, or up the Sun Bowl. She led hikes at last year's festival for groups numbering anywhere from 10-25 people, she said.

People are mainly drawn to Wanderlust for the yoga experience, but also enjoy the chance to do something a little different as while they're here, she said.

"Most people are coming up from busy lives and commitments and they don't get the chance to get in the woods and completely disconnect and be somewhere new," she said. "And where we live is pretty beautiful."

That concept of "getting away from it all" is a big piece of the larger Wanderlust experience, Hoess said.

"Regardless of where you live, it's important that you have those moments where you're getting away from your stress, or the office, and putting down your cell phone and letting your mind wander freely," he said. "If we can do all that in an environment that's fun, it's a great thing to do."


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