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

Headshot-Aadil-2001By Katie Vincent

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

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

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What is Purna Yoga?

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

What makes it unique?

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever embarked on a pilgrimage?

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

‘Make of thy daily way a pilgrimage

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

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

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

Can We Build It? Yes We Can!

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

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

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

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

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Jill and Michael Knouse

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

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

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

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

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

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Molly Lannon Kenny

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

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

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

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill

Kevin Graybill adds one more to this list: Communication.

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

Not all forms of communication are equally conducive, though.

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

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

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

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

Andrew Tanner, Yoga Alliance

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

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

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

As Lannon Kenny says,

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

 

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

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the search is still important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

Molly on pilgrimage, bathing in the Ganges.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pilgrimage in the Everyday: An Interview with Janet Stone

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

Janet and DJ Drez. Photo by Melina Meza.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Jennifer McNiven.

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

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

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

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

A Heart of Service: Volunteering at the Northwest Yoga Conference

By Jen Mullholand, 2014 Conference Blogger

When I stepped into the Northwest Yoga Conference venue at the Lynnwood Convention Center in March 2014, the first folks arriving on the scene were the volunteers. After a brief check in with the volunteer coordinator, Julie DiRusso, they scattered around the convention center, eager to assist the attendees and presenters. Volunteers are truly the lifeblood of conferences and festivals across the country.

The Northwest Yoga Conference is different from many of the modern day conferences. It has a more intimate, community-oriented vibe which even volunteers notice. “I think that is a major difference between our event and others,” said Melissa Hagedorn, director of the Northwest Yoga Conference. “We are genuinely interested in creating an authentic connection with each volunteer and providing them with an enriching volunteer opportunity that will be as memorable and worthwhile to them as possible. From my experience, that kind of personal touch doesn’t happen at other events.”

Hagedorn soaking up the volunteer experience at a 6-hour inversion workshop with Kathryn Budig.

Hagedorn soaking up the volunteer experience at a 6-hour inversion workshop with Kathryn Budig.

Hagedorn knows firsthand because, after founding the conference, she decided to go and volunteer at other yoga events to see what the volunteer experience was like. Volunteers at the Northwest Conference get exposed to a variety of roles over the course of the weekend. They are not stuck behind a desk for a eight hour shift, forced to miss the presenters they were hoping to take class with. Instead, the conference team aims to provide its volunteers with the chance to take the workshop sessions they desire.

“Most other events do not provide the personalization that we do for volunteers. Other events throw you into long shifts whenever you are available and they need you and you squeeze in yoga classes wherever you can,” said Hagedorn. “We ask our volunteers for their top workshop choices and try to ensure that they are matched to volunteer work that allows them to attend workshops that they are interested in attending. We offer attendees a balanced volunteer schedule by offering them a shift at registration, a workshop shift and free time each day.”

Volunteers serve an important role at the registration desk.

Volunteers serve an important role at the registration desk.

What’s it like to be a volunteer for the weekend of the conference? Kris Kappel volunteered for the conference in 2012 and 2013 and was an attendee at the 2014 conference. She said that the role of volunteer runs from working the registration desk to assisting the presenters to greeting attendees at the entrance and guiding them to their classes. Kappel found the role of greeter to be her favorite. “Being a greeter was probably the best, welcoming visitors with a smile & helping them to feel at home was so gratifying.”

Why choose to get involved in the conference at a volunteer level instead of just being an attendee? For many of the volunteers, it is more than being able to take workshops in exchange for helping. They find great satisfaction in being of service to the greater yoga community. According to Kappel “These volunteer positions are so important. Just as when I arrive at an unknown destination, the people there can make me feel welcome and appreciated or lost and disconnected. I am happy the Northwest Yoga Conference strives to make all participants a part of the ‘family’.”

Darcey takes to the hoop at the NWYC conference.

Darcey takes to the hoop at the NWYC conference.

Another former volunteer, Darcey Miller, had similar views on being part of the conference. Miller was part of the conference from its inception. She met Hagedorn at an amphibian class in 2008 and then ended up working in the cubicle next to Hagedorn. “Melissa told me she couldn’t find a good yoga conference in the Northwest. She decided she was going to start one. I asked her how I could help.” In three years as part of the volunteer conference team, Miller worked closely with Hagedorn and was an assistant director from 2011 through April 2014. “It’s so rewarding to know that people are going to enjoy the effort we put in,” said Miller. “It’s an awesome feeling to serve people and the community.”

“I was honored to be a part of the team to help make our Northwest Yoga Conference a success. The team was a joy to work with, they were & are, a brave group of hard working people with a vision & the courage to step off the cliff to make it a reality,” said Kappel. “I would volunteer again in a heartbeat. To be a part of this wonderful conference, in any capacity, is an honor.”

How would you go about getting involved in the Northwest Yoga Conference as a volunteer in 2015? Apply online! Julie DiRusso, volunteer coordinator and conference team member since its inception in 2012, says her most important criteria for volunteers is that they are available for the full weekend. “I need people that can commit to the full thing,” she said. For the 2014 conference, DiRusso had 22 applicants and ended up with 12 volunteers. The conference itself in 2014 had over 500 attendees. “Every year, we keep growing, and I want to be able to accommodate that,” said DiRusso.

Are you interested in being part of the volunteer team for the 2015 Northwest Yoga conference? Applications are now being accepted for volunteers (click highlighted text for application). The application deadline is 12/6/2014 and applicants will know their acceptance status by 1/6/2015.

Illuminate Your Mind, Body, and Spirit (Part 1)

By Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

What lights you up? That’s the question you are invited to explore at the 2015 Northwest Yoga Conference: “Illuminate Your Mind, Body, and Spirit.”

We’ve all experienced how yoga awakens and enlivens the body. The asanas offer plenty of opportunities to understand our bodies in a new way. They can reveal imbalances between the right and left sides, for example, or draw our attention to places that may need additional care. A physical practice also can help us tap into new sources of strength and vitality.

Those who come to yoga expecting a purely physical practice, though, may be surprised to find it has an equally illuminating effect on our minds. Yoga shows us the commotion of our own unquestioned thoughts. It can reveal underlying patterns of belief that no longer serve us. Poses and meditation may help to clarify our motivations, our intentions, and our sense of purpose. Yoga can both expose our agitation and activate a new experience of peace.

The greatest gift of yoga may be its potential to animate and rejuvenate our spirit, ignite our passion and creativity … even bring our life’s path to light.

Blog photoWe hope that this year’s conference theme will intrigue and challenge you—that you will find the conference to be a rich and nurturing place to explore the concept of illumination, decide what it means to you, and replenish your soul in the process. This year’s schedule is packed full of wonderful offerings to help you do just that. Here is just a taste of the many ways we’ll help you get your “glow” on:

To Illuminate Your Mind Kick off your weekend with Debbie Dixon, delving into the practice of intention. Learn how yoga stretches the mind and can help you tap new sources of creativity in a Yoga and Journaling workshop with Silvia Mordini. Or enrich your understanding of the Bhagavad Gita through an enlightening lecture and discussion with Jeanne Heileman.

To Illuminate Your Body … Deepen your understanding of the anatomy of the pelvis and hips and how to maintain proper alignment in an all-day therapeutics intensive with beloved teacher Annie Carpenter. Explore with Nancey Cohen how the yin side of yoga can stretch and strengthen the spine, pelvis, and hips. Or find the essential building blocks to successful Bakasana “lift off” in Carrie Wallace’s session, Flight Plan.

To Illuminate Your Spirit … Awaken your essential nature through a keynote presentation and meditation workshops with internationally recognized teacher Richard Miller. Forge new pathways to the soul by deepening your relationship with deities and ancient mythologies in a workshop by Amber Tande on Bhakti Yoga. Discover how to create and hold a Sacred Space for ceremony and ritual with healer Heidi Jae Mireles.

Just don’t be surprised when you attend these sessions (or one of our many others) expecting to focus on one aspect of yourself … and find the other aspects lighting up as well!

Yet another facet of our conference theme speaks to the ways that our yoga practice can activate each of the chakras. We are just beginning to explore that subject in a seven-week social media campaign. We hope you will join us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nwyogaconf), Twitter (@nwyogaconf) and Instagram (@northwestyogaconference), if you haven’t already!

Stayed tuned here, as well … we will post “Illuminate Your Mind,  Body, and Spirit: Part 2” soon, exploring this subject in greater depth.

Until then …. Be radiant!

Why Yoga Teachers Should Attend the Northwest Yoga Conference

By Jen Mullholand, 2014 Conference Blogger

As a yoga teacher of 10 years, I had yet to attend a yoga conference or festival and wasn’t quite sure if I wanted to attend. First off, most of the conferences that appealed to me involved travel to a rather expensive venue (like San Francisco or Lake Tahoe). Two hour classes cost on average $75 or more?! WHAT? And as much as I love getting together with yogis and talking all things yoga, I have been on a budget while pursuing my 300-hour advanced training with Noah Maze in LA. But this past January, when I discovered the Northwest Yoga Conference was bringing top national presenters like Kathryn Budig, I knew I wanted to somehow get involved and be at the conference. I had met Kathryn a few years back in Chicago and hadn’t had a chance to study with her in a while. Not to mention, one of my other teachers, Aadil Palkhivala, would also be presenting. What’s not to get excited about studying with these amazing teachers? I made the decision to attend my first yoga conference.

When the conference finally arrived, and I pulled into Lynnwood Convention Center that first morning, the energy was palatable. It started off slow, but then the yogis filled the convention center to the brim with positive, uplifting energy. I had the chance to meet some folks I had only met via social media, as well as a chance to network with teachers from surrounding communities like Portland and Vancouver. That in and of itself was well worth attending the event. Then the actual sessions started! I practiced with Aadil, Kathryn, Eoinn Finn and Jill Knouse over the weekend. The depth of workshops offered ran the gamut from classes on inversions and backbends to the psychology of yoga to the business of yoga.I was also very impressed by the sizable marketplace, full of props, clothing and food from around the area and beyond. So many options. All in one weekend.

Additionally, I personally found it nice to get out of the city of Seattle and be in Lynnwood (17 miles north of Seattle), a location that was close enough for an easy drive each morning to the conference. Not to mention ample free parking (am I right, Seattle folks?) and a Whole Foods only a few minutes away from the venue. Couldn’t ask for much more!

Within those three days I spent at the Northwest Yoga Conference, I came to realize the value of attending a yoga conference as a yoga teacher. The conference provided me the opportunity to network on a large scale, learn from incredibly knowledgeable teachers, and immerse myself in the yoga community. But don’t just take my word for it. I reached out to a handful of teachers who have attended the conference to get their perspective.

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Nicole sharing her passion for teas with conference attendees.

Nicole Armstrong, a Seattle-based teacher, Tea Sommelier and attendee offered a “Teas Around The World” workshop as part of the weekend. “I have actively participated in the NorthwestYoga Conference from its very beginning as a means of growth. The Northwest Yoga Conference is powerful in that it brings a wealth of knowledge, experience (from local teachers to yoga “rock stars”), and interpretations of yoga right here to our Seattle community. I have taken workshops in sequencing, business, Thai yoga, Iyengar, meditation, and anatomy & physiology. Every class enriches not only my personal practice, but each class and private lesson that I teach to my students. I am grateful for what Melissa has created and brought to our community.”

Jerri Clark, a yoga teacher based in Vancouver, WA, participated in the 2014 conference and wrote about her experience on her blog Yoga Surfer. “I came away from the conference inspired to share new insights, sequences and alignment cues with my students. I felt refreshed in my teaching and supported as part of a vast community of teachers in our area who share my passion and commitment to yoga.”

A group of teachers from Boise enjoying their weekend immersed in yoga and community.

A group of teachers from Boise enjoying their weekend immersed in yoga and community.

Debra Murphy, director of the Shanti Yoga School in Boise, Idaho, attended and presented at the 2014 conference. “The conference is a great opportunity to study with a variety of teachers on a variety of topics from yoga history to asana. It seeks to provide participants with not just the tip of the iceberg of yoga (asana) but the deeper aspects. They’re able to attract world-class teachers at affordable prices. The lodging and environment is more serene than in other venues.”

I am super excited to be a part of the 2015 Northwest Yoga Conference. It will be an opportunity to connect with new faces, old friends and a chance to study with not only nationally recognized teachers, but also get more familiar with all the local teachers as well.  Because at the heart of it, building community is what the conference is really about.

Origins: A Conversation with Conference Founder Melissa Phillips-Hagedorn

By Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

When you came up with the idea for this conference four years ago, it was for very personal reasons, wasn’t it? 
Right. My husband had been laid off from his job, and I was feeling pretty stressed out. I had been practicing at a studio for a year or so, and I thought spending a full weekend connecting with my practice would really serve me.

I looked around for options for yoga retreats, but at that time of year—January, February—everything was in Mexico or Hawaii, and there was no way I was going to be able to afford that.

So I thought maybe I would plan just a one-day event: two workshops in the morning, two in the afternoon. I was about to put down a deposit on a little grange hall I had found, when something inside me said that I needed to think bigger. I thought, I’m just going to listen to where this voice is leading me.

Then I found the Lynnwood Convention Center, and I signed the contract—it was the most money I had ever signed for in my life! That was a real growth experience for me.

It sounds like the whole conference was really a leap of faith.
Exactly. I wasn’t really plugged into the yoga community at that point. I wasn’t a teacher. I had never been to a yoga event. The only people I knew were those who taught at my studio or took classes there.

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Aadil Palkhivala delivering the keynote speech at the inaugural conference.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, how much work is involved. You kind of have to be fueled by passion to do something like this. But the message of the conference resonated so deeply within me … I knew I had to do it.

And the universe sent strong messages that this needed to happen. The presenters and keynote speakers were all very generous with their time and their rates. Obstacles would come up and I would think, “I don’t know how this is going to work out,” and then answers would appear.

I think this is meant to be here for the community.

Let’s talk about that. You had a vision for this conference from the beginning, and “community” was a big part of it. 
As I started building the conference, I kept asking myself, “What is this about? What’s most important?”

There’s often a rich sense of community within individual yoga studios, but there aren’t as many opportunities for people to connect beyond their studio walls. I wanted to provide that space.

Over the years, I’ve seen that come to pass. I’ve seen studio owners make connections at the conference and go on to teach workshops at each other’s studios. I’ve seen teachers get connected with new places to teach. We even have some nonprofits that, through our Marketplace, have found new volunteers.

And of course, 70 percent of our attendees are yoga teachers, so it’s a great opportunity to meet other teachers and share ideas. There’s a real sense of cross-pollination.

What was it like, that first year? You started this event out of a personal need, but I would imagine it’s hard to enjoy your own conference! 
The first year I did go through an unexpected grieving process … that moment when everyone went into their workshops and I was standing in the hallway, thinking about what needed to happen next. That’s when I realized: This is really about creating an experience for others.

Melissa mingling at 2012 conference

Melissa mingling at 2012 conference

But I remember showing up the morning of the first conference and seeing the space all set up for us, and I was just overcome with emotion. I had spent the last year of my life working on this, had left my job to work on this. So to see it all come together after all of that … I was on a “high” all weekend, just getting to be a part of that experience with other people.

How has the conference evolved over the years?
Well, it’s definitely grown. The first year, I was really excited that more than 100 yogis turned out for the event. I would have been happy if even a single person had shown up! Last year [the conference’s third] we had almost 400 yogis join us—about 500 total attendees, including presenters, vendors, and volunteers.

And although I planned the first conference largely on my own, with a few helpers, the conference is now developed by a team of volunteers. This allows us to provide more depth to attendees.

The first year we drew exclusively on local teachers— the Northwest has a lot of really wonderful, knowledgeable teachers who have so much to offer. But people also want the opportunity to study with national teachers, so now we bring in a mix.

Every year we structure the conference around a new theme. The theme provides an opportunity for people to take a very personal journey throughout the weekend and define it in ways that are meaningful for them. [More about this year’s theme, “Illuminate Your Mind, Body, and Spirit,” coming soon!]

What makes the Northwest Yoga Conference stand out from similar events?
Holding the conference in Lynnwood [just 30 minutes north of Seattle] helps keeps our costs very low, compared to what we could offer in the city. And of course, there’s no additional costs for airfare, hotel, or even parking for local attendees.

We work hard to make sure the experience is very inviting and accepting to everyone: from studio owners through beginners. I’m very protective of the conference energy; I want it to be a positive experience. I’ve been to events where I feel like I’m not wearing the right clothes. That’s not the environment we’re creating.

And it’s a very intimate experience. Some events may have 200 or 300 people in a workshop. That has its place, for sure, but this is about providing a space to really deepen your practice and engage with teachers, so our workshops are capped at 80.

I spend a lot of time getting familiar with the workshops and the presenters. One of my favorite things is when people reach out to me and ask, “These are my goals, what do you recommend?” I love helping people find the right fit.

And of course … community.
That’s it, really: the community feeling, the welcoming atmosphere. That will never change. It’s like that Buddhist saying, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

We’re spreading the light.

Interview with Taylor Harkness, Kathryn Budig’s Assistant

taylorWhy do you practice yoga?
Initially, it was all about dancing the edge and seeing progress in every practice. While there is still an edge to push and a physical sense of accomplishment there, my practice these days centers more around playfulness, expression through movement, and coming back to myself, my home base.

Three words to describe your life pre-yoga and three words to describe your life post-yoga.
Pre-yoga: sleepless, type-A, stubborn
Post-yoga: grateful, focused, impassioned

Why do you teach yoga?
That’s a loaded question and I suppose the answer has many layers. In brief, I want to motivate others to awaken, to come alive. A big portion of our lives is spent behind a desk, a computer, or a cell phone screen. If I can inspire even just one person to get up and do what feels good, what feels right, and what makes his or her heart beat faster and stronger, then I have done my job.

Tell us a little bit about your yoga teaching style.
inversion_taylor
I teach the way I want to be taught. My favorite classes to take are ones filled with laughter, lightness, and high spirits- so I try to create that environment in my own classes. I encourage giggles, tickling your neighbor in down dog, and trying new transitions and postures. Life is an adventure and our time on the mat should reflect that. I also have a strong focus on anatomy and the workings of the body. It’s hard to shake the thought patterns of a medical background, so I choose to use it as a strength.

Your motto is “Shine On.” Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it means to you?
Shine On is a simple motto and mantra to remind us all that we are so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We as individuals, but also as a group, have so much power and goodness to offer. While there’s more to it than what I can say in a few sentences, Shine On has focuses of empowerment, civil awareness and responsibility. It’s a constant reminder that we all have a light, but when we stand together, we shine even brighter.

kandtYou have a unique job working with one of the most prominent yoga teachers, Kathryn Budig. What is your role with Kathryn? And what does that look like?
It looks a lot like two monkeys on a playground. Kathryn is one of my best friends and I am so grateful for our relationship. We have such a great time together and we keep each other motivated and grounded. Aside from our friendship, my role on the business side is to handle her bookings and scheduling, organize events, negotiate contracts, and keep things running smoothly. It works well because those are all of the things I like to do anyway. I took on the job because we were spending so much time together and I have a knack for organization. It’s a good fit.

I would think one of the many advantages of working with Kathryn is that you get to see first-hand how a successful yoga teacher operates all the different aspects of the career/lifestyle.  How has working with Kathryn improved your personal practice and teaching?
In my personal practice, just having a buddy to push me and show up to play, even when I’m feeling lazy, has made a huge difference. As far as teaching goes, I have enjoyed having the inspiration and sharing that aspect with my best friend. It’s always neat to have Kathryn in one of my classes, and she brings out the best in me as a teacher.

What is the number one take home lesson you have learned from Kathryn about being an inspirational yoga teacher?
Be yourself. It’s an interesting and popular yoga world out there and I see a lot of teachers struggling to find their own voices. Practice your skills and your trade as often as you can. Students won’t remember the punchy joke you told or if you remembered all of your sequence on both sides, but they will remember how the entire class made them feel and what message you delivered. Content is key.

tjharkBesides yoga, what else goes on in your life?  Are you currently in school?  What are you planning to do post-school? Rock climbing?
I teach regionally in the Southeast US, and locally at my home studio in Charleston, SC. This is my last semester at the University of Central Florida (I just moved, so I’m finishing up this semester online). I graduate in May. I’ve studied emergency medicine as a paramedic, and biology, psychology, religious studies, and anthropology in undergrad. Yeah! I just kept adding majors and minors until the academic advisor’s head finally spun around. I would be a student for life if I could. I am going to take some time to travel, teach, write, and self-study before heading back to graduate school or medical school to further pursue psychology. Eventually, I’d like to provide primary care and also integrate mental health, yoga, nutrition, and physical therapy all under the same roof. I still rock climb and love it, but I’ve also recently taken up sky diving and I plan on putting more time and energy into that sport for awhile.

What can attendees expect from you and Kathryn at the Northwest Yoga Conference?
Your abs will probably hurt, but not just from navasana. There will be lots of laughter and playfulness, and Kathryn is going to do what she does best: teach and make the seemingly-hard stuff very accessible. I’m there to help, demo, provide my own insight, and spread the love. This is going to be a blast and I’m getting really excited!

What are you looking forward to most at the Northwest Yoga Conference?
Meeting everyone! I am a people person for sure and I love getting to know new friends and connecting with people who I already know through social media. There’s a really great lineup at this year’s NWYC, so I am also hoping to get a chance to jump into some classes.

Why wait for the conference to connect with Taylor? You can connect with him online now:
Instagram: @tjhark
Facebook.com/hark.tj
www.taylorharkness.com

Interview with Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D., Producer and Director: “Earth Songs: Mountains, Water and the Healing Power of Nature”

Why is it important for people to have a connection with Nature?
To quote Chief Seattle, “Man did not weave the web of life, his is merely a strand in it. We are a part of nature and nature is a part of us.” While philosophically and poetically these words sound wonderful, science has now confirmed that our connection to nature is essential for health and wellbeing, from the obvious elements of sunlight, clean air, and clean water to a very tangible pulse of the planet. Moreover,our body clocks are calibrated to the rhythms of the earth, in what is called chronobiology (also known as circadian rhythms). Our bodies run on a 24-hour clock and sunlight plays a huge role in the proper secretion and regulation of many hormones. We are made up of nature and the natural elements which are essential for healthy living. In this age of high technology where people are becoming addicted to their gadget screens, we are losing our precious connection to the natural world and this will greatly affect our overall health and well-being.

Earth Songs DVD Cover LG

Earth Songs: Mountains, Water and the Healing Power of Nature

Why did you decide to create “Earth Songs”?
I first created the film “Earth Songs” for people undergoing chemotherapy in the hospital setting. Many hospitals across the country have in-house cable programming for their patients (so they don’t have to watch all the fear-based adrenaline rush programming on the networks). The healing properties of the body don’t do well in perpetual flight-or-flight. “Earth Songs” also found an audience with the US Army’s Wounded Warrior program, with soldiers who have PTSD and TBI. But another reason that I made this movie is that I am really concerned with the state of the world today, specifically the environment. People are going to protect only what they love, and I wanted people to fall back in love with Mother Earth, hoping that this film might help in this process.

How did you choose the locations that you filmed?
I have traveled a fair amount in my life and I tend to go to the places that are beautiful, as this fills my spirit. Before I started filming, I made a dream list of all the places I wanted to go, including many places I had been before (Hawaii, Alaska, The Caribbean, South America, New Zealand, Canada, etc) . The list was quite long, far more extensive than my budget would allow (the entire movie was self-funded…before Kickstarter was ever on the scene, I might add). One place I went to was Iceland. I saw a photo in a book of this amazing waterfall, and I thought to myself, I don’t know where this is, but I am going… Iceland is amazing. So is Greenland, as is Hawaii, and Patagonia, Chile. We live in a beautiful world. My goal was to bring some of the most beautiful places in the world to people who might never get a chance to see them.

What would a typical day look like for you while filming the documentary?
The film schedule varied depending on where I was. Most days I was up before sunrise and back in the hotel room or tent well after sunset. The best light to film in is around sunrise and sunset.  About one-fourth of the movie was filmed very near where I live, and many shots were filmed from my backyard (I have an amazing view of Rocky Mountain National Park from my bedroom window).  I had a lot of great luck filming with regard to the weather…not many rainy days, which was nice.

I’m sure it would be difficult to pick one location that is your favorite so I won’t ask you to do that.  But what are a few of your favorite locations that you filmed and why?
There is a real peace in nature, sometimes feeling like you have the whole place to yourself. For this reason, I went to places where there were not a lot of people/tourists. (How many people do you know who have been to Greenland or Iceland?)  Kauai is my favorite island in the world, but Greenland is absolutely breathtaking…..a real treasure.

Did you have any interesting encounters with wildlife while filming the documentary?
After the first year of filming (mostly mountains and water) I realized I needed to film some wildlife.  The problem is that members of the wildlife kingdom don’t audition, nor do they do second takes. Patience is key, but even then…  I have some neat stories about the mountain lion and lynx, as well as the humpbacks and hummingbirds, but I will save those stories for the talk after the screening.

Brian Luke Seaward headshot

Brian Luke Seaward, produced and director of Earth Songs: Mountains, Water and the Healing Power of Nature

You lead trips to one of the greenest places on Earth – Ireland.  How do you encourage attendees to create connections with nature while on retreat?
Just like the body has meridians and chakras, the planet has an energy grid with various energetic points. These energy lines are most well known as ley-lines (in Ireland they call them Faerie Lines). Throughout Europe many of these points of energy are recognized as sacred sites. In fact, many of these energy points are adorned with stone structures (stone circles, dolmans, etc.). Today, some even have churches (even cathedrals) built over them. In the trips we take to Ireland, we travel to many of these sacred sites and hold what I call sacred ceremonies. I often read a poem or two from the collected works of John O’Donahue. We do some healing work (e.g., healing touch, reiki, bio-energy work). We have dedicated time for meditation (both as a group and individually) and we also include some traditional Irish music. The overriding intention is love and compassion for the earth at these various points and I have some neat stories about this that I will share, too. It’s a lot of fun, really. Some people go to Ireland for photos and Guinness. Not only do we include this as part of the trip, but we also share love and compassion, something Mother Earth is in great need of these days.

This documentary is now being used in various stress management programs -can you tell us a little bit about this?
“Earth Songs” is not only about the healing power of nature; it is a healing experience and that was the point of making this movie, to have a healing experience. As such, it is being used in many corporate wellness programs as a type of guided mental imagery. In this fast-paced lifestyle we live in (even in Seattle), it is important to take time to catch our breath. The two most popular places people take vacations includes mountains and the ocean, two locations that help bring our personal problems back into proportion.

 

The awe of nature. Photo by Brian Luke Seaward.

The awe of nature. Photo by Brian Luke Seaward.

What do attendees have to look forward to when screening the documentary with you, the director?
There is something special about seeing a movie as a group experience. I am hoping that we can use the collective energy of the audience to augment the healing process and share this energy/consciousness throughout the world.

And having done several screenings, I have found that people really like to hear many of the behind the scenes stories. For example, they ask how I got Michael York to do the narration. How did I acquire the amazing musical score? How were some of the scenes shot?  What are some of my favorite healing stories that have come back to me as a result of viewing the film?

Thanks, Melissa, for this invitation to come to Seattle to your conference and I look forward to this wonderful event.

To learn more about Brian Luke Seaward, visit www.brianlukeseaward.net

To purchase your tickets to the “Earth Songs” documentary screening on March 7th at 7:30pm, click here.