The new new age normal
There is this thing on your body, apparently, called the psoas. It's a muscle that runs from the edge of your spine down into the cup of your pelvis, and is one of the many tense and inflexible things about you that Wanderlust aims to fix.
That's if you can actually get in – the 90-minute Journey to the Psoas – Reconnect With the Life Force class, led by Auckland yoga teacher Nikki Ralston, is already at capacity three months out, and there are a dozen hopefuls on the waitlist.
Wanderlust, the great big beaming behemoth of a United States lifestyle festival, is on for the first time in New Zealand at Taupo's Wairakei Resort at the end of January.
It's a kind of a travelling ashram/Burning Man/music festival that's been running in the US since 2009, sharing yoga, motivational speakers, art and music.
New Zealand is no stranger to consciousness-raising gatherings of music and fun, of course – the week-long Luminate has been running at Nelson's Canaan Downs for years, for example.
But where Wanderlust differs from the more grassroots festivals is its size, scope, international talent, on-trend marketing and its avowed mission: to create community around mindful living. Wanderlust's Facebook page lists it as a "Cause".
The schedule for the four days at the end of January reads as a pleasantly absorbing gruel, with half a dozen options for each time slot.
Up at 6.30am for a chakra cleanse, followed by a trail-running workshop or stand-up paddle board yoga session.
Meditation, blissology, medicinal native plants, a session on entrepreneurship with former Lululemon general manager Alexie O'Brien.
And though recent North American fitness crazes have filtered through to the margins of regional New Zealand before, Wanderlust will have them in one giant hit – hooping, slacklines, barefoot hiking, circus, stand-up paddle boarding and yoga stand-up paddle boarding. If you've seen it on Instagram, it'll probably be here.
According to its New Zealand (and Australian) festival partners, Auckland couple Jonnie and Jacque Halstead, Wanderlust is part of a mindfulness movement whose time has come – because it works. It did for them.
Jacque is a yoga teacher and student of natural health, and Jonnie has had a long career as an event organiser for New Zealand music festivals, including The Gathering, Coromandel Gold and Jim Beam Homegrown, and he co-founded Wellington club Sandwiches. The couple have three children.
The Wanderlust opportunity came at a time when Jacque was thinking of opening her own yoga studio, and Jonnie was finding that 15 years of working in the music industry had resulted in "stress levels just eating me up".
Yoga had helped balance his lifestyle, but he was also hankering for a greener legacy to his work.
He says that originally the notion of bringing a successful US yoga festival Down Under didn't sit right with him. It wasn't until he got off the plane to attend Wanderlust Colorado that he changed his mind. "It was the perfect marriage," he says.
"[I] went in there with typical Kiwi scepticism, and really saw that the audience wasn't a bunch of dreadlocked house-truck hippies from Nelson – they were just like us. An urban, modern society with members that just wanted to break away and challenge themselves and find betterment."
Come 5pm, they were all into the wine and a spin on the dance floor as well.
Yoga, in its myriad styles, is the shop window for the festival, and the stars coming to New Zealand are bona fide pros. One of them is Cameron Shayne, a martial arts expert who first learned yoga when he was Charlie Sheen's bodyguard. He's since taught Budokan, his mixture of yoga and martial arts, to Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, among other celebrities.
From Los Angeles, Shayne says the festival is "like hitting the reset button".
"I have seen it completely shift a person's life by waking up a desire within them to get out and really live for themselves," he says.
"We are so often stuck in a myopic reality, limited to what we think others want and need from us. Wanderlust sets the stage for questions like, who am I? What do I want for myself? What are my values and passions? This is a life-changing experience simply because it allows us to suspend daily living, and concentrate on our love, passions and purpose."
In other words: "We all need a place to go to get quiet, and look at our..."
Alexie O'Brien has watched yoga and other more conscious ways of living explode since her early days at Lululemon.
"Now is the right time [for Wanderlust] because of the explosion of awareness around healthy eating, healthy living, clean food and conscious awareness of the impact on our environment," she says. Yoga is no longer fringe.
"It's a valid form of exercise in this day and age of really hectic craziness. Being able to have a form of active meditation is really important for us."
Erin O'Hara, a former professional triathlete, teaches kundalini yoga in Auckland and will be leading several meditation and yoga classes at Wanderlust. The lifestyle helped heal her from a period of chronic illness in her teens.
"A lot more people are really open to yoga and looking for meditation because they're living such fast-paced, high-stressed lives," she says.
"They know they need that balance. People are being a lot more conscious in the choices they're making and how they're living their lives."
Jacque Halstead says the most important thing for them is the mission – they're targeting the mainstream to make change.
"For transformation, a cultural movement," she says. Mindful living, Jonnie says, is "everything from practising health and wellness to sustainability, organics, reconnecting with nature, travelling, surprising and delighting yourself with your lifestyle".
"Appreciation of music and art is the sexy bow we tie around the thing. I really think it's the only festival out there where you come out the other side feeling better than before you went in."
They're planning to hold one-day city events in New Zealand in the coming years - one in Auckland was a raging success - and see Wanderlusts happening in five places in Australia in the next three years.
As well as pulling in people new to mindfulness, Wanderlust is also making devotees of existing yogis. After a relationship break-up, Auckland artist Hannah Jensen, 30, attended Wanderlust Oahu last year with a bunch of friends.
She recalls one morning where they walked along the beach near the resort where it was held, and saw whales breaching offshore. "I'm usually not a resort girl but it was such a beautiful experience and this abundant energy," she says. "You're stepping into another world. The next day when hundreds of yogis arrived it was an amazing, growing energy buzz. It was awesome."
In fact, she and Wanderlust proved to be so well-suited that the company approached her to be a Wanderlust Wayfarer, a kind of community ambassador for the festival. "I do yoga every day and it's a massive part of my everyday life," she says. "It's such an amazing and community-based event that I eventually said yes."
And as for Ralston's coveted, sold-out Journey to the Psoas class? "I'll be there with bells on."
Wanderlust Great Lake Taupo. Wairakei Resort, Taupo. Thursday January 29-Sunday February 1.
- Your Weekend