Why go to a Yoga Journal Conference after all? Isn’t it really just an uber-workshop and wouldn’t you be better served to go to single, local workshops over several weekends in order to really absorb it all?
Usually I’d exhort, “Local!” except in this one instance. Don’t get me wrong, local is the way to go for regular instruction, produce and other necessities of daily life. Not only are you connected through geography, ecosystem and economy but you maintain access and build relationships. All vital and important. What the Yoga Journal Conference does is to bring myriad styles into one place for a super blast of combined energy that will knock you out of routine and into your asana.
Many studios have an eclectic blend of teachers, classes and styles, but there is no better way than a YJ conference to get extended classes, nearly back-to-back, with the most well known – usually innovators – of various styles in one place for an intense weekend that will fuel your practice for months to come.
The absorption problem is a real one: by the final regular conference session the most common topic of conversation while awaiting entrance to the room is how yoga’d out everyone is. Most folks have been twisted, turned upside down and held in Warrior II so many times and ways they’re staggering slightly, and the tension has been so wrung from most necks that heads wobble with a gentle yoga smile. But this is more opportunity than challenge: for months to come, pearls of wisdom draped languidly around already wrung out shoulders will slowly roll onto the mat at your feet. You’ll exclaim, “Oh! That’s what she was talking about!” You also learn after repeated exposure to sprinkle “mainly lecture” classes into your schedule at opportune times.
There’s no way to review the entire conference, because so many different classes and styles are represented at each of the six regular session slots, and the optional plenary activities are rife as well. For my own part, I was overjoyed at my ability to change my schedule after the first day. My experiences with 2 teachers on that first day drew me to seek more the next. Sarah Powers’ Yin Yoga Friday evening class was a revelation in both Yin practice and meditation. Julie Gudmestad’s precision and experience cracked the shells of anatomical issues I’ve been rolling around for awhile.
Yin yoga features long holds of lower body poses on the floor with minimal muscular effort to tone the meridians while also strengthening and encouraging a healthy balance of pliability in connective tissue. Having practiced yin for years, I’m convinced of its efficacy and value. Powers’ teaching took me to an entire cavern of meaning I’d only intuited before. Her assistant, Meg, was so attuned and precise with her adjustments that resistance was almost magically dissolved. Powers’ interweaving of other styles into the Yin practice is masterful. Appropriate, since she’s an innovator alongside Paul Grilley in this deep and often misunderstood style.
Gudmestad’s workshops were different entirely, more lecture oriented as befits her expertise in physical therapy and her focus on precision and alignment with anatomical knowledge. She brings her anatomical models, which is a boon to teaching about internal structures most yogis find vaguely mysterious and irrelevant. Gudmestad makes clear and powerful the relevance that the asana she teaches after instructing on anatomy are vitalized and invigorated and adjustments are elegantly minimalist and deep. Her eye and intellect are fused to laser like focus shared by few.
YJSF 2011 was limited only by its venue, and in ways that are probably endemic to mainstream conference venues such as the Hyatt Regency. If you’re headed to San Francisco for a getaway, I’m sure this is a luxurious choice. I was pleasantly surprised by the hotel restaurant, the Eclipse and it’s broad menu, excellent preparation and delightful service. I had the best salad of my life – the shrimp and scallop – on the recommendation of my server the first day. They had enticing vegetarian options and it was a lovely experience. The personnel were universally helpful and pleasant.
There’s simply no getting around the fact that these conference venues aren’t meant for people to roll around on the floor and engage in intense practices of purification, shedding smells and toxins into the enclosed hotel atmosphere. The lights are’t very adjustable, dimmers are not part of the equipment, and while the ventilation is great for even strenuous hotel activity, for thousands of yogis exhaling all at once it’s not optimal.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the Estes Park location, where you are in a dedicated mountain lodge with incredibly clean, clear air and the wild so close you can actually touch it. The lodge serves a vegeterian buffet that will woo the most dedicated omnivore, and you walk outside between sessions, cultivating a sense of oneness with all. YJ’s tremendous variety of conferences in diverse locations probably outshines any my idiosyncratic nit-picking… but sign me up for Estes!