Looking out upon the grassy lawns of Drake Park this weekend you’re more likely to spot a pack of downward dogs than you are to see Canada geese.
Hundreds of locals and out-of-towners will practice their side crows and warrior ones under the towering pines over the next few days as part of the third annual Yogis Unite!, a Bend-based yoga festival that claims to be Oregon’s largest.
“The main purpose [of YU!] is to bring the yoga community together—to enjoy each other,” said Kat Seltzer, a yoga instructor now in her third year with YU!.
“Breathing, together, in community, has a really profound effect,” said Seltzer, who noted that the event is different not just because it’s outside.
Yoga is practiced by far more women than men in America. But YU! is increasingly bringing males to the ancient practice, who are hoping to see an improvement of their overall fitness.
“We saw more men at last year’s event,” said P.J. Miller, the founder and director of Yogis Unite! “I like to say it’s been about 70 percent women and 30 percent ‘enlightened men,’”
With the swelling popularity of power-based yogas, Miller expects she’ll see even more dudes at this year’s event.
“I think the perception is changing,” said Miller. “Plus, if you’re single it’s great!”
YU! also dispenses with the notion that yoga, in the Western world at least, is only for the upper class.
This year, with tickets priced at $25 for the weekend, the event is a screaming deal, especially considering that most local yoga classes cost around $10 apiece. The economical entry fee gets you three yoga classes, two of which are outside in Drake Park, three workshops, vendor access and more.
Each session at the festival is “co-taught,” meaning expert yogis and novices alike practice side by side. One instructor leads these classes while two others demonstrate both easier and more challenging examples of the same pose. YU! instructors are drawn from six local yoga studios: Namaspa, Mandala, life. love. yoga., Juniper Swim and Fitness, Groove and Back Bend.
Music has long been an integral part of yoga and this year Vasudeva, Bend’s local yoga band, will again be on hand to provide a positive musical experience for the practitioners. The local group uses drumming combined with mellow horns, guitar, clarinet and violin to enhance the community practice.
In 2009, YU!’s first year, admission was free and the event attracted 336 people, according to Miller. Last year, though, some balked at a $45 price tag, which prompted her to drop the cost way down for 2012. Keeping the festival affordable is part of her inclusive, community-building vision for YU!.
Enhancing community has always been YU!’s primary focus, she said, and people are noticing. The city of Bend recognized YU!’s positive contribution to the community with an “ABC Award” (Arts, Beauty and Culture Award) for providing such a positive addition to Bend.
For Miller, dedication to the idea of community doesn’t end on Sunday. Since YU!’s inception in 2010, Miller has donated a portion of her proceeds to CANcancer, an area group which aids locals suffering from cancer. Last year Miller donated more than $2,000 to the local non-profit.
YU! may be the biggest yoga festival in Oregon, but it’s not the only one. Beloved, which happened in early August near the coastal town of Tidewater, is similar to YU! Then there’s Ashalnd's Pranafest, Sept. 28-30, which is a celebration of yoga and music. October will mark the first ever Brasadasana Yoga Retreat, to be held at Brasada Ranch.
The popularity of these large festivals gets back to the joy yoga brings to people like Miller.
“I love what yoga can offer people,” Miller said. "For me personally it's something you can do as a kid and something you can do at age 90—and it will help you get to age 90."
And to those who have yet to make the plunge into downward dog?
Photo taken by P.J. Miller
$25 at yogisunitebend.com