Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Yoga Conferences


The first yoga conference I ever attended was in the Spring of 1992. The Ann Arbor MI yoga community hosted the Iyengar Yoga Convention, and it was a thrill to be in the presence of so many experienced teachers - particularly the presence of Mr. Iyengar himself.

Most everyone was referring to Mr. Iyengar as Guruji, and despite some misgivings, I began trying this on for size. Mr. Iyengar my guru? What would that be like?

Being very tall and one of the youngest attendees, the convention organizers quickly put a top-hat on my head, and asked me to announce room assignments. Without even thinking about it, I used my loudest outdoor voice to announce the whereabouts of Guruji. It came out of my mouth... my mouth! Guruji will be in room ___ at 9:30am! I wondered where the confidence to say Guruji came from? Was it the top-hat, or did I really mean it?

That spring found me deeply conflicted. I'd been steadily advancing toward my Iyengar Introductory certification until Jumpin' Julie introduced me to Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. I was immediately smitten with this vigorous form, and found my practice vascillating between precision alignment and blow-out-the-cobwebs vinyasa. The winter of '91-'92 was long, cold and snowy in Minneapolis, and provided the perfect backdrop for my 20-something angst. Surely there had to be the one, true way? But what was it?

Already my yoga library was swollen with titles, including Dona Holleman's seminal book, Centering Down. I'd studied this book cover-to-cover, and its margins were filled with notes, questions and observations. It was, and remains, one of the most thoroughly studied books in my library.

While at the Iyengar convention, I heard word that Dona Holleman would be teaching a course outside of Boulder, Colorado that summer. While my finances were already stretched painfully thin to attend the Iyengar Convention, I vowed to one way or another study with Dona Holleman as soon as possible. Just a few months later I found myself driving up the long driveway to Shoshoni Ranch after having sold my house; and I was thrilled to finally meet the teacher whose book had transformed my practice.

That first morning I felt distinctly out of place and intimidated. Participants kept filing in and unrolling their green mats (Molivos mats were the only mats available at the time), and it was like a who's who of yoga. Authors of yoga books and videos had traded in their role of teachers for the role of student, and it was evident this retreat would be memorable.

We began with a long meditation on the back deck, which was like a drink of cool water. I'd put my meditation practice aside in deference to the teaching of Iyengar, who believed a mastery of asana is the prerequisite for the quieter practices. I hadn't sat in meditation for years, and it felt so good to be home again! Each morning began with sitting meditation, and I was thrilled that my mutual interests in Zen and Hatha Yoga could potentially support each other.

Dona began the first afternoon session with a loooooong headstand. When none of us had fallen out of headstand after 30 minutes, she authoritatively informed us that we weren't really practicing yoga. Only when we are actively searching for our limits are we becoming yogis; and if nobody was falling out of such a long headstand, then we were all playing it "too safe" she said. Having suitably humbled us, Dona cut the afternoon session short in favor of a walk in the forest.

Each day slid into a rhythm, with progressively more challenging material. We first learned to drop back from standing into a backbend. The next day we learned to stand back up again. When the class had largely mastered this, Dona suggested we perform 108 of these dropbacks...synchronized with the breathing. (For those who could keep up, this practice took only slightly more than 10 minutes.)

It was a marvelous week, and it changed the trajectory of my yoga practice. Through Dona's teaching I came to view gravity as an ally, rather than the enemy. Under Dona's guidance I reclaimed my meditation practice. Sitting under the stars and sharing a pint of ice cream, Dona gave me permission to drop the pretense of "eating like a yogi" and to simply enjoy the fruits of this lovely, green Earth.

From Shoshoni Ranch I continued my travels to Tucson, Arizona, where I spent the next year continuing to explore who I was as a practitioner, teacher and young man. While the answers didn't reveal themselves immediately, it was a period of intense practice and growth in all regards. It was clear my misgivings about the term Guruji were less about the concept, and more about the specific relationship. Despite my love of Ashtanga Yoga, my Pita constitution and such a stimulatory practice were the makings of spontaneous human combustion. While I craved a clear-cut and intact path to travel, that one week with Dona Holleman made it clear that external paths were not necessarily the only sorts of paths there were.

Nearly 20 years later, I still consider Dona Holleman one of the single greatest influences on my practice and teaching. I've studied with her whenever I can, and continue to recommend her books to all whom inquire. When I heard her most recent book, Dancing the Flame of Life wasn't going to be sold in the United States, I immediately contacted to Dona to find out how Alignment Yoga could import this title.

After nearly one year of planning, Dancing the Flame of Life is now offered for sale in the United States through Alignment Yoga. We're pleased to be trusted with the sole North American distribution rights to this book, and are confident many practitioners will benefit from Dona's wealth of experience and insight. Dancing the Flame of Life continues the tradition Dona started with Centering Down. Difficult concepts are broken down into manageable bits, and Dona's 40+ years of teaching experience come shining through. Whether you're new to the practice, or among yoga's most seasoned teachers, you'll find insights and inspiration within reach.

This weekend - March 27-28, 2010 - marks the debut appearance of Alignment Yoga at the Toronto Yoga Pilates Conference and Show. We're pleased that Alignment Yoga teachers Rick Gunderson and Greg Grube have made the trek to Canada, and look forward to sharing Dona's newest book with conference attendees.

For Dona's book and several other recommended titles, please visit our online store:

https://www.alignmentyoga.com/ubercart

1 comment:

sarah said...

every time i read your blog, scott, i am inspired by your knowledge and passion. i hope one day -- if the universe is willing -- i will be able to study with you through the teacher training... thanks for sharing your experience and wisdom!