Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lessons Learned: Yoga Journal Conference San Diego 2012

It's been a few weeks now since my first Yoga Journal Conference and I am so excited to share what it was like to experience the event as both a teacher and a student. There were many lessons learned that weekend that I hope to carry with me in my heart for a very long time.

This whole journey started back in February 2012 when announcements for the first ever YJ Conference in San Diego went out. The ad featured a woman in a wetsuit doing Wheel Pose on a Stand Up Paddleboard....typical California, right?! I absolutely needed to be there! So, I reached out to/stalked YJ and kindly asked/gently pleaded that they add our unique "Nautical Flow" SUP Yoga workshop to the offerings. It took a few weeks but finally, they welcomed us into the Conference as the first-ever "SUP Yoga presenters" - teaching not one, but TWO workshops! LESSON LEARNED: Ask and you shall receive.

We spent the next few months prepping our 2 hour workshops and working out all the kinks. A few days before the Conference, with the excitement brewing, our YJ contact informed me that our Saturday workshop had sold-out and the Sunday workshop had just a few spots left - woohoo! Going into the weekend, I felt super proud of all our hard work and just a twinge of "I'm so excited/nervous I'm going to puke!" If you look closely at the picture below, you can see all of these emotions on my face. Here is our team (Kathryn McCann, myself and Gillian Gibree) on Friday, checking into the Conference - so stoked on life!
My Presenters badge - I think I might keep this forever... ;)

 Saturday was an amazing day! We had 18 super enthusiastic yogis in the workshop, ready to dive head first into practicing yoga on a stand-up paddle board. Many of the participants came from the East Coast, Midwest and even Alaska (!) where they otherwise wouldn't have this opportunity, so their positive energy and enthusiasm fueled the whole experience. Not to mention, LUNA came through as a sponsor and they provided everyone with awesome goody bags filled with delicious snacks and we gave each participant a "live, laugh, paddle" tank to take home as a memory of their time in San Diego.

The weather was perfect (very little wind, overcast and calm seas) so we were able to do tons of yoga on the boards and give them the full SUP Yoga experience. One woman in the class was from New Jersey and so excited to be there. She paddled over to me and said, "I don't care if I fall in, I'm going to at least attempt a headstand today!"  Well, alright! As the end of the class came near, I walked them through getting into a headstand on the board and...SPLASH! There she went! She had a huge smile on her face as she fell in and jumped right back on the board to try again. It was an awesome ice-breaker because then some of the other students felt comfortable trying the riskier poses (like Tree and Wheel) and not taking it all too seriously.

LESSON LEARNED: When we push ourselves out of our comfort zones (me = teaching at YJ Conference and her = headstanding on a board floating on top of water), we provide ourselves with an opportunity to step it up and experience real growth!
 Here is an awesome group shot of the class.... 

The photographer from LUNA bar asked me to do some fun poses to
feature on their website and facebook page. Here is one of them....

Saturday night, we came back to the Sheraton all dolled up for the Presenter's Dinner, where we got to mingle with the YJ staff, drink delicious sulfate-free wine from Aum Cellars (my new fave!) and eat amazing vegetarian food with our yoga heroes.

Sunday was a truly amazing and unique day where I got to experience the Conference purely as a student. I took part in two 2-hour workshops on Sunday. First was a contemplative workshop with Dharma Mittra, which was purely discussion, called Extreme Maja Raja: The Foundation is Being Receptive to Grace. My 63 year-old Mother-in-law lives in NYC, where Dharma Mittra's studio is located and practices with him a few times a week. She, along with many of my yogi friends have raved about him so I thought I would check him out...and I'm so glad I did! Here are some of the key LESSONS LEARNED from my time with Dharma Mittra:
  • Alternate Nostril Breathing: Practice 12 minutes every morning to slow your heart rate, still your mind and keep you focused and sharp all day long. Side note: since the Conference, I have been practicing this everyday (not 12 minutes, more like 2) but I love how clear it makes me feel. I highly recommend trying it!
  • "Yoga is when you realize who you truly are."  - true!
  • "You have to practice detachment - pranayama (breath work) and light food will help" Dharma is a big believer in a very light, plant-based diet and restricting yourself to cultivate a strong practice of discipline. I think we could all use a little more of this, right?! Fancy cheeses are my weakness!!!
  • "Every yogi must have a juicer" - Here, he went on a totally random tangent about his love of juicing, but I liked it! Dharma is a goofy old man :)
  •  "The Chakras are very intelligent - they are like the software of the whole computer body." I've been ignoring my chakra practice over the past few years, so this was a nice reminder for me to remember the energetic level of my own body and that of my students'. There are unseen blockages that we can clear out to make everything flow a little more smoothly, so why not give it a go?! 
  • "Intoxicate with spiritual bliss" - no super deep meaning to me here, I just love how it sounds. Maybe I'll put it on a t-shirt :)
  • Dharma Mittra is 73 years old - True Yoga is about longevity. Slow and steady wins the race. When I'm that age, I want to be as physically strong, as calm in my mind and as dedicated to my practice as he is.
Here is a Dharma leading an asana (physical) practice at the Conference. Below is a photo of Heather, my friend and yoga mentor, after her 8 hour Intensive with Dharma on Friday. Her face says it all: pure bliss......

The second class I took on Sunday was Kathryn Budig's signature "AIM TRUE" workshop. It was exactly what I needed as a conclusion to my weekend at YJ: casual, fun, light-hearted and passionate. The workshop ended up being about an hour and 15 minutes of informal discussion and about 40 minutes of working through "scary poses" - those poses we avoid out of fear. Not necessarily the hardest, most advanced poses - one woman introduced herself as a breast cancer survivor and shared that Bridge and full Wheel are her "scary poses" because the reproductive organs are on full display in those.

Here we are working into inversions....Kathryn is a dedicated,
passionate teacher who truly wants to see her students FLY!

During the discussion portion, Kathryn explained her connection to AIM TRUE, which is derived from this prayer to her favorite Greek goddess, Artemis: "Make my aim true. Give me goals to seek and the constant determination to achieve them." She has adopted this as her life mantra and interprets it in her everyday life to mean: stay focused on goals, stay determined to succeed, and always be authentic to me - not others expectations of me. She then had us write down 3 "amazing & unique qualities" that we embody. I wrote down:

1) I am creative
2) I am a loyal, caring friend.
3) I am optimistic and always see the positive.

Building on that, she had us answer this: "How can I use my amazing & unique qualities to AIM TRUE?"  My answer: I can continue to cultivate my creativity to create beautiful clothing, events and yoga sequences that inspire others to move towards the positive.

Another LESSON LEARNED from Kathryn's workshop is when she was talking about her experience first starting out in the yoga world in LA, of all places, where the talent is impeccable and everyone is on top of their game. One's natural inclination is to be jealous/envious or put yourself down and think that you can never be on that level. Through many ups and downs, this is what she has learned:"Yes, there will always be people who can do it better than you, but that's a good thing! Start to see Competition as INSPIRATION, not envy." Great advice from a great girl!

Thank you, KB for being my constant inspiration.

This was an incredibly auspicious, full-circle way to end my weekend at Yoga Journal Conference San Diego, where I was surrounded by impeccable talent, open-hearted yogis and an abundance of lessons learned. Until next time, Namaste!

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