Israel Yoga Fest 2018!

As a Yoga Journal junkie, I spend at least a weekend a month drooling over the glossy spreads dedicated to each issue’s featured yoga resorts, retreats, and festivals. From hot springs in California to secluded ashrams in India, there’s never a shortage of locales to fantasize over. But, because I have always lived in either Nebraska or Korea since I started practicing yoga, I haven’t ever lived in a place that was very accessible to the yoga events my little heart lusted over.

UNTIL NOW!

It turns out that Israel has some pretty kick-ass yoga happenings throughout the year, and since we live in a pretty small country, getting to those places is a lot easier than schlepping myself to California or India. So, last weekend, some friends and I loaded the car with a couple tents, a stash of kosher food, Shabbat necessities, and our yoga mats, and headed up north to a national park in Nir David called Gan HaShlosha.

To say the park is beautiful would be a ginormous understatement. This place is, like, heaven on earth! I even read that some people believe it’s the actual location where the Garden of Eden once was. Nestled near the foot of Mount Gilboa, the park is surrounded by gorgeous hills in all directions, which really make you feel like you’re yoga-ing it up in the Holy Land. The best part is the natural springs that feed into clear blue pools and cascading waterfalls–all of which you can swim in! Add some lacy palm trees to the mix and you’ve got yourself an oasis.

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The line-up of the festival was impressive, I have to say! Not only were there amazing teachers from all over Israel, but international teachers came to share their expertise as well. As someone who enjoys a balance of vigorous/powerful and cooling/yin styles of yoga, I was stoked to see that the schedule boasted a TON of different traditions and approaches. There were Kundalini kriyas in the morning, workshops on Pranayama and meditation, lectures on physiology, hands-on Thai massage demonstrations, and of course a hefty amount of flow classes, to name only a few! I’d glanced at the schedule (most of which was in Hebrew) the week before the festival, and the number one class that caught my eye was a Handstand 101 workshop taught by Eddy Toyonaga. It just so happened to be in the first time slot of the whole festival, so Lital and I made a beeline for the Shakti pavilion almost as soon as we’d pitched our tents.

Now, a little background: I’ve been practicing yoga for something like 3.5 years now. I’m an RYT 200 certified teacher, and while I’m about as flexible as they come, I’ve had to work quite a bit harder for the strength I now have. Still, no matter how many planks and Dolphins and Bakasanas I do, that damn handstand eludes me! I’ve taken workshops, I’ve sweated through online courses, and I’ve spent months and months of tumbling on my head in the yard with little progress.

I mainly just wanted to go to the workshop for a good time. After all, handstands are always fun to play around with even if you don’t stick them! I unrolled my mat and settled in, thinking that I’d hear all the same things I’d heard before: support with your core, push through your shoulders, “cat” the back. You know, the usual stuff. Eddy did say those things (because they’re correct and sound advice), but he also said something else: 90% of the work of holding a handstand is in the fingertips.

Now, I’d been messing around with Pincha Mayurasana at home the previous week, and the thing I noticed that made the balance easier was to grip with my fingertips. That little aha moment sprang to mind when Eddy likened the strength of the fingertips in handstand to “putting on the brakes”. When you’re first learning how to balance, it can be tricky to figure out just how much momentum you need when you kick up. As a result, you either don’t kick hard enough or you kick too hard and you end up kicking yourself all the way over and having to cartwheel out. But, according to Eddy, we can stop the momentum and bring it into balance simply by becoming aware of our fingertips. With Eddy spotting me, I was able to actually hold a handstand without a wall and feel what the correct alignment is like (hug your ribs down, Emily)–for the first time EVER! It’s the best little push and pull between the palms and fingertips, and I’ve now got something new to play around with at home.

And, of course, Lital and I had to take a selfie with him.

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The second workshop of my afternoon was Thai Yoga Therapy. I actually spent a weekend dabbling with this a few years ago during my teacher training, but I couldn’t remember anything other than that it had been really relaxing so I was eager to try it again. I went to this workshop with Dovid, and although we kept cracking up about me trying to understand the Hebrew instructions and him complaining that I was too flexible for the massage to work, we had a blast! I still don’t remember the first thing about the order of the postures, but it was exactly the release my body needed after working so hard in Eddy’s class!

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I’d been looking forward to attending an early morning Kriya class the next day taught by a friend of my Kundalini teacher, but I kept rolling downhill (LOL!) all night in my tent so I let myself sleep in. I ended up being able to attend Eddy’s second class of the festival, which was a Chakra Flow.

OH. MY. G-D.

It was so what I needed. I haven’t taken a Vinyasa class that powerful since I left the US in August! My muscles were shaking, I was Bird of Paradise-ing right and left, nailing my Bakasana to Chaturanga transitions, and even settling into Hanumanasana on both sides. My mat was so sweaty that there were a couple of times I was actually scared I might slip and fall to my death, but damn, that class was invigorating. And, what’s even more important, is that the Emily who made Aliyah eight months ago and has been struggling to get her life together finally felt like herself again. No struggle necessary.

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That’s the beauty of yoga. The asana practice might kick our butts sometimes, but that’s never what it’s about. It’s about feeling alive, about integrating all the parts of our selves, and about being able to find a stillness in the midst of an always spinning world. I realized some things about myself and about my life after that class that had been bubbling beneath the surface; the yoga provided enough quiet and focus for me to finally listen and acknowledge.

We didn’t end up staying for the whole festival because it was literally 103 degrees out and we had a one-year-old baby with us, but it was truly a magical experience for my first year in Israel. It came at exactly the right time in my life: the time when I desperately needed a reminder of just how connected my soul is to the yoga practice. What’s more, I found out that not only does Eddy live and teach in Tel Aviv, but one of the studios he teaches at is literally a seven-minute walk from where I’ll be moving next month. Can you say synchronicity?!

You don’t need to go to a yoga festival to find synchronicity. Keep your eyes open, keep your chin up, and let yourself feel, even when it’s uncomfortable. Before you know it, you’ll start to see things coming together and the divine alignment of your journey will start to take shape. It might take a little practice getting the balance, but your power can come from the strangest places–even from your fingertips.

Namaste!

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