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Y’all might remember that I loved Kelly McGonigal‘s “Befriending the Body” workshop at last summer’s Being Yoga conference at Omega. So I was very happy when she told me about her new book, Yoga for Pain Relief, and so generously offered a guest blog post ~ and mp3 to practice with! Read on to see what she has to say about this lovely practice, “Listening to Your Body“:

Consider how you would describe a true friend. For starters, you feel comfortable around her. You feel at home and free to be yourself. Being around her puts you in a better mood. When you’ve had a bad day or are anxious, you might feel a need to connect with her. You can count on her to be there for you when you need her. You also care about her well-being, and you know that you would be there for her in a time of need. You enjoy helping her. When she has a problem, you listen. You look for ways to make her happy. You encourage her when she’s down. You see the good in her, even when she can’t. You are proud to be associated with her. You are grateful for her and can’t imagine life without her.

Does this sound like how you feel about your body? Or does it sound hopelessly different from your relationship with your body—so ridiculous that you can’t imagine anyone feeling that way about his or her body?

One of the greatest gifts of yoga is the chance to redefine your relationship with your body—the companion that has been with you through every moment of your life, and will be with you for the rest of this journey. Read the rest of this entry »

The Om Cabinet (courtesy of YogaDawg, of course)

The Om Cabinet (courtesy of YogaDawg* of course)

We all have our feelings about celebrity yoga teachers. Personally, I try to avoid the yoga glitteratti and take opportunities to study with lesser known, more low-key teachers. But I can’t deny that I’m fascinated by celebrity teachers and follow their moves (in the same way that I get obsessed with regular celebrities like Britney Spears, the Olsen Twins and Beyonce – and of course, nothing is more fascinating to me than celebrities who do yoga).

So I was pretty interested in this article that Joelle at Yoga Nation wrote for the YogaCityNYC blog, based on interviews with celebrity teachers that she did while at the Omega Center’s Being Yoga conference. I was at that conference, too (and actually met Joelle at breakfast one morning), but I didn’t even think about doing any interviews with the big name teachers. I actually did my best to avoid the celebrity teachers, and instead spent my free time in the sauna and scuttling around campus, thinking of myself as living the yoga retreat version of David Foster Wallace‘s essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

Anyway, what’s interesting about this article is that Joelle just straight-up asked these teachers what it’s like to be a world-famous yoga teacher. She asked them their thoughts about creating a brand or style of yoga, and letting fame go to one’s head. Here are some of their responses:

Shiva Rea – “I’m not trying to create a style of yoga or a personal branding. My intention is to serve the life force. I’ve never had a PR agent or invited myself somewhere. Everything has happened because of the shakti manifesting in me.

David Life – “Everyone who’s developed a ‘style’ has focused on things in the practice that worked for them. That’s what they passed along.  Everyone has teachers. The idea of creating something out of nothing doesn’t make sense.”

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa – “Yogi Bhajan noticed that my aura had grown out to here” – as she spread arms wide apart – “and then just stopped. It wasn’t connected to the earth anymore.”

What I found interesting is that after reading the piece, I found that I did believe that all those teachers have reached their status because of “the shakti manifesting” within them. When most of the teachers Joelle talked to started teaching, the concept of celebrity yoga teachers didn’t even exist. I’m sure that none of them started teaching or practicing yoga with the intention or desire to get famous. They were just doing their thing and got caught up in the cultural wave that launched them into a parallel universe of yogi stardom.

Compared to the up-and-coming generation of wannabe celebrity teachers (Sadie Nardini and Tara Stiles come to mind) they all seem almost naïve or optimistic. It’s refreshing, actually, and reminds me that they have more integrity than I sometimes think. I’m going to throw this one out to y’all: Are you glamoured by celebrity teachers? Or do you question their integrity? What kinds of experiences have you had with the big name teachers – do they live up to the hype?

* check out YogaDawg’s original Om Cabinet here.

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).

Read the rest of this entry »

The Omega Institute's beautiful (but awkwardly named) Long Pond Lake.

Omega's beautiful (but awkwardly named) Long Pond Lake.

Okay, so tomorrow morning I’m getting on a train and taking the long journey from Montréal to Rhinebeck, NY (it’ll be my first time in NY state! and my first train ride in America!) for the 2009 Being Yoga Conference Retreat at the Omega Institute. As I’ve noted before, this will be my first time at a yoga conference as a regular old participant ~ I’ve only previously attended conferences to hawk ascent magazines, and the experience was always a little weird.

This is pretty much the Yoga Establishment here, and most of the teachers are familiar names on the conference circuit: Shiva Rea, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee, Aadil Palkhivala, Seane Corn, Tias Little, Sharon Salzberg, David Swenson, etc. What sets this apart from previous Omega conferences (and the behemoth Yoga Journal conferences) is the location: the 195-acre holistic retreat centre. There’s even a lake! And a sauna!

The official press release for the event states, “By moving the conference, which has been held for several years in large city hotel environments to their rural campus, Omega offers a new approach to large scale gatherings for yoga practitioners and teachers, one that can foster community and provide an inspiring space for learning.”

So these are my intentions for this conference:

  1. Learn some stuff about yoga!
  2. Avoid celebrity teachers and “big” names.
  3. Hang out in the sauna as much as possible.

You can expect live blogging coverage of the whole weekend (though not of the sauna, pervs). But I’m not going to be tweeting about it. And I don’t know how to work a video camera, so there’ll be no multimedia coverage. I will be going into this experience with my notebook and a critical lens. Is this kind of gathering the way of the future? How is this relevant? I’ve noticed a small wave of criticism of “conference culture” within the online yoga community, and I’ve also observed changes in how practitioners gather (such as this year’s Wanderlust Festival and the  Yoga Festival Toronto, both of which are more eclectic or grassroots). So what exactly is it about conferences that garners criticism? I’ll just have to find out!

I’ll be missing the half-day intensives on Friday, but I’ll get to Omega just in time for dinner and the 8pm opening yoga session co-taught by all of the yoga faculty (it’ll be interesting to see how that turns out). While there is a lot more than just yoga going on this weekend (including dance, environmental activism and vegetarian cooking), I’ve signed up for straight-up yoga workshops. Because really, I’m more interested in yoga than anything else.

In an attempt to cover my wide range of yoga interests (scripture, yoga therapy, anatomy, Anusara and activism), here are the people I plan on taking workshops with:

Reverend Jaganath Carrera – kicking it old school with the wise bearded guru from the Integral Yoga tradition, and disciple of Swami Satchidananda.

Kelly McGonigal – my interests are turning towards yoga therapy and pain management, so I’m intrigued by her workshop, “Befriending the Body.” Kelly teaches yoga, meditation, and mind-body psychology at Stanford University and has a deep interest in the mind-body connection and psychology (I guess all yoga teachers do, but seriously check out her long dense bio).

Stephen Weiss – it’s a yoga anatomy workshop! I’m an anatomy nerd, and I’m particularly interested in this guy because he’s a holistic chiropractor. In my experience, I’ve seen a big schism between yogis and chiropractors. However, I’ve also experienced profound healing through chiropractic treatments. So I’m curious to see how this guy, the official Omega chiropractor, bridges these worlds.

Amy Ippiloti – I’ve been immersed in Anusara for the past couple of years, so I’m excited to study with a senior Anusara teacher.

Seane Corn – okay, so I’m breaking my celebrity teacher vow, but I have a lot of respect for this Jersey girl and I’m aligned with her vision of service-oriented yoga. Looking forward to concluding the conference with an upbeat vinyasa class and inspiring talk about saving the world.

Okay, gotta go finish packing. Hopefully next year, I’ll get a chance to attend this awesome yoga conference (courtesy of YogaDawg).

Gak! Where did the time go? I have no explanation for my blog absence. A day goes by, then another day, and suddenly it’s 9 days after my last post. I don’t even have an excuse, since I have no job or volunteer responsibilities. And it’s been monsoon season in Montréal, so I haven’t even been outside working on my tan. But I have started up a new session of French school, and I’ve been all DIY lately – fixed my bike (myself! with the help of the lovely folks at the Mile End Bike Garage), hacked a wireless connection (my own, not even illegal, so there), and finished the never-ending knitted blanket. These little projects, and general summer revelry, have kept me away from my computer.

BeingYogaSo I’m getting ready for the upcoming Omega Institute yoga conference, Being Yoga 2009, which will be happening August 21 – 23 at the Rhinebeck campus in upstate New York. It will feature the usual suspects in the yoga community, such as Shiva Rea, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee, Seane Corn, etc. But there will also be a focus on living your yoga, and there will also be sessions on non-yoga modalities (tai chi, dance, Thai massage). The institute is committed to sustainable living practices, and this event will be an opportunity for them to show off their recently completed Omega Center for Sustainable Living. This state-of-the-art building has been getting attention from the national media for its innovation and eco-friendliness (see this Fast Company article).

I have a love/hate relationship with yoga conferences. On one hand, I love the idea of yoga teachers and practitioners gathering in one space to share ideas and practices. But the reality of the conference structure – with back-to-back workshops and no common meeting area – leaves little time for conversation or exchange of ideas/experiences. Most of these events are held in 5-star hotels or conference centres, which are sterile and bland and kind of surreal. The exhibition hall can be a consumer frenzy – and since I’ve usually attended these events representing ascent magazine, I’ve felt caught up in this frenzy, but also oddly removed. It’s been disheartening to sit at our little booth and watch everyone rush straight towards the chakra jewellery and tie-dyed yoga pants. (I did also get to meet long-time readers and sincere practitioners who are yearning for connection and depth, so that was a good thing.)

Anyway, I expect this conference will be a little more low-key and simple, with a retreat feel and better food. I’ve been pouring over the schedule, trying to narrow down my choices – it’s so hard, when there are 8 or 10 sessions happening during each time slot! And I’ll have no magazines to hawk, so I’ll be able to purely immerse myself in the experience for the whole weekend.

Watch some famous yoga teachers tell you why you should be there:
Being Yoga in Rhinebeck from Omega Institute on Vimeo.

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