Pointing my head eastward: the Minneapolis Yoga Conference


If you’re minute-to-minute on this: cards from Dianne Bondy’s workshop

Two weeks ago last evening, I was on a train back from Minneapolis, having wrapped up a full three days of attending the Minneapolis Yoga Conference. Though my butt was a little tired, I felt overall more open and strong than on most other Sunday late afternoons. I had woken up that morning with my head at the foot of my bed.

I rode a train. (That’s extremely rare.)

Sitting, all weekend?

Freedom of movement? Awareness of it? Ok, those might be expected with a yoga event, but sleeping weirdly? 

So, yoga conference. My second. A year and a half ago I attended the Iowa Yoga Conference (my review is here). I did not forget that such an event is fairly exhausting (to the butt in particular but also in general) and is a strangely lonely affair. In both respects, I was up to the challenge.

I also did not forget that it was likely to offer up some great ideas and/or impromptu life lessons, for my yoga teaching and practice. With a variety of well-known –at least in terms of popular yoga media– teachers, primarily from out of state, and approaches, I was looking forward to meeting these people and to hearing what they had to say. In particular, Dianne Bondy had a few workshops planned (i.e., “Yoga For All: How to Build More Body Positive and Inclusive Classes “) that I felt would help me make my own classes more accessible and meaningful to my current and future students. Additionally, my friend Karen Piacquadio had recommended I get to one of Christina Sell‘s workshops.

This conference had the added affordability and accessibility of location: 30 minutes from my house. So, I signed up to attend the conference, several months ago. I  realized in January that I was a little overdue for some continuing education, to keep my teaching fresh and relevant. I was thirsty for new cuing, new anatomy knowledge, and increased understanding of some of the more esoteric, philosophical aspects of yoga. I was also looking for some insight that may aid me in my quest, lately, to do pincha mayurasana without the aid of a wall.

I may have forgotten that this type of weekend, while it’s not a retreat in the typical sense of the word, is a sort of escape, a change-up from the usual routine for a Friday-Saturday-Sunday sequence: I didn’t head for my usual Friday, work-then-yoga or cook-dinner-with-husband plans. No run, on either day. No grocery planning and shopping, and not any baking, either. I didn’t even drive my car much, over the whole weekend. This sort of mini-vacation delivered me to work on Monday -and to my upcoming week of run training- in a mentally refreshed, inspired state.

Getting there

As hinted at above, on two of the three days, I took the new St. Paul-to-Minneapolis light rail (“The Green Line”) to get there. I love trains and this one’s been running for over a year now. I was super excited to ride it, even if it did more than double the time to get to my destination.

My mode of transportation to the event wasn’t a key takeaway from my weekend, though I certainly enjoyed the ride and views. It was a greener way to get there that afforded me some extra and welcome time moving on my feet. It also was a great hourlong moving panorama of some visually and culturally interesting parts of the Twin Cities: the full length of University Avenue, Dinkytown, then right onto Nicollet Avenue.

Nicollet Avenue, however, looked like a zombie apocalypse had just hit. Evidently it’s in the middle of some huge infrastructure update or redesign. Pavement and trees are ripped up, and none of the transit traffic that is normally allowed there is moving through. Huge construction vehicles were parked and quiet. All that was moving was a lot of dust, swirling around the few restaurants that were brave enough to offer outdoor seating on this gorgeous weekend (those places did fill up over the noontime hours, I found out).

This urban situation wasn’t all that distinctive, except for the fact this 1-mile stretch was my passage between the light rail station and the hotel where the conference was held. It was remarkably cinematic! After stepping through the revolving door at the Hyatt, the air and decor were a lot more pristine and crystalline. Things got a lot more conference-y once I found the check-in table, but I did find that on the days I took the train in, I felt like I’d traveled a lot further than just across town.

She was just so … relaxed

I was a little surprised to discover, a week before the event when I sat down to peruse the schedule and workshop descriptions, where my interest fell: I planned and spent a fair amount of time with presenters aligned with the Kundalini tradition. In total, 4 workshops, or 10 hours. A fair amount of that was spent seated, listening, maybe interacting a little, but there were maybe four hours of physical practice.  As I mentioned above, I suppose I have been thirsty for certain things, this spring, in my yoga and my life. The music of this tradition -its strangeness, I suppose and sometimes its beauty- appeals to me. My body responds well to the gentle, almost undulating movements of the movements -kriyas- typical to this practice: it warms and loosens up my often-stiffened joints. Also, I have attended a few kundalini+gong meditation sessions in the last year or two, each of which made lasting impressions on me. A sore neck feels better, angry rhomboids get happier. Over the weekend, I was rewarded, with the expected ease of movement in my spine.

The shorter of the four workshops I attended was an early Saturday practice led by a local teacher, Helena Raghubir. So many people showed up for this! Her voice was just barely loud enough to hear, even with amplification, and this seemed intentional: a way to quiet the room. She led a great class, and her soft words and relaxed manner were very soothing. It was a great way to set the pace for the middle day of the conference.

Taking notes

sketchnote 1

Sketchnote from a Kia Miller workshop

I took the opportunity to try a new method of note-taking, over the course of the weekend. “Sketchnotes” are a more visual method of taking notes, which I read about recently in The Sketchnote Handbook. I picked up this book in an effort to round out my skill set as an Information Architect (it’s what I do when not teaching or practicing yoga, running, eating, sleeping, or watching Vikings with Steve).

This technique is a great alternative to frantically transcribing every word a presenter utters! You wait for and identify the concepts in the presentation that are meaningful to you, and then you draw a picture. It’s ok if the picture is largely typographical (i.e. is words drawn fancily) but allowing your brain to put together images that bring life to the ideas is the most important aspect of this practice. In its mindfulness, it’s a very yogic way to experience a presentation. I did it for all of the longer workshops; pictured here is a partial page from a Kia Miller workshop. I got better at it by Sunday.

Pillow at the foot of the bed

On Saturday afternoon I attended “Swara Yoga: Ancient Science of Breathing.” Indu Arora was the presenter; this workshop promised to be about breath, but not in a typical pranayama sense. While we did do a small amount of some familiar techniques (like nadi shodhana and kapalabhati), the focus of this session was more about the parallels and connections between our bodies, our planet, and their polarities.

Three hours was just a very brief introduction to these concepts, but my curiosity was piqued enough to try sleeping with my head pointed east, rather than its usual west. This would be done to properly align energy for getting to sleep. Our bedroom is far to small to be able to change the orientation of the bed, but there wasn’t anything stopping me from turning 180 degrees.

I’ve kept at it since that Sunday, and other than a small break last week when I has stressed about upcoming air travel (and mom’s heart surgery), I do think I’ve rested better! However, I’ll mention a few other reasons this experiment seems to be “working”: a) change is usually refreshing and rejuvenating for me, b) sleeping with my head not under the infrequent strobe of our carbon monoxide detector is more conducive to sleep, and c) I’d also have to fall asleep on my left side, to be fully aligned for getting into restful sleep. My left shoulder, still ornery from a 2007 separation injury on a Montana snowboarding trip, just doesn’t allow me to ease into sleep if it’s under me.

I did learn a fun trick that, while it’s not necessarily great for parties, it may be helpful on other occasions: I can switch congested nostrils, without lying on one side. Within four minutes! Here’s how: sitting or standing up, cross your arms, and place hands in armpits, thumbs out and pointing up. Try it!

And a few other takeaways

Like in Iowa, in one of the practice sessions there was some great music and I inquired about it. This time, I discovered Jai Jagdeesh! In particular, this track, “Guru Ram Das“, is beautiful and oddly haunting, for a yoga track. I’ve brought it to my own practice, already. While I still find the lyrics distracting and insincere for me to chant, I do enjoy the sounds and melody, which stick with me for hours, later. Recently (prior to the conference), I read this great article about chanting, from Janet Stone, and I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with this type of music and practice. Thank heavens I did – I probably wouldn’t have made it through two Kia Miller workshops, and one with Tommy Rosen, as well. It’s weirdly powerful, more enjoyable stuff for me, now.

Someone I met during my yoga training (6 years ago!) had a booth there at the conference bazaar. She makes lovely mala necklaces/meditation aids. Check out Jessica’s From Your Mat!

Christina Sell’s backbend workshop was very helpful to me, in my feathered peacock quest. I learned: if downward-facing dog is a pose that’s accessible in your body, it can be great shoulder and upper-back warmup/opener. As can sphinx pose (salamba bhujangasana), or multiple reps of locust pose (salabhasana). So, I looked into the eyes of the monster that is wheel pose (for me and my tight quads), by going to Sell’s workshop. And yet, that courageous move was entirely unwarranted.

A week later, in an Iyengar class I attend semi-regularly, I requested that we spend a little time on pincha mayurasana. And we did so, surprisingly early in the class. In my home practice, I typically spend a fair amount of time preparing for this pose, before trying it. And yet I had the trust – in myself and my longtime teacher, Paul – to get to it with less warmup. And it worked (and by “worked” I mean I was able to get into and hold the pose for a few breaths, near a wall, with minimal discomfort). Not only did it work, but I discovered that this forearm balance is a pretty good prep for poses I often consider warmups for it. I found more space, more flexibility than usual, in the lunges in Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara): something completely unexpected! My practice with this pose continues to yield fun little discoveries.

It may be a few years again, before I attend a yoga conference, as in the next year or two I’m eager to take a more focused course or two. However, I do recommend Minneapolis Yoga Conference, especially if you live here in the Twin Cities. It’s a great opportunity, if you’re curious about certain styles or teachers, or just curious in general and already dig yoga. You may not necessarily like every session: there was one shorter session I didn’t enjoy so much, though the experience did deliver a helpful lesson. However, you’ll be met with enthusiasm by a whole bunch of like-minded people.



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