I’ve been living in Victoria for six months, but still haven’t had much of a chance to get to know the local yoga community. I’ve also been deeply homesick for the beautiful yoga community I left in Montreal. As a newbie to the city, I have been looking for a way to feel connected with other practitioners – and this is exactly what the Victoria Yoga Conference offered.
The three-day conference started on Friday night with The Illumination Event, seven thinkers and doers talking TED Talks style on facing your darkness, finding purpose, and following your creative heart (not much mention of yoga, but that’s okay). It was followed by two days of workshops (60 all together) and a Saturday night dance party with Alice Bracegirdle and Emerson Lim.
Overall, the weekend conference was pleasant, warm, and inviting. The energy was positive and laidback, with a west coast vibe. People seemed eager and willing to connect, and there was an air of familiarity. Most of the 400 attendees were white and affluent, but that’s kind of the norm for Victoria, a small city with lots of white people.
Illuminating the Heart of Community
The opening night Illumination event was one of my personal highlights from the weekend, in particular author and activist Monique Gray Smith (who also kicked off the event with a blessing and acknowledgement of territories – making VYC the first yoga conference or festival I’ve ever heard of with indigenous representation) and Rumon Carter. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the evening, but left the venue feeling inspired (although it went on a bit too long). I also learned that life coaches are not storytellers.
The next day, I completely enjoyed the trauma-sensitive yoga workshop with Nicole Emily Marcia (whom I interviewed before the conference). She is a solid and grounded educator who provided a good introduction to the approach. Also a highly skilled teacher, Marcia lead us through a simple and powerful trauma-informed practice. Coming at a close second was the Yoga and Toning session with Sandra Sammartino (whom I also interviewed before the conference). It was cathartic and unlike any other yoga class I’ve ever taken. I expected tones from obscure little instruments, but all of the tones came from our bodies (loudly).
My other workshops were also hits, but there was one grave miss. “Yoga on the Page,” a journaling workshop, was poorly organized, scattered, and even unsafe (I actually thought the instructor could have used some trauma-sensitive yoga training). It also had nothing to do with yoga. Except at one point, when she gave a little three minute talk about yoga, how much she loves yoga, how she went to a great yoga class that morning, and how journaling is kind of like yoga. That was the only way yoga was worked into the class.
Otherwise, I was content with the sessions I chose – even though, while I was making my selections from the website schedule, I found the general programming of the conference to be not very strong. I’m not sure if that was the fault of the workshops themselves or how the program was presented on the website (not very compelling titles or description copy).
Connecting to Place & People
The bulk of the program was made up of asana classes (mostly vinyasa, but otherwise had most of the main popular styles covered), mixed with practical business and life coaching sessions. I would have liked to see a few more philosophy or culture of yoga classes, and social justice (although I realize that is a very strong personal preference, and not reflected in most mainstream yoga events). There were plenty of musical offerings, including people just performing in the main hall between classes. The venue – Victoria’s esteemed conference centre, abundant with greenery, natural light and totem poles – was the perfect size for the event. I prefer locations with a bit less of a corporate feel, like dance schools or retreat centres, but that’s just my taste.
As per usual with these kinds of events, I found myself irritated by the brash consumerism in the yoga marketplace and then ended up buying a bunch of stuff (bamboo dresses, sunset yoga pants, locally-made eco mascara!). The marketplace was crammed with more than 30 venders, local spiritualpreneurs and small businesses hawking clothes, jewelery, yoga accessories, teas and essential oils. There were also massage services, a Lululemon-sponsored “zen den” and a photo booth in the marketplace.
The Victoria Yoga Conference looks slick but in actuality isn’t corporate at all. It’s a passion project founded by Carolyne Taylor, a yoga-loving entrepreneur, event planner and community builder, and powered by volunteers. Taylor has attracted a team of energetic young women, and it appears that they are also being mentored in the basics of business and event organizing.
This is the third edition, so the event had a smooth, well-organized feel, with attention paid to details. Not only is it run by a pro, but she’s had three years to work out the kinks. As an attendee, I felt taken care of (right down to being served free locally made artisanal chocolate during the opening night intermission). There was also a sense of authentic community, that people knew each other, without feeling cliquey or exclusive to an outsider like myself.
I’m happy to have discovered that the Victoria yoga community is so lively and engaged, and I came away from the weekend feeling inspired to take my practice into a new space. I’m still missing my peeps in the east, their edge, intellectual rigour and questioning of the practice. But I feel more connected to where I am and the people around me.