At the Wanderlust festival. Picture / Supplied

Exploring Wanderlust Festival

There’s much more to the Wanderlust festival than being young, blonde and bendy

“I’m on a Sattvic diet,” explains the guy sitting in front of us, as he chows down on a garlic naan. “It’s the Sanskrit word for pure. I don’t eat gluten, meat, spices, salt or pepper, garlic, onion.” “I know what you mean,” confides the leggy blonde sitting next to him. “My digestion is dead after a trip to Colombia. My body doesn’t absorb nutrients.”

My colleagues and I are in fits of giggles; we are in a van with every yoga stereotype imaginable heading to Wanderlust festival’s first ever Sunshine Coast event. We have no idea what to expect but 10 minutes in our travelling companions (not to mention the harmonium perilously perched against the back window) aren’t doing much to assuage our perceptions of the sorts we’ll encounter.

American in origin, Wanderlust is a yoga and wellness festival, the Australasian rights of which are owned and managed by Kiwi Jonnie Halstead and his American wife Jacque. Over the past two years Wanderlust has held events in Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and Taupo. The focus is primarily on yoga, meditation and mindfulness, with an additional emphasis on music. Yoga teachers work alongside DJs and in the evenings everything morphs into live music events (Donavon Frankenreiter headlined the music component this year; the following morning he hosted a surfing session).

There’s something incredibly trepidatious about travelling for a four day event that’s designed to push your mind and body (people are also able to purchase passes for one, two and three days). I worry that I’m not young enough, blonde enough, or bendy enough. All unlikely anxieties in the context of yoga, but understandable in the days of Instagram and Lycra. I imagine a crowd of hard-bodied Lululemon-clad handstand-walking elite yogis or — worse — smelly hippies. There are no strangers at Wanderlust, only people you haven’t hugged yet.

We learn this minutes into our first class, “Rock Star Yoga” with headliner Eoin Finn, where we are encouraged to shout the words to “Sweet Ommmm Alabama” and “hang loose” with our hands in chair pose before wrapping our arms around one another and singing “Imagine” in lieu of shavasana. This is incongruous for an uptight city slicker like myself, who has issues with personal space and a vaguely purist attitude towards yoga. But by the time I attend his “Blissology” class the following afternoon, a heavenly Tai Chi-inspired flow on the sand, I’m blessed, blissed and on board.

“We live in times where people worry more about the stars in Hollywood than the stars in the sky,” Eoin proclaims. My mind flickers from the Kardashians to the Konstellations and I feel a paradigm shift come over me. The sun is out, I’m on the beach, and suddenly I’m dancing like no one can see me, reigniting the child within — becoming a cliche — and loving every minute of it.

READ: Why Yoga Is More than a Pose

Sure, there’s a certain amount of Cirque du Soleil-like theatrics at Wanderlust. Friends acro-yoga together while waiting for their coco-lattes; our “friend” from the van casually hangs out in handstand next to the Swisse Superfood smoothie bar. Indeed, the opening night “Spectacular” features breathtaking performances from many of the headline acts including incredible husband and wife acro-team Claudine and Honza Lafond, capoeira teacher Alfred Kendricks, who performs one-handed push-up handstands, and Wanderlust stalwart Cameron Shayne, replete in his signature tightie-whities, balletic in Budokon, a martial arts-yoga fusion.

“Yoga’s not just about pulling shapes,” Cameron assures his crowds throughout the weekend. “You can do the best handstands in the world and still be an arsehole.” One assumes that Cameron, who has worked as a bodyguard for both Charlie Sheen and Sean Penn, knows a thing or two about arseholes. I attend his blindfolded class where the “shapes” are no harder than a tree pose (although blindfolded that is no mean feat) and his gentle voice, reminding me that yoga is about working on your humanity, penetrates deep into my soul.

The male headliners may have the rockstar reputations but it’s when the women take over that Wanderlust really shines. New Yorker Amy Ippoliti is an effervescent spitfire who hosts a diverse range of offerings throughout the weekend including a beach clean-up and one of my favourite classes, “Yogis who play together”, alongside the divine Claudine Lafond, their affection for each other infectious. We all hold hands and sing at the end of class, Amy belting the words at the top of her lungs like a little orphan Annie.

Nikki Ralston, the only Kiwi teacher on the bill, could have had more classes as hers filled up so fast there was a wait list for the wait list. Headliner Eoin Finn’s wife Insyia, herself a yoga teacher, was a beautifully grounding presence on the yoga hike and spoke assuredly on Ayurveda at the Speakeasy. And we all fell in love with nutritionist and yoga teacher Lola Berry, who spoke on several topics including self-love.

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Partway through the weekend I felt irritated at myself for attending so many male-led classes with so many wonderful females on the bill. By then I was too late to sign into Yoga for the Vagina.

The esoteric wasn’t all oddball; a soundshower on the beach under the morning sun at 6.30am was a sublime way to start the last day, and Swami Govindananda held wonderful and accessible meditations.

The biggest surprise, for me, was the friendships shared. I went with my sister and it was a rare weekend where we didn’t fight once. I met others who will be lifelong friends.

As a mother it was such an incredible treat to go away and feed my body and soul in such an intelligent, nurturing way. I met women in their 60s who were there with their daughters, beginner yogis, yoga teachers, couples, travellers. I hugged them, high-fived them, complimented them. By the end I didn’t even need prompting.

I left more bendy and infinitely less uptight, ready to go back and live life like no one is watching. I’ve already booked my trip to Taupo.

• Wanderlust Great Lakes Taupo will run from February 4-7 2016. Tickets see wanderlust.com/festivals/great-lake-taupo

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