The Lamu Yoga Festival has just completed its fifth edition. We spoke to Monika Fauth, the festival's founder, about the festival and how it's developed over its first five years.
How did the ﬁfth Lamu Yoga Festival go?
Everything went beautifully. I'm really happy. And I'm really really tired.
We had 26 teachers from around the world, who led 150 yoga classes, meditations and workshops, as well as lots of special events, all over Lamu Island. I wanted everything to look perfect. It's all about the details. From the moment people arrive in Lamu they need to feel they're taken care of. We put a lot into the festival – it's not only about yoga. It's the tents, the festival booklet, the programme, and all the activities. People came from everywhere – from America, Australia, Europe and South America – and I feel that we reached our full potential with this festival. We don't plan to expand any further, but in the future we will work to enhance what we have. This isn't a normal festival, based in one place. It's in multiple places, on an island with no cars and a beautiful unspoilt beach. You can't ﬁnd this anywhere else in the world, and that's what makes the Lamu Yoga Festival unique.
How did it compare to previous Lamu Yoga Festivals?
It was much broader in scope. Yoga isn't only about asanas – the physical practice. It's deeper than that. So we invited teachers who oﬀered classes in lots of diﬀerent styles of yoga. This year, for the ﬁrst time, we had a swami from India, who practises the Art of Living. He brought more knowledge. People are interested in the history of yoga, and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras – or explanations. Yoga is a science. Some people think it's a religion, but it's a science of humans – how the mind works and how the body works. It's more than 10,000 years old.
We also had Yoga Nidra, Yin Yoga, meditation and chanting, and all these were really popular. For the ﬁrst time, we had Vedic chanting – that was new and beautiful – and we had restorative yoga. These sessions were full. I believe people are searching for something; they want to know more. Even our teachers evolve. I spoke to Salim, who teaches strong physical classes in Vinyasa Flow and Capoeira, and he loved the Yin Yoga he attended. We're all aware that we want to slow down. Life is too fast. We need to take more time over it, and yoga gives us that opportunity. The dune walk, too, was new. We walked over the sand dunes to parts of the island tourists don't usually visit, looked over the bay at the ﬁre of the sunset, and we did meditation. Most yoga festivals take place in an enclosed space, so being able to do that was very special. That's the beauty of Lamu. Even if you don't do yoga, you can walk barefoot on the beach and you feel connected.
We also had plenty of physical sessions: Vinyasa Flow, Core Yoga, Ashtanga and Acro-yoga. SUP yoga – out on a paddleboard on the sea – was oﬀered for the third year and
was fully booked.
And we had aerial yoga for the ﬁrst time. It's new, it's fun – and you can get deeper into postures you might not otherwise manage while supported by the hammock.
How did the festival start?
When I arrived in Lamu in 1997, I felt that the island would be an ideal place for yoga. My background is in fashion and trends, and I knew wellness and wellbeing would be the next trend in the 21st century. People are looking for how to be able to relax, to get more energy to face the challenges of life. I worked with the local community in a number of projects with the Art of Living, including Stand Up Take Action, Mission Green Earth and Hands up for Kids in Lamu. The Art of Living and its founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have for a long time been my inspiration, and in 2009 I became an Art of Living teacher. I organised yoga classes and international retreats at Banana House, my resort in Shela, but it wasn't until 2012 that I decided the time was right, and Kenya was ready for a yoga festival.
With like-minded people, we established the Lamu Yoga Festival in 2014.
A lot of the people who attended that ﬁrst festival were from Nairobi – it wasn't as international as it is now. But the number of attendees was 108, a signiﬁcant number according to yogic beliefs, and we felt supported by the universe. Three years later DoubleTree by Hilton voted us the Number One Yoga Festival in the World worth travelling for.
That's quite an accolade! What makes this yoga festival so special?
It's because of the quality of the yoga, the calibre of the teachers, and the beauty of Lamu Island. It's also because there are so many events that could only happen here. The children
of Anidan, the local children's home, played drums at the opening ceremony – and they were excellent.
The soloist must have been about four years old, but he was the star of the show. On another night, local women of Shela village cooked a Swahili dinner for the yogis; we all sat
on the ﬂoor and ate delicious food in the traditional way. Local drummers played and danced, creating a vibe that was truly African; the way Africans dance – it's so in the moment, so ﬁlled with joy and happiness. The sunset dhow cruise meditation, popular the ﬁrst year, has remained an idyllic event at every festival since. And on the ﬁnal evening, before the beach party, Samanta from Mumbai led us in the Five Rhythm Dance; she taught dances for the ﬁve elements – earth, water, air, space and ﬁre – and everyone danced in their own rhythm, blindfolded, in the circle. Skyward Express, ﬁrst time sponsors of the event, were so impressed they said the event promotes not just Lamu, but the whole of Kenya. The Lamu Yoga Festival puts Kenya on the international map.