YogaFest stretches into Gilroy

People may say that Gilroy is too small, too agricultural and too square for yoga and meditation. Amit Verma and Balaji Vaidyanathan, both tech workers in Silicon Valley and co-directors of the third annual YogaFest, aim to prove that yoga is for everyone, not just for big-city folks.

The third annual YogaFest will be coming to Gilroy this year on Nov. 12 at Christmas Hill Park and its organizers are hoping for their biggest crowd yet–up to 2,000 after two years with 800 attendees. Formally held in Morgan Hill, organizers feel that this year’s festival, which includes half a dozen luminaries from the yoga world, along with music, food and a whole day’s worth of activities, will help give Gilroy to a new peace of mind.

“We wanted to go to a place where yoga was dormant,” Verma said. “We felt it was a good place to expand. We saw a need here. There aren’t many yoga studios so we thought we’d bring the knowledge to Gilroy. People are so nice here so we wanted to bring them some relaxation.”

With tickets selling for $20, the event runs from 9am to 5pm and features six well-known yoga instructors, including Mariko Hirakawa a renowned yoga teacher from New York City and Darren Main from San Francisco, whose yoga classes attract 500 students a week. Another fun feature of the festival will be laughter yoga with Manoj Joshi

“While teaching you, he makes you laugh which brings awareness how important laughter is in yoga,” Vaidyanathan said. “It makes you feel light.”

Verma, 36, and Vaidyanathan, 35, were in Gilroy last week going door to door, inviting local businesses to spread the word and enlist help in selling tickets for the event. Participating businesses will receive a 25 percent cut of the ticket sales.

Organized by volunteers from The Art of Living, a non-profit company found in 150 nations with 300 million members, the event is designed to bring together various yoga schools, practitioners, and wellness experts. Their goal is to make yoga more approachable to skeptics.

“People often think of yoga as a religious thing that’s only done in India,” Verma said. “Yoga and meditation are about your inner body and self. It calms your body and it relaxes your mind. Once you’re relaxed, you’re happy and when you’re happy, people around you are happy. Anybody can do it and that’s the main point about this festival. We want to bring this to as many people as we can.”

Verma, a software engineer at Apple, and Vaidyanathan, an electrical engineer at GlobalFoundries, found peace and relaxation from their high-stress jobs through the practice of yoga.

“I started by taking part in a course called The Happiness Program at the Art of Living and it totally changed my life,” Verma said. “I learned to meditate and it brought a lot of positivity to my life. I learned that I needed to be happy with myself to make the people around me happy too. Once I learned that there was no turning back.”

Verma and Vaidyanathan found quick allies in city hall.

“We spoke with Mayor Velasco and he said he was going to be there,” Verma said. “The city has endorsed the festival, so it has become a legitimate event now. we’re also talking to the police, fire and veterans departments.”

Advance tickets available at a 25 percent discount are available for purchase on theyogafest.org. Veterans get discounted tickets that cost $12 and kids 12 and under are free. The proceeds of the festival will be donated to help victims affected by the Wine Country fires.

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