Festivals are everywhere and for everyone, stretching out, finding their niches and attracting people from every climb to celebrate inhibition free fun in the English sun. Some are finding new focuses to rival the traditional music festival, with a new demographic that craves a different atmosphere. It is here we find Soul Circus, the yoga festival with a contortionist twist.
Soul Circus strikes a happy balance between healthy soul nourishment and cheeky self indulgence. Situated at Hollow Farm, in an idyllic space of green near a fishing lake on the outskirts of Gloucester, it attracts a friendly group of positive yogis, resplendent in beautiful yoga leggings, looking to experience a festival of inner fulfilment.
This small festival is comprised of one hot yoga tent, a music tent, a food court with a stage, a space with pilates machines and several boutique stalls and chill out spaces. As you walk through the festival in the morning, gentle ‘ommmm’s and soothing commands to breathe fill the air and a rich smell of coffee drifts across from the stands.
Scanning the Saturday pages of the Soul Circus programme, we found an eclectic mix of yoga, fun looking acrobatics classes and some zany looking circus activities and headed to a Vinyasa class in the Flaming Phoenix tent (where all the hot yoga was happening, in case you hadn’t guessed) to kick off our weekend of zen.
The class, called Songbird, was led by acclaimed instagram yogi Kate Lister. Kate concentrated on getting us to stretch out, allow our body to feel out to individually claim the poses and maybe most importantly, to lose our inhibitions. Her focus was to vocalise the ‘unstruck sound’ or Anahatha. As we breathed out she would encourage large sighs, that she would then prompt to transform to the name of the person we loved and even our wildest dreams. I enjoyed the fact that her prompts got wilder as the poses got harder, skillfully increasing our abilities while remaining entertaining, and her ukulele accompanied singing during the final corpse pose truly lived up to the name of the session.
Chuffed with our excellent start to the weekend we stumbled out of the tent back into the center of the festival, which was now in full swing with a three piece band in the Solar Kitchen tent. With just enough time for a brief scope of the market, we found some mouth watering cashew butter, and some fresh blended organic detoxing juices by the name of Savse, that left the body blooming with beetroot and blueberry intensified vigour.
Feeling that the time had come to experience the skin tingling fresh outdoor yoga sesh less prevalent in the inner city, we made a beeline for the Galaxy Tent for the midday Rocket Ashtanga with Marcus Veda, an upbeat london yogi with a rebellious angle on an Ashtanga Practise designed to get your heart racing. Here we enjoyed an upbeat 90 minutes of intense yet accessible yoga experimentation, with sunshine and gentle breezes completing the feeling of bare feet on the grass.
"Fast forward two hours and all the party goers of the festival are packed into this one tent, surrounded by crazy leotards wearable fairy lights and everyone jumping/dancing to Beatbox Sound System."
With the yoga side of the day thoroughly explored for the moment, it was time to find out what circus inspired exercise was destined to add some variation to my afternoon, and what was on in the latter side of the afternoon but none other than the Hocus Pocus of Handstands for the handstand yogi. This I had to see, and so come 4 pm there I was, lined up outside the tent with my yoga mat, wondering if I was going to make it out with my neck/spinal column in one piece.
Fortunately, once in the tent it became apparent that we would be learning the techniques of a hand stand while mercifully being left to practice the final product on our own. The class was popular and the tent was close quarters enough to make worries of concussion quite realistic. However, with those worries assuaged what followed was a close Bristolian double act comprised of one yogi and one qualified circus performer, with an easy, comical dynamic and a strong sense of the ridiculous. After a small yoga warm up we were gathered into a crowd at one side of the tent to leap frog, butt walk, shimmy, sway and jump our ways backwards and forwards across the tent, all in preparation for the ultimate handstand readiness that we were closing in on.
Next it was group work, where we squared off into groups of three to lift each other into handstands. As a handstandee, I had to employ the correct, previously taught positions while also remaining entirely stiff, which is entriely terrifying and also really hard unless your core muscles are as hardcore as mine aren’t. All in all the Hocus Pocus Handstand yogi yoga session was wacky enough to be team building and witty enough to be wildly engaging.
With our cores positively glowing we headed back to the tent to change into swimming costumes and lightly jog towards the sauna and hot tub. As we were heading over, past the beautiful lake and the rum bar, the bartender of the Rum Shack called us over and, accurately guessing our destinations, promised two rum and coconut cocktails to be delivered to the hot tub in half an hour. Things were going from fantastic to crazy fantastic as we paid in advance and headed to sweat out some toxins in a log cabin with a log burning fireplace and plenty of hot coals.
Once suitably drenched in sweat, parched and clean, we took the dreamy, light headed walk over to the hot tub with a view of the lake, as the sun was setting. Our drinks arrived and we sank into a comfortable 37 degrees and relaxed into wondered why exactly it was that this feeling didn’t make up at least half of our existence. Once we were sufficiently pampered and pruned we headed back to the tent for a third and final costume change, ready for the night. I was excited to see how the music would compare to the nearly perfect day of yoga.
I was not disappointed.
The music tent was lively with the end of the daytime crowd, and as we headed down an awesome singer songwriter, Dana Elle, an Israeli R&B/Soul singer, was nearing the end of her set. As she sang her way through her relationship with music, and some of the reasons she started singing, children in animal onesies raced around the dance area and everyone was sitting down, relaxed, drinking some wine or beer and quietly soalking in the atmosphere. Exactly what I have expected from the Saturday night at a festival that so far, was far more yoga retreat than Glastonbury.
Fast forward two hours however and all the party goers of the festival are packed into this one tent, surrounded by crazy leotards wearable fairy lights and everyone jumping/dancing to Beatbox Sound System, a six piece ska band from Cornwall. The crowd had been previously warmed up by a urban jazz artist in an iridescent kimono by the name of Ruby Confue, and by the end of the live music part of the evening people were yelling for more. All cynicism that i had for the party side of the yoga festival had been completely wiped away. The heading act was Maxi Jazz, the rapper, singer/songwriter best known as the leading vocalist from uk based Electronica band Faithless, who kept us drunk and dancing until 2am, at which point the crowd started to thin as the wholesome 6am start started to hit even the most rebellious, and the exodus back to the campsite began.
The next morning was understandably slightly later and slower, with a very sympathetic Easy Like Sunday Morning session in the Galaxy Tent, where established yogi Taylor Harkness led a class of lying down and stretching. Once rejuvenated by gentle exercise and the coffee that i had finally allowed myself to have, I headed to the stage at the food tent where i joined those who felt more capable of exercising their minds rather than their bodies.
This stage offered talks and lectures and I was given a chance to take part in a workshop by the engaging and personal Chloe Stewart, the writer of Nibs etc, a blog centred around minimising food waste and making gourmet feasts of leftovers. Within the workshop we learned how to make an Italian dish by the name of Panzanella, which transformed rock hard bread into a tangy, crumbly, grain like substance which will bump your salad up to a tasty main without having to buy any new ingredients.
Soon it was back to the tent to pack down and say goodbye to a fusion festival that ticks all the boxes. Soul Circus is an inspiring break with comprehensive yoga instruction, fun circus antics and late night dancing. As festival culture widens to become more than just music and people look for more than just mindless hedonism to blow off steam at the weekend, festivals like Soul Circus are creating a mindful alternative that doesn't leave you feeling awful come Monday morning. An amazing weekend for yogis and festival lovers alike, we will be back in 2018!