First Regional Conference of the Iyengar Yoga Association of the Southeast Grows Maitri

by Leanne Cusumano Roque

All Photos identified are taken at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center May 3-6, 2012, Washington, D.C. – Maitri Southeast Regional Conference

Three hundred yoga practitioners created an ashram inside Washington D.C.’s Ronald Reagan International Trade Center during Maitri, the regional conference sponsored by the Iyengar Yoga Association of the Southeast, May 3-6.

Reaching across yoga disciplines and within the Iyengar Yoga community to create maitri (friendliness) for all, the conference became an ashram, as Senior Teacher John Schumacher noted in his comments at the closing ceremonies on Sunday.

The events began Thursday evening with fellowship during a “meet and greet” dinner, while Koren Paalman, costumed and on stilts, entertained as the goddess Sarasvati. Sanskrit scholar and longtime Iyengar Yoga practitioner Dr. Frederick Smith of the University of Iowa discussed the meaning of maitri, referencing the history of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and sutra 1.33: Maitri karuna muditopekshanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam.

Dr. Smith pointed out that the sutra mentions four virtues: maitri, karuna, mudita, and upekshanam. Structurally, each of these virtues is linked to just one of the four words that follow, so that by feeling maitri toward those in sukha (“good space”), karuna (compassion) toward those in duhkha (“bad space”), mudita (goodwill) toward those who are punya (virtuous), and upekshanam (neutrality) toward those who are apunya (non-virtuous), the mind is purified. Smith also examined sutra 3.24: “maitryadisu balani” (translated in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras as “He gains moral and emotional strength by perfecting friendliness and other virtues towards one and all”). At the end of his address, Dr. Smith encouraged participants to embody in each asana the virtues of maitri, karuna, mudita, and upekshanam

During morning sessions of the convention, participants practiced one hour of chanting or pranayama and two hours of asana. Dean Lerner (Advanced Junior I, Lemont, PA), Manuoso Manos (Advanced Senior I, San Francisco, CA), Karin O’Bannon (Intermediate Senior III, Shreveport, LA), Mary Reilly (Intermediate Senior II, Petoskey, MI), John Schumacher (Advanced Junior I, Bethesda, MD), Lois Steinberg (Advanced Junior II, Urbana, IL), Patricia Walden (Advanced Senior I, Arlington, MA), Joan White (Advanced Junior I, Philadelphia, PA), and many of the most experienced Intermediate Junior teachers from the South East Region added light through their presence and teachings.

On Friday and Saturday afternoons participants selected from 17 specialty classes to focus on specific topics, including Padmasana, backbends, inversions, the sutras, and more. During these sessions, participants were able to learn from and experience the Southeast Region’s excellent teachers, including Siegfried Bleher (Intermediate Junior III, Morgantown, West Virginia), Juliana Venturi Fair (Intermediate Senior I, Arlington, Virginia), Sandra Pleasants (Intermediate Junior III, Afton, Virginia), Kquvien DeWeese (Intermediate Junior II, Decatur, GA), Nancy Mau (Intermediate Junior II, Atlanta, GA), Kathleen Pringle (Intermediate Junior III, Atlanta, Georgia), Suzie Muchnick (Intermediate Junior III, Naples, Florida), Anara Lomme (Intermediate Junior II, Washington, D.C.), and Bobbi Goldin (Intermediate Junior III, Miami, Florida). 

Between morning asana classes and afternoon specialty sessions, participants engaged in panel discussions. On Friday, IYNAUS hosted a “meet and greet,” introducing conference attendees to IYNAUS Board members and Maitri faculty and coordinators. Participants could learn more about teacher certification in a discussion hosted by Mary Reilly, IYNAUS Certification Chair.

Saturday afternoon, Joan White, Kimberly Williams (Intermediate Junior I, Morgantown, WV), Lois Steinberg, and Manuoso Manos discussed how the practice of yoga affects the body in positive and, potentially, negative ways. The discussion was precipitated in part by the book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards by New York Times columnist William Broad. Panel members noted that Iyengar Yoga has evolved over time, that the number of people injured doing yoga is decreasingly and comparatively small despite the vast popularity of yoga, and that all physical activity involves some risk. The panel affirmed that rigorous teacher training and the proper use of props, inherent in our practice, minimizes risk for Iyengar Yoga practitioners.

At a panel held after the Saturday afternoon specialty sessions, Karin O’Bannon, John Schumacher, Patricia Walden, and Dr. Smith shared their insights on maitri. Karin talked about applying maitri in her own practice. John emphasized how the purpose of the IYASE conference was to welcome practitioners of all stripes and to extend friendliness. Patricia shared how Guruji encouraged her early in her practice to be friendly with herself and to her breath. Dr. Smith discussed with an audience member how maitri is rooted historically in the Buddhist practice of metta, or loving kindness. 

Saturday evening, participants attended dinner circles, socialized, and shared good food at local Washington restaurants. 

By noon on Sunday, participants and faculty gathered to say farewell and to acknowledge the incredible energy of coming together to learn and create community. Participants applauded the outstanding work of Diana Martinez and Alex Cleveland, Conference Co-Chairs; Susan Marcus, IYASE President; the many additional volunteers who made the conference possible; and the inspirational faculty who brought participants’ practices to new levels. In closing, John Schumacher exhorted all to bring the spirit of the ashram created during the conference out into the world and into daily life. 

Leanne Cusumano Roque has been an Iyengar yoga student at Unity Woods Yoga Center since 2009 and a student of yoga since 2006. She lives in Reston, Virginia with her family. She incorporates yoga and its principles into leadership training for federal employees. 


Copies of the 40-page magazine from Maitri, containing articles by Senior Teachers, artwork, and conference information are available. Send name, address, and $15 check made out to IYASE to 1050 Temple Ave. #243, Colonial Heights, VA 23834. For pricing on multiple copies send an email inquiry to Your purchase helps fund this and future conferences. 


IYASE welcomes tax-deductible donations to fund this and future conferences. Log onto and indicate that your donation is for Maitri Southeast. You will receive a receipt with the IYASE tax-exempt number for your records. 


The 2013 IYNAUS Convention, SARVABHAUMA YOG, a combined conference (open to the public) and convention (for Introductory I and Certified Teachers only), will be held in San Diego. The conference will be May 10-12, followed by the Teachers’ Convention, May 13-15, 2013. 


Each conference is a unique event that must be experienced to be understood, but comments from people who attended the IYASE Conference give some vivid impressions:

“I knew that I would learn at this conference and was excited to be in the classes with yoga teachers that I might otherwise not have the opportunity to work with (due to distance).” [I want to attend the next conference] “to continue to learn, and from my learning, share with my own students.”
—Suzanne Leitner-Wise, Alexandria, VA 

“Because I live in an Iyengar Yoga teacher dead zone, I was salivating to study from not only the Senior Teachers who were on the roster but all the teachers at the conference, hoping to absorb as much information as I could remember and meet as many teachers as possible. I was also interested in meeting more practitioners. The Iyengar Yoga community is embracing, kind, and incredibly talented. It was like a big drink of water on a hot day, refreshing and invigorating. The tremendous support, love, and friendship was exactly what I needed for my practice. I can’t wait to go to the next conference so I can continue to learn from the best of the best, make more friends, and walk away filled to the brim as I did this weekend.”
—Lisa Waas, Jacksonville, FL 

“[I was inspired to attend by] my teacher, John Schumacher, and his apprentice, Amy Mui, and fellow students. Thanks to the scholarship grant, raised from Unity Woods Yogathon, I was able to go! I want to attend the next conference because I want to learn more. I love to learn. What better chance to learn from the best Iyengar Yoga teachers, all together in one place!”
—Thy Tran, Washington, D.C. area 

“The greatest deciding factor [in choosing to attend] was that Karin O’Bannon was teaching. She was my first true Iyengar Yoga teacher. Overall, I am finding myself most inspired by what I learned from Fred Smith. So many sutras now make sense thanks to his clarifying translations. After years of struggling with the usual translation of Isvara pranidhana, I find myself inspired by the concept of surrendering to the power of the practice of yoga. ‘Heyam dukham anagatam’ seems so much more possible when I consider ‘duhkha’ as ‘bad space.’ I find myself deeply moved by the capability and compassion of the teachers at the conference. I hope to again have access to the varied teachings of the amazing Western teachers Mr. Iyengar has taught.”
—Christie Hall, Riverside, CA

 “I was invited to teach some chanting. As a member of the IYNAUS Board, I would have come anyway, and I’m so happy I did! It was perhaps the most enjoyable Iyengar Yoga event I have attended. It made us all feel connected to one another. To carry the same theme (maitri) throughout an event is to come away with a better appreciation and deeper understanding of an aspect of yoga. I felt elated at the end and returned home with a greater desire to practice. I want to maintain my connection to a large group which nourishes me as I endeavor to make my practice something which sustains me as I move forward in my life.”
—Leslie Freyberg, Intermediate Junior I, Redding, CT

 “I attended because of positive remarks from colleagues about previous regional conferences, the theme of Maitri, the clear intention of welcoming yoga practitioners of all levels and styles, the opportunity to learn with nationally known Senior Teachers as well as regional teachers, and the opportunity to meet practitioners and teachers throughout the region. I met practitioners within a two- to four-hour radius of my home, whom I did not know existed. I am not as isolated as I thought! John Schumacher and Patricia Walden set us a wonderful example of how to promote Iyengar Yoga positively and with humility in their words and actions. So did the theme and messages shaped by the conference leadership.
—Jann Boyer, Introductory II, Hilton Head Island, SC