Shining Light on New England: The First Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference

Linda DiCarlo

The faculty is introduced to attendees at the Friday evening reception.

The first Regional Iyengar Yoga Conference was held in Providence, Rhode Island, from October 16 through 18, 2009. From conception to manifestation, the journey was action packed. Gloria Goldberg and Marla Apt, two past presidents of IYNAUS, conjured the idea and first mentioned the concept at the IYNAUS board meeting of March 2008. Our intention was to use the conference to promote Iyengar Yoga to all yoga practitioners, to introduce the community to local teachers as well as teachers from other regions, and to generate income to support IYNAUS.

At the time this work began, we had only 33 certified teachers in all of New England. The organizers had minimal experience with this sort of project. Our time line was very short: less than a year and a half until the opening date.

How Did This Happen?

Steering Committee members Greg Anton, Provincetown on the Cape; Jill Johnson, Lebanon, New Hampshire; Peentz Dubble, Newton, Massachusetts; and Linda Di Carlo, Cranston, Rhode Island (not shown, Patricia Walden, Cambridge Massachusetts).

Boston, with its eager community of volunteers, was selected as the conference site (there were no other cities vying for this distinction). In addition to Patricia Walden's Boston community, a contingent of students and teachers from every state in New England joined in to bring the dream to fruition. The first committees to take shape were the Steering Committee (Patricia Walden, Peentz Dubble, Jill Johnson, Greg Anton, Linda DiCarlo) and the Curriculum Committee (Patricia Walden, Janice Vein, Linda DiCarlo, Gloria Goldberg). These committees met via conference call and email so that travel demands of a multistate group were minimized. The Steering Committee was at the helm of the project and collectively made decisions that shaped the entire event. Peentz and Jill took charge of the venue and were responsible for the logistics of the actual event; Greg communicated with all committee heads and orchestrated production and the budgets of 12 committees; and Patricia and Linda cochaired the Curriculum Committee, designed the basic structure of the conference, and selected the teachers to be invited. With these key individuals in place, we were ready to launch the project.

Our original idea was to hold the conference in Boston during peak fall colors.

Our original idea was to hold the conference in Boston during peak fall colors. We discovered all but a very few hotels were booked with parents' weekend for Boston universities or annual boat races on the Charles River. With only one option in the suburbs, our consultant suggested we consider Providence. Although it was Brown University's Parents' Weekend, we were able to secure adequate space in downtown Providence at the Rhode Island Convention Center and Westin Hotel, which were conveniently joined by a glass-enclosed walkway.

As soon as the dates and location were identified, Patricia and Linda collaborated to select the teaching staff. Consideration was given to creating a well-rounded group. With a wealth of expertise in our national community, we had many choices so long as teachers' calendars were not booked given the short notice. In the end, we chose a total of 22 teachers, with New England being strongly represented. Included were those who are pillars of our regional community, with esteemed teachers from other parts of the country to round out the teaching staff. Fortunately, these people fully supported this project. Some even shuffled their calendars to make it possible to participate.

Peentz Dubble updating attendees on logistics for the upcoming event.

As word of what was in the works began to spread, inquiries began to flood in from across the country. It was clear that registration, accommodations, and general logistics were going to be substantive tasks. Early on in this process, we were blessed by an offer from New Hampshire's Diana Shannon to head up the Web Site and Registration Committees. We were awed by Diana's priceless skill set and heroic attitude toward sticking to our time line. With her valiant effort, the web site took shape. More committees were needed, so the Steering Committee came up with a list of people for these leadership positions who were invited to join our gathering force of conference organizers. In late September 2008, 12 volunteers took charge of these new areas of responsibility (Audio/Visual, Finance, Food, Venue, Sponsors, Events, Advertising, Vendors, Volunteers, Website, Registration, and Curriculum) and were required to devise an action plan and to propose a budget. These committee chairs all needed volunteers. To recruit them, we relied not only on the region's teachers, who called on their students, but we also provided an opportunity for participants to register as volunteers when they registered for the conference. In total, there were about 170 individuals on our list of willing helpers. With Mary Wixted, a Massachusetts teacher, as chair of the committee of volunteers, they proved critical to the success of the conference. We now had a critical mass of energy. Although most of us knew each other from the perspective of a yoga class, creating a conference gave our relationships a broader dimension that would carry over into the birth of a new regional association.


The IYNAUS Book Store, one of 10 vendors in the conference marketplace.
IYNAUS General Manager Sharon Cowdery (center) with helpers.

As the event drew near, Vendor Co-Chairs Liz Owen and Annie Hoffman continued to recruit vendors to join the IYNAUS Store to fill ten slots in our market place. The vendors offered a variety of yoga props, yoga teaching aids, clothing, and jewelry and an assortment of goods from the IYNAUS Store. The Steering Committee refined our plans for the welcoming reception, and we began the search for chairs. Our intention was to rent 400 metal chairs for use as props in asana classes. The Rhode Island community, under Deb Newton's leadership, was in charge of this search. It turns out that the wonderful metal chairs we use no longer are easily available. Companies and organizations have replaced them with a much cheaper plastic version. After dozens of phone calls to local schools, churches, and organizations, we were finally able to locate just enough chairs for our needs. But hauling them to and from the convention center required hours of volunteer time. If you become inspired to rally support for a regional conference in your area, let me recommend that you skip the idea of providing chairs for each person. The chairs remained a topic of discussion in the Rhode Island community for some time even after the convention. Fortunately, we have developed a sense of humor about them.

What Was the Structure of the Event?

The structure of the conference was clearly different from that of previous conventions. Our target audience was broader and included students who were not Iyengar students. Each day, morning asana classes and afternoon restorative and pranayama classes were offered for three levels of students. In the Special Topic classes, a unique feature of our program, teachers offered classes on their areas of expertise. With over 30 classes to choose from, the range of topics was vast: The History of Yoga, Emotional Healing, Alignment and the Asymmetrical Body, How to Start a Personal Practice, Arm Balancing–the list goes on. The 90th Birthday Exhibit honoring B.K.S. Iyengar was on display for participants and teachers to visit during their free time.

The New England community and guest teachers at
the well-attended reception, a time for old friends to reconnect, for the many voices os conference calls to meet face to face, and for networking with new acquaintances.

A welcoming reception was held on Friday evening, where all the teachers were recognized, honored, and introduced to the attendees. On Saturday afternoon, John Schumacher delivered the keynote address, "Iyengar Yoga and the Power of Intention" (available at: Midday on Sunday, there was a panel discussion of senior teachers entitled "An Intimate View of Iyengar Yoga." With Joan White as moderator, Patricia Walden, Manouso Manos, Dean Lerner, and Mary Reilly shared their personal views, experiences, and insights as long-standing members of the Iyengar community. After the panel discussion, Lighting the Way awards were given to Joan White and Mary Dunn (received in her honor by her friend Elizabeth Whalley) to recognize them for the exceptional work performed for the Iyengar Yoga community.

The New England community agreed to take on the task of organizing the conference in May, and seven months later, by December 2008,
the structure for the entire project was planned and implemented.

Who Attended?

Discussion panel Mary Reilly, Manuso Manos, Dean Lerner, Patricia Walden (front) with moderator Joan White (far right).

The New England community agreed to take on the task of organizing the conference in May, and seven months later, by December 2008, the structure for the entire project was planned and implemented. We continued to recruit volunteers for special projects right up until the week of the conference.

The website launched in mid January 2009. We opened registration as planned and gave our regional students a two-week window of opportunity before we opened registration to students nationwide. We were thrilled to see 176 New England students jump at the chance to register. The composition of the group attendees is interesting to note. Although 243 of the 413 attendees were from New England, we attracted students from 18 other states, the District of Columbia, and two other countries. Beginners made up 10% of the group, 43% were teachers, and 13% were studio owners. We did not monitor how many attendees were new to the Iyengar method. This would be interesting to know for future events.

In general, the feedback from students and teachers alike has been exceptionally positive. Committee members, too, felt very good about the success of this event. The survey completed by some of the attendees gave us tremendous praise and gratitude as well as constructive suggestions for subsequent events. Although we did work diligently to create this conference, it was well worth the energy and time. This was an amazing experience on many levels. The following comments from attendees and one of the faculty members convey this concept quite nicely.

Grace from Rhode Island

I took classes ranging from standing poses to inversions to emotional regulation through yoga. Each teacher's unique personality was evident in each class, but I was struck by the amazing consistency in the teaching points among all the teachers. I left the conference with a deep respect for the certification process that Iyengar teachers complete. Throughout the conference it was clear that Iyengar teachers offer guidance truly steeped in tradition.

When the conference was over, I gained new insights and renewed commitment to my yoga practice, but I also left with something much more. By attending the full conference, I had allowed myself to be immersed in yoga. This immersion allowed me the opportunity to have a deeper experience with what I had previously only briefly touched through yoga: an experience of the quiet, revitalizing power that resides within. This experience was an unexpected bonus from the weekend, an experience that had reverberations in the rest of my life off the yoga mat. Of course, as the weeks and months have passed, the post-conference glow has dimmed somewhat, but the lingering memory of sipping from a nourishing well within my Self remains.

Karin from Massachusetts

For me The Shining Light Convention which took place in Providence, Rhode Island, in October of 2009 was by far the best Iyengar Yoga convention I have ever attended. I believe it is because we, as teachers and as a community as a whole, have at last come of age. In spite of the cold, rainy and windy weather outdoors, indoors was a wonderfully warm atmosphere not just between the organizers and the teachers, the teachers and the students, but also between the teachers and teachers. The minute I walked upstairs in the main reception area, people behind the reception desk called out my name, "Hi Karin," and with a wonderfully friendly hug, immediately handed me my t-shirt and bag of goods. At the reception every single teacher, many of whom I hadn't seen for quite some time, came up to me and hugged me and said hello. This first Regional Yoga Conference was, I believe, the very first time where it felt as though we, as teachers, could fully express our own knowledge and understanding of Iyengar Yoga by coming from the deepest and most unique part of ourselves. Nothing felt hierarchical, everything felt very even, as though we were all on the same level playing field. And I truly believe it was the way in which the organizers themselves went about reaching out to all of us from the beginning by focusing on drawing on our greatest strengths, in addition to their kind and open spirit they brought forth in putting this program together, that this most generous and buoyant atmosphere could take place.

In addition, it was the most wonderful feeling for me to be able to go into the large round rotunda and see 60 to 70 students all highly disciplined and for the most part very well trained–at their own level–so enthusiastic and eager to learn what I had to teach about alignment and asymmetry. I think this is also what was so remarkable about this convention: this beautiful balance between a certain high-quality level of participant and a certain high-quality level of experience of teacher causing an amazing pedagogical exchange to occur. Not only was the mix and matching of the classes and workshops well thought out amongst the organizers, but it also demonstrated another kind of balance: the collective maturation over the years of both the teachers and the students. The creation of this regional program, where each teacher was allowed to freely pass on what they have learned over the years, and where each student was allowed to freely reveal his or her capacity for grasping greater and greater refinement in the yoga asanas, made it possible for us to share in a marvelous experiential process of having grown up together. I found this to be not only very exhilarating, but extremely empowering.

The best convention I have attended,
because we, as teachers and as a community, have come of age.

Cathy from Massachusetts

The most special part of the conference was the community it built between my teachers, yoga classmates, my own students, and me. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to be with fellow students and spend time getting to know them better over meals and free time. There are fellow yogis that I have been in class with for over ten years and never had the opportunity to spend time with them. It was a great opportunity to introduce my students to the senior teachers helping to create additional enthusiasm in them for Iyengar Yoga. Sharing a common love of yoga with like-minded people established a true feeling of camaraderie and friendship that I cherish.

Catherine from Maine

For me personally, going to the conference was a wonderful treat, as well as a real turning point for my personal yoga practice. I have been practicing for three years now, and often my weekly class was the only yoga I could fit into my busy schedule. So not only was it truly wonderful to dedicate three days entirely to practice, but since then I have also brought my practice more richly into my day-to-day life.

The principles that Iyengar Yoga are built upon fit my own personal, emotional and mental rhythms very well, and I am very grateful that it is part of my life.

The next regional conference will be sponsored by the Midwest community and will be held in Chicago in September 2011.

Are You Considering This Idea for Your Community?

At the last class of the conference, a most welcome Savasana.

The IYNAUS plan is to have a regional conference each year in the off-years of the national convention. The next regional conference will be sponsored by the Midwest community and will be held in Chicago in September 2011. Our committee members have been talking with the Midwest organizers and have made a wealth of information and experience available to them. The planning of the 2011 conference is providing an unforeseen opportunity to weave the web of connections within the larger Iyengar Yoga community. We wish them all the best in their endeavors. The third conference will be promoted in 2012. We hope that this account will help to inspire fellow yoga enthusiasts to seize the opportunity to raise the profile of Iyengar Yoga in their region. The New England Regional Conference proved a boon for our community. It built enthusiasm for our method and a stronger sense of camaraderie among New England's practitioners, and we have established the Iyengar Yoga Association of New England.

Contact Patrina Dobish, IYNAUS Events Committee Chair, to discuss your community's interest in sponsoring the 2012 Conference.

Linda DiCarlo resides in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. She is the Director of Iyengar Yoga Source, a yoga
studio in an historic New England village. She is a past president of IYNAUS, an assessor, and an
Intermediate Junior 3 teacher.