Our Minds Are Our Gardens: The Power of Intention, with Debbie Dixon

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Yoga teacher, author of Over the Rainbow, and intuitive life coach Debbie Dixon is 110d7018ecccaaddd16775d286ab3afa kicking off the conference with a Friday morning workshop on “The Power of Intention.” So it seemed fitting to reach out to Debbie for some tips for how this practice can enhance our conference experience and our lives.

Why is intention such an important practice?

Most of us believe that in yoga the point is to empty the mind, to delete all thoughts and find that peaceful center.

Intention is about understanding that having thoughts isn’t “bad”—it’s just that some of those thoughts are not conducive to what we’re trying to create in our lives. So setting intention is about learning to harness the mind: notice the thoughts that don’t belong there, release those, and replace them with the thoughts you wish to have.

A lot of the beliefs we have buried in our bodies are not ours. They were gifted to us from other people (parents, teachers) and situations that occurred when we were too young to control the outcomes of our lives. These beliefs surfaced to protect us at one time, but we no longer need them.

Our minds are our gardens, and we need to tend our gardens. What beliefs are there that no longer serve us? What new beliefs do we wish to plant?

How do you practice intention in your life, and what changes have you seen as a result of this practice?

I do this before everything that I do. So for example, before this conversation, I decided what I wanted the outcome to be. I said to myself, “I hope this goes well. I hope she’s informed and has enough information to inspire people.” I got clear about that, and then I knew how to prepare.

I love this idea, but I struggle with making it a habit.

It takes some work. I started implementing the practice of intention very simply. I did it in group settings a lot at first, so there were people around to keep me focused. It’s hard to stay stuck in old patterns if you’re around other people who are committed to thinking differently.

Next I started just waking up with a general intention. “Today is going to flow effortlessly, with ease and grace.” Or an intention around a specific event: “I’m going to teach three classes, and at the end of each one, people will walk away feeling great.”

When you’re setting your intention, the power lies not so much in the words, but in what those words feel like. Connect with that sensation, and breathe it into your body before you even get out of bed. Really ground in that feeling within the body.

Today I use intention as a constant practice. As often as I can, I stop, take a conscious breath, and set my intention. When you start to do this regularly—setting an intention, seeing how it works out—you will begin to see the synchronicities. You will realize that we truly are “intending” our lives, every minute. So instead of going through life thinking, “I hope this [bad thing] doesn’t happen,” we start to think, “What if it all works out beyond my wildest dreams?” In my own life this has been so amazing, watching the outcomes.

If the results are as good as you say, why do I feel some resistance to this?

There may be beliefs in you like, “I’m not good enough.” When I tell you to believe the opposite, that old belief is so powerful that you almost feel like you’re lying to yourself. That’s why it’s so important to tend to the garden. You have to find those beliefs, the “weeds” that are holding you back. You have to connect with believing that you deserve, so that you can open yourself up to receive.

Some of us have spent our entire lives feeding thoughts that are negative because it’s a safer place to be. The more something matters to us, the more passionate we are about it, the scarier it is to set that positive intention. It takes courage not to let ourselves be diminished.

Do you have a suggestion for how attendees might approach setting an intention for their conference experience?

On a really basic level, you can set an intention for the conference as a whole. What do you want, what are you lacking? It could be as simple as a greater sense of health and ad832a9ef6d99a17e0e35ac7a9a2f2a1well-being. If you’re a teacher or a yoga studio owner, maybe you’re hoping for inspiration, people to fill your studio, a sense of community. Or there might be something you’re struggling with in your life, and you’re looking for ways to balance and open up to divine healing.

Whatever it is, you want to align your intention for your conference experience with what’s happening in your life. What results would you like to see?

You can also do this before each workshop. Say to yourself, “At the end of this workshop, here’s how I want to feel. Here’s what I want to receive.” For example: “I can’t wait to leave feeling energized and happy that I spent this time wisely.”

For those who want to dive a little deeper into this practice, what can attendees expect from your Friday morning workshop?

We will talk about how to set intentions and how to infuse them with power, so you really do gain back control of your life. We will do some meditation to dig up and clear out old beliefs, so that you can replace them with whatever you decide. I will give people step-by-step tools to use at any point during the day.

Faith is really important when setting your intention. Your goal is to get to 100 percent faith, but often this builds up gradually. It can’t be forced, because when we force, there’s that resistance. Instead, there’s a gentle way of asking, with love, and learning at the same time to accept yourself wherever you are in the journey.

Love yourself exactly where you are, and then ask yourself: What’s the next step in my journey? How can I most lovingly get there?

Get Ready …

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

The conference is just one short week away! It’s never too soon to start packing your bag. We’ve put together a list of suggested items to bring, to get the most out of your conference experience.

Earth to Ethers will be offering mats and bolsters, as well as their unique Lotus Wrap, in the Mindful Marketplace.

Earth to Ethers will be offering mats and bolsters, as well as their unique Lotus Wrap, in the Mindful Marketplace.

Yoga mat and props. This might seem obvious. But if you’re used to practicing at a studio where all props are provided, remember that there is no “prop closet” at the conference. Bring whatever you’ll need to keep you comfortable and supported as you practice. (Suggested props for each workshop are listed at the bottom of the workshop description.)

Water bottle. We will have complimentary water and hot tea available for you throughout the conference. Pack an eco-friendly water bottle to make it easy to fill up on your way to the next workshop.

Mishu Boutique will feature comfy layers with a stylish edge in the Mindful Marketplace.

Mishu Boutique will feature comfy layers with a stylish edge in the Mindful Marketplace.

Comfortable, layered clothes. The Convention Center is a large space. We will make every effort to keep the rooms comfortable, but temperatures will vary. Dress in layers that will be easy to shed during a vigorous asana session and put back on for savasana or meditation.

Journal. With so many insightful teachers and workshops, you’re going to want a journal handy to capture all that you’re learning!

Stop by the Mindful Marketplace to check out beautiful malas like this one from local vendor Bicycling Buddha.

Stop by the Mindful Marketplace to check out beautiful malas like this one from local vendor Bicycling Buddha.

Mala

Bring a favorite mala for meditation workshops or just to take a moment to yourself between sessions in our meditation room.

Spending Money (for food and marketplace).  The Namaste Café will be open from 11:00am-3:00pm on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday offering espresso, snacks, and lunch.  The café offers gluten-free and vegan options.

Most importantly, bring an open heart and your sense of adventure! Be sure to check out the blog next week for some thoughts on “getting set”–setting your own intention for the conference.

Can’t wait to see you there!

Newcomers Welcome!

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Me as a beginning yogi ... as always, wondering whether I'm doing this right!

Me as a beginning yogi … as always, wondering whether I’m doing this right!

The week before I started my first Intro to Yoga class, a cartoon was circulating on Facebook. It showed a group of yogis bending gracefully in deep Uttanasana. Right in the middle of the room was the Tin Man, standing straight up, stiff arms reaching toward the front of the room, with a thought bubble: “This is bull$hit.”

I was sure that was going to be me—standing out like a grumpy sore thumb, with my tight hamstrings and an understanding of Sanskrit that didn’t extend beyond “Namaste.” I felt the fear … and showed up anyway. At my first studio, I was blessed to encounter teachers who convinced me that Yoga is as much for me, with my hunched-over-the-laptop posture and tight hamstrings, as it is for anyone else. That introductory class turned out to be the beginning of an absolute love affair with the practice and philosophy of Yoga.

If you are relatively new to Yoga, like I am, you might think that a weekend-long conference is not for you—that you’re “not ready yet.” I couldn’t disagree more! Here are a few reasons why I think the conference is the perfect place for beginning yogis:

  • Build your community—Meet other local yogis in a fun, friendly environment. The conference schedule offers plenty of “down time” to foster new-found friendships.
  • Find resources to support your practice—The Marketplace and Share Your Yoga table are great places to learn about local vendors, studios, retreats, and workshops.
  • Discover new aspects of Yoga—There’s so much more to Yoga than the poses. Give your body a rest in workshops on Ayurveda, pranayama, mantras, sutras, chanting, and meditation.
  • Expand your practice—If you feel like you’re always doing the same type of class, here’s your chance to try something new: Thai Yoga, Yin, or bodysensing, to name just a few. I guarantee you won’t be the only one feeling like a beginner in workshops like AcroYoga!
  • Explore different teachers—Maybe you’re not up for a teacher training or intensive retreat just yet. All the more reason to take advantage of this opportunity to sample workshops from a number of highly respected teachers from the Seattle area and beyond.

To make sure that newcomers get the most out of their experience, Conference Director Melissa Hagedorn will be hosting a special gathering just for us. Look for more information at the Registration Desk, and join Melissa during the first break on Friday, from 11:15 to 11:45, for a special “Thank you for coming,” insider tips, and answers to any questions you might have.

So please, join me at this year’s conference! And when you see me, be sure to say hello. I’ll be one with the tight hamstrings.

Coming Home to Ourselves: An Interview with Richard Miller

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

Richard Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, yogic scholar, spiritual teacher, and the keynote speaker for this year’s conference. He has devoted his life and work to integrating the nondual wisdom teachings of Yoga, Tantra, Advaita, Taoism, and Buddhism with Western psychology.

_69J2534I had the privilege of speaking with Richard by phone last week, to learn a little more about his practice of Integrative Restoration, or iRest meditation, a modern adaptation of the ancient practice of Yoga Nidra.

What is iRest, and how did it come to be?

I was introduced to the practice of Yoga Nidra in 1970 and explored it over the decades with the help of many extraordinary teachings and teachers, including Swami Satchidananda, Stephen Chang, TKV Desikachar, and Jean Klein. As I became deeply involved in the practice, I began to develop it as a secular practice so that people in a wide variety of settings (such as homeless shelters) could receive these teachings.

When I began to work with the military in 2004, they asked me to change the name. They said, “We’re military, we don’t do yoga.” So I came up with “Integrative Restoration,” because the practice helps us to integrate our emotions, thoughts, and psychology, as well as restore us to our true wellness as human beings. I call it “iRest” for short, because the practice also helps to relax the “I,” the ego; it returns the ego-I to its correct position, as one function among many, rather than as a predominant thought.

Is iRest strictly a form of meditation?

Miller Tchg iRest Yoga Nidra

Dr. Miller leads an iRest meditation.

I view the practice as a comprehensive path of meditation that helps us awaken to who we truly are, in all aspects: emotional, cognitive, psychological, and spiritual. At the Northwest Yoga Conference, I’ll be showcasing a number of different practices (Yoga Nidra, body sensing, breathing, working with our thoughts) as a comprehensive way to live our lives, in all of our interactions with ourselves and with the world.

What are some of your latest areas of iRest research?

I’ve consulted on a variety of studies that show how iRest supports well-being. For instance, a study has just completed showing how iRest enhances the relationships of couples in the military. We’re also completing a study in Washington, DC with the Veterans Administration on the integration of iRest with acupuncture to relieve chronic pain. I’m also working with a medical doctor to develop research on the use of Yoga Nidra as a non-pharmacological solution for sleep-related issues.

We have also studied its application to trauma—addressing PTSD, TBI, and chronic pain in veterans, as well as with survivors of sexual abuse. In all, we have completed over 20 studies to date, and iRest has shown extraordinary results across the board.

After completing an iRest training, what kinds of changes have teachers experienced?

In the Western world, Yoga has become associated with Hatha yoga, the physical practice. But we know that the teachings of yoga are vast and broad. Yoga Nidra helps keep us in the domain of Yoga’s comprehensive offerings of physical, psychological, and spiritual teachings.

The way I present Yoga Nidra gives teachers a framework for understanding this comprehensive body of yogic teachings. I have developed a 38-stage “map” for meditation that encompasses the practice of Yoga Nidra, which I will be sharing at the conference. Every teaching of Yoga—whether it’s Hatha, pranayama, or meditation—can be assigned to one of those 38 steps. This gives teachers a better understanding of how they can teach to individual students or groups.

You will also be teaching a workshop on Mindful Movement, or Source Yoga. How does this differ from a typical Hatha practice?

Mindful movement—Source Yoga— is derived from the ancient nondual tantric teachings and addresses how to sense and welcome ourselves, rather than fix or change ourselves. This practice is one of radical acceptance, where we learn to truly welcome our body, mind, emotions, thoughts, and nondual presence of being

Yoga isn’t a form of inner competition … it’s teaches us how to be, and be at home with ourselves.

How would you describe nondualism in a nutshell? How did you first discover these teachings?

IMG_2993The core principle of nondualism is that within ourselves is an essential essence of being that’s already healthy and whole, that isn’t in need of healing, that can never be harmed, hurt, or destroyed.

When teaching nondualism, I introduce this core principle or final teaching first.  Some people are ready to hear the good news; and then I teach them how to integrate this understanding into their daily life. Others aren’t ready, and so I give progressive teachings that help unfold this understanding. But in every moment, I’m always trying to showcase this final teaching.

You can recognize this principle in every spiritual tradition: in contemplative Judeo-Christian teachings, Taoism, Buddhism, Yoga (Advaita, Kashmir), Sufism… there isn’t a spiritual tradition in the world that doesn’t have nondualism as a core aspect. But people often can’t grasp it. It’s a diamond that is offered to us, but we don’t see it. So we put it in our pocket or throw it on the ground, looking for something else. The mind is used to complexity, but this understanding is radically simple.

Jean Klein is the teacher who brought this home to me. He took all of the teachings that I’d received up to my first meeting with him, wove them all together, and helped me integrate them into this final understanding. Jean was my “sat” guru, the teacher who helped me realize my essential nondual nature.

What do you hope to share with conference-goers?

One comment I often hear from veterans, when using Yoga Nidra to work with deployment trauma, is: “I feel like I just came home.” The practices of Yoga Nidra bring us back home to ourselves. And then, these same teachings help us, in every moment, live from our true “home” as we move in the world.

My desire is to help everyone I meet have this immediacy of insight. Not at the cognitive level, but at the heart level—a recognition of who they truly are. That’s my intention and my heartfelt desire in sharing these precious teachings that have been so instrumental in my own life. I’m paying forward what I’ve been so fortunate to have received during my life.

New Workshops for the New Year

By: Jill Rivera Greene, conference blogger

Happy New Year, yogis! It’s January, and the conference suddenly feels just around the corner. As if our schedule weren’t exciting enough already … we are thrilled to announce a few late additions to the line-up:

Lynn Jensen, a registered yoga therapist and founder of the Seattle-based Yoga for Fertility, is offering Yoga for Women’s Health: Balancing Chakras, Balancing Hormones. This workshop will explore how your yoga practice can support the hormonal system and address many common symptoms of imbalance, including PMS, cramps, fertility issues, hot flashes, adrenal depletion, and more. Participants will learn concrete tools for teaching or tailoring a personal yoga practice.

Release the acrobat within at our dynamic AcroYoga session! Robin Martin and Thomas Eagan will lead students of all levels in this workshop designed to introduce AcroYogafundamental principles and techniques of this unique style. Learn the building blocks to become a stable and supportive “base” and a dynamic and graceful “flyer.” Spotting skills will be emphasized, so that everyone feels safe trying new things. No partner necessary: Come as you are, for a playful and empowering practice!

Stephanie Sisson will take us back to basics in Chaturanga: Breaking It Down. Love it or hate it, chaturanga dandasana is a staple in most vinyasa and flow classes. It is rarely taught, however, and can become a source of frustration or even injury if not understood. The workshop will build a solid foundation for the pose through breath and the bandhas, and will explore transitions into and out of the pose. Get ready to have fun and leave feeling strong!

Lisa-Black1

Lisa Black, founder and director of Baptiste Affiliate SHAKTI Vinyasa Yoga

Lisa Black , founder and director of Baptiste Affiliate SHAKTI Vinyasa Yoga, will be leading two recently added offerings: Discover Your Voice and Take Your Seat as a Teacher and Foundations of Flow. Lisa has been featured in Yoga Journal, including a March 2008 article highlighting her as one of the most “talented upcoming yoga teachers in the country.” She brings her extensive training and more than 10 years of teaching experience, and we are excited to add her to our list of gifted local teachers.

Discover the tools to stop wasting time in this wild and precious life, in Krishna’s Time Management System. Using the Bhagavad Gita and the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey as a guide, Andrew Tanner focuses on unearthing your personal dharma to help you create achievable goals and make your dream life a reality. (No prior knowledge of the texts is necessary.) At the end of this workshop, you’ll have a live dharma statement and the next week of your life planned for ultimate dharma action toward your financial and personal dreams.

In Studio Ownership: Create and Maintain Success, Andrew Tanner uses real-world examples and business strategy to explore studio ownership. Learn valuable tips for finding the right space, managing and hiring teachers, and smart pricing and scheduling. Andrew will share his know-how about what works and what doesn’t, developed through his 12 years of experience owning, selling, operating, and consulting for yoga studios. If you want to open a studio, already own a studio, or want to treat your yoga business as a virtual studio, this workshop will help you not only be successful but enjoy the journey!

Finally, if you are looking for ways to build your business, don’t miss Social Media: Harnessing Its Power as a Yoga Teacher, led by our very own Conference Director Melissa Hagedorn. Social media can be a powerful resource—if you know how to use it correctly. Melissa will share insights from her years of experience promoting the Northwest Yoga Conference. Participants will review a variety of social media sites to discover what elevates a page or profile from average to great, and discover answers to questions such as: Which platforms should I use? Who is my target audience? Should I advertise? And … How can I manage my time so that my social media accounts aren’t managing me?

Many of our workshops have already filled to over 50 percent capacity. Register soon to ensure you get the workshops you want! 

Already registered, but want to include some of these new offerings in your schedule? No problem! Make changes to your schedule any time before the end of February.

An Interview with Annie Carpenter, founder of SmartFLOW Yoga

By: Jen Mullholand, conference blogger

 Annie Carpenter has spent the past four decades devoted to the practice and teaching of yoga and dance. She is an internationally renowned teacher based in the San Francisco Bay area where she teaches SmartFlow yoga. She also leads 200 and 500-hour teacher trainings at Exhale in Venice Beach, CA. Annie is known as a teacher’s teacher, with a keen eye for alignment in the context of Vinyasa Flow blended with a dedication to the meditative qualities of yoga.Annie Carpenter

Annie will be teaching a variety of workshops at the conference, including a day-long therapeutic intensive on Thursday, March 5. I had the chance to chat with Annie via email before she left to lead a retreat in Nicaragua with her friend and long-time colleague, Maty Ezraty.

You will be teaching an all-day Therapeutics intensive at the conference. What brought you to study yoga in a therapeutic context? And why should flow teachers (or any Hatha Yoga teacher) gain knowledge of therapeutics?Frankly, ALL yoga should be in by definition, therapeutic! Which simply implies that a level of attentiveness is present during the practice so that each act one makes in a practice, whether the way one breathes, or sits or moves from pose to pose is enhancing well-being and the understanding of being wakefully alive and how each of us fits into the miraculous web of life.

Annie in Yoga Journal demonstrating Utthita Hasta Padangustasana

Annie in Yoga Journal

Specifically, having spent 4 decades practicing and teaching (and all of the structural study), I have witnessed how practices helps and how it doesn’t. I have felt in my body and mind how change happens over the years via aging and the shifting of life circumstances (joy of new relationships, children; grief of loss of loved ones; illness and pain; etc.) creates conditions which needs must alter how to practice. As Sharon Salzberg says about a daily meditation practice (I paraphrase), “practice today so that it’s there when you need it.” If we can create a practice that is — as you say, strong flow — when we are young, healthy and free of distress that is awesome. And if we can create an attitude and a knowledge of how and when to alter the practice as needed depending on shifting circumstances, then we have a practice for life. Our own, and our students’.

You have been practicing and studying yoga for the majority of your life. What inspires you these days to get to your mat or the meditation cushion?

The fact that I ALWAYS feel better after I practice.

As you know, there’s a lot of Vinyasa, or Flow yoga, available to Western yoga practitioners. What makes your style of yoga, SmartFLOW, different from any other style of Vinyasa or Flow practice?

annie padmasanaSmartFlow is a method which sets up the conditions for each student to discover HOW to practice in every moment of their practice. In each pose, in each breath, we offer a continuum of exploration that is at once highly specific and open to individual choice. This leads to a heightened awareness that is structurally sound for each practitioner, and invites the practice of being a witness. Through this capacity to step back and observe the choices one makes moment to moment, and more importantly how and with what attitude, we create a practice that is rigorous and compassionate, passionate and patient.

You are offering a pranayama session and a restoratives session at the conference. How do you find these practices help balance students, especially those of us (myself included) who tend to find ourselves typically practicing strong flow?

The strength of practice lies in its rigorousness of steady attention. What we are doing will shift; how we practice is the transformative aspect. When you can make it strong! When you need it, make it quiet…

Gift Ideas for The Yogi in Your Life

By: Jen Mullholand, conference blogger

With the holidays now upon us, there are so many options for great gifts to give the yogi in your life. The team of the Northwest Yoga Conference is especially excited about all the wonderful gifts that support local businesses in Seattle, Tacoma, Portland and Vancouver, just to name a few places. We have come up with a few great ideas to share. A few of these folks will be in the Marketplace at the conference in March (only a few months away!). Enjoy and happy holidays!

  • Bicycling Buddha is an Etsy shop featuring traditional Buddhist Malas and other handmade jewelry and gifts.The jewelry is made by Seattle artist Alyssa Lee. Alyssa uses healing gemstones and crystals in her pieces, and every piece has an explanation of the significance of the materials used.

il_570xN.515249260_5usu

 

  •  Mishu Boutique is a Seattle-based boutique with locations in Capitol Hill, downtown Seattle and Everett. Mishu specializes in clothing inspired by creative movement and expression and hires local designers to create patterns and samples for its collections. They have a large selection of tops, jackets, skirts, pants and dresses, most under $100. Their accessory collection includes a big selection of scarves, jewelry and pocket belts in leather and canvas at various price points. Mishu also carries local artists goods and will be in the marketplace at the conference in 2015.

mishu boutique

  • Nari Alliance is an online social business venture that seeks to raise the quality of life for women and children survivors of domestic violence or human trafficking in Nepal. Nari means women in Nepalese. Nari Alliance was founded by Seattlite and Nepal native Lila Ghising, who is also the founder of the non-profit organization Womens Protection Center in Nepal. The Nari Alliance offers clothing, jewelry and home accessories made in Nepal under fair trade regulations and sold online. Nari Alliance will be in the marketplace at the conference in 2015.
Buddha Tunic

Buddha Tunic

  •  Inspire Me Mandalas offers hand-painted mandalas on cards, coffee mugs, glass cutting boards, t-shirts, canvas prints and framed matted prints. The word mandala comes from Sanskrit and means circle. The primordial shape represents many qualities such as unity, wholeness, perfection and divinity, with the center of the circle representing our spirit.  Inspire Me Mandalas is owned by Shabeena, an artist living in Woodinville, WA whose passion is “to provide visually appealing art that is not only esthetically pleasing, but aids in enriching our understanding of ourselves as well as each other.” Shabeena and her mandalas will be on display in the marketplace at the conference in 2015.

SB Flourish 1

  • holiday-lifestyle_2013Big Dipper Wax Works is a Seattle-based company specializing in hand-crafted beeswax candles. Big Dipper has recently expanded into the arena of bodycare, offering beeswaxs-based lip balms, massage balms and hand salves. For the holiday season, Big Dipper has an array of holiday aromatherapy candles and unique beeswax ornament candles. You can find Big Dipper products in your local healthfood stores and yoga studios around the Pacific Northwest, including Whole Foods, PCC and 8 Limbs Yoga Centers in Seattle.
  • Nutti Yogini is a Tacoma-based business owned by artist and designer Jessica Alexander specializing in mala beads and necklaces. GNY4treeOne of Jessica’s most successful ventures has been her Nutti Yogini line of necklaces designed to combine the power of “OM” with the healing nature of gemstones to create powerful symbols such as intuition, serenity, wisdom and other traits we wish to possess or need to work toward. She has recently set on a new mission to design and create a yoga-inspired clothing line based on her mission of using sustainable, organic natural fabrics made in America.

Do you have a yogi in your life who just loves to practice and learn? Someone who would love to spend a day (or even four!) immersed in the teachings of yoga asana, philosophy, the business of yoga and more? Consider giving your favorite yogi a pass to the 2015 Northwest Yoga Conference. You can purchase a pass for yourself or as a gift for anywhere between one to four days (single workshops will be available for purchase 2 weeks before the event).  Purchase your pass here!

 

“I am always doing yoga.” An interview with Jeanne Heileman

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

I caught up with Jeanne Heileman on a day when things were not going as planned. Her retreat partner had a change in plans, and she was unexpectedly left to set up and lead an intro session on her own, right after teaching a yoga class. When I called, Jeanne graciously agreed to do go ahead with our interview, despite being in the midst of a last-minute trip for supplies before the evening events began.

You have studied many forms of yoga—including Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vini, and Jeanne HeilemanTantra—and with some of the country’s most renowned teachers. Could you talk about one experience that has had a significant impact on your practice?

I would have to say it was when I started to study Tantra with Rod Stryker. That’s when I realized that all of the joy and excitement I got from working on the physical level could also be found by working internally.

As a Sting fan, I have to admit that when I hear “Tantra,” the first thing I think of is … not yoga. What does it really mean?

It’s not what people think. When I think of Tantra, I think of embracing every aspect of my life, the difficulties as well as the joys, and seeing it all as part of my yoga practice.

Every moment of my day, I am trying to live as a yogi … being stuck in traffic, finding out I have to manage this info session by myself, lack of sleep, body aching … all of these things. It’s about reminding myself in each moment: Okay, this is surrender. You’re not breathing enough. Use your mantra.

In these moments of difficulty, I call on the Yoga Sutras. I ask myself, am I going to believe all the thoughts in my mind? Or am I going to watch them? Sometimes life throws us a little test with the challenges: How’s your yoga doing today? The quality of my mind is the mirror that shows how well my practice is going. This is living the yoga; this is the practice.

Is this an aspect of yoga that you think is often overlooked in the U.S.?

Well … I will speak for myself and say that I had not initially interpreted yoga this way. I was brought up in a very strict Catholic environment. There was a lot of “No, you should do without” engrained in me. And in yoga there’s a lot of discipline. You might think, ”I can’t have this, I can’t have that …”

When I started to study with Rod, I had just gone back to acting … and I realized I actually could do both. I didn’t have to pick one. That was so liberating!

The practices and exercises we did also helped me to realize, I am always doing yoga. I’m doing yoga right now, having a conversation with someone while trying to remember what I need at the grocery store, and hoping to get to the studio in time for my class. Or as I’m sitting and trying to meditate and my body is aching and I want to cry … that’s it, too. The question is, can I accept it, whatever “it” is?

When I do surrender to this … there’s usually some amazing shift. It’s like you can feel a loving caress from the Divine Mother.

It almost sounds like you rediscovered joy …

Yes! Although it was more like I discovered joy, because I don’t know that I ever had it before. Except maybe through coffee.

What are some things you keep in mind when putting together a sequence for a class?

I use a lot of principles from Ayurveda. For example, the weather is really Vata right now, so I’m going to sequence differently than if it was hot and full of Pitta energy. I also adjust my sequencing based on the time of the day.

Jeanne radiates joy while leading a class.

Jeanne radiates joy while leading a class.

I might keep to a similar shape throughout a sequence, to help someone go even further and deeper toward a goal, a peak pose. I also take into consideration who is coming and what is going on in the external environment: politics, financial markets, world events, as well as the state of mind/energy of the students.

In any case, I’m always thinking about affecting energy. It’s not just pose, pose, pose … what I have learned from Rod, in Tantra, is that we want to help the person remember their luminous essence. Do we want to increase that person’s energy, or bring it down and help them calm? I look at where they are and where they need to go to reconnect to their Center.

In my conference workshop [Creative Sequencing that Makes Sense], we will actually sequence a class together, considering various options. If someone doesn’t know about Ayurveda, that’s fine—I’ll cover some of that so that they can follow. Even if you’re not a yoga teacher, it’s fine. This is useful for home practice, too.

I saw on your website that you struggle with scoliosis. How does your own experience of chronic pain affect how you work with students?

Once you have any sort of pain, if it’s really good and juicy, I think it opens you up to your compassion, to realizing that other people are in pain too. As I walk down the sidewalk or drive on the freeway, I look in windows and think, “I wonder who else is in pain?” You realize that everyone’s pain is different, yet the same: it’s hard to breathe, you want to cry and give up, etc.

Helping a student with an adjustment.

Helping a student with an adjustment.

When I have a student who has an injury, I’ll ask them to describe it. I’ll try to put myself into their pain because it helps me to understand what’s happening for them and discover what they need.

At the conference, one of your workshops is a “Closer Look” at the Bhagavad Gita. For those of us who have not studied that text deeply, what is something that we might find surprising?

The book is just pure love! It’s about how to give and receive love, and how to be a yogi in the present world.

People should know that even if they don’t know the book, if they haven’t looked at it, they can come to the workshop. A lot of people think it’s going to be heady and difficult to read, like Shakespeare … but it’s so accessible and so beautiful. I will break it down in a way that people can really relate it to this present day and time. Students who take this workshop leave loving the experience, and the Gita.

I am really honored to be part of this conference and have this opportunity to share not only asana, but these other aspects of yoga.

What advice do you have for a new student of yoga like myself?

I used to teach new students … they would take a class or two and then ask what they should do, and I would say, “Promise me that you will come once a week for 6 months.” And they would say “Sure, of course” … but it’s the holidays, things happen. Stay with once a week no matter what. If you have the time and energy, by all means do more, but never drop any lower than once a week.

Then try to appreciate the experiences happening inside your body—not what’s happening on the outside, how it looks, or whether you’re hitting the pose just right. Let the yoga do its job. Don’t you do yoga, let the yoga do you. The rest will unfold as is necessary.

“These ancient practices are bigger than we are.” A conversation with Melanie Farmer

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

MelanieFarmer250x208When talking with Melanie Farmer—whose Pioneer Square practice is a blend of yoga, Ayurveda, Jyotish, and massage—you cannot forget for a moment that these practices trace back 5,000 years. But even more remarkable than the depth of her respect for ancient wisdom is how deftly she applies it to every aspect of modern reality, from household clutter to holiday stress.

How would you explain the relationship between yoga and Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is an approach to health and well-being that has to do with how you balance your own needs and heal yourself so that you can be of service to your family and community.

I use the word “yoga” as a verb. Yoga involves taking theories of self-care and actually putting them into action. So in addition to the asanas, for example, understanding your dietary needs and eating well is also a form of yoga.

For those of us who are practicing or teaching yoga but not incorporating Ayurveda, are we missing out on the bigger picture?

What I have found is that if people stick with it long enough, they eventually figure it out. Even the word itself, “yoga” … that’s an ancient Sanskrit word. It’s been the same for 5,000 years. So just by saying it, you are invoking a tremendous energy and power.

I have great faith in the practices and the nature of yoga. People find their path. These ancient practices are bigger than we are.

As a new student of yoga, I find that very comforting!

Right. As a new student, it doesn’t matter where you start. It’s about trusting yourself and the way that you’ve been called to yoga. There may be fits and starts, times when despair can be great, even—despair is a very deep, important aspect of yoga. But there’s no going back.

What is one experience that has had an impact on your own practice?

Melanie teaches a class at her studio.

Melanie teaches a class at her studio.

A turning point for me was when I sustained a very serious back injury. It was really a culmination of everything … being too aggressive with my asanas, not nourishing myself enough, not allowing myself enough rest. I had a son, I was married, I owned a business, I had my training … so I lived with a herniated disc in my lower back for years, trying to heal while continuing to work and teach a full schedule.

Finally, the physical therapists and my doctor said, “Enough. You need to stop. It’s time for surgery.” And I was ready for it. For a time, I could do almost no asana at all.

From this has come a shift away from being so aggressive … It was a good lesson. My practice now is much more about self-care.

How has that changed you as a teacher?

Almost everyone who has practiced for any length of time has experienced some kind of injury. Out of that will come lessons around self-care, ego, and our own vulnerability. If we understand it well, we become better teachers. We are better able to help our students avoid that kind of difficulty and pain.

It’s important to trust yourself and your body. If your teacher is mature in their own practice, when you say, “No, that doesn’t feel right,” they will accept that, and they will respect you for it. They will offer you another option.

At the conference, you’re teaching a workshop on Marmas and Adjustments. What are the marmas, and how can they benefit teachers and students?

A marma is a vulnerable point in the body, where you have a number of different tissue structures coming together: for example, the spine, the elbow, the knee. These are the same points used in Kalari, an ancient form of martial arts, as well as in healing systems like acupuncture.

When teachers are adjusting, the natural places to position the hand just happen to be where the large marmas are. If we understand this, then an adjustment becomes more than just a hand placement. You understand that you’re touching something more vulnerable—and at the same time, more powerful—than what’s at the surface.

Another one of your workshops is about creating a supportive work and home environment. What are some of the things you’ve done to create your own personal “haven” at home?

This workshop comes from understanding the connection between Ayurveda and Vastu. Vastu teaches us that our homes and rooms are like the bodies that we live in. We want these spaces to be balanced, just as we balance our physical bodies. If your home is not balanced, you can’t be balanced.

There are some really fundamental practices that can help. At a basic level, you can look at things like clutter and cleanliness. If you have a lot of things that you don’t need or don’t love– get rid of that stuff. Keep a very simple home environment. Recognize that things are energy.

I live on Vashon, in a little cabin … over the past year I have gotten down to just a few things that I really care about. But it’s been a gradual process. I appreciate the things I have for how they have served me, and then I feel happy to give them away so that they may serve someone else. As we authentically let go, there’s a moksha (freedom). But we can be compassionate with ourselves in the process. There’s no rush; just be ready to let go.

For some of us, the holidays can be a stressful time. Any self-care tips?

The holidays are about wanting to be with people you really love and want to be with, and who love and want to be with you. For many people, this may mean you need to look at the nature of your interaction with certain family members. If you’re starting to feel stressed or anxious, what are you going to do for yourself? Can you limit the amount of time you spend in those family situations, so that you have more time to spend with others?

Wow. I was hoping you were just going to tell me what foods to eat!

If only it were that easy, right? The holidays are so often about going back into the family dynamic and playing out those old roles. Unless we recognize what’s happening, it’s going to feel bad.

But when you recognize this, the food issues tend to go away, because you’re not doing the emotional eating. You won’t want to eat those unhealthy foods once you address the core issues and nourish yourself with good, healthy boundaries.

Speaking of relationships … You have a special one with your retired racehorse, Cooper. How has that experience changed you?

Melanie and Cooper

Melanie and Cooper

We talk a lot about heart opening in yoga, in posture practice. With Cooper, I am learning at a deep level what it means to open my heart. The vulnerability is great, if we really respect an animal.

Cooper has experienced human beings who were violent, and he has a huge heart. I’m trying to have this very subtle communication with him so that he can have what he wants, even if it’s not this training we’re doing together, which—as gentle and respectful as it is—is triggering his posttraumatic stress. At times I’m not even sure he wants to stay in this world. As this stress comes up for him, I have to look at what’s coming up for me: I have to work with my own heart in these moments of fear, anger, and grief.

In the end, it’s really about opening your heart with no agenda at all. That is what’s being demanded of me in this relationship. And that’s the yoga. That’s the spiritual work.

Illuminate Your Chakras

By Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

chakra_dancerImagine a stack of swirling energy centers, illuminating the spine from its base to the crown of your head. Those who have vision sensitive enough to see the chakras describe them as spinning wheels of light, each radiating its own brilliant color, from red to violet.

We are not all blessed with this gift of sight, but when our chakras are unbalanced, we feel it: in mind, body, and spirit. Deficiencies in particular chakras manifest as illness or pain in related parts of the body. We experience unbalanced anger, fear, or sadness … or simply feel “stuck” in emotional patterns that repeat in relationship after relationship. We may feel depressed or disconnected from ourselves and from Spirit.

Everyone experiences some degree of imbalance in the chakras—it’s part of being human. Yoga helps to release blocks and restore balance, and at the Northwest Yoga Conference, you will find many workshops to promote optimal energy flow.

Some sessions focus on a particular chakra, through specific asanas that open and awaken related parts of the body. Annie Carpenter’s SmartFlow will take us deep into our hips, cultivating stability through the root chakra. Jeanne Heileman will help us illuminate our heart chakras through backbends, breathing techniques, and Tantric visualizations.

There will also be deliciously sequenced practices designed to support balance and alignment through all of our chakras. Join us on Friday evening for a powerful movement and music co-creation by Jill Knouse and DJ HyFi: “Rockin’ It from Root to Crown.” Or treat yourself to a vinyasa series and sound bath that will brighten your entire energy field, in Amber Tande’s Sunday morning session.

It’s not just about the poses: We hope you will take advantage of the conference’s diverse offerings to discover (or rediscover) how chanting, meditation, 10169260_710140972408514_677844912580619374_nmantras, and more can work in harmony with asanas to promote healing, well-being, and focus.

After a weekend of yoga, our chakras are bound to be moving more freely. So come practice and play with us, and get ready to enjoy more balance in all areas of your life—a healthy physical body, peaceful mind, and deep connection to Spirit.

Can’t wait until March to learn more? Explore the chakras with us in our Chakra Immersion Series, happening right now on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nwyogaconf), Twitter (@nwyogaconf), and Instagram (@northwestyogaconference). Each week we feature a different chakra, with poses, meditations, tips from conference presenters, and exciting giveaways!