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Fields of Yogis promises growth and connection at fourth annual yoga festival

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Fields of Yogis 2019

NewBo City Market — Friday-Sunday, Aug. 23-25

Yogis practice on the lawn of the NewBo City Market at the 2017 Fields of Yogis festival. — Jav Ducker/Little Village

Now in its fourth year, annual yoga celebration Fields of Yogis will be held Aug. 23-25 in the Czech Village/New Bohemia District of Cedar Rapids. (Little Village is a sponsor of the festival.) Tickets for the three-day festival range from $35, for individual workshops or add-ons, to a $200 full three-day pass. There will also be free events each day. NewBo Market’s regular Friday night Rock the Block will be incorporated into the fest, featuring the Cedar County Cobras that evening at 6 p.m.

Fields of Yogis was designed to cultivate a sense of community for yoga specific to Iowa, as the name indicates. The event’s motto, “Choose How You Grow,” similarly combines the agricultural context of yoga in Iowa with the sense of self-determination and an orientation toward wellness that is important in the practice of yoga overall.

“At yoga festivals, you’re being a participant in the practice,” said founder and organizer Ally Thompson, who also teaches the Friday evening free workshop. “You can talk to [the instructors]. It’s not just an invisible shield where you won’t meet the person and you just watch them perform … it’s a two-way conversation. It’s not just cues — it is active learning.”

Ben “Good Vibes” Spellman leads a session at the 2017 Fields of Yogis festival. — Jav Ducker/Little Village

Check-in begins at 6:45 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 23 for this year’s expanded set of classes (including for foodies), options for meditation and art programming. The 2019 festival line-up includes local leaders in the yoga community, such as Masha Nieland of Cedar Rapids’ Fusion Studio; Betsy Rippentrop of Heartland Yoga and Megan Robertson of Muddy Feet Yoga in Iowa City; Dubuque’s Julia Theisen of Body & Soul, and a co-founder of the Midwest Yoga & Oneness Festival, and Molly Schreiber, who started the children’s yoga program Challenge to Change; and prolific Des Moines instructor Ben “Good Vibes” Spellman.

Headliners for the fest include dancer Tamara “Cuchira” Levinson, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Rhythmic Gymnastics team and a Broadway veteran, who will lead three “playshops” based around the emotion-driven MovMEANT style of dance she innovated. Author and wellness coach Koya Webb will lead acro yoga, vinyasa flow yoga and chakra-balancing flow sessions, while Chicago’s Cassandra Justice — whose titles include everything from aerial yoga teacher to poet to lightworker — will host sound therapy meditations and dissect the eight limbs of yoga.

Vendors will also be present, offering clothing, jewelry, herbal remedies and supplies, posters, CDs, cards, children’s books, adult books, journals and tarot readings.

As a celebration of community in addition to supporting individual practices, Fields of Yogis is open to everyone who is interested in yoga — from new explorers to those who have practiced for decades. Overall, the festival is designed to offer a set of classes and community spaces that samples the diversity and range of what yoga offers, from physical postures to spiritual practices, in an intensive and mutually supportive way.

“It takes time to see what works for you,” Thompson said, discussing her overall vision for the festival. “There are different styles and different ways to think about it … Maybe you want to get into knowing how your body works and the postures, or the spiritual dimensions and figuring out how to help your community, or how therapy happens.”

The increasing popularity of yoga in the past few decades in the U.S. (a data brief released last year from the National Center for Health Statistics shows yoga participation among adults increasing from 9.5 to 14.3 percent, or 22.4 million to 35.2 million practitioners, just between 2012 and 2017), provides a somewhat skewed sense of this depth and breadth. For some people, yoga is only stretch pants, a cheerful philosophy of life and bodily postures. For many, it is practiced only infrequently, as part of a larger goal of “being healthy” or “being flexible.”

It is also true that yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years as part of a path toward self-awareness and intentional living. It’s a discipline that emphasizes practice, not belief. It understands that remaining mindful of practice builds confidence and humility as well as a greater sense of bodily awareness. In a time when humans feel increasingly lonely and disconnected, yoga offers a space that encourages the opposite attributes. Yoga festivals do so in a particularly large and joyful fashion.

Yoga and music festivals do share similarities, in that each collects a local community and visitors for a shared experience around as set of featured guests. But whereas a music festival is primarily geared toward becoming a passive member of an audience, giving back to the performers only in the form of dancing or yelling along to lyrics, a yoga festival emphasizes participation throughout.

These events can generate a similar “level of excitement and intensity” as a music festival, Thompson noted, “but it’s about what you’re going to learn.”

(Thompson also mentioned that yoga festivals were more likely to feature the fragrance of palo santo, rather than a music festival’s staple scent of pot smoke, promoting a sense of cleansed presence rather than escape.)

Fields of Yogis began as an idea formed by Cedar Rapids yogis attending an out-of-town festival, who wondered, “Why can’t we do this?” It has become an event that continues to simultaneously deepen and expand, providing a safe place to experience a more full sense of what yoga means beyond a desire for better abs, firmer glutes or increased flexibility. Thompson’s message and the orientation of the festival stays consistent with the heart of yoga overall.

Fields of Yogis creates a kind of consciousness in its programming and its open welcome to the community. Because yoga presumes little more about its practitioners than a willingness to explore, the 2019 festival provides an opportunity for practitioners in the area, new and experienced, to become more conscious — no matter how many hours one spends on a mat.

“We have to build up that consciousness,” Thompson said.

Daniel Boscaljon is a public intellectual and experimental humanist. Find information about upcoming workshops, including Reconceiving the Divine Feminine (with Angela Amias) starting Sept. 11 and an upcoming collaboration with the Iowa Writers House on Oct. 26, at danielboscaljon.com. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 269.


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