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On assignment: 10 takeaways from attending Wanderlust yoga retreat

Meditation was just one of the many classes held while Natalie Otis was on assignment at Squaw Valley Ski Resort covering the Wanderlust Festival.
Submitted photo by Natalie Otis |

I spent four days at Squaw Valley Ski Resort on assignment at the Wanderlust Festival, flittering between down dogs, cross-legged meditations, aimless booth wanderings, challenging waterfall hikes and speaking sessions. I took 32 classes that focused on eating better, yoga postures, meditation, making crafts, healing the body and braided hairstyles.

Here are my top takeaways:

Eat clean. Jodi Bullock, a registered dietitian and holistic health coach, gave a talk on healing the gut. Her approach was simple: “Eat real foods,” she said. In short, she recommends eating a diet that is full of things that are grown, not pre-made or processed. Eat on purpose, with lots of chewing, and make it a habit to eat less. Foods that heal the gut, she said, are radishes, cilantro and wild blueberries.



Take 16-breaths to less stress. Davidji (who goes by a single name) is a meditation teacher and author of “Destressifiying: The Real-World Guide to Personal Empowerment, Lasting Fulfillment.” One useful “life hack” he taught: When stressed, you can turn that stress around in 16 seconds. Breath in your nose for four seconds, hold that for four seconds, breath out your nose for four seconds, and then hold that for four.

Be creative. Making things from scratch has a therapeutic and meditative quality to it. I made a totem which was done by tying cotton cords to tree branches then adding feathers, stones and other objects. Tying little knots and wrestling feathers with focus can give the brain a break from larger, more complicated problems that might seem pressing.




Follow your calling. Day Schildkret, whose talk was titled “A Mandala a Day Keeps the Doctor Away,” travels the world making a living by crafting symmetrical designs on the ground from things he finds in nature on walks. After he makes them, they get destroyed to practice non-attachment to things. He talked about working his way out of a deep depression by committing to making these mandalas each day in a local park — again, using things he found on his way to the park. He was healed and inspired to quit his job in the movie business to forage, wander and create.

Practice caring for yourself. Kelly Knoche, with The Teaching Well, gave a highly research-based talk on how to sustain oneself in work that involves serving others. She was a teacher “in service” to her middle-school Oakland students and giving it her all. Her students were succeeding and thriving, but she was gaining weight, losing sleep and drinking too much with friends in her off time. She was a success and she was unsatisfied. The approach she developed and shares — mostly with schools and administrators through her company workshops — involves self-care. She gave evidence that supported better success from teachers, nurses and other service-based people who are engaging in a routine that prioritizes taking care of themselves first.

Be alone. Life has a performance quality to it. The concept is that we are all wanting to perform well at work, for our kids and for our partners. Having time alone with little distractions offers opportunity to get in touch with the non-performance part of us. Who are we when we are were not trying to be anything to anyone else? Solo trips allow time for this part of our lives to grow.

Talk to your partner about sex more. Dr. Emily Morse, a nationally-known sex expert with a twice-weekly podcast, said communication about sex keeps sex a priority. Talking about sex out of the bedroom will enhance the experience in the bedroom.

Meditate more; it gets easier with practice. Known around the world, Rod Striker is a yoga, tantra and meditation teacher. He offered a class on meditation and said, “the last thing your mind wants to do is get still.” Failed attempts are all right. I did three 20-minute meditations. With practice, meditation gets easier. We worked on getting the exhalation to grow longer than our inhalation to deepen the calm.

Look people in the eyes. Eye gazing is a real thing. The idea is that you take two minutes to look at someone. Look at one eye or look at the center of the eyes. The point is to connect to them and see yourself in their eyes. I did this with 20 people and was guided to look for compassion, anger, joy and fear in others. People host parties dedicated to this and it is considered a meditation practice.

Slow is the new cool. Technology lets us save time, and yet most people use that time to do more. Lives are more fast-paced and hectic than ever. In three of the physical yoga classes, the theme was similar: slow is what trendsetters are doing. Slow down and enjoy life.

Wanderlust Squaw Valley happens annually and they create the vessel for people to gather and exchange ideas and experiences. My goal was to say “yes” over the four days to experience new things and keep an open mind, hoping to find kernels to share with you.

Natalie Otis writes on assignment for The Union. You can contact her at news@theunion.com.


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