THE BLOG
10/31/2013 09:03 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

First Annual Hawaii Yoga Festival; Ancient Healing, Island Yogis

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Ancient healing and island yogis are getting together to help us all be a little healthier in today's world, and the timing couldn't be better. In just a few weeks, The Big Island will host its first annual Hawai'I Yoga Festival. As a community, we're more sick and stressed than ever before. Sometimes, to feel healthier today, you have to go back in time.

According to a new report from the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawaii, life expectancy for Native Hawaiians is still not as good as other populations; diabetes, obesity and hypertension are still high on the list of health problems. But here's the good news: Hawaiians are taking specific steps to live better and longer by following the wisdom of the ancestors, with familiar solutions such as ohana, simple exercise, spiritual tradition, and eating from the garden.

"We are returning to the things we know work well, things our ancestors knew but we have lost," said Dr. Joseph Keaweaimoku Kaholokula, chairman of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the UH medical school, in a recent Huffington Post article.

It's true, sometimes, depending on what's going on, you need the help of Western medicine, but it's also true that daily, unhealthy choices can lead to being rundown, sick, or feeling pain. Rather than take a pill for quick relief, I believe that sometimes we have to dig deeper to feel well, long term.

I know how this goes, personally. Thirteen years ago, I went to a yoga class to try to deal with massive stress from my job and two separate, very painful spine conditions that were, no doubt, related to my stress and the fact that I was always, always sick. I didn't like yoga at first, but I stuck with it. Over time, I noticed that my physical health improved -- and so did my spiritual health. Today, despite all the challenges that come with aging, I can say I'm the healthiest version of myself, period: happier and healthier.

The Hawaiian word for health is "ola," which means "life." Back then, good health came out of "pono," or "right living." Illness happened when there was imbalance -- physical, mental, or spiritual. The ancient Hawaiian health system blends actual physical treatments and guidance by medical experts in spiritual wellness. Old Hawaiian healers looked at the root causes, rather than the symptoms; treatment included herbs, prayer, and group sessions, too.

"Pono" is a lot like the practices of the ancient yogis. Ayurveda, the 5,000-year old sister science to yoga (and embedded in any physical yoga practice), says the same thing: that illness is a result of imbalances in the body and mind when we don't practice living with an awareness of our choices and actions to stay in balance. Yoga and Ayurveda have shown that rooting out the causes of imbalance generally keeps us from feeding illness and disease. When you go to a yoga class, the practice reveals your imbalances physically and mentally. That's the ancient system. You just need to listen to what your body and mind are telling you to follow a more healthy path today.

It makes complete sense that both of these traditional healing approaches will come together for the first time November 9-17th, for the First Annual Hawai'i Yoga Festival on the Big Island's Yoga Coast. It's time. Yoga and ancient Hawaiian healing practices are a natural fit. There will be two teachers from India, plus more than 30 local teachers, to share spiritual wisdom and healing ways.

Yoga and spiritual transformation should be accessible to all.

Keep in mind, this isn't a medical conference; Hawai'i Yoga Festival is focused on yoga and the spiritual path to create better awareness within you, so you can listen and understand what you can do to live a healthier life. Featured classes include asana (poses and physical practices), chanting and meditation, while healing gatherings will incorporate traditional Hawaiian ceremonies at sacred, scenic locations. Hawaiian spiritual kahunas (the medical experts trained in the old ways of Hawaiian healing) will offer inspirational talks. Most of the events will be held at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat, with other events along Kalapana Kapoho Beach Road and near the village of Pahoa.

If the pieces of the ancient health systems kept people vibrant for thousands of years, why wouldn't we want to learn more about how they can help us today? Spiritual wellness is needed for wellness of any kind, more than ever before. This is not to say you'll never get sick if you open your mind to the ancient ways of healing, but I am living proof that it works to blend the modern medical and traditional healing ways. Since I started living this way, more aware of how to support my physical, spiritual and mental balance, I rarely get sick, my still-existing spine conditions barely cause me problems, and I have such little stress compared to before. Seriously, I'm like a whole different person!

So much is always said about the power of the Islands and the healing environment of Hawai'i. The power of healing is also in your hands, too. There's no better time to discover ancient knowledge to pursue the healthiest version of you, today and maybe for a long time to come... if history tells us anything.

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