Iowa Yoga Festival: Enjoy your yoga!

It was like soccer camp, but with bare feet and some fantastic music. The Iowa Yoga Festival 2014 was better, and not just because it was shorter and with better weather.

To be fair, there are a lot of things that were and are more enjoyable than my 9th grade soccer camp experience –including getting a root canal– but it was still a useful experience for me. I worked hard, I had to put up with various hardships, I got fitter and better at the sport, but not so much better that I could make our high school team. In the end, not getting good enough for high school soccer probably served me best. At various moments last weekend, while attending my first yoga festival, I was reminded of moments back on Whidbey Island, so many years ago.

Why did I go?

I’d been thinking of attending a yoga festival or conference for several years: what a great opportunity to experience different types of yoga and teachers, to learn, to visit a new place, and to enjoy some great live music. I fear I missed my window of having friends who are available and able to commit to this time and expense, a year or two after our teacher training course. We’ve all spread our wings, gained partners or kids, taken on financial burdens, or just evolved into people that have new dreams and realities that tug on our schedules and wallets.

I finally committed for two reasons: a) I’d been training for my first marathon, which happened on October 5. Fall is my favorite time to run, especially in trail races. I knew that for October 11, I’d need to find (and commit to, ahead of time, with money) some way to keep me from signing up for a trail race, in order to let my post-marathon body recover safely. A yoga festival in an affordably close destination sounded like a great idea. I’d heard good things from a friend about this one. Reason b) was Sadie Nardini (see below). The festival’s list of presenters looked varied and promising, but I needed to bank on at least one workshop giving me something I needed, and this was it.

The good

The handstand clinic with Bryce Yoga. I’ve been working on forearm balances and handstands in my own practice, and I received some new and helpful cuing from these two energetic and warm teachers, Briohny Smyth and Dice Iida-Klein. However, what I think I liked best about this session is that it was quite vigorous. These were my last few hours at the festival, and it felt good to get some blood flowing, followed by a good cooldown/closing to the class, before getting into the car for a 4-hour drive home. It wasn’t the ideal way to close the festival for me, but it worked and I went away pleased.

mala meditation beads
Rudraksha, carnelian, lava and other beads. Agents of alchemy? Well, agents of meditation practice, at least …

The sobs that snuck in, during Hemalayaa’s wonderfully cathartic and fun healing dance-and-primal-scream party (I think I texted my husband “OMG yoga rave!”). In my yoga practice, I’ve had very few of those “powerful physical/emotional experiences” that people speak of: ones where you’re working in a difficult – or easy – pose and suddenly tears well up and you have no idea what happened, at first or ever. I get them fairly often (a few times a year) outside of formal yoga practice. Just ask me to watch an American Flag, to sing Battle Hymn of the Republic or even Annie Lennox’s “Little Birds”, or to watch certain epic sporting events and the waterworks will start up. Well, while bouncing and yelling and  spinning and laughing and jumping and thrusting around the room in this “Healed: Dance and Subtle Body Practices” workshop, I felt some crying coming on and stifled it, hid it. A few times. It still came and while I didn’t want others to see it, I still felt what was coming on. Dance can do this to me. What fun, what terrific release. Kudos to DJ Drez as well, for the fabulous tunes and timing.

Dancing that hard probably wasn’t the greatest “recovery” activity for 6 days post marathon: my feet and one ankle were particularly sore after this. Looking back, they are the real reason I opted out of that evening’s festival offerings. Worth it? Yes. I slept like a rock and woke up feeling much better, all over.

The marvelous

A sequencing and cueing workshop with Sadie Nardini. I started practicing Vinyasa several years ago from videos and podcasts produced by various teachers, several years before I went to (or could even find) a local Vinyasa class. Sadie’s short videos with inspired visualizations and anatomically mindful phrasing were inspiring! She seemed to be full of such love and intention. I hoped to meet her some day, or at least to practice or learn from her in person.

Given this, I probably should have enrolled in more than just one of her workshops there, but I didn’t want to miss out on other teachers and opportunities. So, I picked her sequencing workshop, which involved no asana. This was a disappointing idea in the grand scheme of me following her for years from afar, but at that hour of the weekend, I needed rest more than sweat, so it was a great decision. She and Tyler Mccoy shared lots of great ideas on safe cueing and engaging pose sequences. I was pleased to hear that some of her coursework has included study with some of the “anatomy masters” whose books I’ve been reading and whose courses I’m considering taking: Leslie Kaminoff and Thomas Myers.

Mara Healy‘s “ABC: Authentic, Balanced and Creative Yoga Practice” workshop was my first there, and it was a nice segue from the cornfields to the event. She took us through some yoga tenets in a thoughtful, intuitive way, just enough to help drive what I think was her main point: it’s not a pose, it’s a circumstance. In everything you do, there is opportunity for self-examination, and a physical yoga practice is one more formal, proactive and in some ways, simple way to find deeper understanding.

Then, she took us through a practice that put us into a pose that felt, and possibly looked, like a hand-tied fishing fly. A small one. Say, a mosquito? She had a name for it and honestly, to my ears while going into it, it sounded like “tied fly”. She had warned us that she’d take us through some challenging moments: she was spot-on. My upper back got a hell of a good stretch from this work, and my mind did, too.

The drive down, Friday morning. It was a gorgeous October day and the amber, undulating waves of Minnesota and Iowa grain were very picturesque and provided terrific backdrop for some of the new music I listened to, from Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabeté and Giovanni Sollima. The Vine videos bookending this post were both shot -very carefully- during this drive.

The not so good

Places, now!
Right in the middle, “Where I’ll pick on you” – Hemalayaa

General discomfort: sitting on the floor for hours at a time, in between two four-hour drives. It’s better for the body than sitting in chairs, but even so, my body wasn’t used to it. Sessions were two hours long and at least one of those hours was typically spent seated, listening to the speaker. The time not spent sitting was spent in asana (poses and flow) or dancing, guided by terrific but unfamiliar instructors and often into unfamiliar, uncomfortable shapes. So … yes, the weekend was exhausting. It was restorative for the mind but not all that restful for the body (or mind, for that matter). So: soreness and character-building. Like soccer camp.

I ran into Mara Healy for the third time, at a coffee shop as I was getting ready to leave, and she mentioned that she had observed some fatigue in festival-goers. I’m sure that’s par for the course, because it’s not a normal weekend for many of us: hotel rooms, hotel conference rooms, many strange faces, some strange experiences, maybe some different food, et cetera. And yet I did wonder if I hadn’t paced my plans smartly. Looking back on how I selected my sessions, I likely picked them based on topics rather than, perhaps, alternating between physical and cerebral workshops.

Beer at El Bait Shop
Rye for the weary yogini

How it turned out: I’d skipped the opening ceremonies in lieu of visiting a good friend, just east of Des Moines. And I passed on the Saturday evening festivities, having finished the planned sessions that day at 5pm fully exhausted, out of ibuprofen, hungry, needing a shower, and wanting a little time to myself. I found a pub near my own hotel, about 3/4 mile away from the festival. Two beers, a burger, a bath and then a great pillow were welcome respite. I missed some things, notably a Yoga Nidra class and some great live music, both of which may have helped, though those activities may have contributed to added fatigue for me.

I attended this alone, and I don’t think the event was designed for a loner participant. The discounted rooms at the hotel were only large suites, and people moved in packs. Like with soccer camp, most people appeared to have arrived with friends and stayed -rather tightly – with those friends throughout the event. As such I found myself drawn toward some of the bazaar vendors, for conversation. Which was nice – the women tabling for Aveda and BaliMalas were very friendly. While in sessions, fellow attendees were a bit more outgoing and I enjoyed meeting them. It appears there are other people as enthused about Ms. Nardini as I am.

The just plain weird but surely there’s a lesson in there

I arrived to find out someone had checked in as me. This didn’t yield any fewer benefits to me, nor any larger benefits to the impostor (that I know of), but it was just so … odd. Thus began my yoga for the weekend: did this mean anything, obvious or not? Was it just a test, an invitation to let go or to seek the person who checked in as me? I went with the former. A coworker’s adieu for me via email on Thursday included an “Enjoy your yoga!” Clearly the experience was going to go deeper than a pleasant savasana or two.

More tests: my hotel room clock went off at 6:30 am, unexpectedly, on Saturday. Then my hotel room phone rang at 5:30am, unexpectedly. The Sunday one was less welcome, though it did help me get ready in time to go to an optional and excellent 7am pranayama practice with Mara Healy.

Perhaps “the weird” is appropriate for a summary here. I too easily observe some similarities between this yoga weekend in Iowa and a week spent dormed in former military barracks, trying to improve my soccer skills. It is uncomfortable that the weekend drummed up that particular experience from my memories! Both were excursions from which I was seeking transformation, and I certainly got it at soccer camp, but in unexpected ways. Time will tell, if my Des Moines experience will yield more fruits for my practice, teaching and life than the lovely “alchemy” mala that I bought and a few new cues that I have already introduced in a few of my classes. I’m looking into getting more anatomy training, getting back to my yoga text studies, and developing some truly new, inspired sequences. Stay tuned. And come to my classes!

Have you been to a yoga festival or conference? Which one, and what was it like? Will you go to another? I’d love to hear about it, in the comments to this page.

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