Mindful stretching 

YogaFest OKC returns for a fifth year.

click to enlarge YogaFest 2018 features classes focused on mindfulness. - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • YogaFest 2018 features classes focused on mindfulness.

2018 is shaping up to be the year of the stretch as the fifth annual YogaFest helps downtown OKC find its inner peace Saturday-Sunday. Encompassing Civic Center Music Hall, 21c Museum Hotel, and Bicentennial Park, the festival is welcoming to seasoned yogis and the yoga-curious alike. This year’s event draws its focus on the notion of mindfulness, bringing together classes, workshops and vendors built around the idea.

Though initially a relatively small, humble gathering, 2018’s YogaFest OKC takes an unprecedented bound toward something larger. Founded in 2014 by Martha McQuaid and Christina Forth, the outing has cascaded into a full weekend of far more than just the practice itself. Despite this shift in size, YogaFest OKC has never strayed from the grassroots efforts it’s founded upon.

Much of the current growth can be attributed to the inclusion of co-directors Alexis Persico Ramsey and Shannon Stephens. Stephens considered a few ways she and her colleague sought expansion of the festival.

“The location downtown allowed us to have space indoors and outdoors,” she said. “We also moved it from one to two days and added a lot of classes that run simultaneously. Additionally, we’re holding more lectures and hosting more vendors and food trucks. Adding these components gives people the chance to choose their own experience.”

Though this year’s YogaFest OKC offers a high amount of options, each piece is still tethered to this year’s theme. An idea that carries a profound gravity within the yoga community, mindfulness entails self-actualization, awareness and the promotion of present-moment living. In this way, yoga is the vehicle to finding value within each passing breath and minute action.

“Mindfulness felt appropriate this year since we’re adding more than just yoga,” Stephens said. “There’s also going to be meditation, art-making and discussions. We wanted to give our guests, speakers and instructors something to connect with. This theme seemed very relevant, especially now.”

Expanding practice

The expansion of YogaFest OKC not only involves an inclusion of different activities, but also schools of thought. This year, the event welcomes its most-recognizable and high-profile guests to date.

The first headliner Gina Caputo, Yogini on the Loose and founder and director of Colorado School of Yoga in Boulder. Creator of Integrated Vinyasa, Caputo is a reformed workaholic emphasizing alignment and flow, anatomy and energetics and the desperate need to break the office chair-bound routine one often finds themselves lost in. Her work posits the importance of clear thinking and happiness as well as higher quality of life through yoga, meditation and empathy. Caputo will lead a session 9-10:30 a.m. Saturday and 10:15-11:45 a.m. Sunday.

This year’s keynote speaker, Sara Lazar, is a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School. Through her research, she has examined the underlying mechanisms and beneficial effects of yoga and meditation in clinical settings and within healthy individuals. Her work has been featured in The New Yorks Times and USA Today, on CNN and in the Boston Museum of Science. Lazar’s presentation, How Yoga & Meditation Reshapes the Brain, is 10:45 a.m.-noon Saturday.

The festival will also feature Nicole Peltier Hall, longtime yogi and founder of The Yoga Room in Tulsa. Additionally, Shanna Teel, CEO of Dr. Shanna Teel & Co., a leadership and organizational development firm, will discuss how yoga has influenced her wellbeing and career over the course of two decades.

Unique experience

Above all else, YogaFest OKC exists to illuminate the burgeoning community within OKC. Despite Stephens’ relatively recent arrival to the state, she has taken note of the momentum it continues to gain.

“One of our goals is to highlight local studios,” Stephens said. “Since I moved here in 2012, I’ve seen several new studios open. YogaFest is a way to bring all of us together. We might teach different styles and different classes, but we’re all working towards a common, local goal.”

Even since last year, the sheer amount of participating studios and instructors has multiplied exponentially. The arrival of more studios also parleys into the inclusion of related fields, like holistic practices and even jujitsu.

“We want to make this a weekend full of different and unique experiences,” Stephens said. “Typically, when you practice yoga or go to a class, you only set aside about an hour to do so. YogaFest is a complete emersion of activities and classes that not only cause you to be more present but also to connect with others on the same path and discover the different, amazing studios we have in this community.”

Though YogaFest OKC continues to grow, it is at its core an event inseparably tethered to its surrounding community. It is a gathering founded, maintained and attended by people looking to better themselves and each other through one of humanity’s most ancient and timeless practices.

“Yoga makes us calmer, less reactive,” Stephens said. “It makes us feel more connected to ourselves and to each other. It’s beautifully simplistic. It’s simple, but it changes the way we feel, the way we respond to others and the way we think. This one-hour practice has a profound effect that truly flows into the rest of our day.”

YogaFest OKC is open to all ages and includes events for everyone regardless of skill level, including classes geared toward children. Single-day and weekend passes are available for $75-$150. Children age 12 and under get in free.

Visit yogafestokc.com.

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