San Diego is a city that is known and loved for its fresh seafood, abundant shopping, hip nightlife, amazing beaches and fun attractions. In my opinion it is time to add yet another attribute to the list: great yoga. I moved here two years ago from San Francisco and missed my yoga community terribly. Slowly but surely I started making friends in the San Diego yoga community but still felt like a visitor rather than a member. Lucky for me, a lot can happen in two years and with the forceful rise of yoga studios in Southern California it was only a matter of time before Yoga Journal felt the pull to venture down south. And in four fabulous days filled with mats, blocks, straps and sweat my new home was reborn and I was reconnected.
As a yoga practitioner of twelve years and an instructor I had high hopes that the conference would be both transformative and inspiring. It was a humid and hot Friday morning when I arrived eager for my all day intensive with Anna Forrest. The Conference was held at the Sheraton, this amazingly huge hotel that sits alongside the San Diego Marina. Inside the cool air-conditioned hotel there was a mix of yogis and regular hotel guests. The drastic juxtaposition of the two made me giggle as I headed toward the main conference area. I half expected to see thousands of yogis flip flopping around with mats and reusable water bottles but it seemed a bit quiet. But when the mediation class was over and work hours ended and Saturday morning rolled around the halls would be full of Southern California Yogis.
I had heard about the wonders of Anna Forrest from previous teachers and friends who had studied with her so I felt somewhat confident of what I was about to experience. She seemed harmless enough with her hair perfectly pulled into a side ponytail braid. Her warm energy was casual yet commanding and I hoped that she didn’t take it easy on us because I was in the mood for a workout. Oh if I only knew then what I know now I would have been praying for her to take it easy on us! She is a yogic force to be reckoned with. Its like she could see inside of us to the very core and pinpoint whatever crap we were hiding. Her class was called Journey to the Core and focused primarily on the core but it was beyond crunches and abdominal work.
She began with a simple sun salutation and then immediately jumped right into twists. With each pose we peeled off a layer of stuff getting deeper into the core of ourselves. It was emotional and intense and she warned us that a lot of stuff was going to come up because of “the work” and to try not to get in a fight with anyone at lunch. I laughed thinking that she was just being funny, but she was serious. That night I had a huge emotional release and was able to talk with my husband about fears I had surrounding pregnancy that I had not ever been able to talk about before. I am positive it was from all the layers Anna helped me peel away during her intensive and she helped me get in touch with the core of who I am. Thanks Anna!
I showed up on Saturday morning a little sore and looking forward to experiencing three awesome teachers: Vinnie Marino, Kia Miller and Dharma Mittra. Saturday morning looked more like what I had expected a Yoga Journal Conference to look like; women with bright colored headbands on, lululemon at every turn, kambucha drinking gals talking about their favorite flavor, quiet and serious women who probably meditate every morning before they eat breakfast, men in Om t-shirts looking surprisingly comfortable being the minority and famous sought after teachers, mingling among the crowd of excited and anxious So-Cal Yogis.
The huge conference room where Vinnie’s class, Wake Up and Flow, was being held was all carpet, had weird bright lights overhead and about 120 people ready for some awesome yoga. I set myself up in the front row so I would not miss anything. He started class off slow, warming us up through three led Sun Salutation A’s and then one on our own. I loved that he gave us a chance to really go inward and practice at our own pace. He was funny and genuine and my favorite quote was, “So many yoga classes going on right next to each other, its like we’ve got three yoga DVD’s going on at once!” His style was casual and completely relaxed. I loved the flow he took us through and by the time we reached shavasana we were all ready to lie down and not move for a few minutes. If you can, I would highly recommend taking a weekend to visit Yoga Works in Santa Monica and take his class! Vinnie Marino rocks!
Blissful and thirsty, I waited outside the room where Kia Miller’s class was going to begin in fifteen minutes sipping on some green juice. Suddenly a gorgeous woman wearing all white turned to me and smiled and said “Oh green juice, good for you, you must be local.” “Oh yes”, I said, “I’m local. I’m here for Kia Miller’s class. Wait, you’re Kia Miller!” “Yes!” she laughed, “Yes I am.” I felt an instant connection with her, she glows with light and radiates positive energy. Her class The Path to Union was a Kundalini Vinyasa Flow and I loved every minute! Kundalini is energy, also known as prana, that sits at the base of the spine and can be drawn up through the spine and awaken the seven chakras.
She began with a quiet meditation and explanation of what Kundalini Yoga is and what to expect in class. The majority of people in the room had never experienced this type of yoga before, so it was up to me and three other students in the front row to as Kia put it “hold the space.” Her voice was like a soothing song which put me into a deep meditative state. She led us through a very fluid asana series, holding certain poses and using certain breathing techniques in order to intensify each pose and release energy. We used breath of fire, short sharp exhales through the nose quickly contracting the abdominals, a lot and it really worked! I could feel the change in my practice with each exhale in a way that I had never felt. I got very hot very quickly even though the room was air-conditioned and I felt heat rising up through my spine. In the last and longest asana, we sat on the floor while our arms flew up over our head and then back down, over and over again for nine minutes! I woke up from Shavasana glowing and as I listened to her closing meditation I felt as thought I was floating off the earth. Amazing teacher equals amazing yoga.
During the lunch break I went to check out the Marketplace. It was a huge canopy tent filled with clothing vendors like Hard Tail, and Lucy among others, a Sambazon booth promoting acai berry products, Aromatherapy, yoga accessories, jewelry and more. I felt a little overwhelmed but enjoyed myself and found a few new treasures to take home. In my third and final class, Dharma Mittra shared with us his views on yoga and compassion. He encouraged us to try eating vegan because yoga must thrive off the mat in everything we do through our compassionate choices. He talked about not harming the chickens or the cows but told us “not to worry if we ate a hamburger at lunch because we didn’t know.” He was very funny and laughed at his own jokes! He talked to us about meditating and the importance of breathing deeply in each pose. He had an assistant show us the postures before we attempted them but he always ended up showing them to us too. The class was mostly asanas but ended with a beautiful meditation. It was a very spiritual and uplifting experience. I was happy to end my day with his class and left with a journal full of notes and an open heart.
Overall the Yoga Journal Conference rocked the San Diego yoga scene creating endless waves of inspiration and instruction. And as for me, a Kindergarten teacher with twelve years of yoga under my belt, I was reminded once again of my overall intention, to be an instrument for the awakening of humanity, and what better way to do that than on a yoga mat.
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