Wednesday, July 13

Yoga Journal Conference | Lake Geneva, WI

Before I can even attempt to wrap my brain around this amazing weekend, I have to start with thanking Yoga Journal... for having the conference, but also for allowing people to volunteer so they can attend the conference. I couldn't afford to go to this conference, but after choosing the itinerary I couldn't have and researching the instructors I couldn't learn from (read: dreaming)... I found a page about volunteering for the conference. I had to post a certain number of posters around Champaign-Urbana, and get (quite a bit of)  information about those places I posted at... I'd do that a hundred times over for the experience I had this weekend. So, thank you Yoga Journal, especially Gabi, who answered my random (many) questions. I also need to thank the Melby family... for just being the Melbys, for one, but also for sharing their wonderful home to stay in while I attended the conference. The gift you all gave me, I appreciate more than there are words to express my gratitude. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And love.

Before I get into the classes I took, let's start with those basics I like to use to get the "facts" out there...
LOCATION: Grand Geneva Golf Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, WI. Uhhhhh, wow. Talk about spoiling yourself in all the ways I believe you deserve. The resort is ginormous, I know I only saw the conference section of it, but driving past what I'd call a small village of the Grand Geneva to get to the conference. Big. I guess there's a water park, golfing, a spa, much much more... but I experienced the conference center. And, with the help of many YJ volunteers, it was a relaxing experience that can only be the result of meticulous organizing (congrats GG and YJ). Parking was free, and up til the last session that I returned for after a quick lunch, parking was easy to find also. I didn't have a room there, so I can't comment on those facilities.
COST: Free. Short of the gas it took me to drive to Wisconsin... and the conference shirt I "had" to buy. Oh, and I did have to pay for food, but they provided a discount for the conference, so I had a $5 veggies sandwich for my meals. I hear they're not organic, which was a big part of the discussions all weekend (eating organic, not that the hotel's food wasn't organic—although it was brought up). If you were to attend this conference sans volunteer work... it would cost this.
STUDIO: The rooms surprisingly worked well for yoga classes. I say "surprisingly" because they were all carpeted. Balance poses were a tad bit more challenging. My mat did move a little bit. But for the most part, success. They also marked off the rooms so you knew where you could take up space. I didn't experience a class where it was mat to mat to mat, so it wasn't too bad. But even on the couple occasions I had one person directly next to me, still plenty of space to yoga it up. Lecture rooms were great too, set up like small classrooms with stadium seating, it was easy to see the instructor and quaint enough to hear them too.
SCHEDULE: Choose your own adventure, my friends. In two-hour intervals there are over 10 classes to choose from. Crazy! They do recommend beginner tracks and teacher tracks, but I learned quickly that there was every type of yogi in my classes. If something was too difficult, I was in no way fearful of coming out of pose or doing a modification. Meanwhile, it was SO exciting to see all these people going into the poses. I love watching yogis gracefully go into what most would think is contortionism. Not only for the beauty of what the body can do, but also because that's where I'm going! That's part of my journey! Someday I will do what he or she did, and hopefully inspire the newer yogi next to me. I know, I know, I'm suppose to keep my practice on my own mat... but I don't find peeking at others destructive, quite the opposite. But I digress. For the full schedule, go here. My schedule started at 7am, had a lunch break for about an hour and then continued on through 8:30p on Saturday and Sunday. Monday I had an all-day intensive that was from 9a-4:30p.
INSTRUCTORS: Details are below, since I was blessed with MANY instructors this weekend. If you want to know all the teachers that were there... here.
CONTACT: Yoga Journal Conferences

Saturday • 7-7:45am • Walking Meditation with Paul Weitz
The simple act of walking is so common to daily life that we can forget we are doing it. In fact, the mind is often far away as we put one foot in front of the other. In walking meditation, we'll slow the process down and focus on breath and tactile awareness of movement and sensation. This practice helps to develop everyday mindfulness, and serves as a reflection of how we move through life moment to moment. 
I learned a new form of meditation! Walking (very) slowly, constantly being aware of lifting, moving, and placing my foot. Recognizing when my mind wandered, but bringing it back to my step. This is probably the first time I've been able to hold my focus for this long. To the point I didn't realize he had chanted Om to call us back to the group.

Saturday • 8-10am • Maha Sadhana with Dharma Mittra
Built around Sri Dharma's formidable Shiva Namaskar vinyasa posture practice, this class is designed to bring the highest radiant physical and mental health. As always, Sri Dharma will introduce spiritual and practical everyday topics to the session, which can be applied to your daily life. 
Brazilian catholic who teaches hinduism including vegetarian lifestyle. Yep. He is wisdom and love and humor. His warmth was inspiring. I tried to take notes, but sometimes you just need to be sucked in. I'm a bit speechless in describing my experience, sorry, I can only say... please, take the time to listen to him, read about him. Engage your brain with him.

Here are some of my notes:
• Everything is perfect. If there are problems, it's from your past life. Reincarnation is so you can do right by past mistakes.
• Don't consume animals. You eat cow, you act like the cow (insert him pausing to chew his cud). You have their energy inside of you when you consume them, and they're not as evolved, so they clog your body and keep you from reaching enlightenment.
• We are all an equal part of god... You, me, your dog, an insect. Bring no harm to anything.

Saturday • 10:30am-12:30pm • Shodhana: Yogic Purification with Jim Bennitt
Tantric yoga emphasizes inner purification of the physical, energetic, and psychic bodies. When deep inner purification happens, we spontaneously choose to act with compassion and see the world more clearly, which affects every decision we make. Come practice a strong sequence of postures, breathwork, and meditation that will leave you feeling a deep sense of cleansing but without exhaustion, and being energized but also centered. You will be challenged physically, but in an intelligent and holistic way that will build prana rather than deplete it. 
Jim Bennitt brought a different energy to the room (which was the same room I just happened to be in with Sri Dharma). Young, energetic, but equally meaningful. What I remember most, I hope I can find a video for... because it was crazy. My instructors have talked about certain breathing techniques, but to see it is a whole other story. This whole video is beautiful, but to see a little bit of the breathing, jump to 6:35.

Notes from this class:
• Slow down the body and mind enough to detach from both, because we are more than just those two pieces.
• Prana (energy). Slow the prana down, your mind will follow. This allows you to flow energy through the channels and be healthy. Think chi, like in acupuncture.
• Asana. Purify the body through poses. If you are happy and healthy, you will treat others with happiness.
• Tejas. There is a divine light in each of us. Yoga is a process to see that light more clearly. Move away the darkness and bring out your radiance (for yourself and others).
• Energy always follows awareness.
• Visualization. Your mind can't separate what is real and what is thought. So the more you visualize doing something, the more you'll be able to do it for real.

Saturday • 1:30-2:30pm • Panel Discussion: The Yoga of Food 
What does it mean to eat like a yogi? Is there such a thing as a yogic diet? Join Seane Corn, Cyndi Lee, Steve Nakon and Aadil Palkhivala, as they discuss how the practice of yoga affects our food choices. 
This discussion actually rubbed me the wrong way, a little bit. I agreed with what everyone was saying, but saddened by this finger-pointing at agri-business for why crops are grown the way they are or what is being grown. I know there are people close to politicians, with money, helping make decisions. But at the end of the day, if everyone stopped buying fast food and brought lunch to work... how quickly would we see change? If everyone stopped eating processed foods and opted for organic... how quickly would we see change? We are smarter than the marketing we are bombarded with, and we are stronger than the habits we turn to. We can't get mad at a farmer for growing food we ask to eat.

Saturday • 3:30-5:30pm • Lotus Postures and Hip Openers: A Pathway to Freedom with Maty Ezraty
Open and flexible hips are the path to all Lotus poses and many other important postures. Learn to open the hips safely with standing poses, seated poses, and supine poses—especially helpful if you have knee injuries or tight hips. Be prepared to go deep and find a satisfying sense of freedom. 
Maty Ezraty is a character. I can still hear her voice in my head. It was almost abrasive to me, at first. But her sense of humor softened her instruction. Plus, she jumped right in, it was a FULL two hours of hip openers. Yowzers! There was no time to even consider what was abrasive, because I had some hips that were going to be opened. I did not achieve Lotus, but I learned so much more about how my body should work to get there. She explained things that made my muscles relax, so I could open up. It was probably the most effective class for my body and the poses, this weekend.

Saturday • 7-8:30pm • LUNAFest Film Festival
A film festival by, for, and about women brought to you by LUNA (whole nutrition bars for women).
Each season, films tour 150+ venues and screen in fromt of 20K people across the US and Canada. 100% of LUNAFest proceeds go to nonprofit organizations—15% are donated to the Breast Cancer Fund and 85% to local community nonprofits. To date, LUNAFest has featured over 83 women filmmakers, raised over 363K for the Breast Cancer Fund and over 570K for nonprofit organizations. 
Yoga meets movies meets women... Uh. Anni's practice meets Anni's old job at That's Rentertainment meets herself. Sweet! To say the least, this was right up my alley. It was unfortunate that more people weren't there, but it was a big day of yoga... so understandable. I'm glad I didn't pass up the opportunity to see these shorts.

Sunday • 7-7:45am • Morning Meditation with Renee Fussner

I woke up... stiff, sore, physically tired, mentally tired. This was the perfect class to kick-start my day. Renee walked us through a few different forms of meditation. Focusing on breath, then guided, then silent meditation. I was a little worried about behaving through the silent meditation, but I think I was tired enough to only focus on one thing... and I'm really glad it was me.

Sunday • 8-10am • Ganesha: Secret Symbolisms of the Self with Manoj Chalam
The little-known text called the Ganapati Upanishad elevates the primordial form of Ganesha to symbols of consciousness. Vedanic meditation on Ganesha consists of shravana (listening), manana (contemplation, and nidhidyasana (taking a stand in consciousness) and is an intuitive way to realize the Self. Discover how these nondualistic teachings of Vedanta can add great insights into your yoga practice. 
A lot of the Indian stories go over my head... not because I don't understand the meaning behind them, that is quite beautiful, but when you're hearing the stories, you're also being taught what a lot of the words mean. Then there's always a tangent story to the meaning of the word, which is equally interesting. It's just a lot of information for one brain to take in during two hours. I wrote down as many notes as I can, but now looking through them... I have no idea what I was writing. It's ok, the more classes I take, the more this will sink in.

I learned about Shiva and Shakti and their two kids... obviously, with focus on Ganesh. I liked the duality of creator and creation... or masculine and feminine (which Aadil later pointed out in another class, doesn't mean man and woman—we have both qualities in us)... never changing (I am) and always changing (your surroundings). As always, finding the balance in ourselves and all that we do.

Fun fact... did you know the movie The Legend of Bagger Vance is based on the Bhagavada Gita? Here's an article explaining all the correlations.

Sunday • 10:30am-12:30pm • Yoga for a Broken Heart with Seane Corn
In the course of our lives, we will experience heartache—whether it is through unforeseen setbacks, the ending of a relationship, or the death of a loved one. Often these experiences are hard to move through because of the lingering effects of grief on one's soul. In this inspirational class, you'll learn to see beyond the grief, loss, and confusion. We'll work on being in the mystery of life so that we can stand powerfully in this journey with gratitude, reconciliation, understanding, and peace of mind. A wonderful opportunity to shift your resistance into surrender, your judgment into compassion, and your fear into faith. 
Yep, break out the kleenex. Seane started this class, bringing us all forward, closer together, gathered around her. She told us how her father asked her to teach a class on dealing with grief after he died. Obviously, her father had passed away... only 11 months ago. I'm still dealing with the effects of grief from my father dying in 1998. Today, I learned a lot more about that... why it's ok to experience that grief, but to not define yourself by it. And to learn that when we suppress these very natural, human, and rewarding emotions... we store them in our body to create physical and mental disease. The beautiful stories that Seane shared and asked others in the room to share were healing. She said that grief is the one thing we ALL have in common, but none of us experience the same way... that's how complex it is. And the more we open up spaces to talk about this grief, the sooner we can all heal and move forward in our lives. After this discussion (and many tears) we returned to our mats to move our body and release this tension. She asked us to offer up these emotions in our practice, with every sun salutation. To feel how our body changed when we let them go. Downward facing dog is hard when tears are rolling up your forehead and there is nonstop sniffling, but this was possibly the most empowering class I've had all weekend. So very grateful for those two hours, I plan to continue what I learned when faced with new obstacles and dealing with some old ones too.

Sunday • 3:30-5:30pm • The Yoga of Relationships with Aadil Palkhivala
Our life becomes harmonious when there is a feeling of connection and peace in our relationships. Indeed, all of life is nothing more than the building of our relationships with our own Self, with the people that we surround ourselves with, and with the context in which we are placed—our homes, our cities, and our earth. Understanding the philosophy of Purna Yoga is essential to building and maintaining these three critical relationships and to bringing harmony and fulfillment. 
I was excited for this class, because I knew I had my all day intensive with Aadil the following day, so to get a small two-hour dose of what was to come was comforting. Aadil is happy. You look at him and you can see he enjoys life. He was warm, knowledgeable, confident but not arrogant, unassuming, and... happy. It was fantastic.

I took more notes with Aadil than with any other class... filled a little pad of paper with Aadil's words. Crazy. I will not share all of those with you, because looking at how much there is to read in this blog entry is overwhelming enough. There are a few points I will share, that I think were really important:
• If we are not participating, we can't expect things to work out
• we always have a choice between having harmony and being right
• the person you are living with reflects you (think about that one in the middle of a fight, yikes)
• when the relationship is a priority—then, only, will it work
• creator needs it's creation... with out it, it is unmanifested
• judgement has ego... learn discernment
• there are 196 sutras... not one says this is right or this is wrong. Instead, they say, if you do this... you will get this.
• the body is the home to your soul. take care of it.

Monday • 9am-4:30pm • Mastery of the Mind and Body with Aadil Palkhivala
The art and science of yoga begins with the integration of the mind and body. For this process, the asanas (postures) are our primary focus, since the physical body is the most tangible part of us. Using the poses to develop awareness in the body and using the breath to deepen the poses, we begin to refine our bodies and minds and cultivate the ability to witness ourselves. This exploration of the mind-body connection eventually leads to the revelation of the more subtle parts of our nature. With practice, we begin to move every closer to our dharma, our unique and individual reason for living, and the true aime of yoga: wholeness In Purna Yoga, the control of the mind and body leads to self-empowerment and the acceptance of responsibility for the events in our lives. Come examine your body through various asanas and your mind through deep meditation, all culminating in self-empowerment and joy. 
Six hours with one teacher. What did I just get myself into? A friend of mine sent me my horoscope for last week, it asked that I try to do something that was impossible but fun. I wouldn't say six hours with Aadil is impossible, nor is being able to achieve what he's teaching. But walking into that room, I wasn't sure what I could do... and walking out I was excited for all I did, am doing, and will do. I'll spare you the pages and pages and pages of notes. For a small dose of what it's like to listen to Aadil, I'd check out his website, specifically his interviews

Recap of our class: 
• we learned a morning series to wake up our bodies
• we learned a classical namaskar (sun salutation) 
• we learned Tadasana, Mountain Pose, to stand... this was an eye opener to how we've trained our body to stand incorrectly all these years. 
• we learned proper positioning in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)
• we learned how to prep for Siriasana (headstand)
• we learned the proper way to roll our shoulders back in Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose)
• partner exercises (yay to Alexis, the only person I met during the weekend... thank you for taking the time to chat with me, that was a valuable lesson in itself)—learning to take responsibility for your actions
• mental centering 
• body of light meditation 

Reading that list, that Aadil went over at the end of class with us, looks ridiculous. Possibly because I learned something very valuable this weekend. The poses aren't important. Necessary. But not important. Which is why that list looks so empty to me... it was the teachings in between all these poses that were most valuable. Thank you Aadil (and Alexis) for an amazing Monday. 

There is so much more I should be sharing with you, but honestly, I'm pooped. And I assume if you've read this far (wow, thank you), you are too. I think it goes with out saying, you should try out a Yoga Journal Conference as soon as possible. I hope for it to become a yearly thing for me. 

6 responses:

  1. Anni,
    So glad that you had a great weekend...and that you had the chance to meet Aadil! You have an idea now of why this is my teacher. You are so right....Asana is soooo trivial and unimportant, (but necessary). Yoga is so much more than that. Glad you got a taste of that. Hope our paths cross again! Jill

  2. Jill, thank you SO much for suggesting Aadil to me. Did you do the Purna Yoga teacher training with him? They chatted about it a little bit, but I was curious what it was like from a student's perspective.

    I hope our paths cross again too... good things come out of it! Thank you again :)

  3. ps Jill is the teacher I met at Just Breathe in Joliet...

  4. I have done three 9 day Purna Yoga immersions with Aadil. Some of the classes were TT and some were Master classes and some were just Dharma talks. Looking forward to my 4th immersion with him in September at Moksha Yoga in Chicago. I did not do the 200 hr. TT with him but his 500 hr training and his Yoga Therapy training is on my "to do" list in the next few years.

  5. That's exciting! They said there was a beginner track I was thinking of checking out, here's hoping!

  6. I have done three 9 day Purna Yoga immersions with Aadil. Some of the classes were TT and some were Master classes and some were just Dharma talks. Looking forward to my 4th immersion with him in September at Moksha Yoga in Chicago. I did not do the 200 hr. TT with him but his 500 hr training and his Yoga Therapy training is on my "to do" list in the next few years.