To paraphrase the great Mark Twain, the report of yoga’s death is an exaggeration. Yoga has been around for thousands of years for a reason: it’s bigger than all of its past, present and future trappings.
There’s no greater place to prove this than at a Yoga Journal Conference.
Yeah, you read that right.
Until this year, I was a Yoga Journal Conference Virgin. But now that I live just north of San Francisco, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about by attending the 2014 conference, or YJSF14 for short. Hashtag optional.
Here’s the deal: I had a blast. I took classes with teachers I revere, as well as teachers I was simply curious about. I took athletic, Vinyasa flow seminars and all-lecture seminars. I meditated, I saluted the sun, and I basked in the wisdom of my teachers’ teacher. I ate healthy-ish food, and I shopped. And along the way I learned a few things. Here’s just a bit of what I brought home, in addition to my goodie bag, of course…
1. Even though it’s a yoga convention, it’s still a convention. So, if you’ve ever been to one, you will have that moment where the divided ballrooms and meeting rooms feel a lot like that PC convention you went to in Vegas - except everyone is on the floor, yoga mats placed carefully into rectangles formed by strips of blue painter’s tape on the carpet. Instead of coffee and m&ms on the side tables, there’s spa water and custom made granola. The main difference, however, is that when those ballroom and meeting room doors open, the people who exit look happy, light, calm and peaceful. Some are sweaty, some aren’t, but they’re a lot more blissful than the folks with whom you attended that PC conference. A LOT more blissful.
2. There is a lot of stuff you can buy. Oh my God, is there a lot of stuff you can buy. And some of it looks really cool. But odds are, you don’t really need any of it to get to the heart of the practice: the cessation of the turnings of the mind. Or in simple language, the real goal of yoga is to calm all that noise in your head that keeps you from listening to the sound of the divinity within your own heart. The real goal of yoga is not to amass a vast collection of blocks. Although, seriously people, there are a ton of choices. Foam? Cork? Rectangular? Square? Egg-shaped? Lawd.
3. There are a million kinds of yoga, and they are all packed into a rabbit’s nest of rooms in the San Francisco Hyatt. There’s everything from quiet meditation to classes that remind me of 90’s style aerobics, side ponytails included. And some how, some way, it’s all called yoga.
4. For all of these kinds of yoga, there are yogis that need each and every style. As we go through our lives, we speak different yoga dialects. The yoga that serves you now will need to shift as you age or as you go deeper into the heart of yoga. Are you feeling better about your life because your triceps are more defined? Maybe. But if your relationships are improving and you are taking a more active role in your own mental and emotional well-being, that’s probably not because you can do 50 Chaturangas in a row in 104-degree heat. (Although that IS impressive.) It might be because you are beginning to tap into some of the deeper messages of the ancient practice. Like how focusing on the impermanent is the fast track to suffering. Or that steady practice, without attachment to an end result you can’t control, unlocks the ability to be in the moment, and to be truly free from the past and the future. And if we can work toward this on our mat, then we can work toward this in the hallway outside the studio, in the intersection on the way home, and with every interaction with our friends and family. That’s the juicy stuff, and that’s when your life starts getting better.
5. Yoga is big enough to hold space for all of this. Yoga is not about your mat; it’s about what you do on it. Yoga isn’t about handstand in the middle of the room; it’s about where you can get to in your meditation following your physical practice. Asana (the physical postures we do) is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. It is important, but yoga isn’t exercise. Yoga is something much, much greater. Yoga is about your relationships with your friends and family, your relationship with yourself, and your relationship to the true divinity that lies within and in-between all of us. And that can withstand yoga video lawsuits, false gurus falling from grace and see-through yoga pants made by a kind of jerky guy.
So however you come to yoga – be it through yoga at your gym, a great video, or because you really like the outfits, yoga welcomes you. And if you’re willing to hang out for a bit, take a workshop with a master teacher, try a teacher training, or even attend a Yoga Journal Conference, you’ll find that whatever you love about yoga goes deeper than you ever imagined. And that’s where the real magic happens.