‘If you are looking to switch off your mind, get rid of the stain of everyday noise, to have new conversations, to eat new foods, to litter another part of the world with pieces of yourself, to dip your feet into talcum soft sand.’ Lamu is where you need to be, as aptly described by Ndinda Kioko in her short story, ‘Sometime before Maulidi’. And if you want to do all the above while connecting with like-minded people, striking a balance between serenity and stillness then the Lamu yoga festival, should be on your bucket list.
Lost in time and space:
If you have not been to nor heard of Lamu, you are not alone. The stunning collection of under-explored islands is nestled on the Kenyan coast, about an hour’s flight from the capital. Lamu’s charm is evident from its striking ancient architecture, and riveting history marked by influences from Arab, Persian, Indian, and European occupation of the island over the years. It is also known for its coral and limestone walled houses, many of which are adorned with intricately carved wooden doors and windows.
An authentic transformative experience:
Lamu’s reclusiveness and laid-back atmosphere are some of the reasons the island has become world-famous for its numerous festivals. In March, yogis from all over the world convene at the island for the Lamu Yoga Festival, now in its 8th year.
The festival schedule boasts of a myriad of yoga sessions to suit all levels – whether you are a beginner or a novice, and an impressive line- up of yoga teachers to boot. This, coupled with a series of wellness workshops, is set to help you bring harmony to your breath, body and mind.
Adrenalin junkies can choose from high-intensity yoga styles including; Acro yoga (a mix of acrobatics and yoga sequence), aerial yoga (practising yoga while suspended on a hammock) capoeira (a blend of Brazilian martial arts and dance) and many more.
While those seeking a soft, unwinding spiritual experience, can opt for styles including yin (slow-paced yoga postures), laughing meditation ( yes that exists!) and sound bowl yoga among many others. See here for the full Lamu yoga festival schedule. The only decision you will be forced to make during the festival is what practice to sign up for from over ten sessions that are available in different locations, throughout the day.
Classes start as early as 6:30 a.m. with early bird yoga and run throughout the day until 6:00 p.m. Evenings are peppered with social activities including a decadent Swahili dinner served on the beach against a background of authentic traditional dance performances.
Postcard-worthy yoga locations:
If practising yoga in spectacular centuries-old houses is something that appeals to you, then you will love this festival. Classes are held in the most out-of-the-box locations across the three main islands (Lamu, Shela and Manda), including cosy guesthouses, museum-like houses, even a treehouse.
Yoga types that require a certain level of physical fitness like acro yoga are held on the beach with an interrupted view of the Indian Ocean. For most sessions, attendance is on a first come first served basis, for others you would need to pre-register. My suggestion, whether you are experienced in your practice or just starting out, is to venture outside of your comfort zone and try something completely different from what you are used to. The whole experience is so calming and peaceful, it balances your energy. The only time you might need to break away from this technology detox is when you need to check the festival app to register for classes.
The meeting point at the festival is the airy Shela bazaar tent, a marketplace abuzz with activities including vendors selling mostly organic products from clothes to yoga artefacts, jewellery and souvenirs. If you are looking for something unique, local, and different to take back home, then you will have plenty of options here. Note, do not be afraid to bargain. At the bazaar, the food is simple but hearty, the smell of spicy biryani and the catch of the day, straight from the sea, wafts through the tent. It is also where you will find decadent freshly pressed juices to rejuvenate your body post-yoga practice. Please note that this is a no meat, no alcoholic zone – think vegan detox.
More than just yoga:
You will be remiss to think that yoga is the only thing on the agenda. The festival is also rife with other attractions, including a visioning workshop that will get you reflecting about your life goals. A stroll up the famous Shela dunes that culminates in a guided meditation on the beach.
An opportunity to learn a new skill such as how to make re-usable menstrual pads. A curated cultural visit of Lamu world heritage sites that includes yoga and swimming sessions. And my personal highlight, a sunset dhow sail – a relaxing experience that involves sailing through the islands, exploring wild mangroves beneath a gorgeous sunset. I promise you will come out feeling exhilarated and blissed out.
All for a good cause:
The festival also offers you an opportunity to give back by supporting local charities. If you are eco-conscious, you will be happy to note that re-usable water bottles are provided with water points set up at different festival venues to re-fill. A welcomed effort given that most of Lamu is plastic-free.
Where to stay:
While the yoga sessions are scattered throughout the three main islands; Lamu town, Shela and Manda, you would be wise to stay in Shela as that is where the bulk of the activities, especially in the evenings, are held. That way, you will avoid having to shuttle back and forth (usually by boat – which can cost up to 12$ one way in the evening.) Check this Lamu Yoga Where to Stay list of recommended accommodation. Air BnB also has a variety of options to choose from.
A paradise waiting to be explored:
For those with a few days to spare after the festival and in need of vitamin D, there is a lot more to do on the island. If you want to know more about travelling to Lamu and things to do, please read this post on top six things to do in Lamu Island.
What to bring:
Yoga attire (obviously) loose-fitting clothes, a sarong will go a long way in showing respect for the local culture – Lamu is predominantly Islamic. Bring a high number SPF, and a hat as the sun is scorching. Do not forget your swimsuits.
Important info on travelling to Lamu:
Lamu is generally safe, but there have been some security incidents there in the past. Use your judgment, as you would anywhere else.