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Highlights of Wanderlust Great Lake Taupo festival 2017

Good's wellness columnist Rachel Grunwell recounts her highlights of this month's Wanderlust Festival at Lake Taupo. 

Learning act-yoga from Yoga Beyond’s Honza Lafond

With feet grounded in the earth, toes spread, standing tall, and sunshine on skin, I breathe in deeply and reach my hands to the sky and grow two inches taller. There’s a pause as I look up to a perfect blue sky above. I then slowly close my eyes and deeply exhale, while releasing my hands down by my sides. I yield, relax, de-stress, and feel calm.

Yoga is not just movement of muscles, it’s about a heart-lifting-and-mind-feeling

There was a big crowd at Blissologist Eoin Finn's yoga class

I’m among hundreds of lycra-clad yogis at the Wanderlust Taupo festival during one of Californian yoga teacher Eoin Finn’s yoga classes. Eoin tells the crowd: “We are not merely stretching. We are changing our nervous systems”. He encourages us to use the tools of yoga to “learn how to escape busy”.

He says we are living at a time when levels of stress, anxiety and depression are soaring. So, he implores us to try and use the mind and body “medicine” of yoga more, to breathe more fully more often, and to try and feel “centred”.

In another yoga class, Rod Stryker, an American yoga teacher with over 30 years’ experience, too is talking about using yoga as a “resource to centre”. Hundreds of people on yoga mats spill out of the giant tent to hear him speak and experience his globally-acclaimed teachings.

Rod says yoga can help us all to keep “sane”. He laughs over how a journalist asked him earlier that day “does yoga work?”

He says our world is not getting any easier and yoga is a proven tool to help us navigate the chaos of everyday life.

Coping with soaring stress levels was a common theme among the teachings during the four-day Wanderlust festival held over Waitangi Weekend. It was one of the reasons perhaps why over 3000 people flocked to the event to stretch, bend, meditate, play, learn, dance, listen to music, eat healthy food, buy ethical products, and soak up life tips.

But this health and mindful-living festival offered so much more than that. Here are just some of my epic highlights:

Connecting with the couple behind the YogaBeyond company (they are serious superstars of the acro-yoga world) - Claudine and Honza Lafond

Australian-based acro-yoga teachers (and couple) Claudine and Honza Lafond were big favourites with the crowds. They were only outshined by a happy baby. And I’m not talking about the ‘happy baby yoga pose’, but rather the couple’s gorgeous happy baby girl, Sofie Phoenix Lafond, who was at the festival. This babe was in her parents’ arms sometimes while they taught as well as being snuggled by many other loving arms at the family-friendly event.

Claudine and Honza have hundreds of thousands of social media followers and are world-famous for their skilled acrobatic yoga tricks that wow. They make their skills look easy.

I loved attending one of their workshops where Claudine coached us that partner yoga requires trust, playfulness, strength, and she inspired us to practice “from a place of joy”.

So, I got up close, and personal, with a few fellow yogis – and made some lovely friends while we laughed and did acro-yoga together. To connect with lots of strangers is part of the magic of Wanderlust. And laughing at the tumbles while you learn is part of the fun. It’s a way to not take your life so seriously, to let go and remember to learn…

I was also super lucky to get a chance to “fly” with Honza in a one-on-one session while Claudine spotted me (that’s a term for being close-by in case I fall!) The skill of Honza saw me twist, turn, soar, fly on his feet (and smile!).

Giving SUP Yoga a go with Tim Seutter

Other yoga highlights included Eion’s challenging flow sequences and his bliss-out moments, Lara Zilibowitz’s chill-out yin class (I love how she reminded the crowd that “there are instances of divine bliss if we choose to find it”); being out in nature and on Lake Taupo doing stand-up-paddleboard (SUP) yoga with Tim Seutter (a Kiwi firefighter by the way) and aerial yoga in silk hammocks with the Wild Seed company (headed by yogi Connie Causa in Auckland). The latter style of yoga is up-lifting and so restorative. I cannot recommend it enough; You truly experience yoga in a different way.

Music highlights included Ladyhawke, DJ Drez and Tiki Taane, who also had his gorgeous family along at the festival.

Megan May's 'Earth to Table' dinner was divine 

I loved all the food vendors I tried – all health-inspired companies. But the highlight would have to be the ‘Earth to Table’ dinner by Megan May, chef and founder of Little Bird Organics, the award-winning unbakery cafes, who helped serve up her masterpieces in while all glammed up.

Brand manager Jacque Halstead says they sourced local, organic wholesome plants and foods for the three-course dinner – so the food was fresh and hadn’t travelled many miles.

Aerial yoga - you can experience yoga in a different way...

It was so delicious, nutritious and could inspire anyone into clean-eating, I promise! Think: baby vegetable crudité with cultured cashew cheese and onion bread, summer salads, greens with balsamic berries, pepper and hazelnuts, then smashed pear pasta with fresh herbs and avocado pesto.

Second course was fig and caramelised shallot pizza with cultured cashew cheese and rocket (I will never look at figs the same way again they were so yum!), more salads, greens and heirloom tomatoes with a balsamic reduction and macadamic ricotta.

Lastly, the dessert was a dreamy orchard tart of stone fruits, berries, ginger coulis, set in a raw cacao cookie crust…

Oooh la la. Take me back to this moment please!

Jyoti Morningstar from WE'AR 

The food and clothing vendors at the festival were carefully selected to be in-sync with this conscious-living theme of the event. Jyoti Morningstar, founder of ethical, organic yoga brand We’ar, was on-site to sell her beautiful threads. Jyoti too is an adept yogi and could be found soaking up some of the yoga classes too. That’s the beauty of Wanderlust, it doesn’t matter if you are skilled yogi, or new to yoga, you learn so much.

One of the golden highlights of the festival too is the speakeasy series – to educate Kiwis about how to boost their health and happiness. There are some serious health superstars in this line-up. The director of the festival, Jonnie Halstead, knows how to find talent that could star on any global stage.

The Speakeasy line-up included nutritionist and holistic health expert Ben Warren, from BePure, who talked to a packed-out audience and I will never forget the hour I spent listening to internationally renowned author, yoga teacher and speaker Elena Brower on the topic of ‘parenting awake’. Her son Jonah too accompanied her and offered advice.

Elena shared tips on how to activate a kid’s desires, how to let them have a voice and so they feel heard on a regular basis, why it’s important to care for yourself too and how to truly listen and help kids flourish.

Her seminar was life-changing for me. I too witnessed some women in the crowd shed quiet tears when her advice resonated deeply. After all, who doesn’t want to be a better parent?

There were many “a-ha moments”. For instance, she told the audience that you should not seek out eye-contact from your kids always. Yes, when they greet someone, but if you’re discussing a tricky subject with them privately then it can be more “comfortable” to share information if they don’t have eyes staring…

I left this four-day festival empowered, educated, sun-kissed, connected, uplifted and inspired. I packed in a lot over the festival, but I also wished that I had seen even more teachings and talks on the schedule. There’s always too much on the time-table. I’s impossible to be in three places at once!

However, it’s the crowds too that swarm to Wanderlust that become a highlight. You meet new friends who are all inspired to live a healthier, happier life.

I’ll be back next year, for sure.

If you missed Wanderlust Great Lake Taupo then the good news is Wanderlust 108 is coming to Auckland’s Western Springs Lakeside Park on April 29, 2017, featuring yoga, meditation, music, a 5km run and so much more..

Rachel is Good’s wellness columnist, a qualified yoga teacher and the director of the lifestyle website . Follow her on Inspired Health’s Facebook and Instagram