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!

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?

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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.

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.

What Will You Discover?

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

By: Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

Why is intention such an important practice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illuminate Your Chakras

By Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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