Yoshi Aono, Founder of Hanuman Festival (Photos Courtesy of Hanuman Festival 2019 media team: DJ Pierce, Bryan Lopez, Jeff Jones, Timothy D’Antonio and Chris Dodds)

The Heart of Yoga

By Matthew Wilburn King

In the late 1980s, Yoshi Aono was living naked out of a tent and playing the guitar on the north shore of Kauai, Hawaii. He had never seen or heard of yoga until one day he rolled out of his tent and saw some women practicing it on the beach.

Aono, a first-generation immigrant from Japan, is now responsible for the largest yoga festival in the mountain west, Hanuman Festival. The festival is named after the Hindu god of strength, knowledge and devotion—fitting, given Aono’s lifelong commitment to serving a greater cause. Aono is serious about bringing service, yoga and music to the wider world, and he did it right here in Boulder where he has resided for nearly 30 years.

“Yoga gives us a safe space to look at ourselves in a loving way. To be able to walk this life in a much more grounded and uplifting way…allows us to accept ourselves as human beings so that we can be a better person for our children, spouse and local community,” says Aono. “That’s the story of Hanuman. The monkey god is all about devotion and finding the inner strength to make a difference, to be the ultimate humanitarian and to do it purely from the heart.”

Nine years after its inception, Hanuman attracts 1,200 to 2,000 people from all over the world. About half the people attending the festival come to Boulder from outside the state.

“I’m proud that the festival is now respected as a high-integrity event within the global yoga community…even in India, where yoga originated,” says Aono.

Each year the festival has a different theme. This year’s theme is “Keeping It Real.” Classes and panel discussions will focus on a number of topics, including the spiritual ego, learning how to identify ‘spiritual bypassing,’ and how to avoid the pitfalls and blind spots of being a yogi, according to Aono.

Group yoga at the Hanuman Festival
(Photos Courtesy of Hanuman Festival 2019 media team: DJ Pierce, Bryan Lopez, Jeff Jones, Timothy D’Antonio and Chris Dodds)

Once the festival became successful and self-sufficient, Aono wanted to give back. This aligns with decades of philanthropic work he’s done in the past, including mission trips to Haiti, Brazil, Cambodia and, in 2004, Thailand to help rebuild Khao Lak following a tsunami. So, in 2015 he co-created Hanuman Adventures and Hanuman Academy with Dayna Seraye.
Hanuman Adventures takes yoga practitioners around the world to work with children, families and communities in need while experiencing the local traditions, culture and sacred sites of host countries.

“We’ve already led journeys to Indonesia, India and Peru, and plan to expand our offerings to Bhutan in the next few years,” says Aono.

Co-owner Seraye is the fearless leader behind Hanuman Academy, which Aono says is making yoga programs easily accessible to the general public.

“We’re bringing together master teachers from around the world to help the public deepen their practice through a simple online platform,” he says. The site not only focuses on the physical practice but all dimensions of yoga, featuring programs such as the Five Elements of Yoga, Radical Self Mastery­, and Radiance 40-Day Reset for Body, Mind and Soul.

A couple practicing a hand-to-hand handstand. (Photos Courtesy of Hanuman Festival 2019 media team: DJ Pierce, Bryan Lopez, Jeff Jones, Timothy D’Antonio and Chris Dodds)

In addition to his work with Hanuman, in 2016 Aono became the CEO of Sun Wellness, which manages SunWater Spa and SunMountain Retreat Center in Manitou Springs, Colorado. This gives him an opportunity to expand his commitment to health, well-being and spiritual practices.

“It’s about heart, passion, service—yoga is for everyone,” Aono says. “It’s about being a kind person…we all want to do something good.”

Hanuman Festival is scheduled June 13–16 at Boulder High School near the farmer’s market in Boulder. The event features a variety of yoga practices, live music and ceremonies dedicated to honoring the deep wisdom of yoga.

Learn more: www.hanumanfestival.com