NW Yoga Conference – A great opportunity to discover the benefits of yoga!

 

Yoga does not just change the way we see things,
it transforms the person who sees it. –
B.K.S Iyengar

The above quote aptly summarizes the positive impact yoga has on transforming our day to day life. Yoga was first mentioned in the first Vedic literature. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means to unite and the fundamental idea is that the practice of yoga unites our body, mind and soul.

I was first introduced to yoga when as a young professional I was looking for relief from the physical and mental stress that comes with working in a demanding technology industry. I have been practicing yoga ever since then for over a decade now. Though I started practicing yoga for stress relief, I have discovered so many other benefits over the years and continue to discover more with time.

Following are some of the top benefits that I have discovered practicing yoga.

  1. Yoga is a way of life and encourages you to make healthy choices, become self-aware, increases self-esteem and confidence which helps you make better connections and see yourself in a positive light.
  2. Yoga improves balance and flexibility, builds strength, endurance and general fitness in the most natural way. It is always with you as all you need is a mat which you can spread anywhere and practice yoga. You can practice it at the pace that’s most suitable to your unique physic.
  3. Yoga provides stress relief. As the world becomes increasingly “connected” it is becoming increasingly vital to find time to stay in the moment, meditate and clam the mind. Yoga provides a way to connect with your Self.

The above reasons are just tip of the iceberg. As you continue your practice, you will discover many more over time. In addition, yoga opens the doors to new and exciting experiences and learnings that ultimately will help you be a stronger, calmer and grounded person.

NW Yoga conference is an awesome opportunity to discover the benefits of yoga. The conference brings yogis together with diverse mind sets and thus is a perfect chance to learn from experienced yoga teachers. So if you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner, you can get introduced to yoga or enhance your practice and start discovering the benefits of yoga. So do not miss this opportunity to learn yoga and connect with the community right here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!

~ article written and contributed by Geeta

Back to Basics: Interview with Yoga Legend Maty Ezraty

Back to Basics: Interview with Maty Ezraty
by Jill Greene

I was moving too quickly the day I had originally scheduled this interview with senior teacher Maty Ezraty, who founded and directed the YogaWorks studio and Teacher Training program for more than 16 years. Caught up in activity, I forgot to double-check the time difference between Seattle and Hawaii, where Maty now lives—and I missed our appointment entirely!

When we did finally connect, Maty was gracious about my mistake and full of wisdom. Perhaps not coincidentally, our conversation included several reminders of how important it is not to lose sight of the fundamentals, in a modern world that’s moving at the speed of light.

Maty EaratyYou’re offering an all-day intensive this year on “Making Your Practice Whole.” What does it mean to make your practice whole?
In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.

For a number of years, you have been practicing vipassana meditation in addition to yoga. Is that compatible with this idea of making your practice whole?
Yes. I think meditation is mandatory, if you are a serious seeker of spirituality. Asana will only take you so far. It’s so important to study your mind in other venues. Meditation is as good as it gets.

You have been teaching yoga for 25 years. How have you seen the teaching of yoga evolve in America over that time?
Yoga today is a little mixed up with fitness. Not that there’s anything wrong with fitness, but it doesn’t allow you to go deeper in understanding your inner dynamics, your self, your mind-space. If you have the music on, and everything’s about feeling good, looking good … it’s artificial.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, we’ve seen business people take over yoga schools. And they really don’t understand yoga—half of them don’t even practice it. We have so many teacher trainings taught by people who haven’t been doing yoga long enough. So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder!

I think a lot of people are being promised that they can become yoga teachers, but it’s really difficult to make a living teaching yoga today. Of course it depends on the individual and what they know … but it should definitely not be something that you do lightly. I would never advise someone to give up a career to teach yoga, because most teachers today are struggling. Sometimes what you love to do is not necessarily what you should do for a living.

Maty Ezraty AsanaIf you could give one piece of advice to a new teacher today, what would it be?
Stick to why you decided to do yoga in the first place, and teach from there. I did not seek yoga for a profession, when I started studying. I came for a deeper, soul searching. That’s the place to teach yoga from.

When you’re a new teacher, you’re told you need a 200-hour certificate to teach anywhere. What does that have to do with anything? You can do 200 hours of good training or 200 hours of no training. Some people can retain an enormous amount in 200 hours, and other people can’t. So we have this arbitrary number of hours. We’ve got a problem.

In the old days, you had to get permission to take the Yoga Works teacher training. Somebody watched you practice. The first day of teacher training, I could teach shoulder stand. Everybody knew the fundamentals. They knew that in trikonasana the leg turns out, and the knee faces the second toe. I have students now who have never heard that before.

But it’s not the students’ fault! I don’t even think it’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the owners and the companies that are pushing numbers, pushing fitness, pushing Twitter, pushing websites … and they’re overlooking good teachers.

It’s also the consumer. It’s really a society problem, and it’s going to take courageous people to do things in a different way.

What can we do to change things?
Practitioners need to be educated and to buy the right workshops, put their money in classes and in trainings that offer something else. Request them: “I want classes with less music, I want more restorative yoga, I want more pranayama.”

And as an owner, you really have to walk that line in a smart way. Because you have to bring people along. It takes experience. It’s totally doable, but everyone’s just going too fast.

This practice takes time. You need at least 7 years before you’re pretty good. You should have at least 10-15 years under your belt before you teach and train people. You’ve got to be really strong in your own understanding. Otherwise you just give in to the students, because it’s too hard.

My best students and my best teachers assisted me for years. And came to class, over and over again, for years. There’s nothing wrong with a 200-hour training, if you then have somewhere to go and apprentice, under someone who’s really got it. That’ll work.

Do you see any glimmers of hope?
The last time I taught at a yoga festival, I had a teachers’ class. It was a really large class, 120 students, and I did basics. I walked out of that class high as a kite. These teachers wanted to learn, they were hungry, and they were getting it. It was exciting. There was no music, and their eyes were wide open and they wanted the information.

So yes, I have hope. But it’s going to take a community effort.

Maty Ezraty YogaAnd our own self study – is that a part of this?
Absolutely. That’s why I said that meditation is really critical. Because at some point, the asana is just not going to take you that far in. It can’t—it was never meant to. It’s only a pillar, a limb, a part of the process. It’s really just making you healthier so that you can do the deeper work.

I think many of us aspire to have an individual practice as long and fruitful as yours. What advice do you have for us as we look to the future?
What you do in your 20s, you’re not going to be able to do in your 50s. The more you understand that from the beginning, and the more you develop a really caring practice, the more you will appreciate the basics. So when those more fancy poses go away, you’ll have less suffering. You will see the benefits of the simplicity of it all.

The way that our lives are structured today, we put our old people in homes and we may not live next to our families, so we grow up without seeing that aging process up close. It’s not so real for us. We think that we’re always going to be like we are today, but things change. So it’s about the simple things: just lying down on the ground, feeling the earth and realizing how precious that is. How many people in the world never walk barefoot, never lie down on a flat floor and just close their eyes and breathe?

It’s going to come to that for each and every one of us, at some point. Standing on your head? Intense arm balances? Eventually it just doesn’t work anymore. But if those expectations are not there, and the simplicity is applied, and savored, then it’s a wonderful thing.

At the end of the day, you have to know this practice, personally, for yourself, without the teacher. It’s got to get to that.

Spend the day with Maty Ezraty during her Make Your Practice Whole yoga immersion at the Northwest Yoga Conference. You can find all the details here.

The Yoga Trilogy of the Dalai Lama, Yogi Bhajan and Raquel Welch?: An Interview with Kia Miller

By Autumn Feldmeier, Conference Blogger
We caught up with Kia Miller, who will be teaching five workshops at the conference. Find out what she had to say about her offerings as well as her insight about how yoga helps shape our lives in a beautiful, inspiring and important way.


You mentioned your initial introduction to yoga was a  Raquel Welch book?  How do you think yoga has changed and how has it remained the same? 
raquelwelch
The yoga tradition dates back thousands of years, and offers a pathway toward self-discovery, awakening oneness consciousness, being in right relationship with the world, self and others, and living a life of service. This intention remains the same and is represented in all holistic and well rounded schools of yoga. However the teachings of yoga have also changed to meet the modern practitioner where they are. What I have witnessed is a huge focus on physical asana practice for the last 15-20 years, and now a shift where more and more people recognize that there are deeper and more powerful practices like pranayama and meditation that enable them to deal with the high stress lifestyle that many currently live.

You and your husband Tommy Rosen do classes and retreats together-what are the benefits and challenges of this?  kia-tommy-2
Tommy and I are blessed with a similar outlook on life and spirituality. This has enabled us to not only practice together, but also to work together. For many years we focused on developing ourselves, refining our skills as teachers and honing in on whom we can best serve. I focused on developing and leading Radiant Body Yoga teacher trainings, and Tommy focused on developing a business to serve the development of those in recovery from addiction using yoga and lifestyle teachings. More recently we have been co-leading retreats that bring together our skills and unique approaches.

The time we spent building our individual approaches has enabled us to teach together harmoniously, where our egos are in check and we have mutual respect. Much like Kahil Gibran says on marriage “And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

You have mentioned your struggle with bulimia when you were a model- how has yoga helped you heal from that?  
For many years I was very dissociated from my body and used the act of throwing up my food to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Through the practice of yoga I learned how to find the comfortable seat in my body. I learned how to correctly breathe, which enabled me to work through the tough emotions that would have me want to binge and purge. When I was fortunate enough to find Kundalini Yoga I discovered a real sense of my self. I came to realize that through my whole modeling career I was wearing all the masks I thought others wanted to see, yet had no faith and connection in myself as a unique and original human being. The practice of Kundalini Yoga gradually peeled off the layers of masks until I found a connection to my inner sense of self, my power, my creativity, and ultimately the gifts of this incarnation. Together with the practices of yoga, I also healed my eating disorder by eating a purely plant based raw diet for two years which took the inflammation and irritation our of digestive tract and enabled me to re-set and re-negotiate my relationship with food.


One quote of yours which I love is ‘If you give energy to negativity,  it will take you to places you do not want to go. How can the practice of  yoga assist in channeling your energy into the right places?  
kiamiller-1
Negativity is a poison that spreads when given energy. When we dwell on negative thoughts or emotions we empower them. Often when we are in the throws of negativity, we forget that we have a choice. In that moment we are choosing negativity, yet we could equally be choosing positivity. I have found the practices of yoga to be a great way to channel energy, in particular mental energy. The asana practice helps us to remove tension and to reclaim a sense of peace. The pranayama practices help us to shift the patterns of thinking. As the yogic texts state: “as the breath, so the mind” When we alter the rhythm of the breath, we are able to break the mental trances that hold our consciousness captive, we are able to liberate ourselves from negativity and the choices that lead to negativity. Once we have broken the pattern that has held us captive, we can sit with a meditative focus and learn to access our neutral mind, our witness. From this place we are able to be aware of thoughts without attaching our identity to them.

The Dalai Lama has said ‘The world will be saved by the Western woman’-do you believe  this to be true and (if so) how does this influence your teachings?  
If you look at the demographic of who is practicing yoga, you will see that it is over 70% women. This shows that it is women who are being turned on by these teachings and often because of a woman that men come to the practice!

Yogi Bhajan directed much of his teaching to the empowerment of women. He worked with women to realize and remember their true value, and said that when women reclaim their power they will lead the way forward.

In my own teachings I see all people as equal – both female and male, so I do not direct my teaching toward a gender however I do stress the importance of promoting qualities like: empathy, intuition, inclusiveness, neutrality, balance, compassion, etc.

In your podcast, you mentioned ‘information dementia’ whereupon we are constantly being bombarded with distractions (iPad, iPhone, Facebook, etc) and how that prevents us from critical thinking. But, as a busy yoga teacher, how do you prevent this from happening to you?  kiamillerreading
This is a great question! I have a few methods to keep my ‘devices’  time down:

  • I meditate every day which helps to clear my mind and allow me to connect inwardly to a still and expansive space. This is the single most helpful thing as it allows me to keep my neutrality throughout the day.
  • I have someone who helps with my social media. It is an important outreach for me with fellow yogis and students, so with help I can engage in the ways that are meaningful to me rather than it being another ‘job’ to tend to.
  • I check my social media once a day, which prevents the obsession to keep checking throughout the day.
  • When I am in the midst of a training or retreat, I have my assistant answer all my emails!
  • When I am sitting alone, I prefer to read a book over reading posts on social media

In  these seemingly hope less times, what helps you stay grounded and optimistic?  
I see a lot of hope in these times. I see many people in my workshops, teacher trainings and retreats working really hard to overcome their negative patterns and to be a light to those around them. I see a country in great change, where we are witnessing a large divide in outlook on life and beliefs. My hope is that we, as yoga practitioners, walk the middle path instead of polarizing and making others ‘wrong.’ This is one of the ways that we can lead. I invite all to meditate on the following statements left by Yogi Bhajan for this time. See what insights come to you as you dwell on each one:

  1. Recognize the other person is you
  2. There is a way through every block
  3. When the time is on you, start, and the pressure will be off
  4. Understand through compassion or you will misunderstand the times
  5. Vibrate the cosmos, and the cosmos shall clear the path

What can we expect from your classes at the Northwest Yoga Conference?  kia-prayerMy focus within yoga has led me to an understanding of the importance of connecting to and cultivating ‘inner radiance.’ When we are radiant, we are bright, enthusiastic, emitting positive uplifting energy, we are a light to ourselves and others. Some yogic texts reference the energy that emanates from the heart center as radiance. It is the power that enables us to share and teach through our presence. The more aware and connected we are to the Truth within, the brighter our radiant body.

In these fast paced and challenging times our Radiance easily becomes depleted through stress and distraction. These classes share essential tools for keeping our radiance bright and effective. I have found these teachings to be some of the most powerful and effective and cutting through the negative self hypnosis and awakening intelligence and clarity in the body/mind.

Learn more about Kia Miller’s workshop offerings at the Northwest Yoga Conference here.

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.

7 Ways to Feed Your Chakras through Food

7 Ways to Feed Your Chakras through Food
If we always do what we’ve always done–we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.” -Anonymous

Have you ever gone on a diet, only to find yourself back in your old eating habits a short time later? The issue might lie in how you approach not only the diet, but the concept of food in general.

“Going on a diet” implies a temporary regimen that we’ll eventually stop. If we continue to see food as a static diet, and not in the broader sense of being a dynamic tool for personal growth, chances are we won’t be led to our inner potential through eating.

Therefore, I am going to challenge you to open your vision of “food” to a larger concept of “nourishment of the whole self,” which I believe will give you more sustainable changes and a renewed, fresh relationship with something as common as eating.

Our relationship with food can be broken down into seven chakras. Discover which areas of nourishment may be particularly relevant to you by doing the Spectrum Quiz (http://whole-detox.com/the-spectrum-quiz/) and then reading more below:

1. Food is grounding. Most people have a grounding relationship with food – it provides a way to be fully present in the body. It gives us the energy we need to exist. Our body provides us with the foundation for our entire being to survive in the physical world. How do you connect with your body and listen deeply for its wise messages? Are you tapped into your instinct? How do you create stability in your everyday life so you feel safe enough to make choices that serve your bodily needs?

2. Food is emotion. We have strong feelings about food – what to eat, when to eat, how to eat. Our eating becomes who we are, and, as a result, it can stimulate a wide range of feelings. Sometimes our feelings are trapped within and when we don’t express them, we turn to our favorite foods for comfort. How can you take the concept of “flow” into your everyday creativity, allowing your emotions to be fluid and free? Are there ways that you invite a healthy dance between emotions and eating that satisfies YOU, not your cravings?

3. Food is transformation. Every act of eating represents one of transformation. We take in a food and turn it into our being. Often when we eat, we are not just taking in the food – we may find ourselves taking in the clutter in our mind and in our environment, including the conversations, the hustle-bustle of the every day, and all the tasks we have yet to do. How can you bring more concentrated, fiery transformation into your eating so you can assimilate what is surrounding you in a balanced manner?

4. Food is love. Our heart connects to the eating experience through a shared meal with others or giving and/or receiving food. If we feel moved, we may prepare foods for others or surprise them with a gift of food. The holidays are a perfect time to share food with family and friends. When we make foods with love, we are extending the outreach of our heart and we may get gratitude in return. How can you find even more self-love by serving yourself and others by making nourishing, healthy choices that resonate with your heart?

5. Food is our truth. Speaking our voice about what we eat allows us to be authentically who we are. When we are presented with an array of choices, we have the ability to choose for our highest good and our best self. If we make these congruent choices, we are consistent on our path. How many times are you able to find your voice to speak what is on your heart? Are you open to making choices that will surrender you to an authentic life? By expressing your unique eating truths, you may open up to an expanse of opportunity!

6. Food is mood. What we eat can impact our overall mood, and our mood can drive our food choices. How do you stay conscious of this rhythmic flow? Are you tuned in to your internal sense of intuition, which can allow you to know what food is good for the type of mood you want to create? We contain all of the wisdom we need when it comes to knowing what is beneficial for us. The goal is to go within to seek this internal wisdom that can transition us from intellect to insight we can harness in every moment. If you’re curious about what science has told us about the relationship between food and mood, check out this blog.

7. Food is connection. Every bite of food we take represents the web of nature – from the field to the farmer to all the interactions that food had with the natural elements of animals, sun, rainbows, clouds, stars, and moon, and to all of the hands it passed through to make its way onto the fork. There is something special about the act of eating; it is required for our bodily survival and, at the same time, it gives us a pathway to the soul of seeing outside of the constraints of our body and into the eternal landscape of connection. How can you get more connection in that next bite of food? If you can stay in the mindset of every meal being a miracle, you are on your way to filling yourself with the divine nourishment of connection.

Seven_Chakras_Food_4

Like a kaleidoscope that turns to reveal new patterns and colors, food is an everyday rainbow experience of nourishing the whole self. For an in-depth guide to eating to enhance your chakras, look for my new book Whole Detox, coming in March! In the meantime, see what new themes emerge for you in 2016 – be ready to transform through the spectrum of discovery!


Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-recognized lifestyle medicine expert, creative visionary, and author of five books. Her twenty years of experience in the nutrition and functional medicine fields led her to develop an integrated, “whole self” approach to nutrition and detox called Food & Spirit, which is the practice of understanding one’s eating and living through the seven core symbolic themes. Her passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine. Her new book, Whole Detox, comes out on March 8th. Learn more about the book and Whole Detox program at whole-detox.com.

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!

Show Me Your Plate, I’ll Tell You Who You Are

Show Me Your Plate, I’ll Tell You Who You Are
By Deanna Minich, Conference Presenter

Do you ever try to figure people out? Do you wonder about the depths of who someone really is when you first meet them? Throughout time, there have been countless methods, whether by reading stars, palms, faces, or minds, that have lifted the veil revealing the inner landscape of a person.

Arranged Vegetables Creating a Face --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisPerhaps all you need to do is have a meal with them to know more about them.  After all, research shows that we make more than 200 decisions about food every day. As a result, our relationship with eating says something rather significant about how we choose to live our lives. This idea may not be far-fetched considering that we have long been told “you are what you eat.”

Would you like to peel back the onion layers of your next date, business contact, or distant family member? Go out to eat and watch what they order. Here are some general guidelines on how to gauge personality based on food choices – see if any of these descriptions hold true for your dinner dates-or yourself!

Steak-and-Potatoes Sticklers: The high protein of the meat and the lack of brightly-colored palette suggest that these folks are rather “down to earth.” For them to be satisfied, they need to be financially stable and secure with a job, home, and family. You can typically trust these people and get practical, grounded advice from them. They don’t like to let people down, and they won’t want you to let them down either. Getting stuck in the “steak-and-potatoes rut” may be symbolic of a less adventurous, “stick in the mud” personality and resistance to change.

Carb Cravers: Without a doubt, carb cravers are those who tend to do too much, which is why they need all that quick energy from carbohydrates. They love throwing themselves in the midst of action and excitement. These folks are stressed and are attempting to balance their brain biochemistry by pumping up their feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. Carb-lovers are missing comfort and sweetness in their lives. Rather than dive into the cushy comfort of carbs, they might want to find other ways to create joy and happiness, like spending time with friends or engaged in hobbies that nourish them.

Sugar Sprinklers: For the sugar-lovers, there is always room for dessert, no matter what, and dinner is the gateway to what they really want – the sweets. Their days are speckled with soft drinks and saccharine snacks. They may be incredibly sweet people, but they may not feel their lives are sweet, which is why they may be trying to take a short cut to sweetness through food. Those sinking in sugar need more happiness and laughter. By encouraging a stimulating, stress-free dinner conversation, they may not feel the need to bury themselves under a blanket of white!

The Salt Shaker: People who add salt to just about anything (even before trying it first!) are really looking for flow and movement in their lives. They want to “shake things up” but they don’t know how. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure in salt-sensitive individuals, causing too much fluid retention. What these people need is to move, dance, and flow into healthier lives.

Although it’s not the absolute path to figuring out the complex nature of one’s being, food choices say volumes about someone’s life – giving insight on their health, social views, emotional state, and approach to living. Indeed, the plate is a small window into the soul!

Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-recognized lifestyle medicine expert, creative visionary, and author of five books. Her twenty years of experience in the nutrition and functional medicine fields led her to develop an integrated, “whole self” approach to nutrition and detox called Food & Spirit, which is the practice of understanding one’s eating and living through the seven core symbolic themes. Her passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine. Her new book, Whole Detox, comes out on March 8th. Learn more about the book and Whole Detox program at whole-detox.com. Join her at the conference for her workshop “How to Live a Colorful, Full Spectrum Life Through Yoga and Chakra Nutrition” and free talk “Whole Detox“.

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.

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.

Conference Team Yoga Workshop Picks

By Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

Do you remember those days in school when you would receive your class schedule? The next few days were filled with the chatter of comparing schedules. Which classes did you and your bestie have together? Were you able to get into your favorite teacher’s class? And how could you rearrange your schedule to make it the most ideal for you?

Seattle Yogis Choosing Their Yoga Workshops at the Northwest Yoga ConferenceThis is the analogy I think of when picturing conference attendees signing up for their yoga workshops at the conference.  Going through and hand-picking the yoga workshops that call out to them. Comparing schedules with their friends to try and make at least one or two yoga workshops together, mat by mat, friend by friend. Of course, here on the conference team, we enjoy checking in with each other and seeing what each person is excited to take. Take a peek below at the workshops that each of us are looking forward to this year:

Melissa's Yoga WorkshopI love studying with Annie Carpenter and appreciate her dedication to teaching in a style that keeps the body in a safe alignment while keeping the bigger picture of the practice in mind. I am really looking forward to her yoga workshop on backbends as I know it will be full of useful insights into practicing backbends safely! -Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

Jill Yoga WorkshopAlthough I love the yoga workshops that deepen and expand my practice of asana, I am most excited this year about those that explore other aspects of yoga. The opportunity to hear Aadil Palkhivala speak on living the eight limbs, make my own mala with healing stones, and explore devotional chanting with Janet Stone … all in one place … is what makes the Yoga Conference such a special experience for me. I can’t wait! – Jill Riveria Greene, Conference Blogger

Torrey Yoga WorkshopThe Northwest Yoga Conference always has such an amazing and wide variety of yoga workshops that it is difficult to choose just one! I am excited to explore new ideas for how to lift-off in Arm Balances 101 with Annie Carpenter, and to learn more about the elements of our hands in Mudras: Expressions of the Hand with Kimi Marin. -Torrey Kaminski, Marketplace Coordinator

Katie Yoga Workshop This is my first year giving my full presence to the Northwest Yoga Conference. I’m so excited to learn, play and grow with all of the master yogis sharing their wisdom with us, but I’m not-so-secretly most excited for Joanna Dunn’s Restorative/Somatic Movement/Pranayama to Soothe the Nervous System to give myself an intentional space to relax, clear my mind and integrate some of the more extroverted yet equally awesome yoga workshops. Self-care is the best! – Katie Vincent, Conference Blogger

Carly Seattle Yoga Workshop With all of the wonderful teachers and genius workshops, it was wonderful agony trying to choose which classes to attend at NWYC! Most of all, I’m looking forward to Sadie Nardini’s “Next-Level Authenticity, Anatomy, and Abundance” all-day intensive. I teach a wide range of yoga styles, and it will be wonderful to hear advice on how to maintain my authentic voice while still delivering what my students need most. – Carly Hayden, Swag Bag Coordinator

Linds Seattle Yoga WorkshopI am really looking forward to Sadie Nardini’s workshop ‘Bust Sabotage and Rock Who You Are’. As a small business owner and creative enthusiast, vulnerability and doubt sometimes cloud my thoughts and can distract me from my core truth. I am excited to learn about Sadie’s techniques in a high energy, yet rooted – soul filled workshop! – Lindsay Baugh, Graphic Design

Julie Seattle Yoga WorkshopWhich to choose? I am definitely excited that Sadie Nardini will be here and am looking forward to taking a yoga workshop with her. But also looking forward to another class with Annie Carpenter and my ‘bestie’ Jill Knouse. But then there are workshops with Naomi Jones and Kimi Marin, who were volunteers with us in the past, so that’s cool to see them on the other side of the conference. And the yoga sutras with Silvia Mordini is always a good topic. So, I don’t know! – Julie DiRusso,  Volunteer Coordinator

For those of you who may find yourself in Julie’s predicament, don’t worry! Just like school, you can change your schedule. Sign up and register for the yoga workshops that call to you right now and check-in at the beginning of the year to see if those choices still resonate with you. If not, go ahead and change it up. Keep in mind, just like school, there are a limited number of spaces in each workshop.

You can view the full conference schedule here.