Join Tom McDonald on his spiritual voyage as he explores the Cotswold based yoga festival Soul Circus.
Tucked away in the village of Elmore, Gloucester, Hollow Farm becomes a yoga haven playing host to Soul Circus Festival for four days in August. The brainchild of Ella and Roman Wroath, Soul Circus has inhabited this space in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds since 2016. Marketed as a concoction of yoga, live music, all manner of well-being practices, glitter, and good vibes, I was eager to experience it.
For context, my personal yoga journey began in earnest during the many idle hours of the COVID lockdown, using YouTube yoga tutorials. My enthusiasm for yoga has since spawned into being a regular attendee of yoga classes at my local gym. Soul Circus 2022 would be however my first immersion into such a yoga-intensive environment and the diverse choice of holistic wellbeing practices would be completely new experiences for me.
To fully satisfy the intended wholesome nature of the weekend, it was only fitting that I brought my mother along to this spiritual retreat.
We arrived at the festival site on the Friday afternoon to what must be said was a rather unassuming entrance apart from a single roadside sign denoting “festival this way” and two colourful flags.
As an infrequent visitor to music festivals, I had mentally prepared for the usual downsides of the festival experience: long queues to get your wristband, abhorrent toilets reminiscent of that iconic scene from Trainspotting and a predominantly junk food-based diet. However, Soul Circus rapidly dismissed this initial fear. The registration process was seamless and within five minutes my mother and I had our festival wristbands, and we were being directed to the main site carpark.
Soul Circus do say that “Car parking spaces are limited and are strictly on a first come first serve basis”, but from what I experienced, at least for those visiting the festival for the entire weekend, there was more than ample car parking on site. We unpacked the car and with tent in hand we trudged the short distance across to the campsite to build our weekend base camp.
Compact is the key word when describing the Soul Circus layout with everything within a convenient five-minute walking radius or the same amount of time as the perfect end of yoga class savasana (or to non-yogis, corpse pose). The main festival arena is an assortment of tent-covered stages and tipis in a circular array with a beautifully constructed wooden pyramid and instagrammable Soul Circus sign at its centre. Just beyond this area is a picturesque lake used for paddle board yoga classes and, with the backdrop of the early evening sunset, the setting for this festival really is spectacular.
In crossing the threshold onto the main festival field for the first time, I personally committed to leaving any inhibitions behind and to engage with as much content as possible across the weekend. With this personal mantra at the forefront of my mind, my mum and I managed to catch the last yoga class of the day on the Main stage; a class entitled ‘Cuban Brothers Live DJ Class’.
Initially dubious at this juxtaposition of soothing vinyasa flows crossed with deep house beats, I soon realised that the yoga classes at Soul Circus would be like nothing I had ever experienced before. Led by our enthusiastic instructor, the class soon descended into a LYCRA-laden disco, with two hundred plus yogis mixing downward-facing dogs and malasana yogi squats with conga lines and group high fives. If this was anything to go by, then it was going to be a lively weekend.
Across the weekend, I attended ten different sessions encompassing all manner of yoga styles and wellbeing practices. What was immediately obvious was that there was something for everyone within the Soul Circus programme, testament to the open and inclusive environment that has been cultivated by the event organisers and session leaders.
On the Saturday afternoon, I attended laughter medicine for the whole family; a holistic wellbeing workshop led by the wonderfully exuberant Jaycee La Bouche (founder of Zen Laughter, @zenlaughter). Truly something for the whole family, this laughter and relaxation therapy workshop was an hour of the upmost silliness that couldn’t help but put a smile on your face. Full of light-hearted exercises, the distinction between real and fake laughter was well and truly blurred.
I’d also like to say a special thanks to the life juggling team (@lukelifejuggling) that provided an exquisitely playful and engrossing insight into mindful juggling on the Sunday morning. Highlighting that the joy is in the process of learning and not necessarily how many times you drop the balls… which turned out to be a lot!
The experience provided by the various yoga sessions at Soul Circus was like nothing you will encounter at your typical gym yoga class. Set in the stunning large main stage tent or in charmingly intimate tipis, often complete with the smell of burning incense and the sounds of live music, the Soul Circus yoga classes were a sensory delight. Being treated to the ethereal performance of a live Kirtan band during a Bhakti Flow workshop is a spectacle which will remain with me for some time.
For those less inclined by the more active classes there was a myriad of meditative sessions to experience, ranging from large group mantras to very intensive breathwork sessions.
Whilst yoga and holistic wellbeing workshops are the core of Soul Circus there is so much more to enjoy: from the onsite spa to the festival-opening comedy night, the comprehensive festival schedule leaves no stone unturned to ensure Soul Circus is a hedonist’s paradise. Perhaps most impressive is the seamless transition from yoga festival to joyous rave once the sun goes down.
Gone are the spandex yoga tights and the festival becomes a vision of sequins, glitter and festival chic styling to an exquisite blend of expertly mixed tunes.
With acts including DJ outfit the Cuban Brothers, beatbox group Duke Official and the Saturday headliner Mike Skinner from The Streets, the evening entertainment is no afterthought and another demonstration of the well-crafted programming. The party goes well into the night and spills over into the early hours of the morning, where the day spent unwinding transcends into busting shapes on the dancefloor. Drinks can be purchased from several bars on site but with so much love and positive energy in the air, I felt an alcohol-fuelled evening was not needed to enjoy the party.
So arrived the Sunday afternoon when it was time to pack up and leave this yoga nirvana and return to the outside world. After obtaining one final dose of vinyasa and saying a few goodbyes to new yogi friends, my mum and I drove out of the carpark and crossed the boundary back to normality.
In summarising my experience of Soul Circus 2022, I guess I should start with the setup of the festival. The facilities were more than sufficient for the size of the festival. The size of the campsite was adequate for those who were camping and there wasn’t the claustrophobic sense of tents piled up on top of each other that I’ve experienced at other festivals. The horror show of typical festival toilets was non-existent with the portaloos at Soul Circus being more than acceptable for the weekend. The only downside that I experienced during my three day stay at the campsite was the lack of showers accessible to the general campsite. This resulted in lengthy queues during peak times.
Within the main festival arena the food options were bountiful, each one sounding healthier and more eco-friendly than the last. The quality of the food was good, and I enjoyed eating at several of the different vendors across the weekend. The North African aubergine and falafel wrap was a personal favourite. However, across three days, eating out for every meal would have proven quite expensive and given the amount of yoga that was being undertaken a lot of calories were needing to be consumed. Therefore, I was very glad to have my personal snack reserves back at the campsite and I would suggest anyone attending the festival to consider this.
But without doubt the overwhelming sensation that I have from Soul Circus 2022 is a deep sense of gratitude that for three glorious days I got to co-exist in this yoga utopia within the Cotswolds with a marvellous group of like-minded strangers. All these elements, coupled with the good fortune of relatively dry and sunny weather, culminated in a sincerely welcoming and supportive environment across the festival, and it’s hard not to eulogise about how great Soul Circus makes you feel.
Having seen nothing but festival-goers revelling in the Soul Circus experience, perhaps the biggest challenge faced by the festival is maintaining its authenticity yet upscaling to allow even more yogis, novice or experienced, to enjoy the festival. With that being said, I’m already eager to see what they have planned for next year and I took up the opportunity to purchase early bird tickets for Soul Circus 2023. Using a mantra provided during the Zen Laughter workshop, the only way to summarise my experience of Soul Circus 2022 is it was “Very good, very good, very good, yay!!!”.
You can read more of Tom’s work on Instagram by following @tom__mcdonald__