main-office-tallSo the conference has come to a close, and I’m feeling the shakti vibe and getting ready for one last session in the sauna. The past 48 hours have been very full and I’m still trying to process it all. So much for my “liveblogging” ~ seriously though, as if I had time for the internet what with yoga and food and the lake and the sauna. Also, left my camera at home! But before I forget, here are the highlights from the weekend…

Location Location Location: As they say in real estate, it’s all about location. And it definitely makes a difference to a yoga gathering, too. The Omega Institute is a beautiful facility with a delightful staff (though you gotta watch out for those little golf carts they drive around). It’s amazing to come out of a yoga practice and step into fresh air and tree-lined paths. I even saw a wild turkey while I waited for one session to start (it was the biggest turkey I’ve ever seen! I thought it was some kind of mini ostrich!).

An actual sense of community & connection: I think the location had a lot to do with this, as everyone let down their urban shield. We were also sleeping and eating in the same spaces, so I kept seeing the same smiling faces over and over again. I enjoyed some beautiful and inspiring conversations over tasty organic veggie meals in the Omega dining hall (and in the sauna, of course).

No exhibition marketplace: I especially noticed this because my previous yoga conference experience has been behind a booth in the exhibition hall, watching the consumer mania. There was less of a commercialized frenzy, and between and after workshops there was time to sit in the garden, watch the lake, lay on the grass. (And if you really needed to buy the latest celebrity teacher DVD, there was the beautiful Omega bookstore – which was admittedly packed the whole time.)

Yeah, so how were the sessions? They were small and intimate ~ even the biggest draws had 90 people max. The sessions took place in different buildings around the Omega campus, and all the buildings had hardwood floors and lots of windows. Again, this just really made the experience much more pleasant. The highlights for me were Amy Ippiloti’s inversion workshop (moving though fear, yeah!) and Kelly McGonigal’s yoga therapy class (she was really warm and compassionate, I love the way she uses language and I felt that I could take what I learned from her into my own teaching practice).

I should have known that an anatomy workshop had the potential to be boring, but Stephen Weiss seriously did a Powerpoint presentation. Nevertheless, I learned a few new little tricks that I can take into my practice and understanding of my body. I switched into a Dharma Mittra workshop to experience a “living yoga master,” but only ended up with a long and disorganized lecture on yoga philosophy, covering all of the 8 limbs and yamas and niyamas (in a mere two hours). There was too much telling us what we should do (drink water, eat vegetarian, meditate, order scriptures off the internet) for me to find it inspiring.

Seane Corn led an inspired “Off the Mat, Into the World” class, though at times it felt like a well-rehearsed sermon (she kept up a steady monologue while guiding us through the vinyasa series). Still, she challenged everyone in the room to make a 40 day commitment to serve, and I’ve made a little service pledge to myself.

At the closing ceremony, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa called all of us pioneers and dreamers. And in a sense, we are ~ all of us who stepped out of our ordinary lives to deepen our experience of yoga (for the seasoned practitioners and teachers) or to explore a practice which intrigues us (for the many newbies, who just came to sample the smorgasbord of teachers/styles).

It was exciting to see Omega staff on the roster, to see the facility supporting its staff and offering opportunities. Omega could have even taken more risks with their programming, by relying less on the big names and instead showcasing newer and younger teachers.

Another place where Omega fell short was in its service mandate ~ the “service hut” (which nobody could seem to find, even though it was on the way to the dining hall) felt like a token effort, and the space wasn’t inspiring or spirited. The blood donor clinic also felt random and unwelcoming.

The folks at Omega have blazed a new trail in opening the possibility of what a yoga gathering can be (while still keeping the focus on yoga and related modalities). This kind of gathering calls for a new language. Omega used “conference retreat” on their marketing materials, though the event wasn’t really either. While “conference” is the terminology that people are familiar with, it didn’t have that feel when taken out of the hotel/convention centre context. It wasn’t celebratory enough to be a “festival,” either. Personally, I like “Yoga Summer Camp,” though not sure if the Omega marketing department would want to present it that way.

One of my questions going into this weekend was: Is this kind of event relevant? While I did have moments of feeling disengaged, I also witnessed glimmers of beauty. Like a young woman thanking Sharon Salzberg for her lovingkindness workshop the previous day, telling her that it was exactly the practice she needs in her life right now. Or the financial planner I sat next to at dinner, who had discovered yoga three months ago and recounted all the changes he felt in his life in this brief time – yet he still emanated this sadness and loneliness, and I can only hope he receives what he needs.

At the end of the day, I think it’s essential that there’s a space where yogis can come together to immerse themselves in an environment focused on yoga. A space that’s large enough to be inclusive and diverse, but small enough for people to reach one another.