For someone who nearly got booted out of her first yoga class, the founder of Decorah’s own Driftless Yoga Festival has certainly had a decade of sharp and subtle turns.
Laree Schouweiler (she/her) now finds herself positioned squarely in the heart of Decorah’s wellness community.
The relationships and events she’s launching are branching out like the arteries of the Upper Iowa River she loves so much.
What she helped to build in a few short years may still come as a surprise to her, but what she’s cultivating is nothing short of a hub of inspiration and innovation in this dreamy Midwest college town.
Born and raised on Waupekute/Očhéthi Šakówiŋ land – now known as Apple Valley, Minnesota, Laree grew up competitively figure skating and playing soccer. As a girl, she was all about freedom and movement, and that mysterious place where strength meets balance. At Augsburg College she coached youth soccer and tapped a little deeper into the roots of what her dreams were. Working toward her Masters degree at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Laree realized how drawn she was to leadership. Compelled by the fierce magic that happens when communities get to drive their own collective future, Schouweiler knew the rest of her life would need to continually flirt with intuition, big picture ideas, creativity, and meeting people where they are through movement.
When she found herself in Decorah to support her spouse’s professional track, Laree decided it was time to put her body, brain, and values to work. She launched yoga-cycling outfit Reefuel, which she operated with contagious zest until she ultimately decided to close as she braced for her third child during the COVID pandemic. Laree’s been focused on teaching remote classes, hosting smaller outdoor special group sessions, and expanding the Driftless Yoga Festival since.
As Schouweiller juggles three young children and her own dreams and goals, she continuously engages with the cognitive and emotional labor around critical social issues of equity and justice. The Driftless Yoga Festival happens in the Decorah, Iowa river valley each June over/around the summer solstice and is a three-day long event that features nationally recognized yoga & wellness facilitators centered on yoga, equity, and nature.
How would you describe yourself?
Oy. Hitting right out of the park with the first question.
Self-described movement-enthusiast, high-energy, easily distracted, loyal, loving and hard working.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
The everyday, mundane are my BIGGEST accomplishments. Staying patient with my kids. Getting a yoga practice or a run in each day. Doing the dishes. Checking this interview off my list. Connecting with the people that I love the most. Going to therapy. Admitting I am wrong.
Have you read any good books?
I am currently reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson – learning about the history of systematic racism isn’t light reading, but it is a vital read for all.
Who is your personal hero?
People who can sleep through the night.
Do you have a life philosophy that you live by?
The answer is always ‘No.’ if I don’t ask with a close second being ‘No.’ is always a starting point!
What do you think is the meaning of life?
To take care of each other.
Do you prefer working alone, or do you like working with others?
BOTH! There are benefits to both creating something from the depths of ones’ thoughts & visions AND there is so much richness that comes from working together in the community (one person can’t see all the angles or have all the answers).
What is your deepest belief about life?
We are all interconnected and every choice we make has an immediate impact on our communities and world.
If you could be doing anything, anywhere right now, what and where would it be?
I really love creating and organizing the Driftless Yoga Festival, but I dream of being a better writer.
What’s one thing you’ve had to overcome in your life?
Becoming myself – this is still a work in progress. We all live in a societal pressure cooker that tells us to be smaller, quieter and don’t ask questions. My nature is the OPPOSITE of this. Going against the grain to embrace myself and the space I take up has been an undertaking!
How do you handle being in a bad mood?
Naming it. Naming it can often take away the power and open the door to having a discussion of what it is that causing the disconnect.
What did you learn about yourself from any of your previous relationships?
I am not perfect AND I deserve love.
What is your favorite music or song?
I LOVE Dave Matthews Band, Lake Street Dive & Creedance Clearwater Revival. Two of my favorite songs: Samurai Cop by Dave Matthews Band and Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.
How has this pandemic affected YOU or YOUR BUSINESS here in the Driftless? (positively or negatively)
After the completion of our first festival in 2019, I knew it wasn’t enough to just host an event that would bring folks together to spotlight the Driftless region. The momentum of the festival, feedback from participants and my craving for something greater drew me to Asheville’s Yoga Festival in July 2019 in an effort to research what else DYF could be. It was there I met Michelle C. Johnson, author of Skill in Action & anti-racist trainer, who would spotlight my limited understanding of ways wellness spaces aren’t made available for every body. Following my short time with her, I reached out to book her for a future festival and we landed on 2021. How far away that seemed at the time…
Upon returning to the Driftless, I had a new found vision for the festival and began moving forward with the creation of the 2020 event. The schedule was lining up with local and regional presenters, I was working with Driftless businesses to use their working spaces as a way to get folks to support their brick & mortars and ticket sales were showing folks were excited about it for a second year! Things were progressing; that is until March 2020.
I don’t need to tell you all the nitty gritty details, but I will share DYF didn’t walk away unscathed in 2020 from the impact of the pandemic and cancellation of our event. However, not all was lost. The cancellation of the festival allowed time to grieve. It opened the opportunity to find space for greater awakening of the injustices not just happening in wellness spaces, but also across the globe. It provided time to evaluate and evolve. It allowed space to process the internal inquisition of “What’s ahead?”
What is another name you would give the Driftless?
What is your favorite season in the Driftless & why?
There is so much to do here year round, but summer is especially my favorite because of the ability to literally walk out the door and be in the beauty with unlimited options of ways to move.
Tell us of an experience /memory you had with Driftless lakes, rivers or waterways?
Running alongside the Upper Iowa! No matter the time of year, it is always so peaceful and filled with wildlife.
What are some of your favorite places to go for fun here in the Driftless?
I am particularly fond places right here in Decorah: Van Peenan for hiking or snowshoeing, Carlson Park for walks with friends, Root Note in La Crosse (reopening soon).
What are some of your favorite places to eat here in the Driftless
Luna Valley Pizza Farm, Impact Coffee, Blazing Star Bowls (brick & mortar coming soon), Convergence Ciderworks,
If you were to tell a friend to come and visit the Driftless Area, and they ask “Why” … What would you tell them?
We aren’t just flat cornfields – there is so much beauty in the land, people and businesses!
What skill or instrument would you like to learn or play?
Anything that would help me with my rhythm.
What 1 message would you put in a bottle?
If any, what would be your dream job?
Loving what I am doing!
How / where did you meet your best friend?
My dear friend, Danielle, stumbled into a yoga class I was teaching. Turned out she loved yoga & euchre – the rest is history!
What does your dream vacation look like?
A warm place where we can immerse ourselves in the communities and learn about culture/history
Tell us a short joke or punchline.
A horse walked into a bar and said ‘Ouch’.
If you could learn another language, what would that be?
Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career with your business.
Shifting Driftless Yoga Festival’s mission to be a equity-forward & social justice focused has been the most significant pivot for the event. Yoga is a practice is built on the foundational philosophy of radical compassion and truth and to really embody that practice meant that this yoga-inspired festival had to uplift the underrepresented, land acknowledgement and creating spaces for people to show up authentically who they are.
Tell us about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.
Creating tiered pricing for Driftless Yoga Festival passes because financial barriers are still a barrier to accessing a practice that was designed for ALL – this was an important So rather than making our event less expensive or more efficient, it was a priority to make it more ACCESSIBLE.
Tell us about one person that you’ve met, that stands apart from the rest, or has influenced you while here in the Driftless.
There have been SO MANY folks in this area who have been wildly supportive. Currently Jessica Rilling, director at the Decorah Chamber of Commerce, has been a cornerstone of support of my work and the festival. We are SO lucky to have her here!
What do you wish other people knew about you or your business?
No matter your yoga experience, this festival is meant for you. Yoga has been so codified and marketed as an able-body practice – where there is so much to explore within yoga BEYOND movement & flexibility – including meditation, philosophy, history and connection to nature.
Holds certifications in:
ACE Health Coach
Schwinn Indoor Cycling
Skill in Action