From the Heartland

A dream team of senior Iyengar Yoga teachers including Laurie Blakeney, Kristin Chirhart, Dean and Rebecca Lerner, Manouso Manos, Mary Reilly, Chris Saudek, Lois Steinberg, and Patricia Walden assembled at Chicago’s historic Palmer House Hotel September 15-18, 2011. Two years of dedicated volunteerism, led by the tireless efforts of Ann Arbor’s Laurie Blakeney, culminated in a transformative weekend for over 400 participants at the “From the Heartland” regional conference, co-sponsored by the Iyengar Yoga Association of the Mid-West and IYNAUS.

The conference kicked off with an inspirational keynote address by Matthew Sanford at Chicago’s Cultural Center. Matthew, who is paralyzed from the chest down after surviving a devastating car accident when he was 13, is a certified Iyengar Yoga instructor based in Minneapolis. He runs the non-profit organization Mind, Body Solutions, whose mission is to “transform trauma loss and disability into hope and potential
by unlocking the connection between mind and body.”

Matthew spoke eloquently about the silence that gives expression to what he identified as the “part in me that precedes disability.” He encouraged us to release the space between the muscles and the bones and not to impose the postures on our bodies, but to let them grow organically. “You have to know the parts and pieces,” he said. He spoke of Guruji’s focus on alignment and precision as revolutionary—and so simple.
They create an effortless level of sensation that transcends even a severed spine.” 

The evening continued under the exquisite domed ceiling as Alicia Rowe played J.S. Bach’s solo cello suites in sync with Dan Blakeney’s silent film tribute to Guruji’s amazing practice through the decades. “We hope that the ‘Off the Mat’ activities inspire you to expand your view of life through the lens of artistry that yoga practice develops in us all,” Laurie Blakeney said about her vision for the conference. 

Students traveled from as far as Italy to attend the conference, which was billed as an inclusive event for all—beginners, veterans, and students from all methods. Scheduling was impeccable, volunteers were plentiful, and activities included vintage yoga movies, a yoga art exhibit, dinner circles, and chanting sutras with Leslie Freyberg. Fifty local teenagers were invited to attend introductory classes for free during the weekend, and 34 full scholarships were given out to practitioners.

How fitting that this event was held at the Palmer House as the Mid West honors Mary Palmer, the woman responsible for bringing Guruji back to America in 1973 at the Ann Arbor “Y.” Mary Palmer passed away in March 2011. (Please see Joan White’s tribute to her beloved teacher in this issue.)

The next regional conference, the Maitri Southeast Iyengar Yoga Conference, will take place in Washington, D.C., May 3-6, 2012. Visit for more information.