When Monica Fauth first arrived in Lamu from the Netherlands back in 1997, she couldn’t have foreseen that 20 years later she’d be spearheading one branch of an international movement of ‘wellness’ and ‘The art of living’ grounded in the art and exercise of yoga.
But ever since she launched the first Lamu Yoga Festival back in 2014, international interest in attending the festival she founded has exploded, as has interest in wellness and healthy living coincidentally.
The fourth International Yoga Festival is currently underway, with Monika having received more than 300 yoga practitioner-guests just two days back, on March 8th (which coincidentally was International Women’s Day).
Monika had many more applicants who wished to attend the festival, but she had to draw the line somewhere, especially as Shela, (the fishing village where most of the yoga classes and social activities are being held) can’t easily accommodate more.
Quite a few are staying at The Banana House, the lovely boutique hotel right on the beach that Monika started up with her husband back in 2000. Others have found space across Lamu Bay on Manda Island, and others are staying in Lamu town.
“It’s all bound to work out well since they are having classes at Diamond Beach Hotel and at several other venues on Manda,” said Monika who placed everything about the festival online.
“That way people could not only register online; they could select which hotel and classes they wanted to sign up for,” she added.
Yoga classes are also being held in Lamu town, specifically at the Baraka Gallery. In all more than 120 yoga classes are being held during the five day festival at 12 different sites.
The class that she’s best known for is the ‘Early Bird’ one since it’s held every day at 6:30am on Shela Beach.
“Last year we had as many as 75 in the class on the beach. People like starting early so they can take in as many different classes as possible,” she said.
But Monika is just one of 26 yoga teachers playing an active role in this year’s Festival. Some have come from abroad [from Mexico, UK, California and Europe] since one can hardly imagine a more heavenly place to teach yoga than in Lamu.
“But the majority are from East Africa, either from Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Tanzania, Uganda or else Kenya,” she added.
Quite a few of the Kenyan teacher were trained at the Africa Yoga Project which was founded back in 2007 by the American yoga teacher Paige Elenson.
Paige started the Africa Yoga Project in Kibera slum, but subsequently it’s expanded to reach Kenyan youth in many parts of the country. From the beginning, she’s said she wanted to teach yoga to under-served Kenyan youth as a means of empowering them and ideally enabling them to get jobs.
One of the most fascinating features of the festival is that a wide range of yoga styles are being taught. There’s everything from Bikram and Hatha yoga to Kindaluni and Vinyasa yoga among many other techniques. The beauty of this kind of diversity is that people don’t have to be experts in any one style. They can just sign up and take part in classes in any style, be it ancient or modern.
But during the five day program, there’s lots more happening than only classes and demonstrations of the diversity of yoga styles and adaptations.
“One thing that we’ll be doing is launching ‘the Vibe Tribe’”, Monika said, explaining that more than 50 local musicians will be take part in a jam session on Shela Beach where they’ll be mixing African percussion with Indian instruments, rhythms and vibrant sounds.
Tonight (March 10th) there’s going to be a special ‘Sunset Sail’ all around Lamu Bay including 15 to 20 dhows that people can sail in.
Saturday night the Banana House will host a beach party where Monica’s place will be serving special Swahili food.
But every night the food is bound to be special, she adds since there will be plenty of fresh fish caught and cooked the same day. “There’ll be plenty of vegetarian [and vegan] dishes served as well,” she added.
Sunday’s the final day of the festival but yoga classes will be running throughout the day. What’s more, Monika says the Yoga Festival has proved to be so popular that she’ll be launching a second Lamu Yoga Festival in November 2017 which will look at ‘wellness’ from a more holistic perspective, including nutrition, meditation and other aspects of healthy living.