Alternative Living

Inside California’s New Age Hippie Movement

When we think of the word “hippie,” we may hold a certain stereotype in our minds. We may conjure up images of peace signs, tie-dye, Woodstock, or psychedelics. Maybe we think of modern-day hippies rubbing crystals and meditating, or talking about astrology and pseudoscience topics.

Although the word hippie may date back to the jive era in the 1930s and 40s, the term was popularized during the counterculture movement of the 60s and 70s. This was a time when the youth were seeking answers and a different way of life, participating in activism and exploring altered states of consciousness. It was a time of peace, love, drugs, and free expression. Today, we see a resurgence of this movement with the “new age hippies.”

The new age hippies

It’s clear that the word hippie has evolved over time and taken on different meanings throughout history. Throughout my journey exploring wellness, holistic healing, yoga, and meditation, I’ve somehow found resonance in what you might call a new age hippie community here in Los Angeles, California where I currently live.

After spending some time with this community, I had a feeling that there’s more to the surface level story and stereotype of the so-called hippie. It seemed to me that there’s something much deeper going on with this community, and I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Especially because hippies seem to be happy all the time… which is what everyone wants, right? 

Could it be that hippies actually hold some of the answers to life that we are all looking for? Or are they just gullible, irresponsible, tree-hugging crazies who are too happy? I wasn’t totally sure yet. So I journeyed into the California desert to find out. 

My journey to Bhakti Fest in the Joshua Tree desert 

I decided to take a trip into the Joshua Tree desert to attend a yoga and music festival called Bhakti Fest. I had attended this festival before and knew it would be teeming with hundreds of hippies for me to talk to.

Bhakti Fest is on the smaller side with attendance ranging from several hundred to a few thousand people, and because of that, the community is quite tight-knit. Unlike other festivals of this kind, Bhakti Fest is drug and alcohol-free.  

The festival includes a multitude of yoga classes, meditation, breathwork, lectures, workshops, ecstatic dance, music, and yogic teachings of all types, but with a focus on the path of Bhakti Yoga. 

Bhakti means “devotion” in Sanskrit and originally comes from the Vedas, which date back thousands of years, as one of the world’s oldest written texts.

Bhakti yoga involves not only the physical practice of yoga, but also singing ancient mantras, typically in the form of something called Kirtan, which is a call and response style of music where the community collectively sings these mantras. Bhakti yoga is practiced by all different people all over the world, and many types of people attend Bhakti Fest. But it does seem to attract a large number of people you might think of as “hippies.” 

The immersion

When I arrived at the festival, I was excited to immerse myself in the hippie culture and talk to as many people as possible, to uncover the truth about hippies.

I ended up talking to tons of people throughout my weekend, including a man who drinks his own urine, a plant wizard who makes something called ultrasonic tribulus, and a verteran who overcame PTSD with yoga. 

To see all of the interviews I conducted throughout the weekend and what the hippies had to say, watch my video about the experience! 

The influence of the East on new-age westerners

When we think of the hippie movement, we often think of sex, drugs, and rock n roll, but what has always fascinated me is the strong influence of eastern philosophy and spiritual teachings throughout the counterculture movement. 

Even the Beatles were learning from Indian gurus and became Bhakti yogis following the Krishna consciousness movement, which even influenced their music. George Harrison became a devoted follower of Krishna and his song ‘My Sweet Lord’ even has the Krishna chant, known as the “Maha Mantra” right in it!

Is Bhakti Fest cultural appropriation? 

It’s always been interesting to me that the counterculture movement rebelled so heavily against mainstream religion and society in the West, yet through this rebellion, many found their way to meaning through the spiritual teachings of the east. This also shows up today with the new age hippies. 

Bhakti Fest is a prime example of this: a group of westerners seeking to expand their consciousness without the use of substances through the teachings of yoga and meditation.

Thousands of years later, these teachings have made their way all the way from India to California. However, I noticed that not many Indian people actually attend this festival. At first, I found this a little concerning. Perhaps this festival was a clear example of cultural appropriation. So I found a few Indians in attendance to speak with, and was curious to hear their thoughts.

Every Indian person I spoke with at Bhakti Fest was thrilled about young westerners showing an interest in Indian culture and the ancient teachings of yoga and meditation. They found it exciting, and said that the reason why so many Indian gurus traveled to America was to share these teachings so that westerners could benefit from this wisdom. This festival was a great example of the results of these efforts.

What I learned from the hippies

While there is definitely truth behind the stereotype of the new age hippie, I learned so much from this group of people and how they view the world. Although stereotypes have some validity to them, it’s important to remember that these stereotypes are generalizations and there is far more beneath them Even though many hippies may appear to be happy all the time, this is not necessarily true. What I found is that this group of people seem to be more in touch with their emotions than the average humans. Through the spiritual path, it seems that hippies are learning tools to help them navigate life’s challenges and emotions.

As humans, we are meant to feel emotions of all sorts, but it’s our relationship with our emotions that really matters and what we learn from them. Ultimately, that is what this path has taught me.

Any challenge in life is an opportunity to grow and learn. Through cultivating a deeper connection with our inner world, we are able to make the most of all that life has to offer. When we do get wrapped up in a dark or negative headspace, we can decide to choose a different way and feel gratitude and presence in every moment in life. 

Joy does not mean being happy all the time. To me, joy is being overwhelmed by gratitude for this experience here and all it has to teach us. 

Movement & Fitness Popular

I Learned How to Handstand in One Week

I’ve been practicing yoga for about 10 years now and I absolutely love it for both the physical and mental challenge it offers. For me, yoga is like therapy, and it’s been the most consistent part of my life for the past decade.

Yoga has continued to nurture my mind, body, and soul, but recently I was feeling like I hit a plateau in my practice. I decided I needed to take on a challenge to help me push past it.

An advanced posture taught in yoga is the handstand. I’ve been able to land a handstand for a few seconds for the past few years, but I haven’t practiced it enough consistently to go beyond that. I have no problem doing a handstand up against a wall, but when I try and do one in open space I get stuck. I am petrified of falling forward and breaking my neck and it’s really just the fear that is stopping me from learning how to do it.

So, I decided to try and learn how to do a handstand in just one week, to level up my yoga practice and help me push past some mental blockages that have been holding me back.

Finding a coach

In order to succeed, I needed a great handstand coach. So I asked my friend Andrew Sealy, a world-renowned yoga teacher and a handstand wizard, to be my coach and help me learn the physical and mental mechanics of the handstand posture. 

My goal was to land a handstand for a full 10 seconds at the end of the week. 

My first handstand class

To kick-off the challenge, Andrew guided me through a handstand specific yoga class. We started with wrist and shoulder mobility to warm up, then moved into core strength and shoulder strength. Next, Andrew prepped me with some poses for proper handstand alignment.

Learning to fall

Once my body was fully prepped for handstands, there was one more thing I needed to learn before moving forward: how to fall out of a handstand. 

One of my biggest barriers to learning a handstand in the past was the fear of falling forward onto my neck. I would use my hands as breaks and walk on them. Andrew advised against this habit in order to truly learn how to handstand. 

Andrew taught me two ways to fall out of a handstand – either from side to side or the tuck in roll, which would be the way to fall if I was falling forward. 

I learned three ways to get into a handstand – the “scissor lift”, the “tuck hop”, and the “straddle kick”.

After the class, I felt like I had learned so much in such a short amount about proper handstand alignment and preparation, and I was ready to start practicing on my own for the next week.

My training schedule

If I had all the time in the world, I would be able to spend a long amount of time every day working on my handstand, but since I have to keep a business running, I would only have about one hour every day for handstand practice. I would need to really focus and make the most of this time each day.

Although I always thought core strength was the most important element of being able to handstand, Andrew made me realize how many other factors are equally important, including proper alignment, breath, and preparing the body.

Throughout my handstand training, I ended up falling… a lot. But I had to be okay with challenging myself and falling in order to learn. 

How did it go?

After a few days of practice on my own, I was still feeling stuck. So I went to go practice on the green in Santa Monica and somehow stumbled upon a handstand class that I joined in on. We did a lot of wrist, hand, and shoulder prep and I learned a few new tricks that were really helpful. It was also just really fun being with other people and learning together, rather than being alone in my living room. 

By the end of the week, I had successfully landed a handstand for 10 seconds, several times. I had finally proved to myself that I could do it, but being able to do this on command was another story.

I went to go meet up with Andrew at the end of the week to show him my progress and found it challenging to handstand on command. I ended up being able to do it for 10 seconds though, and I was really proud of myself for actually being able to do it!

By the end of the week, I had by no means mastered the handstand, but I had proven to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to. Like anything in life, practice, focus, and dedication are required to master any skill.

Taking on any kind of challenge isn’t necessarily about the result or the outcome, it’s about the journey and the process you go through and everything you learn along the way. If you are feeling stuck or stagnant in any area of your life, taking on some kind of challenge is a great way to break out of your habitual routine and learn something new!