Yoga In True Form – An Interview with Julie Gudmestad

by Deb Geiger, Conference Blogger

Yoga is often defined in one word as union.  In two words: to join.  Yin and yang.  Shiva and Shakti.  Everything and nothing.  Spirituality and Science.  

Julie Gudmestad is yoga come to life.  

julie-gudmestad-portraitThis woman is sharp.  She is 66 and she is a professional.  When she walked up to me in a busy little café on a rainy Portland afternoon, she was in an ankle length black peacoat- short grey hair just so.  Put together.  This was the medical professional before me.  As we started speaking, it became clear that she has made a wonderful life finding the balance between the science and the spirituality of yoga.

I was curious…did yoga bring Julie to physical therapy, or did physical therapy bring her to yoga?

“Yoga first.” She told me.  “Always yoga first”.

“This is going to sound a little woo woo…I was in high school.  I was standing in my dad’s back yard and I heard a voice tell me to go find a yoga class…I can still remember the first class…I remember coming out of the class and standing on the sidewalk…I was hooked.”

Maybe you noticed…that’s not exactly the type of thing you’ll often hear from a Western trained medical professional…

astavakrasana_049Julie started teaching yoga in 1970.  She was attending Reed College, and had already been practicing for a few years.  Her friends and classmates were interested in it, so she started teaching them.

“Other students would come up to me and say ‘my back doesn’t hurt anymore’, ‘I don’t have headaches anymore’, so I wanted letters after my name so that I could work one on one with people.”

Thus started her quest for physical therapy.  She graduated from Pacific University in 1977, and started taking Iyengar classes.  Iyengar is known for its attention to detail, alignment of the posture, control of the breath.  It is no wonder that a physical therapist would be drawn to its structure and focus on the mechanics of the physical body.  She became Iyengar certified in 1988, and still holds that certification.  

After getting a bit of her history, I wanted to know what has kept her going strong for so many years.

How do you inspire your students?

julie-teaching-sm“I hope I am a positive role model for them. Not just in terms of talking; but doing and being. I’ve been known to say that I don’t talk a lot about formal yoga philosophy, but I hope by the way I practice and the way I have them practice with mindfulness and consciousness that the heart of yoga philosophy comes through.”

What is the heart of yoga philosophy, I wanted to know.

“Yamas and Niyamas. Compassion is top of the list. Honesty…Be honest about what kind of shape your body is in today. There is a lovely integrity about being present with who you are today. Not who you were a year ago. It’s not who you would be had you been doing x y and z…Compassion starts at home”.

What continues to inspire you?

Julie got a cheeky smile and discussed how she teaches an annual yoga class to the graduating physical therapy class at her alma mater, Pacific U.  

“Sometimes, depending on their interest, I show them something fancy…Some of the arm balances.  Because they are dramatic.  I want them to see that yoga can really keep you in shape, even in your sixties.  The looks on their faces makes it all worthwhile.  That’s what inspires me.  To get a look like that from twenty-somethings!”

That’s the type of honesty I like!

Do you have any other advice, or words or wisdom for the readers?

julie-gudmestad-pose“The nature of life on this planet is change.  And…sometimes it’s going to be change that we don’t like…But there’s no choice…we have to adapt.  Our yoga practice can help us stay centered…If you get scared and you’re not sleeping, you don’t function as well.  And it will be harder to support the causes that you think are important.”

Just like Julie was hooked after her first class…I was hooked to Julie after my first meeting.  Don’t miss her sessions as she focuses on the alignment of different parts of the body…and just wait for those snippets of spirituality that shine through the science.  

This is yoga in true form.

Learn more about Julie Gudmestad’s conference offerings here.

Earthing – What It Means to Touch Mother Earth

Earthing – What It Means to Touch Mother Earth
By Nicole Dawn Armstrong, Guest Blogger

Jungle MudbathWhen was the last time you sat on our Earth and touched her with your bare hands? I’m not referring to simply leaning on the ground, perhaps while watching a baseball game, or enjoying a picnic on a blanket with friends. I am referring to touching our Earth, recognizing her as a living, breathing being, and connecting with her through your bare hands or feet in an awake, aware moment. Reconnecting with the Earth through direct touch is called Earthing. It’s a timeless practice of living in contact with the Earth’s natural electrical surface charge – being grounded – and it’s powerful. Being grounded allows the body to naturally discharge and prevent build-up of chronic inflammation. In this way, Earthing addresses the most pressing health concern to date in the modern world.

Sure, it sounds simple. But when you make the distinction as to whether a touch given to Mother Earth was mindful and direct – or not, you realize whether an energy exchange took place in that moment. In fact, throughout most of human history, we were connected to Mother Earth. We slept and walked barefoot on the ground. We gathered roots, berries, and plants outdoors with our bare hands and scooped up water directly from streams and lakes.

However, enter modern times. We now wear nonconductive shoes with synthetic soles, walk over carpeted floors, work in high rise towers and buildings, drive around in cars with nonconductive rubber tires, and sleep in elevated beds. We rarely go outside barefoot anymore. We rarely touch rain from the sky, feel natural water on our feet or sand between our toes. In fact, outside of taking vacation once or twice a year, we rarely reconnect. We’ve become disconnected from our Earth and the charge building within our body continues to increase right alongside the mainstream proliferation of chronic inflammatory diseases new to the modern world.

Perhaps as we’ve become disconnected from the Earth, we’ve also become disconnected from our own bodies. The sense of disconnection can result in a loss of compassion – not only for the Earth but also for ourselves. As Jack Kornfield, renowned mindfulness and vipassana teacher wrote, “From the perspective of Buddhist psychology, compassion is natural. It derives from our interconnection, which Buddhism calls “interdependence.” This can be readily seen in the physical world. In the womb, every child is interdependent with its mother’s body. If either of them is sick, the other is affected. In the same way we are interdependent with the body of the earth. The minerals of the soil make up our wheat and bones, the storm clouds become our drinks and our blood, the oxygen from the trees and forests breathe with us, interdependent with our own life. The more consciously we realize this shared destiny, the more compassion arises for the earth itself.”

For something that sounds so simple and dismissive as leaning down to touch the Earth, it may actually be one of our most powerful gestures as it grounds and discharges our body and opens up our being compassionately not only to the Earth, but to ourselves.

Machu PicchuRecall moments when you’ve felt powerfully connected to Mother Earth. Some Earthing moments that resonate most memorably with me are the sights, sounds, and aromas of the Earth during my childhood in rural Montana. I recall the scent of sagebrush on the open prairie, pine mountain forests, and steaming sulfur from the geothermal waters near Yellowstone. I recall the feeling of gushy mud between my toes and joy as I ran barefoot through the pigpens and all around the farm. I can still smell the musty scents of old saddle leather and hot animal sweat from horseback riding across long open fields. These memories of being outdoors and connected with Mother Earth are vivid and everlasting as moments when I felt gentle, alive, calm, secure and grounded.

Most recently, I recall the connected time I spent Earthing in the Amazon jungle. During this journey, I walked barefoot along the shores of the great river, practiced yoga in the sun while soaking in mud, and absorbed moments of meditation among the symphony of sounds resonating throughout the rainforest. Connected, exhilarated, gentle, alive, calm, and yes – grounded. Earthing, it’s a powerful energetic shift we all need.

Washington Lake ShoreFacing forward, I practice earthing daily here at home in Seattle. Some days my daily reconnection with Mother Earth takes place on a sandy beach, after a hike in a local park, or with yoga along a lakeshore. However, most days it’s simply taking work breaks throughout the day to step outside, soak in the springtime sun, and press my press my bare feet onto the soil. If I pay close enough attention, I can feel the energetic tingle of Mother Earth helping me rebalance my energy.

What does your daily practice of reconnecting to Mother Earth look like?

How does it make you feel?

Can you recall a moment when you were so powerfully connected to the Earth that the smallest details of that moment will always remain fresh in your mind?

These feelings of calm groundedness, awake, aware security and immense peacefulness are our birthright as living beings on this Earth. I encourage you to be mindful and curious about how your connection – or lack thereof – with Mother Earth affects you. If you’ve been inflamed, scattered, or constantly craving a sense of grounding, perhaps this is your wake up call to connect back to your Earth Mother.

You are worth feeling connected, alive, and securely grounded here in your divine purpose on this planet. Mother Earth is always present and available for you, at every moment of the day, whenever you need to renew that sense of connectedness. It involves simply removing your shoes, opening your hands, and touching her mindfully with a welcoming present heart.

Earthing – it’s time to reconnect and reawaken. You’re always here, right at home.

Ready to experience powerful Earthing? Join me May 18-22nd for five powerful days to experiencing earthing in Utah next month.  I have partnered with Yoga In The Wild for a Yoga and Canyoneering Retreat in breathtaking outdoor vistas. This retreat was recently named by Yoga Journal magazine as one of the Most Affordable Yoga Retreats in 2016! You will experience a grounding and rejuvenating immersion in one of our nation’s most sacred landscapes including daily outdoor yoga and meditation practices, as well as canyoneering adventures and nighttime campfires under the stars. Side effects may include grounding, peacefulness, and connected memories to last a lifetime. I hope you’ll join me!

For more information, check out: http://www.getinthewild.com/guided-trips/yoga-in-the-wild/ Early bird rates of $995 are good until April 30th.

For more information about the researched health benefits of Earthing, check out book: Ober, Clinton, and Sinatra, MD, Stephen T., and Zucker, Martin. Earthing, The most important health discovery ever!. Basic Health Publications, Inc. 2014.

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.

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

by Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

How would you explain the relationship between yoga and Ayurveda?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie teaches a class at her studio.

Melanie teaches a class at her studio.

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

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

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

How has that changed you as a teacher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melanie and Cooper

Melanie and Cooper

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

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

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

Illuminate Your Chakras

By Jill Rivera Greene, Conference Blogger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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