Through The Eyes Of Narissa

Lamu Yoga Festival 2020

My eyes flutter open and the first thing I see is a soft pastel-pink hue sweeping across the coastal sky through my open windows. I stretch my tiny body across the huge Lamu bed, four tall wooden posts beautifully carved at each corner, and jump out of bed excitedly – it is the first day of the Lamu Yoga Festival! As I gaze outside, little wooden dhows rock gently in the awakening morning light, and fishermen start to prepare their nets for the morning catch.

I douse myself in a cold shower, which will be the first of several today – it is the hottest time of the year – and head straight for early-bird yoga on the beach. The air is fresh, and the ocean spirits whisper soothing tunes to us as we perform sun salutations on the shore, with the golden dunes of Shela beach rising majestically behind us.

Back to the hotel, I wolf down a breakfast of fresh tropical fruit and home-made bread. I am teaching at the festival this year, and I’ve two classes coming up later today. We, teachers, arrived salty, sweaty and happy the day before to gather and plan under the shady trees and shrill cicadas of Fatuma’s Tower.

Once the festival-goers arrived the next day, we had a beautiful opening ceremony far down the beach, past Peponi Hotel, some houses, and the fort – with nothing before us but endless sparkling sand, the famous dunes of Shela, and the evening sun setting over the ocean. In awed silence, we set our intentions for the festival and wrote them on colorful flags that would shimmy in the wind throughout the week.

This year, there are over 400 participants in the Lamu Yoga Festival that is rated amongst the top in the world. In the heat of the day, you will find yogis beginner and advanced, wandering the winding narrow streets heading excitedly to their classes that are scattered across the ancient Swahili town. When the different worlds and cultures meet – the result is a beautiful fusion and explosion of love, peace, healing, learning, and new friends. The locals are amongst the friendliest you will find anywhere in the world, eager to share their culture and to learn about yours.

One is spoilt for choice with classes ranging from hatha yoga to yin yoga, Kemetic yoga to Afrikan yoga, Sufi dance meditation to West African dance, acro yoga to SUP (stand-up paddleboard) yoga, aerial yoga to capoeira, Tai chi to Vedic chanting, partner yoga to Thai massage, kundalini yoga to Iyengar yoga – and I haven’t even listed half of them. The joy and the thrill of exploring, making lifelong friends along the way, and the deep inner healing and transformation that takes place is part of the magic of the Lamu Yoga Festival.

After breakfast, I prepare for my afternoon classes. But first, we belt out seed mantras to activate the chakras which echo around the room while the ocean crashes behind us and a donkey hilariously brays as though joining in with us. Later on, over fifty happy souls lie down on the breezy rooftop of Kijani hotel to be soothed and hypnotized by the resonant tones of the Tibetan singing bowls and gongs that my fellow teacher Samantha and I play together. For the next few days, the sessions run from early morning into the night.

Some highlights include the Swahili dinner served on huge shared plates as we sit on the traditional mats woven from palm leaves – after which we dance to the drumbeats of local tunes in a circle. The concluding evening is the most magical when the entire festival sets sail on small local wooden dhows to go and watch the sunset. Sails fluttering in the wind, boats swaying on the gentle evening waves, 400 hundred yogis float in meditation as the red-orange sun melts into the horizon.

The Jamaican reggae artist Jah9 was the icing on the gluten-free cake offered at the Lamu Yoga Festival. We danced to the reggae beats under the stars on the Manda island beach, as Jah9 sang words of truth and love. I couldn’t be happier.

In Part 2 next week, I sit down with the essence of sunshine, the ever-bubbly, ever-smiling Monika Fauth – founder of the Lamu Yoga Festival. She shares her unbelievable journey from backpacker to international yogi, and we dance to the rhythm of Lamu – the ultimate travel haven for tranquillity, pristine Swahili culture, love, and healing.

Stay tuned!

Narissa Allibhai is a solo backpacker and sound healer.

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