By Dr Isabell Lütkehaus
Though our blog is dedicated to yoga in India, today we take you to the biggest yoga festival in Europe! The colourful Berlin Yoga Festival will be a highlight of the summer. Taking place on the beautiful banks of the river Havel, the Berlin Yoga Festival will set the stage for ‘the most wonderful weekend of the year’, featuring yoga experts from India and many other countries.
Isabell recently spoke to Berlin-based yoga teacher and physiotherapist Stefan Datt, who is also the founder of the Berlin Yoga Festival, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, from 4 to 6 July 2014.
Stefan, how did you come up with the idea for a yoga festival ten years ago?
While I was working at international Sivananda Yoga Vedanta centres in Berlin, Munich, Vienna and others for six years, a yoga boom had swept Berlin, with many brand-new yoga centres teaching various styles, and a certain atmosphere of competitiveness. I was thinking of an event where everyone could come together to enjoy a great line-up of music and fantastic guest teachers. As you get to know each other, you realise that all the others, the Kundalini yogis, the Bikram yogis, are perfectly nice people too, just with a slightly different practice. In the end, it’s the same spirit that inspires us. After some warming-up we’ve seen a real yoga community emerge: everyone looks forward to our yearly reunion, separateness has made way for intimacy, support, and solidarity, with very beneficial effects on the city and beyond. When yogis join forces, they have great positive power.
We always plan the festival from one year to the next. There’s also some divine intervention supporting us. When we were considering a one-year pause, the universe told us quite clearly the very next day how that’s impossible: fantastic people started calling in, wanting to participate. You just have to follow this flow. As long as our amazing team along with the many great yoga teachers and musicians want to be part of this, we will continue.
The Berlin Yoga Festival was the first of its kind. I like how it’s become an inspiration for events elsewhere, because yogic gatherings are positive in every way. What sets us apart is the atmosphere: ever since the beginning we’ve been following an intention that goes beyond the marketing aspect. Whoever participates in the programme should do so gladly straight from the heart, not for the money. It goes without saying that yoga teachers and musicians need to earn their livelihood, but once a year we all share whatever we’re good at and love doing – be it a great yoga class or, a fantastic concert. That way, we all pull together, and it’s not about the money, so that, much to the visitors’ delight, entrance fees can stay low. The festival spirit arises from this love, this joy of giving and receiving. Guest speakers, too, have said the joyful interaction is what makes our event unique. Add to this the beautiful location right by the water and trees – you can spend the night here! There’s a real festival atmosphere. Practicing yoga outdoors in this wonderful spot, with this sense of summer freedom and fantastic guest speakers, that’s what makes the spirit of the festival.
How has the festival changed over the last ten years?
The festival changes each year, and there’s an increase in the number of visitors. But the point is not that the festival should grow, but rather that this is a regular gathering of yoga lovers that you can circle in your calendar and look forward to. Of course there are commercial enquiries from those who want to make money from the festival. The yoga market has become economically important. But as organisers we somehow seem to convey that it’s not a marketing event, so that hardcore ‘businessmen’ don’t really dare to turn up. On the contrary, many yoga teachers, musicians and bands perform at our event precisely because of this free spirit they don’t find elsewhere. All the programme participants are with us in this way of thinking. Each year there are more, and in light of the huge number of proposals we could probably hold a non-stop festival for three weeks. This year we had 80 bands who were ready to play, but obviously we have to make a selection.
What are some of your fondest memories?
There have been quite a few moments that really moved me. I was inspired by Dr. David Frawley, and I loved our hundred-year-old yogi from Rishikesh. But it’s more about accomplishing something together: for me, the greatest moment is when the team comes together at the end to celebrate that everything has gone well and we thank our guests for being part of it. There’s a wonderful sense of give and take in this fantastic team, and that’s the real highlight for me.
Who puts in all the work for the festival?
We have about ten workgroups, and it’s Miriam Kretzschmar and I who coordinate with the group leaders. Covering everything from stage organisation to marketing, to the technical aspects, there are 80 people altogether, all working as volunteers.
What are the criteria in putting the programme together?
There are so many proposals, and we’re happy about each one. Unfortunately, we need to refuse some, otherwise particular sections would be overcrowded. That’s why each year we map out what topics to highlight and then find the real experts in the field, the truly inspiring yoga teachers and musicians, so that there are outstanding people in each of the different sections. We have a really colourful programme with something for everyone.
What can we expect for the tenth anniversary?
For our tenth birthday, we want to put on a big celebration, and that’s why we have a mind-blowing musical line-up this year, with very good bands and musicians. We’ve also invited back some of the best past guest speakers. In addition, Pujayi Swami Chitanand is coming, a modern yoga master with many followers in India, who exerts an almost political influence. Yogis don’t usually act directly upon society, but he considers Indian politics too corrupt to have any real positive effect towards solving problems, and he’s therefore gathering spiritual energies to let them flow into politics. He says: “Yogis have to start to not only worship the creator, but also to preserve his creation.” We support his progressive ideas and are looking forward to his wonderful talks and chanting when he comes to Germany for the first time.
For more information visit www.yogafestival.de
Translated from German into English by Elke Rohmer.
Photos © Michael Luther.