Rayna Benson — with the spiritual name Akal Sahai — loves the practice of Kundalini Yoga and meditation. She has attended Sat Nam Fest five times and will return again this year. Rayna is a massage therapist, acupuncturist, energy healer, yoga teacher, and mother.

In an interview with the Sat Nam Fest blog, Akal Sahai shares her insights gained from her experiences at Sat Nam Fest over the years.

What brought you to the Sat Nam Fest for the first time years ago?

It was 2011. I hadn’t known that Kundalini Yoga was its own special practice. I hadn’t done any research before showing up at the festival. I had practiced hatha yoga and had gone to yoga classes at my local gym. But, what got me to attend the first festival was Snatam Kaur. I love Snatam and her music. In fact, I was head over heels in love. I was at a concert of hers in Encinitas. She described this festival that would be happening in April at the retreat center in Joshua Tree. She said, “Just go!” I was ready to go along wherever Snatam suggested. I was receptive and ready to say yes.

At this concert, Snatam had talked a little bit about her spiritual practice, but it all kind of went past me then. I didn’t give it much thought. When she said “Go to this festival. You must.” I took those words to heart. Reflecting on it now, I’m glad I showed up in the dark about what was about to happen because that made the experience that much deeper, more profound, and more fun.

What do you recall about your first Sat Nam Fest experience?

It was at that first Sat Nam Fest that I took my first ever Kundalini Yoga class. I remember arriving at the festival, having driven there from San Diego. I was hot and sweaty, but ready to practice yoga. I was wearing Lulu Lemon, black Lycra clothing. I was ready to do sun salutations, but we were just sitting, huffing and puffing, and chanting. I thought to myself, “Um, okay, what is going on here? When is the yoga going to start?”

Soon, we were doing this exercise in which we were throwing clenched fists backwards over our heads. They call it “fists of anger.” During this exercise, I started to cry. Something just broke in me. There was a huge release with that exercise. After that, I became more receptive and curious about this new kind of yoga. I started to understand that there weren’t going to be sun salutations. I slowly grew to be okay with that. By the second day of my first Sat Nam Fest, I started to feel itchy to wear more comfortable, flowing, cotton clothes. When I changed to more natural fiber clothing, I felt free.

During one of the concerts, I had a shift, a major breakthrough. Looking around me, I noticed the deep connections and the loving relationships that people enjoyed with one another in this community. This was different than what I was used to. I realized that I could not go on living the way I was currently living, especially in my relationships. I realized that I needed to take conscious, serious action to change my situation.

When I first attended Sat Nam Fest, the gathering was small, a few hundred people, very intimate. There was only one main stage and a small bizarre. I stayed nearby in a house I’d found on Airbnb. These days, the festival has grown much bigger. All the teachers are so amazing, it is often difficult to decide which class or workshop to attend. That first Sat Nam Fest, I just went with the flow and didn’t feel the pressure of needing to choose.

What strikes you as unique about Sat Nam Fest?

People introduce themselves with spiritual names. When I first attended the festival, people introduced themselves to me with names that I could not remember. They were unusual names, not like Alex or Robert or Tina. These names were like Guru…something or other, or Siri…something or other? I could not recall their names after meeting them. But, when I learned that these were spiritual names that were given to them along this spiritual path, I became curious. I wanted to have a spiritual name, too. So, I received the name Akal Sahai, which means eternally protected by God. When I received this name, I cried. This was the message I needed. Whenever I make a daring or uncertain move in life, I know that I am protected. The divine is with me no matter what.

What makes you return to the festival?

Each time I return to Sat Nam Fest, I have a drastically different experience. Sometimes, I am more extroverted and connect with lots of people. We dance. We share. Sometimes, I am more introverted and keep to myself to seriously delve into my inner work. Each festival offers me something new to contemplate and explore. Sometimes, I am more ambitious about practicing morning Aquarian Sadhana. Other times, I relax into the late-night concerts and let the sound current nurture me. I am always left with a sense that I can be dedicated and committed to my inner growth. As a woman and mother, I give a lot, but the festival helps me realize that I do not need my motherly giving to be a source of suffering. I do not need to be masochistic about my ability to give as a woman. I can move in light and grace.

What are you looking forward to at this year’s festival?

I like to be fully immersed in the community. When we are spending several days focused on the yogic journey in this collective way, it’s a powerful way to recharge.

My intention for this year’s festival is to go deep within and to return fully charged and ready to fulfill my vision. I am a yoga teacher and an acupuncturist. Eventually, I plan to enroll in further Kundalin Yoga teacher training, open my own yoga and wellness space, and share healing and teachings with the community I currently work with. This year’s Sat Nam Fest is sure to reset me to pursue my highest purpose as a mother, a healer, a teacher, a friend, and a partner. I do body work, but with the practice of Kundalini Yoga and meditation, I never get depleted. The practice really keeps me going.

Do you have any advice or insight to share with newcomers?

I remember when Nirinjan Kaur taught the final class of the festival years ago. I remember her saying, “We all come here, get together, practice, and go through transformation. After it ends, it can be scary to go back home. But remember, you take this experience with you. You carry it all within you. It’s permanent.” When she said that, I realized that the shifts I experienced were mine to keep. This feeling of openness and willingness to be involved in all of life would not leave me. When I returned home, I signed up at a local studio that offered Kundalini Yoga and meditation. I committed to attending classes every day. It was a huge shift. My advice to anyone sitting on the fence is, just come to the festival! Wherever you are on the path and whoever you are, be open to let the whole experience be a pleasant surprise.