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mmm, tasty yoga! (image via http://www.yogasitasf.com)

I love community. I love the community that has sprouted up around it’s all yoga, baby, and I love the wider community that the blog has connected me to. I love that blog comments and Twitter allow me to connect with people all over North America, from the comfort of my living room (or on the bus, at the café, wherever I happen to be).

As much as I love online community, I love real community even more. But I have to admit, it’s harder. I have to leave my house. I have to fit it into my schedule. And often, community, or my ideal of community, can be difficult to access. Last summer I went to Toronto for the Yoga Festival Toronto, and I was amazed (and even a little jealous!) of the yoga community there. I saw a celebration of diversity, integrity and progressive ideas. When I returned to Montreal, it seemed pale in comparison to what’s happening in Toronto. I wondered: What is happening in my own city? Where do I even begin to find it? Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Canada Day! Did you know that the Canadian yoga community is getting a bit of a reputation for being intelligent and innovative? It’s true! It’s also true that the conversations in the yoga blogosphere (an act known as “yogging”) are helping to push the contemporary North American yoga community in new directions. Yogging as a practice will be explored in a special panel at the Yoga Festival Toronto (August 19-21, 2011) which I am very happy to be part of, along with Carol Horton and Bob Weisenberg.

In preparation for this panel, I’m going to be investigating what it means to be on the cutting edge of a supposedly ancient tradition, why I blog about yoga, and what blogging can contribute to the practice, and you can keep up with all the action here on it’s all yoga, baby. Carol already got the party started on elephant journal with her provocative post, Why Yoga Blogging Matters.

I had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Yoga Festival Toronto and it was one of the most inspiring and affirming yoga gatherings that I’ve ever been to. Here’s an introduction to the festival, with an interview with the organizers, and my post-festival roundup.

So I’m back in Montreal after a lovely weekend urban retreat at Yoga Festival Toronto. As the pre-event package suggested, I approached the whole weekend as a retreat, and I was lucky enough to have a whole apartment to myself in the east end of the city during my stay, supporting my retreat. The 3-day festival was an inspired and inspiring event. I attended nine workshops/seminars, two keynotes and a closing party with storytelling and music. I met many amazing people, had some great conversations and ate good food.

Best of all, I discovered a vibrant community of Toronto-based yoga teachers and practitioners who are engaged with the evolution of yoga, and they are having an intelligent, informed, inclusive and passionate dialogue. And there was plenty of dialogue, along with questions and explorations, at the festival. In addition to the formal conversations (lectures and keynotes), there were spontaneous connections that popped up in the hallways of the National Ballet School, in the lunch line-up, even in the bathrooms.

It’s difficult to summarize all the insights and learnings I received over the weekend, so what I’ll do is list my five favourite sessions (in no particular order) and tell you why I loved them.

Crescence Krueger, Creation: The Heart of Yoga
The small gathering, 9 people, was very intimate ~ which suited the subject and Crescence’s belief that “yoga is relationship.” We sat in a circle while Crescence Kruger, a doula, yoga teacher and student of Mark Whitwell, lead us through an organic discussion on the connection between yoga and birth and motherhood. She started off by introducing the teachings/approach, then explained what happens in childbirth and how it is a spiritual experience. Crescence had a soft but clear presence, and she spoke of motherhood and spirituality without being sentimental or romantic. Her talk easily flowed into a group conversation, very fluid and open, as people talked about their impressions of birth and asked questions. The conversation was so great that Crescence lost track of time and we weren’t able to do her planned asana practice, just squeezing in 7 minutes at the end.

Michael Stone, Yoga For A World Out of Balance
I just think Michael Stone is great. Even though I’d already heard the content of this talk when he came to Montreal in the spring, and it’s pretty much what he’d written in his book, he’s talking about stuff that I need to hear over and over. It’s a message that never gets old. So when Michael started off his talk by saying, “Yoga is a vehicle for waking people up, so we can bring militarism and consumerism to an end,” I just wanted to raise my fist in the air and say, “Hell yeah!” And when Michael said that yoga is “a way of being counter-cultural,” I had to ask how this happens. While I agree with him, yoga often does not feel counter-cultural to me; it feels completely mainstream and commercialized. After a little thought, he responded: practice, finding good teachers, not just self-inventing what you like to do, make sure that the internal insights are being expressed, and put your practice to work. Hell yeah.

Michael Stone speaks to an enraptured audience of yogis.

Read the rest of this entry »

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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