Last weekend, 2,000 yoga teachers and students gathered for five days at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. I was lucky enough to attend the gathering: the Yoga Journal Conference 2011. It was a last-minute opportunity. I'd never been to a huge, multi-teacher yoga event before, and the whole idea of a "yoga conference" seemed kind of weird -- I usually do yoga to retreat from the world for a bit, not to pick up goodie bags and chat with friends. But my eyes were soon opened wide. I learned an immense amount in two days, and they weren't just lessons about alignment or breathing. Some teachers shared information straight from ancient books; some gave wholly modern takes on yoga lifestyles.
From Rod Stryker
"The path of yoga is to clear the mind (as taught by Patanjali) or to clear the energy (as taught in Tantra). In yoga we usually feel better because we're doing the latter. You're probably doing more Tantra than you think! As we age, we focus less on a physical practice and more on an energetic one. We can learn to hold our energy in, to keep it from going to our heads or out through our senses. Muscular locks (bandhas), combined with mental intention, are one of the most important yoga practices. The senses are actually places where energy is lost, not gained."
From Seane Corn
"The sign of an advanced practice is not strength or flexibility. It has everything to do with breath and intention. If you're a beginner, and you find yourself in an advanced class, remember your sense of humor. Look around and learn. Breathe. How you react to a difficult situation might be a reflection of how you react to many things in your life... I was often using food to anesthetize myself from emotions that were rising. To move forward took self-reflection, recognition, standing in discomfort rather than disconnecting. But also honoring the impulse that needed comfort."
From Matthew Sanford
"The principles of yoga don't discriminate. The poses do. But the principles are universal. We must move inward in order to move outward. Root the heels in order to lift the head. Strength in service of a sense of direction is grace. What is the true nature of your strength? Where does it truly reside? What has yoga taught you about that? The best part of yourself is not a psychological realization. The best guarantee of presence, of connection to the world, is your body. When my son comes to me for a hug, he doesn't want sympathy. The hug gives a boundary to the suffering, so it can be less... In yoga poses, you're integrating what you can feel and can know with what you can't feel and can't know. I call this the silence. The conduit of the inner body is not the muscular action. It's the silence. What you're seeking in a yoga practice is the ability to synthesize the silence with daily life."
From Shiva Rea
"In our 20s, we think that we're supposed to burn through everything, but as we grow older we learn how to keep the fire inside."
From Cameron Shayne
"The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Find your stable base in any pose: Keep the attention on the perimeter, and hug into the midline to grow light. Initiate movement from the ground up. What we think of as yoga comes mostly from one man, Krishnamacharya. If someone else had gotten there first, our practices would be very different. His style was very linear, and this is reinforced by the shape of our mats. In Budokon (yoga plus martial arts), we move in circles, spirals, waves. We leap, like all other animals... At some point you have to innovate. You don't have to make up poses; you make your own voice within the poses."
From James Murphy
"In order to turn, to twist deeply, we must first stretch and lengthen up. We must either ground one end, and extend the other, or stretch both ends away from each other. Access the periphery, and feed it back into the core. Start by pressing through the heels; feel the difference it makes. Raise the arms above the head, and feel how it helps the chest. 'It's impossible to be depressed with the armpits open.' --BKS Iyengar"
From Ana Forrest
"How do we learn to address our own needs? My bottom line is: What brightens/feeds my spirit? My yoga practice has drained a lot of the numbness, so that I feel the effects of everything. It gave me a sense of trust in my ability to discern my truth for myself. In healing my bulimia, I had to ask myself questions. What is contentment? (Especially for one who is so intense and strives?) What is it I'm really needing? (Doing my best to stop, take some major deep breaths, and assess what's really going on.) What is a correct relationship with food, for me? (What, when, how much, why?) Come back to what works for you, and find something better to obsess about."
From Aadil Palkhivala
"A body in balance craves that which keeps it in balance. A body out of balance craves that which takes it further from balance. What we need to do is not to stop the craving, but bring the body back in balance."
From David Romanelli
"A 'yogic diet' is one that focuses on savoring food, slowing down, instead of speed and efficiency... There are many ways to reach yoga (that comfortable, relaxed state). Chocolate is one of those ways."
From Judith Lasater
"How do you define a senior? BKS Iyengar is 92, you wouldn't put him in a senior class. The real definition is someone 10 years older than you. Slowing down is the same thing as waking up. Everything you do in yoga should be a metaphorical speed bump, to slow you down. Your homework is to do everything 10 percent slower."
The physical classes associated with these lessons were of course wonderful -- you get to feel these lessons, as well as understand them intellectually -- but the parallel principles of teachers from all over the world will keep me thinking for a while.