Scenes from a Conference:
Thursday, 4 p.m. Melanie Armstrong's Intermediate Yoga class was about to begin, and the atmosphere in the Kripalu Chapel was like a family reunion. With each new arrival, there were hugs and excited greetings. Yoga teachers from all over the world were coming together for the ninth annual KYTA Conference, and their enthusiasm was tangible.
"It's as if I went to college with all these people," said Carey Samuels, a KYTA member who would be assisting at the conference throughout the weekend.
Kripalu Yoga teachers and teachers from other traditions had come to deepen their knowledge, to replenish their energy and inspiration, to see old friends and make new ones. "There's a real love that prevails throughout the weekend," said Susan Vandenberg, a 1998 graduate of Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training.
Thursday, 7:15 p.m. "It looks as if this year's KYTA Conference is clearly going to be the best ever!" proclaimed Kripalu Yoga Fellowship President Shobhan Richard Faulds as he surveyed the more than 300 yoga teachers assembled in the Main Chapel. After leading the group in a centering, Shobhan introduced conference co-directors Vandita, KYTA Director and former director of the Albany Kripalu Yoga Center, and Brahmanand Don Stapleton, co-director of Nosara Yoga Institute in Costa Rica and designer of the original KYTT.
Before turning over the mike, however, Shobhan spoke briefly about what he calls Kripalu's renaissance, "a return to our roots, to the spiritual practice of community, to our yoga tradition and core teachings. We have really become a national leader in yoga in the last two years," he continued, "and that factors down to all of you and your ability to reach students. You form a base for us to do what we do-touch hearts, awaken souls and share love. There's still much to do, but we are more than back-I think we're better than ever!"
Shobhan told the group that KYTA continues to be one of Kripalu's top priorities, and that current KYTA projects include increasing membership services, building a network of studios and centers, finding ways to allow a more liberal use of the Kripalu name and fundraising to support charitable work in prisons, senior centers and other venues.
"We have yoga teachers from all over the world here today," Vandita announced as she took the mike. "I'm so excited about seeing all of you and learning who you are and what you do."
To give us a physical sense of the extent and diversity of the gathering, Vandita called out the names of 35 states, five Canadian provinces and five foreign countries-Brazil, Costa Rica, England, Iceland, and Singapore-and the teachers from each location stood up to rousing applause. It was a striking illustration of the breadth of Kripalu Yoga. "There's a wonderful energy here that spills out into the world," Vandita said.
Later in the evening, participants shared funny and moving stories of teaching yoga. The group giggled and clapped at tales of teaching in an echoing squash court and in a college greenroom during play rehearsal; drowning out the roar of jackhammers with spirited chanting; and beginning a post-aerobics yoga class with a very sweaty foot massage!
"Laughter is a wonderful ingredient in our classes," Vandita said before turning the mike over to Don, who warmly greeted the group. "I am greatly honored to be on a path with you all," he said. "This conference is about teachers coming together to embrace our destiny. There is something very powerful happening on this planet that we're a part of right now. Yoga is emerging as a universal language."
Don closed the evening with a ceremonial sharing that symbolized the support we all provide for each other on this path. Forming groups of three, participants took turns speaking of their inspiration as yoga teachers and their intentions for the weekend. Then they each lit a votive candle, blessed each other with the light and held their flames aloft. In the darkened room, the hundreds of little lights glowed like a field of fireflies, burning brightly and steadily together.
Friday and Saturday. From yoga anatomy to the cosmology of yoga, from partner yoga to pre- and postnatal yoga, the experiential and lecture-style workshops offered at KYTA Conference 2000 represented a vast range of skills and experience.
Carey Samuels found Sam Dworkis' ExTension and Recovery Yoga particularly powerful. "I teach people with multiple sclerosis and those who have had strokes, so it was wonderful and refreshing to have another perspective," she said.
New York City yoga teacher Audrey Pearson attended Marcia Giudice's workshop on backward-bending postures and Arthur Kilmurray's Teaching the Downward Facing Dog Pose. "I learned so much that I'll take back to my students," she said.
"I particularly liked Rachel Schaeffer's contribution [Spiritual Muscles: Creating Themes in Your Yoga Classes] because it was just right for my stage of development," said Stuart Meikle, who graduated from KYTT in July and teaches yoga in Darien, Conn. "I like the sense of community, the sense of support," he said of his first conference. "We're part of spreading something bigger than ourselves."
For many participants, connection and personal transformation were as important as professional development. "My highlight was a personal deepening and opening that happened in Melanie Armstrong's Devotion in Motion," said Valerie Townsend, a Kripalu Yoga teacher from Eagle Bridge, NY.
"I've had so many wonderful conversations, meeting all types of people and sharing what we've been through," said Carey Samuels. "Where else in life do you have a place you can go to find so many people with common interests to open your heart to? There really is a sacred space here for that."
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. After two days of intensive information-gathering and deep experiential learning, participants opened their hearts and let down their hair to the soulful sounds of the Shakti Fusion Band. "It's almost impossible to sit down," said Audrey Pearson.
Sunday, 9 a.m. The presentation of Outstanding Service Awards to seven exceptional KYTA teachers was more than a ceremony; it was a celebration of life, love and the passion for sharing yoga. (For more about the OSA winners, see page 7.)
In a poignant closing experience, Don invited the teachers in the room to present themselves with the Outstanding Service Award. Participants chose a polished stone from the flower-strewn fountain in the center of the room to represent the award. Breaking up into groups of three, they shared intimately about themselves-their struggles, challenges, joys, special qualities and contributions to the world. There were smiles, hugs and tears.
"It gave me great satisfaction to lead the whole group in this experience," Don said later. "It's not easy to see oneself clearly and the good one is bringing forth in the world. But it is the most essential quality for actualizing our intentions in the world-to see who we are and what we're capable of contributing from this unique window of time in our lives."