yoga festival toronto: the post-fest lowdown

So I’m back from Yoga Festival Toronto! The intention, as usual, was to blog live from the event, but that didn’t happen, as usual. I was too busy going to workshops and lectures, making new friends, and reconnecting with old acquaintances, instead of typing blog posts on my phone or laptop.

The weekend was rich and full, with many great conversations, new ideas and fantastic people. I was especially excited to share it with my Yocomo partners in crime, as we conspire to create a similar event in Montreal next year. We’ve all come back to our fair city feeling inspired and pumped about the task ahead.

Every workshop, keynote and lecture that I attended was enjoyable, but here are the three events which left the strongest impression on me:

Mark Singleton ~ This scholar and yoga practitioner based in New Mexico recently released Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, considered by many to be a seminal text on yoga. He presented two morning lectures, complete with slides and a little laser light, and was interviewed by Priya Thomas in a keynote conversation. He started off by explaining that he wrote the book because he had seen a disjunction between what he was doing in yoga class and what he was learning in textual study. His extensive research was motivated by the observation that there was something missing from the story, and the book was his attempt to understand how “yoga” has become synonymous with asana.

He made it clear that the book is a cultural history about the derivation of yoga postures, but not the origins of them (despite what the title implies). Over the course of two lecture sessions, Mark took a small, eager group of attendees (who were mostly yoga teachers and bloggers) on a condensed journey through Yoga Body, starting in the  19th century, when Hatha Yoga was associated with magic in the West. He also detailed the influence that developments in the northern European physical cultural movement had on asana practice in colonial India, and its ties to Indian nationalism (with the underlying agenda to build better bodies to forcefully resist colonization).

However, it was when he showed two images of the same action – an Indian “yogi” and a German body builder, with contracted abdominal muscles (what is known in yoga as nauli, or abdominal churning) – that the complexity of Mark’s work was revealed. What makes these two actions different? Whenever a person does a certain action, is it yoga? And ultimately, what is yoga?

Mark Singleton in conversation with Priya Thomas

Yoga blogging panel ~ As a member of this panel, obviously I have a slight bias here. But it really was good! News of this panel had ruffled a few feathers in the yoga blogosphere last month, with criticism that it was lofty, self-important and disconnected from the practice. But in reality, there wasn’t a lot of weight placed on the “importance” of blogging. The panel was originally intended to be a civil discussion between Carol Horton, Bob Weisenberg and myself, with questions from moderator, Matthew Remski. But after Bob, Carol and I introduced ourselves, members of the audience jumped in with questions, and we ended up with a lively Q&A session.

As J.P. Tamblyn noted on Twitter, it was “fun and informative… just like a good blog post.” And without any preplanning, the discussion had the spontaneity, openness and interactivity of blogging. The questions from the audience ranged from the practical (how do you find time to keep up with everything?) to the skeptical (with all this constant information, is there space for reflection?) to the curious (as writers, do you find yourself resorting to shock and humour to get attention?).

Whether or not blogging about yoga is the current cutting edge or the future of yoga, this mode of connection is changing how we relate to ourselves and other practitioners. It was exciting to bring this approach to life, with an in-person conversation and questions from people outside of the blogging community (some of whom had never even read a yoga blog!).

Check out moderator Matthew Remski’s breakdown of the blogging panel on elephant journal.

Yoga blogging panel: Matthew Remski, Carol Horton, me, Bob Weisenberg

Raj Balkaran  ~ The weekend closed with Raj Balkaran‘s storytelling session, “Tales of Power and the Greatness of the Goddess,” accompanied by sitar and tabla. After three days of talking and thinking about modern yoga, it felt good to simply listen and be transported into a narrative with goddesses, myths and adventures. By this point, I had stopped taking notes and tweeting, and all I could do was lie on the floor and let the stories wash over me.

Overall, the festival might sound like it was a cerebral event, and in many ways it was, with much more discussion and lectures than your average yoga conference/festival. As well, this is my experience, and I’m an admitted yoga nerd who is interested in culture and books and ideas. I did get some body practice in during Eoin Finn’s delightful Blissology class, a deep restorative session with Andrea Peloso and an Iyengar-based workshop on the essentials of back care with Marlene Mawhinney. I also indulged in a pay-what-you-can Thai Yoga massage from the Still Light Centre.

I’ve come away from this weekend feeling refreshed, connected and inspired. It’s so stimulating and fun to be surrounded by interesting, dynamic people on the path of yoga. But I’m also thinking about an incident that happened on the last day, when I took a break from the festival and left the ballet school to go to a cafe. As my friends and I walked down the street away from the venue, we saw a violent incident between two people with yoga mats walking ahead of us. A woman was hitting a man and demanding that he give her a yoga studio pass.

It felt incongruous to step out of the bubble of the festival and witness two people – whom I’m assuming are yoga practitioners – fighting in public. It was alarming and disturbing, and it left me feeling very confused. We can practice together, talk, feel like we’re connecting on some level. But there is still a disconnect between what happens in practice and what happens in “the world.” Events like this are essential for inspiring practice and exchanging knowledge, but we (those of us who are committed and care about this practice) have a lot of work to do before the values of yoga are integrated at a collective level.

All photos by Scott Petrie via Facebook.

Restorative Yoga with Andrea Peloso

Eoin Finn chillaxes in the hallway.


  1. an accurate summary of this amazing & inspiring weekend R! i am also really glad that you publicly shared the violent ‘yoga’ scene which we witnessed outside the festival venue-i think this experience has a lot of value in it-for me personally and as a member of a wider yoga community. it reminded me rather forcefully that we really do have to communicate more as a community of yogis about how we really DO bring the practices we learn in yoga philosophy and asana class into our real every day lives, for this is where we are most of the time. thanks!

  2. A vivid account of a wonderful event, Roseanne. Thanks for taking the time to capture it so perfectly. My highlights are the same as yours.

    Best of all for me was hanging out with you and other cyber friends in person for the first time.


  3. ah, my Wanderlust experience was much the same! the busy-bee-ness, the fun, and the whirlwind effect all kept me from being able to sit down and write about it until i returned home AND decompressed. 😉 glad you enjoyed the trip!

    • i’m glad i’m not the only one! i want to train myself to be an “in the moment” blogger. one of these days! 🙂

  4. Oh it sounds like it was so much fun! I’m sad I missed the blogging panel, i would have loved to have been there (perhaps a full post dedicated to it?? is it recorded somewhere?).

    I can understand what you meant about the abrupt change from ‘peace-love’ stuff in the conference to witnessing anger (from yogis).

    That said, we have no idea what was happening in that woman’s (and man’s) lives before you saw them fighting. Perhaps the woman’s child has been ill for the past several days and she hasn’t had any sleep. Or maybe one of her relatives-family member isn’t doing well. Or maybe she just got fired from her job. Or maybe the man was terribly rude to her.

    Or maybe she’s just a very unhappy person.

    I guess, not to condone rude, inappropriate behaviour, but I try to remember that when I see it in strangers I have no idea what their life is like ‘behind the scenes’ and what brought them to that emotional state. My yoga practice is to try to think of this in every day life. I hope people have moments of patience like that for me when I have less energy, strength and patience to draw upon in my day.

    Of course it doesn’t always work… lol. but I try. 🙂

    • the panel was recorded, so i’ll post it as soon as i can. i wish you could have been there!

      and you’re so right, we don’t know what was happening in those people’s lives before i saw them fighting on the street. we also don’t know where they are on the path of yoga, and can’t assume that just because they carry mats around and go to festivals, they should be above fighting or succumbing to their emotions.

      but still, it was jarring to see this kind of behaviour, whether or not they consider themselves yogis. my reaction wasn’t so much a value judgement, but the result of my own desire to unite practice and daily life. and you’re so right, patience is part of this.

  5. This looks like such a great thing! Wish I could have been there – thanks for sharing. What I love most is that in the photos, everyone is either sitting with their feet tucked up under them, or sprawled out on the floor. It makes me think – “ah, these are my people!!!”

    • it was a great event! come on up for next year’s festival. and yep, look at those yogis with their limber legs and bare feet!

  6. What a blessing that you Carol and Bob were in the pannel and that questions just flowed, I wonder if there will be videos soon like there were last year, I could not get enough of those. I am so happy you went! thanks for sharing, will re-twitt! 🙂

    Reading Carried by A Promise yesterday I was also confused to find out that these disconnects happen even at the top level of swamis managing an ashram. More and more I am beginning to see that we are all human, learning what we need to learn, that all is as it should, and that putting things in the light helps… guess being sick and quiet has also helped with these realizations.

    Great work Roseanne! so glad you share

  7. Thanks for the write-up! I’m with family on vacation so have been out of the online loop, but loved being there, meeting you, and participating in what was an exceptionally wonderful conference. xxoo

  8. finally, after days and days of having kept the tab in place for your article i got to read it this morning –

    this sounds more like the kind of festival i would enjoy going to now-a-days, now 40 years ago…. 😉

    nice wrap-up too re things outside in the world

    but don’t forget, what went on in the festival, is also, by definition, part of our world –

    the bickering (fighting?) folk you saw may well feel they were on the outside of the “world” wanting very much to be “in”

    but then, that could just be my imaginative fantasy run amuck 😉

    glad i held onto the article, thanks roseanne

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