We sit blindfolded in a room of more than 100 people as shamanistic music vibrates and rattles our chests. I try to switch off and focus on my breathing, but I’m too intrigued as to what might be happening around me. People walk around us shaking rattles, hitting drums and making animal-like noises. Being blindfolded my other senses have become heightened. I suddenly smell citrus and I imagine someone holding essential oils under my nose as I sit feeling vulnerable. While different sounds continue to move around me I begin to accept the randomness of what is going on and I embrace the experience.
This is one of the first classes at Wanderlust Great Lake Taupō – Immersive Contemplation with the Digital Shamans. I start to focus on my breathing as a man’s soulful singing relaxes me. I imagine being lifted and pushed up onto the top of a mountain and the noises around me are part of nature. I stay in this place until a guiding figure touches my arm and pulls me up – back into reality I stand, still blindfolded I’m guided to walk forward. My hand is placed on someone’s shoulder and I wonder if everyone else is in the same position. Somebody’s hand is placed on the back of my shoulder and I realise we are all being connected. Our guides start to chant a series of “ohms” and everyone joins in. The sound is powerful and haunting – there is no need to hold back or feel self-conscious as we can’t be seen so we can chant as loud as we want. The sound grows louder as everyone lets go and becomes part of the choir. Our voices resonate and then slowly start to quieten down. We stand in silence still holding each other’s shoulders. A simple “thank you everyone” instructs us to take off our blindfolds. I slowly pull mine off and look around – blue light fills the room and everyone is standing in a spiraling line holding each other. We hug the people next to us feeling amazed by our shared experience.
It sounds very alternative and you might be thinking everyone in the class is a hippy or practices meditation regularly, but that’s really not the case. Wanderlust is for anyone looking to switch off a busy mind and focus in on what’s important. Yes, you might end up doing things that put you out of your comfort zone but ultimately you have the power to choose what classes you would like to do, and the level at which you push yourself. I talked to a man after the meditation class and he was amazed by the contrast in his experiences from working in an office job one day to being at Wanderlust the next participating in a shamanistic meditation class. That’s the beauty of Wanderlust – it’s inclusive of everyone and there is always something new to try.
If you aren’t familiar with Wanderlust it’s a four day yoga, meditation and music festival. It started in North America and this year’s multi-day festival, held over Waitangi weekend, is only the second to be held in New Zealand. Held at Wairakei Resort in Taupō, festival events are spread in and around the resort in tents, conference rooms, marquees and the odd yurt. Food trucks and tents are set up outside so you can also enjoy delicious and healthy foods over the festival. There is also a bar marquee that opens at night – it’s not a detox festival after all.
The first day of Wanderlust concludes with a casual welcome party out on the lawn including free drinks and tapas for everyone. Free drinks doesn’t result in a mad dash and scull from attendees – testament to the relaxed culture the festival brings about. The end of day one is celebrated with the Wanderlust Spectacular, the opening night show. We were treated to dance, yoga and circus performances, and also introduced to musician Arli Liberman, a talented Israeli guitarist who embodies an old school rock star. The sound he produces is unique and not easy to define. It mixes rock, blues, sounds from the Middle East and world music – the result is soulful and uplifting. For me his sounds become the theme music for the Wanderlust experience as he performs in yoga and meditation classes over the four days.
Music is an important aspect of Wanderlust and it is carefully interwoven into classes and workshops. Live musicians and DJs enhance yoga and meditation practice by setting the mood and providing motivation. This year two big international acts performed on the main stage – Thievery Corporation headlined on Friday night, it was their first time in New Zealand, and Xavier Rudd and the United Nations played on Saturday. Both bands performed to a full audience in the Greatest Place, the main performance marquee. Compared to other festivals where a mosh pit can become a daunting experience as you get shoved around, there was space to dance and if someone did bump into you there were apologies and smiles.
Yoga is an integral part of Wanderlust and with internationally acclaimed teachers such as Shiva Rea attending as guest teachers it is a great opportunity to learn from the best. Festival tickets are flexible and you can attend for the entire four days or purchase a weekend or day pass. The full pass gives you the opportunity to take up to three classes, workshops or speakeasies a day. This enables you to try out different styles of yoga that you might not have practiced before.
A highlight for me is yin yoga with Australian teacher Duncan Peak. Yin takes a safer and slower approach as you hold positions for a longer period and you are encouraged to only work at around 60% of your ability. Yin practice focuses on stretching fascia – the connective tissue encasing our muscles. Duncan explains that when we practice yoga regularly and we push ourselves to 100% of our ability all the time and maybe without the right guidance, we might not only get the position wrong but with continued practice we could really injure ourselves. Duncan has studied NeuroSpinology and he tells us that if we have been practicing for years and haven’t seen any improvement in a certain position then we may actually be limited by our physical makeup – that’s just the way it is. Duncan’s class is full with more than 150 people lined up in rows in The Greatest Place. As I hold the positions I don’t feel the same energy flowing as a power class but I do feel like I’m correcting myself. It might not feel like much but these small changes can have an effect on your yoga ability. We practice one pose that stretches the inside of the foot and Duncan tells us it will help to get our feet flat on the ground in downward facing dog. A yoga class later in the day sees my feet comfortably flat on the ground so there is something to be said for subtlety and working at a slower pace.
Another popular class is ACROVINYASA™, or aerial yoga. This is where one person (the base) supports another (the flyer) in balancing in a series of yoga poses. In the beginners’ class we don’t learn a series of poses, but we do learn how to be the base balancing someone on our feet, and how to be the flyer who holds yoga positions in the air. It’s a fun class and it gets you working with and trusting people you might have just met.
A new event for Wanderlust 2016 is the Farm to Table Dinner, which incorporates local produce and fine dining. I sit in the resort’s restaurant in my gym clothes as a mix of people turn up for dinner. Some are dressed in evening wear and others come straight from class wearing their gym clothes. We are seated randomly on large tables so we have the opportunity to mingle. Next to me is a farmer from Toowoomba, Queensland, he’s at Wanderlust having a holiday – his wife is attending classes while he spends his time in the pool and going for walks. Two starters come out and we are given a little pottle of shrimp and mango ceviche and a bite sized portion of venison on a potato rosti served with horseradish aioli. The ceviche is refreshing and the venison is deliciously tender. Yealands organic wine is matched with each course and we start with a Pinot Gris blend. The menu is varied and we are treated to beef fillet, prosciutto wrapped chicken and a strawberry and rhubarb crumble for dessert. The high quality of the produce is reflected in the taste and Ceres Organic’s products have been combined to great effect. All the dishes are presented beautifully with edible flowers and micro greens delicately sitting on the dishes. The dinner is a great opportunity to try fresh local produce in a relaxed environment – a must for any foodies.
As the last day of Wanderlust draws to a close I start to assess what I’ve learnt and whether I’ve changed from this experience. I do feel refreshed as if a reset button has been firmly pushed and even though I’m physically tired, my head is clearer. My goals and what’s really important to me have been brought forward but I now feel torn between what’s important to me and my reality – this realisation of dissatisfaction with some aspects of life takes me to highs and lows and I don’t want the Wanderlust experience to end – not just yet. As I unceremoniously leave the Wairakei Resort I do feel a little sad but I’m also grateful for everything I’ve experienced. More than 15 hours of yoga and meditation, inspiring teachers, beautiful music, dancing, letting go of any inhibitions, becoming more open-minded and being surrounded by a huge group of positive people. As I go back to city life Wanderlust serves as a reminder that life should be made up of the things you love. Yes, in reality we might have office jobs but it doesn’t take much to fully let go – you just need to take the time. After all, one day you could be in an office and the next you could be sitting in a shamanistic meditation class.
Sara was a guest of Wanderlust Great Lake Taupō – all opinions are her own.
Photography by Sara Greig.