The Heartbeat of Lamu – Up Close With Lamu Yoga Festival Founder
The pristinely preserved Swahili town of Lamu is a World Heritage Site – the oldest inhabited settlement on the East African coast today. It is built from coral stone and mangrove timber wood. Its unique architecture and Muslim festivals make it a very special place in the world.
The woody scent of traditional oud incense tickles my nostrils and I sway in rhythm to the smoke like a hypnotized snake. Unable to resist the allure, my bare feet take soft steps on the sandy Lamu streets towards the aroma. As I draw near the uneven brick wall, another sweet smell hits me like a punch. Dates are being prepared.
Later that day, I enjoy the sweet refreshing water of the green coconut locally known as madafu, which is known to cure any headache or hangover. As I stare over the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, that glimmer in the midday heat, I am at peace more than I have been for months. Lamu just does that to you.
A hoarsely braying donkey rudely interrupts my daydreams and I giggle, shaking my head. A ginger cat exchanges a lazy look with me from her perch on a stone wall and then stalks off to join the other Lamu cats gathering in the shade of the dhows. I place an order at the restaurant for some fresh fish and head to Banana House for my meeting with the founder of Lamu Yoga Festival, Monika Fauth.
How did it all start? You living in Lamu, the idea of this festival
I came here as a backpacker 23 years ago. The moment I landed here, I felt at home – there was no stress, the beauty of the island and the people, the simplicity of life. I met Banana and fell in love. I moved here because of the beauty of the island and the beauty of a man.
The energy of the island was so amazing that I longed to start a festival here. And when there started to be negative media about Kenya, it was time. I started this festival to promote Lamu as the wellness destination of East Africa, and to share the practice of yoga with the locals.
What is so special about Lamu?
You walk here barefoot; they have an unspoilt beach; it is safe; there is no noise pollution, no light pollution, no cars, very friendly welcoming local people and the beautiful Swahili culture. It has beautiful energy which is just what someone needs to rejuvenate and recharge their battery. You don’t have to do yoga – everyone who comes here just feels it instantly. All the five elements are active here – the beautiful sky, air, sun, ocean, walking barefoot on the earth and lots of space.
What are the 3 things one must do when they first come to Lamu?
You must visit Lamu town, the oldest East African settlement. You must go on a sunset dhow and experience that peace sailing on the water. And you must walk on the beach, especially in the early morning or at sunset.
This was the 7th Lamu Yoga Festival. How has the festival grown and changed over the years?
The first festival had exactly 108 participants, which is a very spiritual number, so we have been blessed from the start. Now we have grown to a professional, internationally-renowned festival with 35 teachers and 175 workshops including dance, music and art. We have been voted the number one yoga festival worth travelling for.
This is one of the top international yoga festivals. What makes it so special/different?
The Lamu Yoga Festival is integrated into the local community. You meet the local people. There are no cars. Everybody sleeps in different houses all over the small town. Usually, festivals are held in an enclosed space in an airfield, campsite or forest. Here, you are really inside the Swahili community – you hear the call to go to the mosque, you hear the dhows being worked on, the women cooking the food that we eat all together. It’s that organic connection that makes it special.
What is your favourite part of the festival?
That is impossible to answer! I loved co-creating it with the local people, the opening is always beautiful, the different classes and seeing all the people together, the tears and happiness and healing, the Swahili dinner, the dhow… Oh no, I cannot choose just one special moment.
Every time I see you, you are smiling, laughing, relaxed! How do you maintain this attitude of everything flows!?
It is the Art of Living, which I live and practice. It doesn’t make sense to only be a yogi on the mat, then to step off the mat and become a different person!
Yoga is my anchor. Without yoga, I would not be able to do this festival. Without yoga, I would not be able to live here, face day-to-day challenges as a foreigner living in a completely different community. My daily yoga, breathing and meditation give me that stability, that balance, that strength and that energy.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We are all different, but we all have one thing in common – we all breathe. And that is the secret. Our breath is the secret.
The breath links the body and mind. The breath brings us to the vastness of the universe which is also within us. We might have heard this from some masters but we don’t understand it until we start to discover for ourselves.
Breathing is the first act we do when we come to this earth – we breathe and we cry. The last thing we do before leaving is to take our last breath and everybody else cries. Breath is life.
We rarely pay attention to our breath because we don’t realise its power. Why should this knowledge not be available to everyone? And it’s free! For that, we need teachers to share that knowledge. And that is why I want to spread this knowledge of yoga.
Narissa Allibhai is a solo backpacker and sound healer.
Follow her footsteps on nomadgirltales.com
Photo Credits Jamo