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Natural Awakenings Atlanta


Jessica Murphy (Photo: Kelly Raye)

Reaching New Heights

By Paul Chen

“Starting today, I’m 100 percent self-employed!” Jessica Murphy, founder of the Dirty South Yoga Fest, was happy with her achievement. Her full-time gig as project manager for a web design firm had allowed her to pursue the Yoga Fest as her passion project. Now she is dedicating all her time to the fifth annual event, which is set for July 20 to 22.

And it’s paying off. Since the Southeast Yoga Conference will not be held this year, the Dirty South Yoga Fest is now Atlanta’s only homegrown event, making it the most tangible manifestation of the city’s yoga community.

Will Murphy return to web design after the festival? That depends. This moment feels like a possible turning point to her, she says. The festival has grown in three ways: First, it has expanded from just one day to a whole weekend. Second, it is offering 50 unique classes, up from 27 last year. And third, it’s offering a VIP experience that will include lounge access, lunch, a choice between a massage or a reading, and a swag bag.

Gina Minyard, an Atlanta yoga teacher and co-director of the intown studio Yoga Collective who will teach at this year’s festival, has watched it evolve through the years. Beyond the expansion of offerings, Minyard has noticed “a maturing of its execution, a natural evolution of streamlining and refining.”

But the biggest factor in deciding whether Murphy becomes a full-time producer of the Dirty South Yoga Festival is whether another kind of expansion is realized: launching a second festival, in New Orleans.

Earlier this year, Murphy traveled to “The Big Easy” to explore holding a festival there.

Encouraged by an overflowing positive response, she is now scouting area venues and hopes to announce a fall date for Dirty South New Orleans.

Humble Beginnings

Murphy was in the midst of her 200-hour teacher-certification program when the seed idea for the Dirty South Yoga Fest was planted in her mind.

“Part of my homework assignment was to take classes from a variety of different instructors, to get exposure to multiple styles,” says Murphy. “The range of teaching styles and abilities and levels was really eye-opening to me, and I felt like I wanted to learn from all these people. At the same time, in conversations with them, I also noticed a desire for them to have more connection to other people in the yoga world.”

Murphy knew she wanted to bring people together, and she was surprised when nearly all the teachers she asked agreed to teach in 2014, the first year the festival opened to the public.

“My hope was that I wouldn’t have a dead silent room! But we ended up selling out our first year, and I was completely shocked,” says Murphy.

Their sold-out attendance in 2014 brought 200 attendees. But the class schedule was aggressive: 32 classes spread over four afternoon time slots, and a party afterward. In contrast, last year’s attendance was 550, and this year’s maximum capacity is 800 to 1000.

After several successful years producing these events, Murphy still possesses a childlike wonder around her creation: “I’m constantly surprised that people are coming back. I sometimes have to pinch myself just to believe that people want to be part of this vision.”

Community Connection The festival features a fundraising effort for a local yoga nonprofit, Cultivate Union. It includes the Om Project, an art auction that takes place online during the month of July and concludes at the festival on Sunday, July 22.

Founded by local teacher Rachelle Knowles less than two years ago, Cultivate Union partners with other businesses to “offer weekly trauma-informed yoga classes for individuals experiencing hardships including homelessness and the disease of addiction.” It also helps people create a new life after being subjected to human trafficking and sex exploitation.

Says Knowles, “Dirty South is a representation of our vision to bring folks across the Atlanta yoga community together, to know each other, to practice and learn together. I think people can feel that when they’re at the festival—that it’s made with them in mind.”

Building community, after all, motivated Murphy since the beginning. “The community connection is something that I’m always seeking, and I think most people are seeking it as well,” she says.


The Dirty South Yoga Fest, July 20-22. Friday kick-off party at Monday Night Garage, 933 Lee St SW, 30310. Saturday and Sunday classes at Loudermilk Conference Center, 40 Courtland Street NE, 30303. Prices range from $35 to $325. See

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