Toronto's yoga community comes together for the Yoga Festival Toronto, August 20 - 22

Recent developments in the yoga world are making it clear that the movement is evolving, growing and coming up against many cultural challenges. Yoga practitioners, teachers and scholars in Toronto have already identified the need to take a periodic “time-out” to ask questions, share experiences and practice together.

Their response is the 3rd annual Yoga Festival Toronto, the flagship event for Yoga Community Toronto (YOCOTO), which will be taking place August 20 – 22. In a manifesto on the website, the event is described as a “yearly festival of the Yoga Tradition inspired by content, vision, and community. The Festival aims to unite, inspire and support local practitioners, teachers, studios, and lineages with a broad range of presentation topics, practical classes, and round-table discussion and debate.”

There are several things that make this festival unique and innovative: the “sattvic” location (the National Ballet School in downtown Toronto), a vision which extends beyond the 3 days of the festival, and a faculty comprised solely of local teachers (inspired by the 100-Mile Diet model). The weekend schedule is structured around a morning meditation practice, followed by asana and lecture sessions, afternoon workshops, a keynote address and evening entertainment.

The festival is a reminder that we don’t have to depend on national conferences, commercial magazines, corporate sponsored events and A-list teachers to enrich and inspire our practice.  We can do it ourselves, in our own communities – and this festival serves as an inspiring model for cities around North America.

Two of the festival co-directors, Matthew Remski and Jennifer Taillifer, agreed to answer a few questions via email, and further explain the intention behind the weekend.

What are the aims and goals of Yoga Festival Toronto?

MR: Discourse.  Community formation.  The exploration of yoga as a personal-evolution movement with deep social implications.  Recovering the intimacy of yogic pedagogy in an age of commodification.  Marking the difference between transaction and transformation.  Figuring out who’s been doing their work quietly and earnestly, and shining some light on them.  Eating good food and dancing around.

JT: The goal of the festival is to create a venue and a time for all practitioners in the city to come together in community, to learn from and inspire each other.  We want to include everyone, regardless of what lineage, or what studio, or what branch they follow.

How does this event differ from a yoga conference or other gathering? What makes it a festival?

MR: No sponsors, no commercialism, no A-list yogis, no trade-show feeling, and a sattvic venue.  It’s a festival in its aim to celebrate diversity and conversation.

JT: To me, what makes this a festival is the involvement of the community.  This is not just a conference where people come to hear teachers speak, although our faculty is amazing!  When the community can spend time learning, and talking together we can really make a difference in our city, our lives and our practices.  It is the unique contribution of each community member at the event that makes it a true festival.

This is the 3rd annual event ~ how has it evolved/changed/grown in the past 3 years?

MR: Mainly we’ve moved from an event-model to a year-round membership model, so that we can fulfill our mandate above and beyond the context of the festival.  We’ve also narrowed our focus down to our strengths: top-notch programming, paradigm-shifting presenters, and an open heart towards the present evolution of yoga as an art form and transformative behaviour.

JT: I think the goal has become clearer.  While we still want to provide wonderful teachers and classes in more than just asana, it has proven to be the discussions, roundtables, and community events that have really set us apart.

What kind of events do you hold in between the annual August festivals?

MR: Roundtables and panel discussions featuring yoga community mentors on diverse topics: Being with Cancer, Yoga and Gender, Yoga and Ecology.

JT: Being with Cancer brought together representatives of the yoga, naturopathic, bio-ethics, ayurvedic, and allopathic communities to discuss the current methods of treating cancer, and supporting cancer patients and their loved ones.  It was a powerful evening!  The off-season events are really intended to shine a light, or provide a conversation around issues that matter to the Toronto yoga community.

This year, I understand that 100% of the faculty is local (from the Greater Toronto Area). Was this a conscious decision? In what was it based?

MR: We’re working on the 100-Mile Diet model, because we feel that the closest connections that we can make as a yoga community are those that involve proximal contact.  The yoga tradition has always been transmitted “chest to chest.”  It is an oral tradition, an intimate conversation about life.  This makes it unsuited, in our view, to weekend-long fly-in relationships.  We also feel we’re on the forefront of a trend.  The big retreat centres are suffering in attendance these days not only from a depressed economy, but because their return market has had about enough of the blow-through holiday-weekend workshop vibe.  We want to use this event to help people find each other where they live, so that bonds can develop that are stronger than what you glean from websites and booking your intensives online.

JT: In previous years we said we were about celebrating local talent, and yet we were still importing teachers.  We really wanted to make the point that you do not need to look outside our community in order to receive world-class teaching.  We have such a wealth here.  I think our schedule of programming this year really proves us right!

How has the Yoga Festival Toronto been received by the community ~ yoga and otherwise? What does it contribute to the community?

MR: We’ve brought together studio owners who have never met (a free Ayurvedic dinner is very effective for this.). We’ve exposed each other to our wealth of experience.  We’ve smudged the lines of both business and lineage.  We’ve shown ourselves that the DIY ethos of the 60s isn’t quite dead and gone yet.  We’ve shown ourselves that the public face of yoga doesn’t have to be owned by the bendy beautiful people.  People love it because they finally feel included in an extended family that flows with many shared values, and enough healthy friction to create some dynamic heat.

JT: Everyone has really embraced the idea.  I have not heard any negative feedback about the idea of Yoga Community Toronto.  I think that people resonate with the idea of coming together and celebrating our different points of view.  Everyone in the city who practices yoga is adding to the rich tapestry of the practice.  Someone who practices another form of yoga is not detracting from your practice.  We all have a yoga that works best for us, and we can all learn from each other’s studies.

it’s all yoga, baby will be at the festival, bringing you all the wisdom and insights via Twitter and a post-event roundup (no liveblogging, because I will be too busy yoga-ing). I’ll probably be the only person traveling more than 100 miles to get there – but at least I’m taking the train from Montreal!