How a Few Thousand Strangers Inspired Me to Face My Fears

Living in the Bay Area, you hear about all kinds of awesome outdoor festivals.

It seems like every weekend there’s a music festival, a street festival, a food festival or a wine festival to explore – from the city of San Francisco to Sausalito to the Napa Valley and more.

A few months ago, my friend Kate spiced up our social calendar by inviting me to the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Lake Tahoe, CA, scheduled for July 17th – 21st. She had never been but thought it may be fun to explore.

My heart’s first reaction:

“YES! I love yoga and I love new experiences – especially in beautiful Tahoe. Sign me up.”

My brain’s louder and more forceful reaction:

“NO! I can’t do this. I’m not a certified yoga teacher who has been practicing for a gazillion years, I’m not a patient and 100%-zen-all-the-time spiritual guru who never gets irritated or mad, I don’t have 0% body fat, I’ve never taken a vow of silence while doing a 10-day juice cleanse, I don’t eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, I just started meditating, I can’t do a headstand, I’m not fully enlightened yet and I’m definitely not as flexible as half the people in my regular yoga class.”

Wowzers. Clearly my fearful brain was in the driver’s seat. My heart was a quiet passenger who was trying not to be a back-seat driver.

As you can see, the messages my brain sends me are a lot more long-winded and complicated than those simple, short messages sent directly from my heart.

Luckily, over the last year, I’ve been making a conscious effort to listen to my heart first.

So I decided to go for it.

Wondering about Wanderlust

Before I get into detail about what actually happened at this yoga festival, you may be wondering what “Wanderlust” even means?

Let’s ask their website.

“Wanderlust Festivals are all-out, ecstatic celebrations. We bring together the world’s leading yoga teachers, top musical acts, renowned speakers, exquisite chefs, and thrilling performers, weaving together an experience that surprises and delights. Whether you’re exploring our multi-day mountaintop adventures or gathering for a daylong urban retreat, Wanderlust events are an opportunity to unplug from the ordinary and discover the extraordinary.” an

Now you know just about as much as I knew before attending my first-ever yoga festival. 

After purchasing a 1-day ticket to this 4-day event, I requested a Friday off from work. As I was submitting my PTO in the online system, my stubborn brain managed to get a few last words in before I made it official:


Are you sure you’re hippie enough for this festival? You like lip gloss way too much for this kind of thing.”

You know how fear was talking the first time I heard about the festival? Well in this moment, ASSUMPTIONS based on zero actual evidence were now in the driver’s seat.

That doubting internal narrator in my head apparently wasn’t done trying to talk me out of this. But on that particular day, in that particular moment, I was somehow able to temporarily silence it.

I went ahead and submitted my request for one day of PTO, put the event on my Outlook calendar and continued with my day.

Fast-forward to a few months later.

After driving up to Tahoe, settling into the cabin we had rented with 8 of our friends and breathing in the fresh mountain air, Kate and I got an early Friday morning start and headed to Squaw Valley Ski Resort where Wanderlust was being held.

When we arrived, I was surprised to see that we were greeted by what looked like any other festival I had been to: music playing, booths full of food, clothes, art and jewelry, maps of the venue, scheduled events, wristbands and the aroma of delicious food floating through the air.

Wait a second, I thought.

Where are the levitating monks? Why isn’t everyone doing a complicated and intimidating headstand pose? Is everyone I walk by smiling at me because I have something on my face?

I suddenly felt a sense of excitement bubble up in me. There was something in the air that made me feel happy. I thought it was just the beautiful mountains in the distance, but could it have been the collective energy of this place?

After getting our wristbands for the day, Kate and I took a lap around the festival to see what it was all about. Here are a few images to paint a picture of this glorious place.

Finding perspective through art
Finding perspective through art
Lulu Lemon had a pop-up store. Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
Lulu Lemon had a pop-up store. SCORE! Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
So many talented artists had their passions on display. Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
So many talented artists had their passions on display. Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
Always love some good tunes. Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
Always love some good tunes. Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
A quiet moment. Photo by Christen Vidanovic - Wanderlust Facebook page
A quiet moment. Photo by Christen Vidanovic , Wanderlust Facebook page
Now that's my kind of yoga class
Now that’s my kind of yoga class

After taking in our beautiful surroundings, Kate and I headed to our first 90-minute session: Slackro: Slacking and Acrobatics“.

You want us to do WHAT?!?

Whoa whoa whoa. The only part of this class title I felt comfortable with was the word “Slacking”. But “Acrobatics”? There must have been a mistake. I honestly forgot that we signed up for this!

I suddenly froze. I saw what looked like orange tight ropes tied to trees to my left. And people were balancing on them. My blood pressure kinda started to rise. Ok, who am I kidding. It instantly skyrocketed.

How was I going to fit in with a bunch of acrobats and tight-rope walkers? Maybe my brain was right after all. This festival was way out of my league.

I cracked a  joke to dispel my nervousness with humor. I looked over at Kate, who was smiling and excited, and remembered why I was here – to have some fun with my friend! I pressed on, despite my sweaty palms.

Our two teachers gathered about 100 of us in a circle on the grass. Ok, I can do this. I’m really good at sitting in circles and smiling, I thought. Just look confident. Look like you’re not scared. I was still scared.

The teachers, two extraordinarily nice people who lived out of a car called the “Peace Love Car” explained and modeled each acroyoga pose with patience and humor. They encouraged us to try each pose, challenging us to “find our edge” through listening to and respecting our bodies.

At this point, my heart felt genuinely excited, but my brain/ego was secretly regretting not starting the day with a mimosa. Orange juice is good for yoga, right?

We broke off into pairs to get started with the partner acroyoga. I think I cracked a few more nervous jokes before we started.

Nervous humor = classic Bre Cooley Wilson technique used to deflect fear of imminent failure and public humiliation.

And then the unthinkable happened. We were actually able to do what they asked.

Testing the waters….
Keeping it steady….
Yowzers, we did it!!!

And the people around us trying to accomplish the same goal? They smiled at us. They encouraged us. They rooted for us.

And they celebrated with us when they took these photos. I didn’t even know their names, but I knew they wanted Kate and me to succeed. I felt it. It was wonderful to connect with people from all walks of life, support each other and celebrate each other’s victories together under the beautiful Tahoe sun.



Next it was on to try the “YogaSlackers” portion of the class. Ya know, those orange tight-rope things I mentioned. Apparently I missed the memo about the second portion of this class being a Cirque du Soleil tryout. As my friend Kate would say, “YOINKS!”

As soon as I laid eyes on those orange planks of death, my brain once again took the wheel.

“No way, Bre. Sure, you just did an acroyoga pose with Kate. But balancing on an elastic strip tied between 2 trees? You’re definitely not good enough to do that.”

Well, maybe so. But I had already paid for the class and the recovering people pleaser in me wanted to least attempt to look cool.

So I tried.

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It looks like a graceful fall….
.....but I actually ate it.
…..but I actually ate it.

This is when my heart yelled “Stop the car!” to my fear-laden brain. It was time for my non-judgemental heart to get back in the driver’s seat.

So I tried  again....
So I tried again….
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Kate also decided to walk the orange plank of death on this beautiful, sunny day. And she rocked it like it was 1999.

Getting in the zone….
Like a boss!
Like a boss!

And guess who supported us through this particular yoga challenge? Our fellow classmates, who we had met 2 minutes before attempting to conquer our fears.

They rooted for us, gave us tips on how to stay balanced and laughed with us as we plummeted to the grassy ground in between each attempt.

These supposed “strangers” weren’t so strange after all. They were kind, helpful and positive. I felt a sudden connection with these people, even though I didn’t know their names, their stories or where they lived. I had no clue what they did for a living or how long they had practiced yoga. Their kindness inspired me to just be in the moment and breathe in the fresh mountain air.

Their energy was so positive that it rubbed off on me and motivated me to keep trying until I could stand on that orange line. Even if it was only for a second or two. It felt amazing. I guess we were all just people who wanted to spend a sunny day in a beautiful place.



Following this acrobatic start to our day, we headed to our next class: “AcroYoga: The Sacred Geometry of Relationship”.

This course was in a larger tented area of the festival and was full of happy people – two of which were Kate and me. Since that first class, I felt a surge of happiness. I felt lighter just being around all these smiling people.

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And so did Kate! There was no question that the vibe in this class was super contagious. And we were both diggin’ it.

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One of the teachers had us walk around randomly until she said stop. On her cue, we had to find anyone in the crowd, at that exact moment, and lock eyes with them. She would then tell us a phrase to say, which included:



It felt a little weird at first. Ya know, looking deep into the eyes of a total stranger, saying encouraging words to someone you don’t even know. And then doing it over and over again, about 10 times.

But wait, why was it weird? Why did it have to be weird to talk to a fellow human being? We were all people, right?

I started to warm up to this exercise after a few uncomfortable gazes. I remember wondering why the normally extroverted Bre felt suddenly shy?

Well, the shyness didn’t last for long. The positive energy in this beautiful space took my shyness and replaced it with pure joy. It was truly a liberating feeling to let my guard down and be open and receptive to random people’s good energy. It seemed like the moment that I was able to let go of my preconceived notions of how much eye contact was “comfortable”, everything just felt GOOD.

Once again, I felt alive and cared for by people I didn’t even know.

Just as soon as I felt comfortable, I was pushed outside my comfort zone yet again. Doh! It was now time “to fly”, as the teachers called it.

Step-by-step, the teachers demonstrated how to get into another partner pose. But unlike the earlier class, there would be a bit more wobbling.

That’s when my doubting brain reared its ugly head, yet again.

“Bre, come on. You really think you can hold someone up like that on your feet? Save yourself the embarassment and say you need a bathroom break.”

Man! That doubting voice sure did have a mouth on her. I was visibly nervous to try this next pose, especially when I was paired with two other women who I didn’t know.

I said a polite hello and smiled, but they could definitely sense that I was not feeling so good about this next balancing move. So what did they do?

They smiled at me. They encouraged me. They gently pushed me out of my comfort zone and supported me – physically and mentally.

Even though my legs shook and my confidence wavered, I was doing it! I was holding them up with my legs. I was in disbelief.

When we were finished with the group exercise, there was only one thing left to be done: try the partner exercise with the one and only Kate.

We asked someone to take a photo to do one of two things: either document our victorious pose, or document a hilarious attempt. We had a 50/50 shot, so we figured we’d take it.

As we were setting up to do the pose, a kind and helpful woman asked if we needed a spot. You can see her in the photo below. Her willingness to lend a hand (literally) is yet another example of how the people at this festival just blew my mind. Never have I seen so much compassion and excitement from strangers in my life.

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It felt amazing when we successfully held this pose. Not only did it keep my chatty brain quiet for the rest of the day; it also made me wonder what else I could do that I was previously scared of trying.

Who knew that a simple partner acroyoga exercise could reveal so much about how my perceived limitations often hold me back. Well, not anymore.



Remember those assumptions my brain made about what Wanderlust was going to be like, who was going to be there and what I was capable of, without knowing much about this festival? Well, it turns out my brain was wrong.

The people who attended weren’t levitating monks who expected perfect yoga poses. They were human beings of all ages, body types, colors and creeds. And just like me, they were here to enjoy a gorgeous day, try something new and spread positive energy to everyone they encountered.

Finding a positive perspective off the mat

Attending the Wanderlust Yoga Festival reminded me that I could do the things I thought I couldn’t. And how I felt when I proved my brain wrong was totally exhilarating.

did fit in at a yoga festival. The only requirement to attend was that you have a beating heart, a positive attitude and a willingness to simply try.

What would happen if I took this positivity and willingness to try into all areas of my life? What else in my life am I avoiding out of fear of failure? It’s amazing how someone you don’t even know can totally change the way you look at things.

The collective energy of thousands of happy strangers helped me find a positive perspective in the face of self-doubt. I had one of the coolest experiences of my entire life at the Wanderlust Yoga Festival and left feeling inspired, adventurous and loved.

Though I may not know their names or their stories, I will never forget how the people I encountered made me feel.

I was able to experience this uplifting day with one of my best friends on the planet, too. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Life is good!
Life is good!

Visit the official Wanderlust website >

Donate to Yoga for Hope

More Wanderlust magic…..

Photo by Ali Kaukas - Wanderlust Facebook Page
Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
Photo by Ali Kaukas - Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page
Photo by Ali Kaukas, Wanderlust Festival Facebook Page

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