WE LOVE YOGA FEST
|When -||September 29, 2013|
|Where -||DePaul's Lincoln Park Student Center|
“We Love Yoga” Convention Article
By Christine Cook
“Beginner's mind” is a Zen concept that means to approach a subject with openness. This is a good way to practice yoga too. That's something I often forget, however, especially after having practiced mainly with one teacher for the past six years. I was thrilled, therefore, to attend the “We Love Yoga” Convention--the first Chicago Yoga Convention--at The Chicago School of Yoga, which offered a great opportunity to learn new techniques and ways of practicing poses from a wide range of teachers. Attending the convention made me feel like a beginner all over again.
That was the goal of Mark Weiss, the founder of the Chicago Yoga Convention. He is also the owner of The Chicago School of Yoga. His mantra is “Always try something new. If you don't do new things, you won't grow.”
Mark was inspired to create a yoga convention in the heart of the city when he realized there were several large yoga conferences all over the country but none here in Chicago. He didn't feel that Chicago was competitive, and he wanted to change that. Mark's intention was to offer many yoga styles with teachers from across the Chicago metro area. There were classes offered for beginners through level 3.
The concept of using only local teachers made this event unique. Most yoga conferences include well-known teachers from all over the country, drawing large crowds of yogis. Although the Chicago Yoga Convention was on a smaller scale than most national conferences, the hope is that more people will experience the benefits of this annual event and it will grow. Not only did the convention offer a way to discover different styles of yoga, but, if you liked a particular teacher, you could practice with him or her again, since all of the teachers were local.
The “We Love Yoga” Convention began on a rainy Friday evening in September with an opening Bhakti Flow class with the Starnes sisters. Dressed in rainbow-striped yoga pants to match their bright spirits, Stephanie and Sarah invited us to explore the element of bhakti --the Sanskrit word for love. They encouraged us to approach the evening's practice gently and to leave aggressive tendencies behind. With groovy music playing quietly in the background, the sisters, taking turns giving instructions, led us through a slow-paced, Vinyasa-style class. While one sister led the class, the other assisted and adjusted the students. It was a playful class with unique transitions moving us from one pose to the next.
Entering a pose in a different way will tell you something about yourself--if you are open to the message. Even though I found myself a bit resistant to being asked to move in a way to which I was not accustomed, I was surprised by the positive response from my body. Thanks to the Bhakti Flow class, I can now go deeper into adho mukha svanasana (down dog) when I walk my hands forward from the forward bend rather than step my feet back. And trikonasana (triangle pose) feels better when I enter from bent-knee triangle rather than from a neutral upright stance.
The sisters wrapped up the class with savasana (corpse pose) while they played the harmonium. Not many teachers play music during savasana, but this is where I enjoy music the most during an asana practice.
Following the opening Bhakti Flow class, a small group of yogis gathered for a kirtan with Amy & The Bliss Tribe. A kirtan is call-and-response chanting where participants express their desire to connect with the divine through the repetition of a mantra. The mantra is repeated over and over, faster and faster.
It's a participatory music experience celebrating the divine through music and chanting. Kirtans are not for the shy--unless you want to grow out of your shyness. They are well suited for people who like to sing--even those who can't sing well. It's not about skill so much as expressing your devotion to the divine. I love to sing and looked forward to the kirtan all day. Amy ( Amy Beth Treciokas) led us with her beautiful, clear voice, and lyric sheets were provided. Hallelujah for lyric sheets!
On Saturday, there were eight different yoga workshops including workshops for arm balances and inversions; an intro to Ashtanga yoga; Dharma yoga; and a candlelight flow class. I attended Cara Jepsen's Dharma yoga class. I have read many stories by Cara in this magazine, so I was curious to try her class--a good sign for “beginner's mind.” I also wanted to learn more about Dharma yoga, a style with which I was unfamiliar.
Class started with chanting to cleanse and brighten our auras. Then with soft chanting music playing in the background, Cara led us through a fast-paced asana practice. The class was designed for all levels, and clear instructions were provided throughout. Options for different poses were given for level one through level three. Classes that include all levels are fun and challenging, plus you can see where you're headed if you peek over at your level three neighbor's mat.
As soon as the sun salutations began, I thought, “She does things differently than my teacher.” The arm movements during the first inhale and exhale of surya namaskar A (sun salutation A) were different. There were also inversions (if you chose) throughout the class. I reminded myself to stay open and be a beginner, which I was for the rest of the class. I recalled Cara asking at the beginning of class, “How many yoga teachers do we have today? How many people are beginners?” A couple of teachers wisely raised their hands twice.
Cara encouraged all of us to move together like a school of fish during the vinyasas (flowing sequences connected to the breath) as she learned from her teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra . She ended the class with my favorite mantra: Lokaha Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu , which translates to “ May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.” Cara's teaching style is gentle and kind, and by the end of class I felt at home and ready for my next adventure at the convention.
On Sunday, there was a back-bending workshop, more Ashtanga, yoga for athletes, meditation, and an Acro yoga class. I signed up for the latter without hesitation. I couldn't wait to channel my inner child who practiced acrobatics in the family living room decades ago.
Joe and Kat of Divine Flight teach Acro yoga, which is a mixture of yoga and acrobatics. Basically, it's partner yoga where one person acts as a base and the other takes flight in some fashion. It's a fun practice and anyone can do it--just ask Joe and Kat. They explained the poses with just enough detail to give everyone the confidence to try them.
When you practice, you not only build strength and flexibility but also trust and communication skills. The strength and flexibility help you perform the poses. The trust and communication keep you safe. Here I was truly a beginner and it sure was fun. It was a small class, so we received lots of one-on-one attention. Joe and Kat took good care to make us feel comfortable and confident as we took turns between being the base, the spotter (to keep us safe during practice) and, my favorite, the “flyer.”
Acro yoga is all about core strength. If you don't have it, you will build it. If you have it, you will be glad for it. It is what keeps the base and the flyer stable during a pose. At the end of the class, they treated us to a preview of an Acro yoga routine they will perform at an upcoming yoga rave.
With fatigued muscles, I was ready for my final class of the convention: Dynamic Chakra Meditation with Lucia Cordeiro Drever. I was nervous about this workshop--yep, still feeling like a beginner--because I was uncertain about sitting for two hours of meditation. Fortunately, Lucia had other plans for us. She created an experiential workshop that used the chakras (energy centers along the spine) as the object for our meditation. She reminded us that sometimes we need to step outside of our comfort zone, so I did. We chanted, danced (not in my comfort zone!), breathed, and reflected on all seven chakras over the course of two hours. We also rested in savasana for a gloriously long time. It was the perfect end to the weekend. My takeaway from her class was this: “Face fears. Trust life.”
What this event lacked in attendance, it made up for it with solid yoga teachers that made me want to branch out more and take new classes around the city. The weekend enabled me to broaden my horizons and even take flight! According to Mark, The Chicago School of Yoga will host the second annual “We Love Yoga” Convention September 20–22, 2013.
Christine Cook is a writer and yoga teacher in Chicago. She blogs at itseasybeingvegan.com. She also speaks at yoga teacher trainings on yoga and diet. For more information, you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773.960.2436.