The past is gone. The future has not yet happened. All we have is now.
This past Sunday’s front page arrived short on news (fake or otherwise) which might buoy up its weary readers. So it goes as of late. Yet despite the weight of the morning headlines, just a few city blocks uptown from where that front page is printed, there was another story being told. Several in fact. Radiating out from the Yoga Journal Live Conference (at the midtown Hilton), tales of a far more empowering nature could be found. Among several hundred yoga instructors/practitioners and others focused on well being, pulsed a four-day narrative of resilience and of agency for living the best lives we possibly can in these unimaginable times. 2017 marks Yoga Journal magazine’s 20th year of building these forums… yogis in community and in connection inviting conversation and reinvigoration. The (beloved) Conferences have long served the magazine’s readers with continuing education, community and timely programming. Last weekend’s NYC Conference clung largely to that winning recipe, with a few 2017 twists.
Soothe Your Heart in Challenging Times, The Teacher as a Leader: Using Your Platform for Interpersonal and Global Change, Meditation for Type-A Brains that Can’t Stop Thinking, Come as You Are: A Workshop to Empower You to Connect to Your Authentic Self, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Backbends and Peace, Power and Potency in Your Personal Practice... Just a few of this year’s line-up offerings taught by a host of yoga and meditation luminaries. Regardless of the nature of their content, each of the sessions shared that underlying premise of using the body, the breath and the practice to awaken presence. “The past is gone. The future has not yet happened. All we have is now,” suggested Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy as he guided an “embodied” Friday morning meditation at the start of the weekend. As the Conference unfolded, truths such as this echoed throughout the spontaneous communities filling the halls. In witnessing the refuge participants were taking in these teachings, there was no dismissing a building confidence that somehow, we’ve got this, despite the headlines of the day.
Given the Manhattan setting, it was only fitting that the 20th anniversary lineup was dotted with presenters sporting some New York City roots. Upper East Side based Elena Brower opened Friday morning’s programming, entitled Peace, Power and Potency in Your Personal Practice, emphasizing the importance of self-care and also reflecting back on her early Conference experiences as a student. “It’s really the end of an era. In 1997 I started attending as a student, then began teaching in 2003-2004. It’s really a lovely and wonderful event.” Wide margins to the workshop’s agenda allowed for an ensuing free-form group chat around the shifting landscape of large scale community events (i.e. Wanderlust and other trending boutique type yoga experiences). Then, sharing glimpses of her soon-to-be-released book, Practice You, Ms. Brower’s full day intensive pivoted to the mission of building a personal practice through knowing the self. The morning focused on “cleaning the house” in order to “greet the world”, and “receive insight”. In relaxed group conversation and also in guided practice, she offered reasonable sequences blending the breath with asana. She also spoke of “currents” and the importance of tuning into the body to hear and feel that fluid energy when staging one’s personal practice. Much of her asana practice these days is centered on the Katonah method (and its subtle refinements) which has gifted her a newfound ease and a strength in recent years. It was a style of practice which was new for many on hand, but swiftly inhaled under her kind attention. “It’s not that this is the right way or the wrong way. It’s just another way,” counseled she as the afternoon wrapped.
Another program highlight was a Sunday morning Anahata Chakra Flow led by Seane Corn. The two hour body prayer went straight to the source… “the source of where we love”. It was a pumped-up pause to reflect inwardly on living with a wide open heart in order to “stand powerfully in this journey, with gratitude, forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding, and peace of mind.” As only she can do, Seane leaned on the ritual of the physical practice to invoke the holy, offering a defined purpose for each vinyaysa. In rallying the troops, she also wove in personal stories from her childhood and spoke of how in times of confusion and chaos in her life, her mother would comfort her, taking her chin into her palms, looking into her eyes and invoking her childhood nickname with this advice, “CC just be…” Just be! Another truth for all to take home, and back to their mats in practice and in service.
The Conference concluded with a celebratory finale of sound meditation, chant, songs and community offered by 13 HANDS (aka DALIEN). The artist is versed in over 30 musical instruments and used the finale to offer a gratitude intention/sound meditation with Native Flute, Hang Drums, primordial voice channeling, ambient loops, guitars and percussion, followed by some kirtan and interactive song to honor all of the yoga, education, connecting, community and healing experienced at the 20th Conference.
So, as the yoga and wellness community continues to bend around a shifting landscape and new trends, it is “cheerio” to the Yoga Journal Conference… for now. It’s all good though. These wellness and yoga events quench a deep thirst. And, just as one cannot corral a mighty river, empowering community experiences such as these will take the shape they will over time. In recalling Ms. Brower’s weekend wisdom, “It’s just another way.”