Writing by: Dagny Pottersmith
Photography by: Joanie Schwarz
Snugly tucked away in the hills of Southwest Colorado, the mountain town of Telluride is home to several recurring festivals, each unique in nature. The 9th annual Telluride Yoga Festival roused SYJ’s most recent visit to this majestic destination. This festival welcomes 40+ presenters from all over the U.S. and overseas for four days of immersive yoga. Every year the schedule bursts at the seams with classes in asana (physical postures), pranayama (traditional breathing techniques), personal empowerment and ancient yogic philosophy. Workshops touch on philosophy and introspection that can be applied to our personal growth and daily lives.
Telluride Yoga Festival (TYF) proved to be a transformational experience, illuminating my capacity for growth through mind, body, and spirit. The festival ignited a spark of inspiration, and the flame of passion spread as we each let our guard down to reveal the pure potential dwelling within. With the stability and support of the surrounding land, unique offerings and guidance from the presenters, the welcoming embrace of the local community and all the hard work of festival organizers and volunteers, TYF created a safe space for deep inner transformation.
Writing our way through Asana
Of the seemingly infinite offerings of classes and workshops, I was struck by how hear-opening and mind-blowing my experiences were!
Ashley Shires’ “Breathe Flow Write” workshop was a deep dive into the recesses of our internal universe. Ashley, who is an editor for San Francisco Yoga Magazine and an instructor of Ashtanga yoga, began practice with some pranayama breathing and meditation. Once we were seated more deeply in our selves, she led us through a variety of brief writing exercises. These exercises were first observational and soon became reflective in nature. We began by simply writing down ten things we think about most often throughout the day, and subsequently rated the importance of those things on a scale of one to ten.
The writing prompts gradually became more elaborate as we progressed. We were asked to identify a difficult situation or period in our lives, using hindsight to draw forth the lessons and morals from that time that have become central to our core values. Suffice to say, by this point in time the yogis in the room, myself included, were fully submerged in the matrix of our present life experiences, while also tuned into our relationships with our pasts. This deep self-reflection formed a gateway into a powerful, emotionally charged asana practice.
As we cycled through the sequences of physical postures, Ashley shared a story from the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient yogic tale of battle and warfare. She prompted us each to relate our personal experiences with the archetypes present in this story, and to use our journey together into the ancient roots of yogic mythology as a way to shed light on our internal selves.
Following the asana practice, we returned to the writing prompts to bring our experience full circle. I gathered bits of wisdom from other yogis as they shared their revelations with the class. The opportunity to delve into ourselves with curiosity, and then soak up each other’s guidance, brought about incredible clarity and illumination for myself and us a group.
Safe in an Ocean of Voices
“Voice of Magnificence” was a favorite of mine, a singing workshop led by the wonderful Steve Gold, healing singer and songwriter. Steve welcomed and united the group through story and song. First, we explored the vulnerability of singing through the lens of culture, and then through our individual subjective experiences. Steve held a safe container for each participant to share his or her experience of being shut down or discouraged in one way or another in the pursuit of singing or another creative expression.
Every person in the group had gone through an experience at a young age that impacted their willingness to express themselves through song. We discussed the power of the singing voice as a conduit for the love of spirit, which is why it is such a vulnerable act. When we feel discouraged or denied for expressing ourselves, out throat chakra constricts and many of us do not dare venture back into that space of vulnerability after having felt so unsafe there.
The simple act of sharing these stories with each other was powerfully revealing, and created between us an empathic bond deeply rooted in a sense of similarity and unity. With mutual understanding and acceptance established, Steve led vocal warm-ups through mantra and chanting. We harmonized voices as we explored the organic unfurling of Divine song. Swimming in an ocean of voices, the awareness of unconditional support was pronounced deep within my being.
The last leg of the workshop was potent and special indeed. One by one, members of the group were held in the center of the circle and given the gift of their personal song. This exercise, guided closely by Steve, was built around the story of a tribe that gifts each child their own song at birth. As the child grows, her song is sung to her whenever she goes astray or loses sight of her greater purpose. Only her tribe, her cherished family and friends, can sing it to her in such a way that she remembers who she is.
This workshop in and of itself was transformational; profound was the realization that we all yean to sing from our hearts, and that we are all vulnerable in so many of the same ways. What a gift it was to come together with such sensitivity, and join our voices in empowerment. Steve carried his motto “no pressure, only pleasure” into every aspect of the workshop. We closed the space by singing his song, “So Much Magnificence,” to welcome serene vibrations and the true peace that will transmit and carry throughout the world. I extend deep thanks to Steve Gold for being a pillar of light and truly holding space for us all to find healing and courage through our own voices.
Ancient myth, Archetypes and Everyday life
Manoj Chalam, a charming and humorous scientist who has authored several books on yogic myth and the symbolism of the Hindu and Buddhist deities, gave a beautiful lecture on yogic mythology and introducing its archetypes into our personal journeys of enlightenment. “Form and Formless: Yogic Deities and Enlightenment” was an introduction to a largely untapped realm of yoga (among westerners, that is,) that has the potential to shift our experience in ways we may not ordinarily consider. The archetypes, such as Shiva or Hanuman, are a way of orienting ourselves to our past and present circumstances. For me they bring a sense of validation to my innermost feelings and experiences. They can help us to navigate the struggles inherent in human life.
Manoj articulated these subjects and their qualities with such eloquence, interpreting stories and myth in an accessible way that undoubtedly resonated with his audience. This introduction was a perfect companion to Alanna Kaivalya’s “Yoga’s Mythic Journey: A Guide to Theming and Storytelling.” This class was a journey into the personal understanding and application of mythic cycles. Alanna, a yoga instructor with a Ph.D. in mythological studies, held a comfortable, open space as she gracefully elucidated the ins and outs of mythology, and how it relates to each of our unique stories.
We were guided by Alanna to internally sift through our past and identify periods in our lives when our experience was aligned with the cyclic timeline of the hero’s journey. I feel that our personal stories are essential to knowing our own wholeness. This class dove deep into this theme of wholeness, outlining the stages of our stories that are essential to forming who we are: departure, initiation, and return. Manoj Chalam and Alanna Kaivalya have inspired me to continue learning about these mythologies and archetypes, to continue integrating them into my personal world, and to honor the power and asset of traditional mythologies as reference points for navigating our diverse human experience.
Come as you are, Unique and Raw
Telluride Yoga Festival provides an incredible opportunity to explore the ways our yoga practice touches all aspects of our lives beyond the mat. Though there was an abundance of asana classes to choose from, I found the deepest gratitude and appreciation for those opportunities to engage with the other 7 limbs of yoga (there are 8!) The diversity in focus is certainly a large part of what makes TYF unique.
The teachers, presenters and open-hearted yogis enabled the exploration of the infinite nature of what it really means to do yoga; to bring together all aspects of our lives, enlightening the wholeness of our being. Even if you tried, you couldn’t attend TYF without being transformed in some way. I have such deep appreciation for festivals like this one- they welcome each person to come as they are, unique and raw, so that we can each bring our highest expression to life. This festival was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had, and I highly encourage you to give yourself this gift as well.