Preparing Your Dosha for the Northwest Yoga Conference

By Katie Vincent

8170948596_071bc2400c_zIt’s the week before the Northwest Yoga Conference and although the daffodils are blooming, the excitement is reminiscent of the autumn back-to-school buzz as local yogis gather shiny new notebooks, sharpen their pencils and eagerly compare schedules with friends. But of course, this being yoga rather than calculus, there are completely different ways we need to prepare ourselves —body, mind and spirit—for a long weekend of intense study and socializing. This is where we turn to yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, to find harmony with the cycles of the earth and, hopefully, exist in a more peaceful state at the conference.

Krokusse_im_SchneeStrongly in tune with the seasons, Ayurveda considers this time of year to be when kapha—the earth/water element dosha—is liquefying and pitta—the fire/water element dosha—begins to rise, just as outside the soil thaws and the first bulbs emerge. For most of us, this means a general recommendation of moving more in the earlier hours of the day (between 6-10am), eating foods that are more light, dry, pungent and warming (early spring greens are seasonal and especially good) and sticking to a daily routine with three modest meals at regular times. Many with spring allergies find it helpful to incorporate a morning routine of clearing the nasal passages with a neti pot and following up with a nasya oil—an herb-infused sesame oil—in the nostrils. Most importantly, spring is a time of heightened play and spontaneity to move out any winter melancholy or stagnation, so be sure to make time to dance, goof off and be nonsensical with friends.

Translating this to the world of the yoga conference, Ayurveda would advise going to bed at an hour that will ensure you get eight hours of sleep before 6am. Start your day with a mini-routine of tongue scraping, sesame oil self-massage (abhyanga), light yoga and meditation. Pack wholesome meals and consume them slowly while seated on the floor to be present and truly enjoy the flavors. Above all, have fun!

If you identify with a particular dosha, consider the following tips:

  • Vata: Stay warm, packing extra layers in case the rooms get chilly. Base your sack lunch on oilier, heavier and more substantial foods but feel free to incorporate a few light, dry foods as tolerated. Warm and cooked is better than raw right now. Increase pungent, bitter and astringent flavors like garlic, turmeric and ginger. Steer clear of watermelon, tofu and white sugar when possible. Incorporate alternate nostril breathing throughout the day, as well as plenty of slow flow asana in a quiet corner to ground and center yourself.
  • Pitta: Take plenty of breaks to step outside and play in the cool fresh air. In workshops, embrace a non-competitive attitude and lower your expectations of yourself. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, which can increase your irritability in crowded and warm situations. Increase bitter and astringent flavors, such as barley, beans, dandelion greens and turmeric and decrease sweets. Go easy on sour foods like bananas, grapefruit, lemon, pineapple and tomatoes. Sip coriander, cumin, fennel and/or licorice tea throughout the day.
  • Kapha: Sign up for movement-heavy workshops, especially in the morning sessions, and make a point to laugh at any chance you get. Pack extra clothing and a thermos of ginger tea to keep you warm. Rise even before 6am and begin your day with a dry-brush massage and an invigorating flow of asana and pranayama exercises like kapalabhati. Adorn yourself with bright colors and mist yourself with uplifting scents like eucalyptus, sage and rosemary. Prepare yourself a lunch of pungent, bitter and astringent foods like broccoli, mushrooms, parsley, garlic and dandelion greens; keep oil at a minimum and reduce watery foods as well as wheat, dairy and cold foods.

dandysalad3Learn more about Ayurveda at the Northwest Yoga Conference! Check out Silvia Mordini’s ‘Beauty from the Inside Out: The Ayurveda Way’ workshop on Friday, March 4th at 12pm.

Love Yourself from the Outside In

74ec699c-475c-45ab-8847-e4ed6ed1d347By Silvia Mordini

While in college, I vacillated between not caring what I looked like to being vain and caring way too much. My inside and outside didn’t match, and they were at odds. While I appreciated the specialness of who I was on the inside I sometimes lost my relationship with my outside.

I had a front row seat to watching this relationship evolve. The reality of being human is that we see other people from the outside first (the whole “judge a book by its cover”). Our dust jacket isn’t a bad thing, unless we make it a problem. And I made it a problem. I thought I wasn’t thin enough, so I withheld food. I over used food. I spent copious amounts of time and energy on my outward appearance. I was a sort of unconfident narcissist. I ping ponged between loving what I looked like to not feeling good enough. It consumed extraordinary amounts of energy.

Then it happened. I was in an accident. This traumatic event changed my attitude. I stopped bullying myself into needing my inside to feel superior to my outside. I made peace with my internal and external self, which led me to realize that loving what we look like is a very important part of our spiritual evolution. If you are evolved on the inside but treat your external appearance with disdain, then there is an imbalance. It is the inverse of what happens when we only focus on what we look like and ignore loving who we are internally.

3 Key Things To Promote Loving Yourself:

  1. Look at yourself in the Mirror. I don’t mean just to check out your hair or outfit, but sit down in front of a mirror and hold your own gaze for 30 seconds, then rest. Then try 1 minute, then 2 minutes. Really see yourself and how beautiful (or handsome) you are on the outside. Instead of using energy avoiding ourselves, we should make peace with seeing clearly what we look like.
  2. Get Naked. Make it a ritual to spend some time each day living in what Martha Graham calls “our most important garment.” Loving what we look like is a radical form of Self-acceptance. Instead of covering that up or shrinking away from your body, open your eyes to literally being comfortable in your own skin.
  3. Embrace your uniqueness. Do it for you. Loving what we look like means that we embrace our heritage and all that has created us. As Maya Angelou writes, “You alone are enough; you have nothing to prove to anybody.” Loving your external appearance means you believe yourself to be enough. By doing that, you give others permission to love themselves too.

Today, embrace the full spectrum of loving yourself unconditionally and find the balance between inside and outside. Love yourself, love your day, love your life!

f864e550-3535-47da-ba1f-63fda9e7fc84Learn more at Silvia’s workshop ‘Removing the Obstacles to Your Happiness’ on Friday, March 4th from 4-6pm.

Sh** Happens: An Interview with Annie Carpenter

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

welcomebackAnnieAnnie Carpenter combines the wisdom of four decades of deep practice with a uniquely no-nonsense style. Her keen insights on alignment are intermixed with a sharp wit that, at last year’s conference, kept packed rooms full of yogis laughing (when we weren’t frantically taking notes).

The conference team was beyond thrilled when Annie agreed to return this year for a command performance—and judging from the way her workshops are filling up, we’re not the only ones.

You attend a lot of yoga events around the country. What makes NWYC stand out?

Its class sizes are smaller than at some events, which gives it a kind of intimacy. I see the same students over and over in my classes throughout the weekend, so the conference almost feels like a workshop-intensive. There’s something special about that for me as a teacher. I can really get a sense of the students’ practice and see how best to help them. For their part, the students begin to get my language, my rhythm, my perspective. I feel like they get a deeper experience. And that’s lovely, that’s a real gift.

With so much travel, how do you maintain balance on the road?

You just have to keep your practice up. Especially when you come in from a long trip, you’re jet lagged, and it feels like 4 a.m. but it’s really 10 a.m. and time to teach. You have to fit your practice in. Even if that means you practice for a half hour in the morning and come back to your mat for an hour later in the day.

The other thing that is hard but essential is to eat well. It can be really hard to get the right foods, enough fresh vegetables when you’re on the road. You have to work at it, but it’s worth it. If you eat well, you feel better.

For me, it’s also important to maintain enough time at home, to support my own relationship and my relationship with my students. There can definitely be a point where there’s too much travel.

NWYC15 - Saturday Web UNmarked - Tony F Photography-9680I attended your shoulder workshop last year, and I was blown away by your approach to alignment and stabilization, including pointing out common practices that can lead to injury. What are some of the unsafe habits you encounter in classes?

The question is really, how can we practice in such a way that we maintain mindfulness? Whether you’re talking about a shoulder issue, a low back, a knee … if you can sustain mental focus, if you can continue to be mindful not just in the poses but in your transitions between poses, then you’re very unlikely to get hurt. What happens is we tend to jump ahead. Our mind thinks of something else, or we’re thinking about how this pose ought to be or how it used to be, and we pull ourselves out of the present moment.

So one of the hallmarks of a really good teacher is presenting in such a way that the practice demands mindfulness in every moment on the part of the students.

Yes! I definitely notice that when I am looking around the room, thinking about what a pose looks like for someone else, I get pulled out of my own practice.

Right. That happens to everyone. It’s very common.

One way of looking at advanced practice is letting go of what it should look like, what you wish it looked like, what it looks like for someone else. If a thought takes you out of what you’re doing, out of mindfulness, then even the strongest and most experienced practitioner is at risk. The practice is about staying present, not about what poses you can do.

If a culture is all about how deep you can get in a pose, or how long you can balance, then we’re really doing a disservice to our students, to ourselves, and to yoga. That’s not what yoga is about. This practice was developed to create mental focus and stamina, so that we can answer the bigger questions. Not, “Should there be three feet or four feet between the feet in Trikonasana?” but, “Who am I? Why am I on this planet?” and “What can I do to serve the truth of life?” The only way we get there is by learning how to concentrate, how to pay attention rather than judge and expect.

Can you talk about an influential experience of pilgrimage?

Two things come to mind.

The first is my time studying with [Shri K.] Pattabhi Jois in India in 1997. It really was a wonderful thing to make the choice to take two months off work and go to India, at a time when not as many people were doing that sort of thing. It meant really committing myself to the practice and to myself as a practitioner, surrendering to a teacher at a different level.

Annie AdjustingI think that making that choice—that commitment to leave my home, my job, and my friends behind for two solid months—was almost as important as the advances I made in the practice during that time (and those were considerable). To put your practice first is a powerful thing. It was a watershed moment.

The other experience I was thinking about … well, sometimes shit happens and we do get injured. I had a fall, and I ruptured one of the ligaments in my knee. I had to have surgery, and then not bear weight on the knee for months. It was another kind of pilgrimage to come back from that. You never really know how much you’ve lost in terms of flexibility, strength, or sensitivity, or how much you’re going to get back.

I think all of us can relate to the idea of a pilgrimage of returning to the practice, whether from an injury, grief, or an illness. I remember when a very dear friend died, almost 9 years ago, and I was in such grief that it didn’t make sense to do my practice as it was. That was a kind of pilgrimage, too—to let go, to surrender to the situation, to the fact that I didn’t have energy, time, or focus for the practice. And then to slowly, slowly come back.

So I think there are many things that happen to us, whether they are physical injuries, emotional upsets, illnesses, even the birth of a child. To see what is happening and make the pilgrimage to return to your practice the way it was … maybe … or maybe differently. That’s a leap of faith.

You’re going to be on our keynote panel, The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Yoga Practice. I think there’s a tendency to think that there will be some end-point to this journey, or that there’s some place to “get to.” What would you say to that, after four decades of practice?

The truth of the matter is, it’s endless. I embrace the Buddhist philosophy on this question. The big teaching of the Buddha is, “Shit happens.” (I’m paraphrasing here.) Life is difficult, things change, we lose things. So every day is an opportunity to open your eyes, open your heart, and accept what is.

Yes, we all have good, easy days, but the truth is that we’re constantly on a pathway to keep our hearts open and accept whatever it is that comes. I don’t think there’s an endpoint to that. Rain or shine, love or death, fear or excitement … every day something new is going to present itself, whether on your mat, or walking down the street with your family. Yoga is a place for us to practice being open to whatever it is that comes, and approaching it with as much kindness and love as we can.

For more about Annie, read last year’s interview.

There are still a few spots available in many of Annie’s workshops, including her all-day intensive on Thursday. Claim your place now!

All the Yoga, All the Time: An Interview with Aadil Palkhivala

Headshot-Aadil-2001By Katie Vincent

The flow of yoga has surrounded Aadil Palkhivala since day one. Not many practitioners can claim that they were conceived by the tradition they preach. Aadil Palkhivala is one such individual with karmic ties to yoga; his mother struggled with fertility for seven years until she began studies with B.K.S. Iyengar, which she continued throughout her pregnancy and brought Aadil from age three onward. At age 22, Aadil was awarded an advanced teacher’s certificate by Iyengar himself.

Co-director of the Alive and Shine Center in Bellevue and the College of Purna Yoga, Aadil continues to share his life-long passion for authentic living with yoga teachers and practitioners worldwide. Also holding degrees in physics, math, and law and extensive studies in bodywork, hypnotherapy and Ayurvedic medicine, Aadil brings a diverse perspective while working to restore what he calls the “essence” of yoga–the main goal of his Purna yoga teachings. In his book Fire Of Love, Aadil preaches a reconnection with the heart’s message through all eight limbs of yoga.

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What is Purna Yoga?

“Purna means ‘complete.’’ It is an authentic, lineage-based yoga which consists of four petals: Alignment-based asana and pranayama, Heartfull Meditation™, applied philosophy, and nutrition and lifestyle. All these are steeped in heritage and adapted for our modern lifestyle by over a half century our personal experience. The lineage of Purna Yoga comes from Sri Aurobindo, B.K.S Iyengar, the Veda, Patanjali, Ayurveda, and other ancient nutritional systems.

What makes it unique?

Many systems of yoga focus on either asana or meditation or Samadhi or simply a workout. Purna Yoga addresses all aspects of the human being and therefore is not merely asana-based, nor only meditation focused. It is a complete system for building a deep and honest relationship with ourselves, the people we surround ourselves with, and the world as a whole.

How do your studies of math, physics, and law inform your teaching?

Yoga is about cultivating the whole human being. An essential part of that cultivation is the development and use of the mental faculties. Historically, yogis were extremely intelligent, focused and prized knowledge. They were well versed in mathematics and sciences, as well as the arts. Having trained in many other science and art fields makes my teaching more clear and accessible to different ways of thinking. Also, it makes Purna Yoga teaching more inclusive than exclusive.teaching_ardha1

What do you feel is “lost” in modern yoga?

The lost essence of yoga is the living of yoga in day-to-day life. It is about being more present, rather than running away from living. Much yoga is merely asana; though asana is crucial, it is not yoga. Yogis often try to get into a space of consciousness to avoid life challenges. This is an escape and is not yoga. Also, yogis often deny the world and wealth and this flies in the face of vedic knowledge. The one thing that every practitioner would be helped by would be to sincerely embrace Svadhyaya and examine every thought, word and action that the practitioner thinks, speaks and does. Additionally, the reach for beauty creates joyfulness and equanimity. This is why, in Purna Yoga, we surround ourselves with more joyful colors and keep our environments as beautiful as possible.

Have you ever embarked on a pilgrimage?

Here I would like to quote my teacher, Sri Aurobindo in his book, “Savitri”:

‘Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage

For through small joys and griefs thou movest toward God.’

So, yes, a lot of pilgrimages, and the preparation for each is the Purna Yoga practice of integrity, joy and love from the prior day!” 

To learn more at the Northwest Yoga Conference, attend Aadil’s ‘Living the Eight Limbs of Purna Yoga’ workshop on Friday, March 4 at 9:00am or his ‘Strengthen Your Legs, Strengthen Your Spine’ class on Saturday, March 5 at 12:00pm. You can also catch him on Saturday at 2pm on the panel discussion: ‘On the Pilgrim’s Path: The Journey of Self-Discovery Through Yoga.’

Can We Build It? Yes We Can!

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

“Building community is not optional if you want a thriving yoga business.” – Jill and Michael Knouse

When my kids were preschool age, they loved to watch “Bob the Builder.” In each animated episode, Bob and his friends serve their neighborhood through a variety of building and repair projects. The group’s rallying cry, “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” reinforces the show’s message that people do more and do better when they work together in community.

The same can certainly be said of yoga. Although we often practice alone, on our mats and meditation cushions, so much of our growth as yogis takes place in communities—in group classes and trainings, on retreats and pilgrimages, or through social action inspired by yogic principles.

So we asked some of our presenters: What makes a strong yoga community?

Knouses2

Jill and Michael Knouse

Jill and Michael Knouse are the dynamic duo of community building, having proven their considerable skills in the worlds of both business and yoga. They write:

“‘Building community’ means cultivating a place where people can feel safe, seen and valued. It’s all about creating an environment that brings people together in a way that is unique and valuable to them. When people experience YOUR community, many of them will feel as if it’s their second home—the place where they finally get to let out a deep breath that they had no idea they were holding.”

The Knouses say that building community is “smart marketing”:

“When you create a place where people feel they’ve found their tribe, they will join you in your classes, workshops, retreats, and trainings.” (And, they point out, they’ll tell their friends.) “Having 100 really passionate people in your community is exponentially more effective at spreading a message than marketing to the masses.

The Knouses will be sharing the secrets of their success during their Sunday morning workshop, “How to Build Your Own Thriving Yoga Community.”

MLK6

Molly Lannon Kenny

But they’re not the only presenters with a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Presenter Molly Lannon Kenny is the founder and spiritual director of The Samarya Center, a nonprofit service and training organization dedicated to individual transformation and radical social change since 2001.

She shared what she considers to be key elements of a successful community:

“You have to have somebody who is the fire-keeper, somebody who is at the center (not necessarily the top), who’s keeping the community alive. … You also have to define what your community is based around. Is it your studio, a value system, a person? Finally, you need some kind of community agreement, so that people really feel accountable to the community, and have ample opportunities to be involved and share ownership of the community.”

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill adds one more to this list: Communication.

“If you take a close examination of any communities of the past or present,” he writes, “they make meaning together, and share a collective understanding of some sort. Neither of these things can be done without communication.”

Not all forms of communication are equally conducive, though.

“Some styles of conversation, like debate for instance, intend to fragment and pull groups apart via the egoistic act of making someone right, and making someone wrong. Dialogue is on the other end of the spectrum, and can be described as a conversation with a center, not sides. The goal of dialogue is for everyone to contribute to this center, with the hope of creating and tapping into a unique collective consciousness.”

Graybill is offering a unique opportunity to participate in a specific type of structured dialogue, Yoga Circles, on both weekend afternoons during the conference. These circles offer an experience of authentic dialogue, in which participants learn to be more mindful in conversation, increase their compassion through patient listening, and realize the interconnectedness between us all.

Finally, Andrew Tanner of Yoga Alliance suggests that building community doesn’t have to be complicated:

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

At Yoga Alliance, ‘community’ begins with the firm belief … that yoga in all its diverse forms is a major force for good on the planet; and it deserves to be spread as widely as possible.” He adds, “A yoga community begins every time a yogi shares the yoga knowledge or technique that brought them health, happiness, or inner peace with another.”

Tanner will talk about some of the ways that Yoga Alliance helps nurture these communities during his workshops, “The Future of Yoga, Reading the Data Tea Leaves” and “Let Yoga Alliance Work for You!”

Whether you are looking to find your tribe, or hoping to attract more like-minded people to grow your yoga business, the Northwest Yoga Conference is a great place to start.

As Lannon Kenny says,

This conference is a tremendous opportunity. There’s nothing else like it in the Pacific Northwest. Community doesn’t happen by itself. If you want community, you have to show up!”

 

Yoga in the Wild: Answer the Call of Nature with an OM

yoga, yoga retreat, yoga in the wild, nature

Practicing yoga in the canyonlands of southern Utah

 by Katie Vincent, Conference Blogger
Ever stared at the ceiling in
vrksasana and wondered what it might be like to truly become one with the trees? Well, there’s more to yoga than your yoga mat might have you think. The basis of Ayurvedic medicine, which is intertwined with yogic philosophy, is to tune the body’s internal seasons with the natural rhythms of the surrounding Earth. There is no better way to reboot your system and find the deep flow your body, mind, and spirit craves than to practice yoga in the wilderness.

Practicing detachment and true presence in a busy urban setting has its benefits, but it’s also not easy—especially for beginners whose awareness on all levels might already be so far removed from the natural flow. To step away from the urban setting altogether, where the sounds of birds, feel of the breeze and the aroma of trees all hold sacred space, is a beautiful jumpstart to healing and reconnecting with one’s essential self. Many outdoor adventure companies in the Pacific Northwest offer yoga adventure trips, ranging from half-day walks to multi-day backpacking trips

Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, the Director of the Northwest Yoga Conference, teaches wilderness yoga for Get in the Wild Adventures and was eager to share her enthusiasm for the experience:

yoga, yoga retreat, yoga in the wild, nature

Melissa Hagedorn practices yoga in the Dirty Devil/Robber’s Roost Wilderness of southern Utah

Why practice yoga in the wilderness?

Studios are familiar environments. Sometimes, to have a breakthrough moment, you must remove yourself from the familiar. In most parks, you are still surrounded by many unnatural things that move at unnatural rhythms, like cars, planes, and cell phones. In the wilderness you are connecting with pure natural rhythms, allowing your mind, body and spirit to rest—something we seem to be lacking these days.

Why hike to practice yoga instead of just one or the other?

Hiking provides transition time to create space from daily obligations and the familiar, allowing for a deeper yoga practice. On the way back, there is then space for reflection and processing. In enhances the experience exponentially.

How do you choose the right landscape?

You should choose the landscape that resonates most with you.  Each evokes a different experience. The wild and austere deserts of southern Utah are awe-inspiring and remind us that even when times get tough, if we are resourceful we can take care of our needs. Mountains offer an expansive and majestic view of the world. Lakes allow us the opportunity to literally and figuratively reflect on our lives. Rivers remind us of the steady yet ever-changing ways of the world.

yoga, yoga retreat, yoga in the wild, nature

Yoga in The Wild

How might wilderness yoga be likened to a pilgrimage?

There are numerous steps to a pilgrimage that one can find in wilderness yoga. First is the the call or yearning to find a deeper meaning, leading you to sign up for a yoga trip. Next is separation from the known and into unfamiliar wilderness. The journey, or hike, is when yogis find themselves humbled by the beauty of nature and united as a community with their fellow yogis. This leads to the encounter,  or the yoga practice, where yogis find their awareness elevated and meaning becomes clearer.  And finally, the completion and return, where the yogi processes the experience and applies it to their daily living.

Are there risks to practicing in nature?

If you decide to venture out on your own or with a group of friends, you should have awareness of everybody’s abilities and choose an adventure that is suitable for all. Beyond that, using common sense, being prepared with proper gear and clothing, and traveling with experienced outdoor adventurers will help minimize risks. Still, because we live in a “plugged in” society, it is not uncommon for people to feel anxious. Take note of that feeling but do not avoid it. Our true nature is the wilderness and so if you feel nervous out there, I would encourage you to spend more time in nature to sync your rhythms.

What do I need?

yoga, yoga retreat, yoga in the wild, nature

Melissa Hagedorn practices Yoga In The Wild in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington

Instead of using a mat to adjust the physical space to the practice, adjust your practice to the physical space offered by the wild. Practicing with a mat in nature inhibits your ability to connect with the Earth. There is no replacement for this physical connection. As for gear, bring the usual essentials you would need to do a day hike or overnight backpacking trip.

To learn more at the Northwest Yoga Conference, attend the Yoga in the Wild workshop with Christopher Hagedorn of Get in the Wild Adventures on Sunday, March 6 at 11:15am.

Changing the Self, Changing the World: An Interview with Molly Lannon Kenny

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Molly Lannon Kenny spoke to me by phone from her home in Mexico, where she recently transitioned to living full-time. The slower pace gives her more time to focus on trainings, retreats, and writing. Her new book of essays, No Gurus Came Knocking, was released in November.

MLK6Congratulations on your new book! I’m intrigued by the title. Does every yogi need a guru?

Often when people start to go deeper in their practice, they realize there’s something more they could gain from someone who has more experience. One place I have learned that is through my relationship with my friend and mentor, Ram Dass, who gives me so much joy. It’s affirming to know that I am connected to lineage through him.

But I don’t want to promote the idea that if people don’t have that relationship, that lineage, they’re not legitimate. Someone doesn’t have to have a guru to be a really great student or to make a change in their own life and in the lives of others.

The idea of a guru is not something we are particularly inclined toward in our culture. We’re very focused on independence. The idea that we would be somehow subservient to someone, take someone on faith, is not a very American idea. And we don’t really have many opportunities to find and connect to gurus here. Many people have had experiences with someone who is putting themselves in the role of “guru” but who is not very evolved themselves. When their students figure that out, they may become wounded by the experience, and that turns them off to the whole idea.

Having a relationship with a guru (if it’s right for you) is really special.. But not everyone will have that opportunity.

But the search is still important?

Yes. On one level, you don’t need a teacher. The answers are already inside you. At the same time, if we skip the step of seeking, the risk is that we become egocentric in the idea, “I already know what’s best for me!” We do, at a soul level, but at a superficial level, we often don’t. It’s easy to use that phrase, “The answers are inside of me” and reinforce your own ego-identification without really getting to the depths of your own soul.

MLK4What led you to develop Integrated Movement Therapy®, and how does it differ from therapeutic yoga?

Integrated Movement Therapy isn’t “therapeutic yoga.” It’s actual therapy in a more clinical sense.  It’s focused on individualized goals and objectives, and it’s based in clinical experience.

I developed IMT when I was working as a practicing clinician in a hospital. I wanted to change how I was working with people, to put the emphasis on partnership and building people’s essential self-worth before anything else. That was not supported by the clinical model.

I had the incredible honor of being on the committee that created the standards for yoga therapy, but I ultimately opted out of seeking accreditation. All forms of yoga therapy differ from one another. But in general, the standards of yoga therapy adopt the medical model. The last thing I wanted to do was to take yoga and turn it back into a pathological, medicalized model. IMT is an individualized intervention, and it’s really based in the orientation of the practitioner themself. It’s their spiritual practice, their worldview that informs the therapy.

That being said, my specialty areas are traumatic brain injury, stroke, and autism … so there’s definitely an emphasis on practical outcomes. When someone comes to me with a stroke, I’m working on increased mobility and improving their general well-being, but it’s not “physical therapy.” It’s very holistic. When I’m working with a child with autism, I’m seeing inherent divinity in the child as she is already. I’m being deeply present with the family as they are. And then I’m working within the family system to support change.

Your bio mentions the idea of “healing the self as a means for healing others and our communities.” What do you mean by this? Is it just about taking care of ourselves so that we can care for others?

Taking care of yourself is really important, especially if you care for others. But the danger is in thinking that just by doing things to care for ourselves we’re actually contributing to some kind of greater social change.

There also has to be action. For example: I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations around race and privilege, as everyone is right now. I can often see a difference between people who have done deep inner work—their ability to contribute to those conversations in a meaningful way and elevate the conversation through their work—and other people, who are very passionate about what they’re saying but not very skilled at participating constructively in situations that are challenging.

I’m talking about making radical internal shifts. If we don’t acknowledge our implicit racism, then we’re never going to be a part of a solution, because we’re too busy saying “not me.” If instead I create a new understanding of myself, and realize of course I have implicit biases because I was raised in a country where that is the paradigm, then I can begin to create change.

So when I talk about changing yourself, it’s changing yourself so that you can bring that changed self to various organizations or activities. It’s both/and.

You’re offering a workshop at the conference on adjustments. What is your philosophy on that?

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

I use my hands a lot in teaching. I was brought up as an Ashtangi, so I assumed that’s what you do. I believe in the power of touch.

At the same time, I see too many adjustments in yoga classes that are basically micromanaging people. Students are trying to have their experience, and someone is coming along and judging the pose. Anatomically, the ideas that we are promoting often are not based in science. What people are doing is not necessarily going to be harmful to them. Even the idea that we all know what Triangle looks like … it looks different in different books, different philosophies … so we’re not really basing it on anything.

I love to teach teachers to put their hands on other people’s bodies with the sensibility of having a dialogue. When I am teaching, I’m in a conversation with someone, not just asking them to defer to what I tell them to do. I’m not looking at people and seeing “what’s wrong with you” so I can fix it. It’s not my job to make you different than you are.

This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your experience with pilgrimage?

The one that comes to mind is when I made a pilgrimage to the Ganges river during Kumbh Mela [a mass Hindu pilgrimage to bathe in a sacred river]. Bathing myself in the river with all the other devotees was a powerful experience of humility, unself-consciousness, and transformation.

 

Pilgrimage in the Everyday: An Interview with Janet Stone

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

My plan to talk with Featured Speaker Janet Stone was initially disrupted by a call from the nurse at my daughter’s school, while Janet dealt with a few last-minute delays of her own. But in the end, these small challenges provided the perfect jumping-off point for a conversation about the intersections of yoga and everyday life.

Your Strong Mom yoga practice is featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Can you talk about this practice and its inspiration?

yj_cover_featurebutton-300x287The inspiration really began with my own experience. When you have a baby, there’s prenatal yoga and postnatal yoga, but then there’s this moment that happens after postnatal, when everyone is cooing about the baby and you’re left alone. Your belly is hanging over your pants, your boobs are dripping with milk, your friends are out doing what they’re doing, and you’re home, steeped in the vital life care of these creatures.

I wanted to create a place where people could come together, feel seen, and honor this transition. Where they could truly embrace where they are in life. When you’re a parent of young children, you’re no longer going to have 3-hour practices, you’re not going out at night like you used to … so this is an opportunity to build a community of people who are in a similar place.

Strong Mom is an opportunity to be with people at their most vulnerable, no matter when that is. I have people come who have 27-year-old kids and others who have 11-day-old kids. It doesn’t matter. They’re all looking for themselves in the midst of that title of “mother” (or “parent”).

It’s so easy to lose yourself in that word, that role.

Yes! And then there’s shame, resentment, feeling selfish … so many feelings are just not allowed. There are not a lot of places to talk about it. Through this practice, you literally get back in your body, reclaim it, but you also find ways to nourish yourself so that you can nurture others. It’s so much more than asana—it includes grounding practices, meditation, pranayama, and energetic alignment as a framework to find yourself in the midst of all the stuff that comes up in this role of mother.

I’m excited to see that you’re leading a workshop on chanting at the conference. Can you talk about what chanting has brought to your practice?

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Chanting is a Bhakti practice. It’s an opportunity to set down the mind for a moment, and what comes forth is just infinite love. In churches, tribal traditions, all forms of spiritual cultures, they’ve always included some kind of coming together of voice, as a way of collectively drawing our attention away from our individual drama. What opens up in those moments is really potent.

My practice of chanting began 16 or 17 years ago. My teacher chanted “Om” in class in a way that went past my mind, it went past thought, and spoke to a place inside of me that had never been touched before.

Inspired by teachers Max Strom and Jai Uttal, I began incorporating simple chanting into my own classes. The response was really powerful. I teach in a room where as many as 150 people can attend—people from every environment (from Google and Facebook employees to full-time mothers)—and when we are chanting, everyone is the same.

I recently released an album of chants with DJ Drez that is super simple, uncomplicated, from the heart. It has been very well-received (shooting immediately to #1 on iTunes world).

You are offering two asana workshops at the conference: “Ganesha: From the Ground Up” and “Rasa Lilasana: Divine play.” Can you talk about the role of deities in your asana practice?

The deities are a big part of my own practice, and therefore my teaching.

It’s really tied in to the mantras, the chanting, and I also do a lot of teachings around the stories about the deities. These stories weren’t just meant for “back then”; they’re so relevant and relatable to the lives we live today. They reveal themselves again and again in our daily experience.

I love this quote on your website: “She aspires not to teach but to allow the practice to emanate from her.” What does this look like in practice, to aspire “not to teach”?

It begins with always remaining a student and continuing my own practice, at a myriad of levels. So when I am in front of people at an event, the teaching is informed by the present moment.

Normally if you think of teaching, it involves gathering up the self, the “I.” We offer a teaching through all of our various filters. But my approach is to step out of the way and offer whatever is within me, my own practice, to simply allow it to come forth.

This year’s conference theme is “a pilgrimage to the soul.” Can you talk about your personal experience of pilgrimage?

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Photo by Jennifer McNiven.

My pilgrimage is long term, it has been since Day 1. It unfolds daily: in my mothering, in yearly trips to India, in all of my practices.

To me, the soul is found through everyday interactions—so the pilgrimage is how I treat the barista at the coffee shop, how I manage difficult situations, how I attend to my body in asana, and in the totality of my living, both when I’m in studentship in India, but also as I am carpooling or picking up a sick child.

Anything else you’d like conference-goers to know?

I have a special relationship to the Pacific Northwest. I have family history there, and I lived in Portland for many years … it’s a place deeply rooted in my heart. I’m so looking forward to being there with all of you!

Hindu Deities 101

By Katie Vincent, Conference Blogger

HINDU_GODS1While singing and reciting mantras can be fun, on this side of the Pacific Ocean we usually do not have the frame of reference to fully understand Hindu mythology. Sure, we are welcome to pick what resonates for us and and it weave into our own story, but in this freedom it is easy to innocently pick up an asana practice, song, or mantra without fully understanding the inherent energy or context behind it.

Some choose to interpret the Indian gods and goddesses as tangible entities (physical or energetic), while others may prefer to think of them as symbolic archetypes or aspects of the self and the natural world. Translating this to a yogic practice, understanding the myths and archetypes can allow for a deeper understanding of the energetics or intention of a pose. Take matsyasana, or “fish pose”, for instance. What some may think of as a mere lymph-moving or chest-stretching position carries with it the energy of Vishnu—one of three Supreme gods—who incarnated as a golden fish to tow a boat packed with flora and fauna (a la Noah’s ark) through a monstrous flood that nearly destroyed the world. Bringing this story to mind, a practitioner might play with embodying Matsya the Fish and notice twinges of strength emerging in themselves.

hindutempleIn this way, accessing the pantheon of yourself need not require asana. To call upon or honor a divine energy you might repeat a mantra, sing (as in kirtan), meditate, perform a ceremony, or maybe even just dance. In the reverse, if a particular mantra or pose resonates strongly for you, consider researching the mythology of the god or goddess energy you are invoking. To get you started on this mysterious, mythical path of self-discovery, below is a sampling of the divinities most commonly encountered in the yogic tradition.

 

shakti

Shakti: Goddess of Feminine Energy & Power

Derived from the Sanskrit word shak (meaning “potential to produce”) Shakti is the divine feminine, the powerful potential energy behind all creation. She is embodied in many forms: Parvati, the loving and devoted consort of Shiva; Kamakshi, the world mother; Durga, the unconquerable; Kali, the “Dark Mother” of fierce anger and destruction.

shiva_1

Shiva: Supreme God of Destruction and Resurrection; Asceticism and Sensuality

Certainly a complex figure, Shiva is one of three primary cosmic life energies. While Brahma represents creation and Vishnu preservation, Shiva is the god of destruction and the transformative creation that occurs out of death. He is the tapas energy, or fire, that can burn out of control if not contained by feminine energy. Usually Shiva is depicted wearing a snake coiled around his arms and neck to symbolize power over reincarnation; holding a trident to represent his role in the trinity; holding a skull to signify samsarathe cycle of life, death, and rebirth; and riding a white bull to show his control over sexual impulses. Often worshiped as a lignam, an ovoid phallic shape. Shiva is the father of Ganesha.

vishnu

Vishnu: Supreme God of Preservation, Peace and Truth

The second of the divine trinity, Vishnu is the protector of the world and restorer of moral order. Supposed to derive from solar energy, he is often associated with lotus flowers, holds a conch shell to represent the first sound of creation (“OM”), flies on the back of a giant eagle and uses a mace as a weapon, signifying the elemental force from which all physical and mental powers derive. Vishnu’s consort, or female counterpart, is Lakshmi. He famously has ten avatars, or embodiments, in myths, some of which include Matsya the fish, Rama, Krishna and Buddha.  

brahma

Brahma: Supreme God of Creation

Along with Vishnu and Shiva, Brahma is the first of the Supreme triumvirate and is credited with the creation of the world and all creatures. He is said to have birthed himself from the lotus flower that grew from Vishnu’s navel at the beginning of the universe. He is depicted with four heads, faces and arms with none holding a weapon. Instead, he bears a water pot representing the all-encompassing nothingness from which evolution came, a string of malas to keep track of universal time, the Vedas and a spoon to pour holy ghee.  He rides a divine swan that can discern between good and evil. It is important not to confuse him with Brahman, who created the universe and is the Supreme god force present within all things.

ganesha

Ganesha: God of Obstacles and Success

A popular figure, the elephant-headed Ganesha is renowned as the remover of obstacles. Born and spiritually conceived when Shiva was away, Ganesha didn’t recognize his father when he returned home and lost his head defending his mother from this “intruder.” When Parvati told Shiva about his son he felt remorse and negotiated a replacement head from a wise elephant. Worshippers of Ganesha invoke him when beginning a new business, ventures, home or work of art to remove any obstacles in the way. He also holds an elephant prod to steer souls away from ignorance and illusion. Depicted with a prominent potbelly, Ganesha’s appetite for sweets reflects his underlying celebration of life’s pleasures and beauty.

sj_ha_hanuman_fighting_elephant01_200

Hanuman: Monkey God of Mischief, Courage and Loyalty

Technically a demi-god, Hanuman is the child of Shiva and a forest-dwelling woman who was desperate for a child. As a hybrid being, Hanuman represents a mixture of the divine and the impure; as a child he attempted to eat the sun, which he thought was a fruit, and was struck down by a divine thunderbolt that injured his jaw. In fact, in Sanskrit hanu means “jaw” and man means “disfigured or prominent.” Hanuman is most famously known from his heroic role as Rama’s skilled and devoted general in the Ramayana epic. He is invoked for playful strength in the trials of own life, for protection against sorcery and bad luck, and to counter bad karma.

sita_ram

Rama: The Ideal Man

As the seventh embodiment of Vishnu, Rama is the protagonist of the Ramayana epic in which his journeys led him to kill the demon king, Ravana. Bow and arrow in hand, Rama is a hero representing the qualities an ideal man: Perfect son, loving brother, faithful friend, loyal husband, flawless citizen, ideal king and  honorable adversary. On his adventures, Rama walks the metaphorical path of dharma that leads to righteousness. His wife is Sita, an embodiment of Lakshmi, and together they represent marital devotion and purity.

durga_2

Durga: Goddess of Power and Strength

When divinity itself was endangered by evil demons, the highest gods came together to create a secret weapon. The result of their combined radiance was Durga, a manifestation of the invincible power of feminine energy. In some traditions, Durga and Shakti are synonymous. A virgin figure, she rides a tiger and carries all of the gods’ weaponry to slay the most evil of evils. She is a reminder that the divine always conquers even the worst of evils and can be invoked when powerful demonic forces create imbalance and distress. She is the mother of the goddess Kali, an angry, imbalanced and destructive manifestation of Durga’s power and strength.

lakshmi

Lakshmi: Goddess of Wealth, Beauty, Fertility and Fortune

Derived from the Sanskrit word laksme, meaning “goal,” Lakshmi asks us to aim for a balance of physical and spiritual abundance. She is the consort of Vishnu, showing how both kinds of wealth are necessary for body-mind-spirit preservation. One day, Lakshmi grew tired of human greed and corruption and, in protest, dissolved herself into an ocean of milk. The world lost its luster and the gods began to churn ocean, begging her to return. Eons later, she finally emerged from the foamy oceanmuch like Aphroditefull of rasa (life-giving essence) and joy to bless those who approach wealth with nobility, beauty and compassion.

saraswati

Saraswati: Goddess of Wisdom, Learning and the Arts

Often associated with the sunrise, whose rays dispel darkness of ignorance, Saraswati lives above pleasure in a space of ascetic knowledge. Often depicted in a white sari and riding a swan to represent her purity, she symbolically resists cravings of the flesh and finds joy in the power of the mind. Schools and libraries are Saraswati’s temples, and musical instruments, books, pens, paintbrushes and other tools of art are her implements. Her energy enlivens creation and she is attributed as the mother of the Vedas. As the consort of Brahma, her knowledge helped him form the plan to create the world and her arts give value to life.

krishna

Krishna: Embodiment of Divine Love that Destroys Pain

Famously known as the eighth embodiment of Vishnu, Krishna is heralded much like Jesus in the Christian tradition and some even worship him as the only Supreme Being. Even though his personality changed over the course of his life, from mischievous child to amorous cowherd to noble warrior to Supreme being, Krishna usually represents the loving, compassionate and righteous being inside all of us. Sometimes in mantra or kirtan he is referred to as Govinda, which means “protector of cows.” This is an important role in Hindu culture, as cows represent the divine mother nature who gives life.

Photos courtesy of the Sanatan Society.

At the NWYC, you can look forward to related workshops like Yogic Lore Flow: The Goddesses with Kimi Martin and Rob & Melissa Lundsgaard, The Holy Trio with Clara Roberts-Oss and Rob & Melissa Lundsgaard, Chanting 101: Bhakti Yoga with Janet Stone, and a rocking evening of Kirtronica! with Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda.

What Will You Discover?

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Pilgrimage is a spiritual tradition that has persisted for millennia and can be found in nearly every major religion. Whatever their destination, all pilgrims share a common desire for transcendence—through contemplation, an experience of awe, or a glimpse of the divine.

Although the word itself carries the faint whiff of an exotic locale, a pilgrimage does not have to be difficult or long. An inward journey can be just as meaningful as a physical trek.

Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, founder and director of the Northwest Yoga Conference, has this to say about her own recent pilgrimage:

This summer, I attended a 9-day meditation retreat at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in southwest Washington. As it was the first retreat that I have ever attended, I had no idea what to expect. Though it was certainly challenging, I am so grateful that I created the space to attend. The retreat allowed me to know myself on a much more intimate level than I ever have before and provided support in continuing to nurture wholesome qualities.

The retreat she describes has all of the necessary qualities of a pilgrimage, including an intentional separation from the familiar, time and space for deep discovery, and lessons brought back to enrich one’s everyday life.

cropped-NWYC16-Poster-LineUpAnnounce.pngThat’s why it felt so right when Melissa announced that the theme for the 2016 Northwest Yoga Conference would be, “Pilgrimage of the Soul.” Attending last year’s Northwest Yoga Conference truly felt like a pilgrimage to me! I had been practicing asana for about a year, but I had not yet experienced anything like this three-day immersion into yoga philosophy, community, and practice.

Making the commitment to leave behind my daily routine of home, work, and kids for three days was challenging. But by stepping into new and unfamiliar territory, I discovered so much—from a fresh appreciation of the Bhagavad Gita, to an expanded village of fellow yogis, to reservoirs of physical strength and stamina I didn’t realize I had … along with, yes, a few new sore muscles! The experience definitely took my commitment to and practice of yoga to the next level.

This year’s conference offers a similar opportunity for all who are willing to take the first step. No matter where you are in your yoga journey—from beginner to advanced student, teacher or studio owner—there is a full schedule of workshops waiting to support you on your path to the soul. Registration is now open, and you can check out the schedule here: http://nwyogaconference.com/full-schedule/

And you don’t have to wait until March to get started! Keep an eye on this blog over the next few months as we interview conference presenters about their own pilgrimage experiences and share tips to help you prepare for your own. You can also share your own pilgrimage stories via our new Comments feature, coming soon.

We can’t wait to hear what you discover! Namaste.