The Path of Yoga

Andrea Rollefson drinks from the deep well at the Path of Yoga Conference

I have always thought that yoga conferences seemed like strange things: typically a hodge-podge of yoga traditions, an airless, impersonal conference room, long rows of booths with products for sale and people lining up, hoping to find the next Best Thing. It is all so different from the intensely personal, transcendent experience that I know yoga to be. I think about this as I quietly breathe in, breathe out. As I stretch myself up to heaven. As I sing the names of the Divine.

Despite these reservations, here I am at the Omega Centerís annual yoga conference, held in New York City at a big hotel uptown on the weekend of September 15 Ė 17. With a plethora of yoga stars in attendance, the event draws a large crowd, with people traveling from as far away as California and Florida. Ostensibly Iím here to help at the ascent magazine and timeless books booth, but what I quickly learn is that my real job here is to lose some of my preconceptions about yoga.
Living in a city, I am accustomed to viewing with a somewhat jaded eye the yoga I see splashed across fitness magazines, or displayed in glossy brochures and bus shelters.†In North America, it seems inevitable that yoga and big business co-mingle, but I wonder, what is the long term result? As I watch the conference unfold and actually speak with workshop attendees, I realize that a community that commits itself to self-reflection and personal growth can only go so far afield - even within such a challenging arena for selfless service, humility & devotion as the market economy.

In fact, the Omega Conference is a pleasant surprise. The focus is truly on offering and expanding the teachings of yoga, with little advertising, vendors or activities to distract from the full schedule of workshops. What can sometimes seem a mishmash of yogic traditions can also reveal itself as a strength, potentially supporting a rich diversity of styles seeking inner truth. My fear that we may be altering yoga too much in our North American push to mix-and-match and make yoga uniquely our own is balanced by a new appreciation for the power and optimism inherent in attempting to break new ground, to learn from others and stretch beyond our previous boundaries. Everyone I meet at the event seems to be conscientiously following their own path, but still responsive to how others use the tools of yoga to dig their own deep well. This is a well I sip from too, and I realize that I am thankful that yoga is available in the city, but protective of how this thing that is precious to me is represented.

I wonít deny that some of my yoga conference prejudices still linger, but I also canít pretend that my mind isnít opening. Yoga and city-living can sometimes seem like strange bedfellows. However, it is the city that most needs yoga to come to life, to give that opportunity for one more person to take a nibble of bliss. Why should it matter to me whether yoga practice takes place on a sunny mountaintop or in a window-less conference room? In attending the Omega Conference I realize that this is the point: by using every means, clothing the divine in every different way, those who thirst will be able to take a drink.

Photos by Andrea Rollefson

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