Photos by Asia Morris. Full gallery below.
Long Beach’s very first Mantra Mela was utterly frightening; frightening for someone like myself, who hasn't had the time nor the motivation in at least a couple of years to meditate on the things that make life livable. Mantra Mela was utterly frightening for someone like myself, a professional worrier in her early 20s who has been so out of tune with the present and so in tune with, "What happens next?" and, "Am I doing this right?" that I've forgotten what it means to live in the moment.
On the late afternoon of August 16, I stood in the center of Bixby Park like a lost puppy, wondering with a small dose of anxiety, where the heck am I supposed to start?
Slack lines wobbled underneath the feet of brave balancers to my left, the healing hands of the Sacred Roots women gave therapuetic massages to my right and several different yoga classes had their attendees reaching upwards toward the sky. J.Brave of the Luminaries, a poet, MC and peace visionary, brought an intimate group of listeners to their feet; my camera and I gravitated toward the movement.
While Mantra Mela certainly catered to the well-practiced folk of all things mindful and spiritual, the festival was also akin to a bucket of ice cold water for someone new to such things. It was a get-thrown-in-the-pool and then learn-how-to-swim kind of introduction to yoga and the practices that follow, including Bhakti yoga, Ayurvedic medicine and Kirtan.
Long Beach should be grateful for its mindful women, namely Dharma Shakti, Theresa Devi, J-Heart, Ashley Jade and Roz Kumari for organizing an event that focuses on the balance between the mind, body and soul. The festival was a large-scale act of encouragement for Long Beach residents to spend more time on their souls and less time worried about their nine to five grinds.
I learned that my fear of confrontation has everything to do with my fear of revealing my authentic self (whatever that may be) to others, "authentic self" being the term I've heard time and time again from Dharma Shakti's enlightened voice at yoga on the bluff. I figured this out at the Krnsa Lounge, a small tent where every hour on the hour, musical groups like Love Chutney and Yochanan strung together soul-resonating melodies with their vocal cords and sitar strings, allowing the listener to "zone out" or perhaps zone in on some much needed self-reflection. There was something about the Krsna Lounge, something magnetic about the non-confrontational activity of reflection through sound, not to mention it’s prime location in the shade, that kept me heading back for more. I practiced my “ahmmms” with Love Chutney, feeling uplifted by the attempt to harmonize with other people’s voices.
I happened to run into an old friend from high school, a girl I hadn't had the pleasure of seeing in years, who laid on her stomach and listened to the band along with my awkward self. She opened a zip-lock bag and took out a crumbling “edible” brownie, telling me in eloquent words while she chewed, exactly why grad school was simply not a viable option for living her life to the fullest. A soon-to-be yogi herself, she spoke ecstatically of traveling the world, living by the seat of her pants, working odd jobs here and there, if only to make enough money for a train ticket to the next village. Despite her excited speak, she lamented, "It is the most frightening thing to be 24 in this day and age."
She had a point and I had to think inwardly, I could not agree more. Yoga, I could gather, was just one way to quiet a young mind’s worries in this hectic world of insecurity.
The Squeeze Art Collective, Moksha Ayurveda, Sacred Roots, KIND Snacks and a tent giving away free books about yoga and all its far-reaching branches of devotion were just a few of the outstanding resources present at Mantra Mela. The friendly mechanics at Pedal Movement worked on the bicycles of those who saved gas and rode in. The Kirtaniyas performed the second to last set, drawing in a huge crowd of excited, happy people unafraid to twist their dancing feet into the Bixby Park dirt. Across the way, Ariana Bates led a Yoga Trance Dance class, an uplifting scene of comfortably dressed dancers moving in what seemed like slow motion, a meditation for the body and a gathering place for like-minded, happy people.
Not that I’ve ever been to Burning Man (and I hope to change that) but simply based on what I’ve heard from Burners and what I’ve researched, Mantra Mela seemed like it could be a microcosm of such an illustrious movement. Mantra Mela presented itself as a tiny window into what one might describe as freedom from the oppressiveness of a world that wants you to run the hamster mill, that wants to use you for all you are worth, that doesn’t want you to stop and think about what you’re actually doing until it’s too late to change your ways.
I quote this statement from Shakti in my previous article:
Mantra Mela is not just an opportunity for residents to better their own yoga practice; it’s also a way for Long Beach to uplift its image as a city deeply involved with the health of its citizens As we offer more education on health, more folks will be seeking out products and services that align with supporting that health and hopefully in turn, business owners and entrepreneurs will cater to that need.
Mantra Mela certainly exceeded these expectations, now it’s just a matter of planning the next event.
As I reluctantly return to my apartment, the sun waning and mosquitos starting to whine, I visit my car insurance company's website to update my policy and I think about Bixby Park and how the women of Yogalution Movement transformed a grassy square on Ocean Blvd. and Junipero Ave. into an opportunity for self discovery, a chance to celebrate harmony, movement and a devotion to the belief that all things are connected. I left feeling that, while I had only just breached the tip of an iceberg of history, teachings and practice, my mind was a little more connected to my soul and I could take a deeper, less anxious breath of relief for the first time in a long time.
Now how many miles do I expect to drive this year?