A Dream Come True: Yoga Journal Live! San Francisco.
By Dana Lee
Four years ago I placed an empty jar on my bedside table, filled with the potent ether of hope. I'm no spring chicken, so it felt quite daring as well. My intention was to drop a quarter in every time I practiced yoga or went to the gym. I was 48 years old, and had recently lost 120 pounds naturally, after fifteen years of crippling obesity and sedentary living. I had raised a family and worked my whole life in stressful accounting jobs that rewarded long hours of sitting, hovered stiffly over columns of cold numbers. I wanted to become a yoga teacher and a writer so I could help others experience the healing joys of yoga. One of my deepest desires was to attend Yoga Journal Live in San Francisco. For years I read Yoga Journal Magazine as a way to learn as much as I could about yoga. I am so grateful to SF Yoga Magazine and YJL to have experienced this dream come true last week! I delighted in four full days of yoga, love and laughter in San Francisco surrounded by Master Teachers from all over the world. I had to pinch often to remind myself it was real. The blue and yellow YJL conference wrist bands were more beautiful to me than a real diamond bracelet. Imagine the resonance I felt when one of the very first things I heard in the very first workshop on the very first morning were these words by David Swenson: “The strongest tree in the forest grows the slowest”. Yes, that's me, the slow growing tree alright, tattooed with the markings of many growth rings that grace my evolution so far. Come, friends, gather around underneath my happy branches while I tell you all about this amazing dream come true and why you should roll up your mat and attend a yoga conference too.
If you've ever thought about attending a yoga conference before, let me encourage you to go. You will fit in and you will make friends easily. Yoga people are people people who care about each other. Even if you're not a yoga teacher, you will expand your personal practice forever in ways you can't even imagine. There were friendly men and women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, ages, and abilities there to learn and experience yoga. It was hard to choose among the many different workshops! YJL has a great app that helped us all stay connected and up to date. The staff at the event were incredibly helpful and kind, well organized, and focused on making sure each of us had a great experience every single day. There were vendors from all over with beautiful booths and samples to give away. My choices for workshops over the four days included Mindful Meditation with Ashley Sharp from Spirit Rock, three densely packed workshops on making adjustments, proper form, and helping students with differing abilities with David Swenson, a hilariously insightful performance by the huggable JP Sears, an incredible Cranial-Sacral Connection workshop by Tias Little that left me literally spinning inside, Explorations in Stillness by Richard Miller which impressed me more than I knew at the time, Breathing Peace Moving Meditation by Shiva Rea, a workshop on helping Students with Tight Bodies and Injuries by Amy Ippoliti, and a day long Sequencing Workshop by the incredible Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee.
It seems that yoga is a flower that blooms synchronistically in my life, unfolding in connective ripples across all experiences, mirrored in the waters of my unconsciousness and made manifest in my conscious life. How perfect is it that I had my opening and closing classes at the conference with two men that were mentioned in the same sentence in a book I'm reading right now by the great Tao Porchon-Lynch, a yoga icon and treasure at age 98. In her new book, “Dancing Light”, Tao says, “I believe Rodney Yee and David Swenson are two of the best yoga teachers alive in the whole world today.” I was blessed to start off the YJL workshop with David Swenson and then, four days later, end the conference with a day long workshop with Rodney and Colleen Saidman Yee. “David belongs to the very essence of life as a true angel. He is so humble, and when he does yoga he seems to cross the earth without even touching the ground.” Being blessed to learn from David is a memory I shall never forget. He studied most of his life with the great K. Pattabhi Jois (pronounced “joy”, as he surely embodied pure joy). His primary message throughout most of his teachings is that Teachers must have an attitude of service to their students. I was in awe of his energy, compassion, intuition, knowledge, and humor. He shared one story of teaching yoga to a woman who had been unsighted since birth, and another person who was in a wheelchair. He had us close our eyes and move through a few asanas, so we could feel what it was like to partake in yoga without benefit of sight. This is how he himself prepared to teach an unsighted person, and the lesson of service to students was imprinted in my brain and heart by his powerful story.
Another powerful workshop I attended was with Tias Little called Healing with Yoga – The Cranial-Sacral connection. After exploring several slides and learning about neurological pathways in the human body, Tias took us through several gentle yoga asanas designed to stimulate the Cranial-Sacral connection. He is also a master, who has spent his life studying classical yoga, Sanskrit, Buddhism, massage, anatomy, and the somatic systems of the body. He studied with BKS Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India. His underlying teaching in this workshop was that the sacral area acts as a pump for cranial fluid, and this pathway can be stimulated for renewal and optimal health. At one point in the class, he came over to demonstrate the Cranial-Sacral cradle on me. I was positioned on my left side as he placed one hand over my sacrum and the other under the cradle of my cranium. I felt and heard a spinning sort of sound inside my head, which surprised and delighted me, as my body relaxed and experienced a deep sense of renewal. I was truly astonished to hear a spinning sound, whirring as if a there was a rotating ball of energy inside my body and undulating along the central channel. I think the look on my face must have told a story all on its own as my fellow classmates took pictures of the posture for later reference. I hope to be able to visit Tia's yoga studio on New Mexico for more studies in the near future!
Uncommonly simple and powerful is the art of yoga, dissolving the boundaries of our limited experience of life. Yoga does not need to be performed in expensive tights stained by the sweat of our quest for the perfect arm balance. I attended a class with the renowned yoga master Richard Miller called Explorations in Stillness: The Mindful Non-dual Practices of Asana, Pranayama and Meditation. At first, I was a little confused by the lack of conventions in our asana. It seemed that alignment was really not the goal, feeling was the goal. We were guided along our way with Richard's voice inviting us to let our energy body raise our arms, then allow our arm to join the energy body. Our arms could even reach beyond the ceiling into the cool San Francisco air, up into the night sky to the stars. Breaking the barrier of my limited beliefs enabled me to feel the shared consciousness of everyone in the room, to feel union with the one truth of life: We are connected by our breath and boundless in our experience of all life on our planet. Near the end of this session, I was drawn to savasana early by a deep need to rest. Richard knew that some of us might feel the need to lie down early, and if we did, we should honor that feeling. Westerners do not rest enough. I left the session feeling curious about what I had experienced, and wondering how this unorthodox approach could really be useful to me. I have to say that of all the experiences I had at YJL, this is the one that has stayed with me the most. I am shocked at how much the notion of allowing our consciousness to expand beyond our perceived barriers has helped me to deepen my experience of life. His teachings that day have allowed me to perceive my world and my practice in a loving and accepting way that honors they way I feel and invites me to reach beyond perceived boundaries. I also hope to also study with Richard further someday.
I think that the one delicious danger of attending YJL is that I now want to study with every teacher I met more deeply. Rodney and Colleen Saidman Yee shared their sequencing experience with us on the last day. What I really loved about them was the way they complement each other's teaching with humour, wit, and love. They encouraged us to warm up student's knees well and to listen to them deeply with empathy and love. I loved the way they reinforced teachers to only teach what they know, and leave the rest out. “Do no harm” is both the physician's and the yoga teacher's creed. As a matter of fact, if you could not remember the sequence, it was really okay. The idea was to focus on what could be clearly remembered and to only teach what was truly internalized. In the end, Rodney left a thought gently to rest on our full minds like a shimmering lotus flower upon a clear pond: “Yoga is nature moving through you. Your body is beautiful. Get rid of all the layers of socialization or stupidity of what's keeping you from seeing that you're truly beautiful the way you are.”
Being a more mature tree in the yoga landscape helps me to truly appreciate the diversity and gifts that life bears. Who knew that dreams really can come true, or that books that I am reading will literally manifest in the flesh right before my eyes? From being able to laugh at the more esoteric features and challenges of yoga with JP Sears, to discovering new ways to safely adjust students with Amy Ippoliti in a day-long workshop devoted to preventing injuries, and experiencing a hypnotic moving meditation of peace with Shiva Rai, I am more strongly rooted in my belief that yoga can help anyone live a better life than ever before. Experiencing the Master Teachers of yoga with David Swenson, Rodney and Colleen Saidman Yee, and others reinforced that the path I am on is one of light and healing for others. I know yoga has changed my life and continues to enrich and support me in every way today. I embody the belief that yoga is for everyone, no matter the circumstances, and this event echoed that truth in the teachers, students, and stories that they shared. I made new lifelong friends and discovered that I'm never too old to bloom again. I can't wait for the next opportunity to learn and share yoga with others!
Next up on my calendar in 2017:
San Diego Yoga Festival January 27 – 30 - Use Promo Code SFYOGAMAG to save $108 off your ticket, and I hope to see you there!
Yoga Essentials Workshop with Mary and Richard Freeman in Boulder, CO February 13 – 17
Applied Anatomy Intensive at The Yoga Workshop in Boulder, CO with Asha Wolf March 3 – 5
Pelvic Floor Teacher Training with Leslie Howard August 5 – 9, Oakland, CA