As yoga has found its place in the American fitness mainstream, festivals celebrating the ancient Indian discipline have followed.
Southern Oregon's first such festival, Rasa Revolution, promises to cement yoga as a lifestyle, not just physical or mental exercise.
"It's just about community-building," says organizer Mariane Corallo, owner of Rasa Center for Yoga & Wellness. Corallo orchestrated Rasa Revolution over the past year to evoke festivals she attended in California.
Rasa Center is hosting the three-day event, June 29 through July 1, in cooperation with Ashland Yoga Center and Talent's Om Sweet Om Yoga at various locations around Ashland. The festival also will highlight yoga-related artworks by local yoga instructors and practitioners against a backdrop of live music.
"Ashland is such a seat of consciousness for yoga and music and art," says Corallo.
Yet Corallo, who moved to the Rogue Valley five years ago, chose to open her first studio in Medford on the advice of industry insiders who said the region's largest city lacked a true yoga community. She followed up Rasa's 2008 debut in Medford with a satellite studio that opened last year in Ashland.
The space at the corner of Fourth and B streets is one venue for the festival's special classes and lectures. Also on Fourth Street, Illahe Studios and Gallery plans to exhibit works by five local artists in conjunction with the festival.
Between Rasa and nearby Ashland Yoga Center, a street fair will feature about 10 vendors of yoga-related merchandise, as well as food and musicians. While the fair is open free of charge, tickets for workshops range from $35 for one to $250 for the weekend's nine events, which have space for 150 to 200 people, says Corallo. Preregistration is required at www.rasayogacenter.com or by calling 541-245-2667.
In addition to local instructors, workshops feature renowned experts who tour yoga conferences and festivals around the world. Ashland resident Max Strom plans two movement classes based on his book, "A Life Worth Breathing."
Specializing in training yoga instructors in about 50 cities among 10 countries, Strom developed his own yoga style that incorporates movement therapy and qigong. He says he discourages students from forcing themselves into postures to compete with themselves or other practitioners. He strives to promote body awareness over perfect form.
"The postures are to help people," he says.
Although yoga's iconic "asanas," or poses, represent it in the mainstream, the system of health and spirituality is so much more than most people realize, instructors say.
"Yoga's like rocket fuel," says Melissa Cooley, an Ashland native who opened Om Sweet Om last year.
Cooley will open the festival Friday with a "vinyasa" — flow — session for practitioners of all levels. She says she plans to "expand Western awareness of what yoga is" and help festival participants define their "intention."
"It brings together people from all different backgrounds and helps them navigate their best life," she says.
Strom agrees. The future of yoga, he says, lies in several directions: yoga as physical therapy, as a spiritual practice and, finally, a tool of transformation when it transcends its Hindu roots and Sanskrit terminology.
That third realm, he says, makes yoga accessible to anyone of any belief anywhere in the world. Strom notes that he's taught yoga classes in Dubai that mingled born-again Christians, Jews, atheists and veiled Muslim women. The "transformational" effect is like nothing else he's ever seen.
"It can actually unify people."
Corallo says she hopes to build on the festival by drawing in more — but not necessarily yoga-related — partners, such as Ashland Zen Center, a Buddhist temple.
"It'll take on a life of its own," she says.