If laughter is the best medicine, laughter yoga should be a heaping helping of good-for-you tonic.
And it's just one of many types of yoga classes being offered at the third annual Peace Love RVA Yoga Festival at Maymont, along with sessions on meditation, sacred dance movement and healing sound therapy, among other more traditional practices.
The all-day event kicks off much like a game might for the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team, with its mindfulness coach — because of course the Rams would have such a thing — Alex Peavey leading a session called Mindfulness: Settling the Mind.
This festival attracted close to 3,000 people the past two years and that was exactly what founders Sue Agee and Stephanie Quinby, both yoga teachers, were hoping for when they launched it.
"People in Richmond go out of town for yoga festivals all the time — we do it, too — and they're expensive," Agee says, noting that the first two years of the Richmond festival were free. This year's pass, which costs $15 and provides unlimited access to more than 20 workshops and classes under three tents, will allow the organizers to pay the teachers and musicians who'll be performing.
Quinby suggested that, with all the yoga talent and healthy lifestyle businesses in Richmond, creating a festival to celebrate them with music and classes was a no-brainer.
"We're doing this as a total labor of love," Agee says of the challenges associated with obtaining city permits and wrangling musicians and yoga instructors. "Festivals are a part of Richmond's charm and we're trying to highlight another aspect of what's going on here."
Along with yoga of all kinds, there will be a music stage with performers all day and vegetarian and vegan food trucks such as Mean Bird, Goatocado, Kombi Keg RVA, GoGo Vegan, Whistlepop Kettle Corn and Soul Ice.
The festival goes on rain or shine, but the three large tents where classes and workshops will be held ensure that participants won't have to deal with getting soaked mid-sun salutation. The music stage is also tented. The festival takes place just down the hill from the petting barn and the choice to use Maymont's terraced hills was intentional.
"We like the unevenness of the terrain because it makes you have to work with the environment, whereas in indoor classes, it's a very controlled setting," Quinby says. "And you're surrounded by the beauty of Maymont." Pro tip: While visitors are welcome to watch, people wanting to participate in particular classes are wise to pre-register online.
Music is integral to the overall festival experience, with Uma Ettigi, a master of the ancient Indian guitar known as a veena, playing a 90-minute set and Christian Phipps, Juju Desta and RVA Bembe rounding out the full day of music.
Lydia Nitya Griffith, who holds summer yoga camps for children, will lead two family classes. Agee says her classes are a joyful way for a family to be together in nature: "She has them doing animal poses and you always hear a lot of giggling coming from family yoga."
Both she and Quinby are quick to emphasize the universality of yoga and that every class being offered is for all levels, all ages and conducive to new and longtime practitioners. They'll tell you that yoga is more than a physical practice because it teaches skills that allow people to deal with a modern world in which we're constantly bombarded by information and stimulus. "The magic of yoga is hard to explain until you feel it," Agee says. "It quiets the mind to slow down and focus, so you feel the present moment more clearly."
That may be part of the reason that yoga's gone mainstream.
"The interesting part about yoga is it meets you where you are," Quinby insists. "Once you begin practicing yoga, it keeps going and every time you roll out the mat, your practice is expanded and it grows with you." She's learned that yoga not only makes people feel better in their bodies but makes people feel more connected to themselves and each other.
"Our original intent was to highlight the vibrant RVA yoga community," Agee says. "Now we're hoping people will travel here for this and see what a vibrant, diverse community Richmond is. It's all about peace and love."
The third annual Peace Love RVA Yoga Festival will be held Saturday, May 4, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Maymont, 1000 Spottswood Road. Tickets are available at eventbrite.com.