The Groove Yoga Festival
Island Jam - Hvar - Croatia
Constantly, I hear people complaining about so-called ‘yogi parties’ – there’s no drink, no drugs and they usually end before 11pm. Whether or not you are a practicing yogi or yogini, The Groove is not only the best yogi party you could attend, but also one of the best festivals I have ever been to. It is a series of yoga and music festivals that take place across the world, from Ontario to Nepal. Myself and the Samu Studio team were invited to the Island Jam Edition, set on Hvar, Croatia, at the Amfora Hotel, which overlooks the Adriatic. The Groove is, in their own words, “a celebration of movement, music and community,” so let’s break this review down into those three components.
Coming to the festival as a strictly traditional ashtangi, I was wide-eyed by the diversity of yogic styles that were on offer, with every class taught in a way that was challenging, fun and inspiring. With such a range of wonderful teachers and perspectives, I left with a broadened panorama of the world of yoga. I was amazed by what I came to learn about myself, was able to do things – on and off the mat – of which I didn’t know I was capable, and tried styles I hadn’t known existed. For example, Budokon, a very fluid style which intertwines hatha yoga and tai chi, taught by Eva Klein, who taught me that “the way we do anything is the way we do everything.” One of the many examples of wisdom I have treasured from this experience.
For beginning practitioners, The Groove is the best opportunity I can think of to dissolve the misconception that yoga is just stretching, and to see into the vastness and the oneness of it. If you are daunted by the abundance of yoga (about nine hours from Thursday to Sunday), there’s no pressure whatsoever to attend every session. Though I’d recommend trying out as much as possible. Furthermore, my two companions on the Good Life team, Jason and Sam, who were relative beginners, loved and learnt just as much as I did. If, like me, you don’t want to miss a moment, then the energy you create leaves more than enough for a final dance at the end of each day, be it beneath the moon, or in the rain. This brings me smoothly to the second element of The Groove:
Again, coming from a traditional background, where the only sound in the room is the hush of ujjayi breathing, I was dubious about music being played during the sessions, but found that the quality and choice of music actually empowered my practice. An example and an unforgettable moment was the evening of Twee Merrigan’s lesson, ‘Returning Home’. With our mats laid out in concentric circles, we moved to the moonlight and to DJ Drez’s music, which he wove in with our poses and gradually built up into one of the most natural progressions of asanas to dancing I could imagine. As a shy dancer, I was nervous about dancing without any kind of social lubrication, but such an atmosphere was set that all uncertainty was forgotten and I felt able to move freely, without embarrassment, in bliss.
Some may say that yoga and music are separate entities, but for those like David Lurey, they are very much interlinked, and compound together to form an entirely different entity. David told me that “the universe exists in vibration” and that through various kinds of yoga like mantra, or even asana, we can harmonize with these frequencies, bringing ourselves into balance. And it was through combining movement with music and a collective of wonderful people that the last element of The Groove was created:
Before the festival had begun, I briefly spoke to Jang-Ho about the kindness of yogis. We agreed that the cause of this is the goodness that comes with practicing yoga, one that we want nothing more than to share with the world. Just as David said when I asked him what his intention was as a teacher: “to inspire health and vitality.”
I saw this goodness spread from day one, when people were first introducing themselves by shaking hands, which evolved to heartfelt embraces by the end of the second day. There was a warmth which ran through everyone with whom I was fortunate enough to meet, converse and connect.
In DJ Drez and Marti Nikko’s session, ‘Dreaming in Sanskrit’, when asked I decided to go onstage to sing a complicated mantra, realizing that I would regret what I didn’t do, rather than what I did. Having remembered my fear of singing, I started to trip over the words. Mumbling, I looked down until Marti, who was sitting next to me, told me to look at everyone. I lifted my eyes to a sea of faces smiling with the warmth of old friends. ‘Old friends’ – that is exactly how I felt towards everyone by the end of the festival, whether or not we had ever met.
On a more serious afterthought, if we take The Groove as a microcosmic example of the ways in which yoga can bring people together, then it seems to me that it is the medicine needed to heal the societal rifts that are perpetuating. During the festival, I felt all sense of anxiety and social hierarchy melt away, an amazing thing in a time when these two concepts bare such weight.
Doug Swenson told me that “yoga is what’s outside the box.” Keeping that in mind, as well as the nine-to-five world within which we exist, the way of liberation is through yoga, through the freedom and spontaneity which, in Nina Vukas’ words, is “what it means to practice yoga.” In conversation, Nina and I spoke about why yoga is growing with such momentum. We came to the conclusion that it is because yoga is more necessary than ever, so that we might see beyond the box that has been built around us. Only then can we step out of it both physically and spiritually, and it is festivals like the Groove that we have to thank for helping spread this awareness.
The Samu crew and I left feeling like we had been a part of something very special, an important link in a chain reaction which is reaching round the world, originating in India thousands of years ago, and spread beyond it by Srí Krishnamacharya who “believed yoga to be India’s greatest gift to the world.” The Groove proves this to be true and I advise anyone who reads this to find out for themselves.
We sincerely thank Liz Huntly, Roland Jensch, Jang-Ho Kim, Nina Vukas, Frank Bartl, Doug Swenson, Twee Merrigan, David Lurey, DJ Drez, Marti Nikko, Mackenzie Miller, Dylan Werner, Daphne Tse, Johanna Andersson, Eva Klein, Andrea Sauter, Beate Tschirch, Franca, Hanna Witte.
Benjamin E.I. Lubbock
Video by Jason Drake
Photos by Hanna Witte