The Yoga Conference Experience

I’m not a fan of big yoga events or extravaganzas, including yoga conferences, but I do see their merit. For most participants yoga conferences are an opportunity to explore different styles and other themes of yoga from a number of teachers. The workshops and discussions may inspire people to broaden their understanding and exploration of yoga.  I saw this at the Toronto Yoga Conference this year where I was fortunate enough to assist my teacher.  It was great to see so many yogis opening their hearts and minds to the teachings that Rod Stryker articulates so well and a great opportunity to assist them as they learned from  one of the world’s preeminent teachers.

I’ve been practicing yoga for 18 years. In that time there has been an evolution in how I practice. Initially yoga resonated because it helped me to connect with my body. I was a skinny effeminate kid, often referred to as a girl, which needless to say scarred me and created a negative self-concept. There were other issues too – being from a broken family in rural Alberta in the early 70s, experiencing inner turmoil that was related to my sexuality, etc. – and yoga made me feel better. The mind-body connection had a therapeutic and healing effect.

For me, practice in the early years was about the body. As my body opened up and I learned how to honour it, my self-esteem increased. After many years of practicing basic hatha I ventured into the more physical challenges of Ashtanga and Power yoga. With these my body really opened up. It was during this period however that I started to feel a disconnect with the way classes were taught and the almost competitive nature that seemed to blossom in the classroom. I didn’t like that this was happening within me.  I stopped attending classes in yoga centres and began practicing on my own, mostly for stretching purposes as I was a runner at the time. There was something in the solitude of this approach to practice that spoke to me.

Eventually I did teacher training which piqued my curiosity to delve deeper into this thing called yoga. I continued to explore teaching to group classes – making many mistakes along the way – but I did find some good examples of intelligent sequencing through yoga television programs taught by the likes of Alan Finger.

The experience at a yoga retreat that I attended in 2005 changed my life. The instructor, a student of Rod Stryker, taught asana in a very powerful way. It struck me so deeply that I knew this was my future. I did not know who Rod was at the time but upon returning home I did my research.

I found out that Rod was going to be at the Toronto Yoga Conference the following spring and it was there that I had my first encounter with this amazing man who would become my teacher. The gift of the teachings of the Sri Vidya lineage were offered up to me. I quickly immersed myself in them. A desire grew to share them, a desire which I would learn was my dharma. Determining what one’s life purpose is and thriving in it brings us joy.  This discovery is but one of the fruits of yoga practice.

The following year I began my training with Yogarupa Rod Stryker. I saw him again at the Toronto Yoga Conference that year too. When a teacher’s presence resonates with your heart, you know that connection is real – even though some of us will ignore or worse yet, doubt that feeling.

I sped through Rod’s ParaYoga Master Training devouring the teachings as I was hungry for purpose and meaning. Needless to say my life transformed.  The model of 5-day training intensives, of working in a focused way on specific non-asana-based topics, of exploring the esoteric aspects of the tradition and connecting with like-minded seekers to build yoga community changed my understanding of what yoga is and how to teach it more effectively.

The problem or challenge with modern yoga is so few people have teachers or a tradition that they are connected to. Doing workshops here and there and saying “I’ve studied with so-and-so” doesn’t really amount to much.  A little of this and a little of that does not add up to quality or a comprehensive and coherent understanding.

At the Toronto Conference this year Rod was clear with those attending his workshops that the integrated ParaYoga approach to yoga may not resonate with the populist yoga crowd, but it can advance one’s own practice exponentially.  The other message he delivered to those who are serious about going deeper with yoga is to find a teacher of substance, one who is committed to a lineage and their personal practice, not someone who is making it up. The most obvious question to ask when considering studying with someone is “Who is your teacher?”

For the second year in a row as Yogarupa’s assistant I witnessed the power of his connection with so many new and familiar students which was  so uplifting to see. While conferences are not my thing I do appreciate that it is an efficient venue to expose many to the ParaYoga approach which is steeped in the tradition of yoga.

So while conferences may embody the commercialization of yoga they also create the opportunity for seekers to find their teachers. Sometimes this happens when the student doesn’t even realize that she is seeking a teacher.  I was blessed to have this happen seven years ago and now am blessed to be assisting Yogarupa as he speaks to the hearts of new students.

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