I’ve always dreamed of attending one of the Yoga Journal conferences, and this year I received the best Christmas gift ever: a 4 day pass to the one in San Francisco! Super stoked, I perused through the course descriptions and started highlighting all my favorite yoga teachers’ classes. So many influential teachers and interesting workshops to choose from – I felt like I was in yoga heaven!
All the while, I was suffering from bilateral piriformis syndrome, costochondritis, and a painful ganglion cyst in my right wrist (all temporary, fixable, and often caused by excessive physical activity). Talk about poor timing! As my injuries worsened and the conference dates loomed, the realization became clearer that I needed to steer clear of the physical, fast-paced yoga classes. Trying to be a good yogini, I listened to my body and signed up for slow-paced, therapeutic sessions.
I took some amazing classes from astute teachers that focused on breathing, meditation, restorative yoga, and relaxation. Let me share with you a small sample of the yumminess packed into my four-day yoga vacation.
The first day was an All-Day Intensive with Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee. The purpose of their daylong intensive was to provide the attendees with an experience similar to a retreat where you restore and heal. It started with guided imagery to relax and release stored tension (a body scan) then progressed to a mindful yoga practice highlighting a sequence of poses for optimal alignment and balance. They also stressed the importance of allowing yourself to experience a pose rather than focusing on a goal of the “ideal” form of the pose.
My next class was an unexpected schedule change (and a very timely one at that, given my long list of injuries). Not completely listening to my body, I had scheduled my 8 am Saturday session with Baron Baptiste titled: Empowered Athlete (heated, mostly asana). He cancelled at the last minute due to a skiing injury, and I signed up for Yoga for the Face, Eyes, Ears, and Jaw with Tias Little. Tias’ class consisted of a lecture, guided meditation, and simple exercises demonstrating the structural affects emotional holding has on the throat and jaw region. Even though I ignored my body and attempted an energetic class, luckily things aligned and I stumbled into the exact class I needed to take.
With my chai tea in hand, ready to soak up Bo Forbes’ elaborate findings on yoga therapy, I settled into my next 2-hour session. Bo did an excellent job highlighting poignant research studies that support yoga as the container for mind-body awareness. She focused on making your time on the yoga mat your practice lab – your way of tuning into your body – and using this awareness to heal emotional imbalances (anxiety, depression).
Continuing down the same path of calming the nervous system, I planned my last session of the day perfectly: restorative yoga with Judith Hanson Lasater. Ahhh, this class was very relaxing and we only did three yoga poses! In a friendly, open, and hands-on manner, she taught us that restorative yoga is not about stretching but about opening – to feel supported by the props and drop into relaxation. Again the topic of not having a goal surfaced as she laughed and pointed out “there is no such thing as competitive relaxation.”
The following day, I quickly raised my heartbeat in Dharma Mittra’s mostly asana class for intermediate / advanced practitioners. This class was the epitome of physical, dramatic, power through yoga, which was in stark contrast to all the other sessions I attended. This session highlighted the “no pain, no gain,” philosophy literally when Dharma Mittra spoke these words while leading us through urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose). The class ended in round robin yoga where students came into the middle of a circle showing off their most elaborate, bendy, and difficult poses.
My day closed with Gary Kraftsow’s lecture-heavy session on the art of sequencing following by a well-deserved session on yoga nidra by Rod Stryker (where I managed to take 2 naps!). It’s safe to say that by this time I was definitely enjoying the relaxing side of a yoga practice.
To complete the conference, I signed up for Monday’s All-Day Intensive with Bo Forbes (a second time, because there is so much to learn from her!) and Scott Blossom on Cultivating Happiness. Drawing from Bo’s background in yoga and psychotherapy, and Scott’s Ayurveda training, this class was the icing on the cake of all that I had learned the entire conference – this notion of less efforting and more allowing for optimal well-being. Healing comes from slowing down, feeling more, and doing less. What a culture shock this was for me! These lessons are what I preach in yoga therapy, and, as so often is the case, what the teacher needs to hear. Case in point: my current injuries all stem from the opposite of these nuggets of wisdom.
Surprisingly, my experience at the Yoga Journal conference was a very welcomed and timely shift in my personal practice. I know it sounds like a classic story of a yogini who pushes too far, develops an injury, and then resorts to slow-paced, relaxing yoga – well, that’s me. I’m here to share my story with you in hopes that perhaps you can do a little less efforting and a little more allowing today.