Finding joy through breath at the Victoria Yoga Conference

Drawing features four people in various yoga poses.

Graphic by Nat Inez, Graphics Contributor

It would have required considerable effort for me to be crabby last Saturday and Sunday morning, despite the early rise and lack of caffeine. And if you, like me, were at the Victoria Yoga Conference, that feeling likely resonates with you.

The sixth annual Victoria Yoga Conference (VYC) promised a “weekend of inspiration, motivation, and deep learning about the practice of yoga.” It delivered on that promise pretty much instantaneously, as the genuine passion of its hosts, teachers, and students shone through in their smiling faces and calming eyes the second I rolled out my mat.

“It created space for me to get to know myself. I still am blown away by the things I learn and grow into.” – Kaitlin Armstrong

The conference, organized by Carolyne Taylor, offered over 50 sessions during the course of two days. These covered a wide range of topics and styles, from a fun Bellyfit class with live music, to a deeply grounding Loving Kindness workshop, to more a traditional Vinyasa Yoga class, and everything in between. There was something there for everyone — for all levels of experience — and the sense of community was welcoming.

The only thing that seemed to be missing this weekend was a significant cohort of UVic students, which could be attributed more to the financial commitment necessary—a weekend pass cost $290—than to a lack of interest or receptivity to this tradition and its teachings.

Taylor endeavoured to make the event as accessible as possible, by giving away passes at contests and offering scholarships to participants in financial need, but she (and I) thought that it would be wonderful to see more students attend next year.

In the meantime, I spoke with this weekend’s teachers and asked them about how practising yoga could benefit university students, as well as what their advice to students who may be struggling with the pressures of university might be.

Kaitlin Armstrong—a yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and exercise physiologist who prefers to identify herself more simply as an excited and curious individual—does not belittle the impact yoga has had on her, expressing clearly that yoga saved her life.

“I love it to the bottom of my heart,” Armstrong said. “It created space for me to get to know myself. I still am blown away by the things I learn and grow into.”

Participants at the Yoga Conference. Photo provided

Whether the classes and workshops focused more on the Asanas (Sanskrit for postures) or Dharana (concentration), Pranayama (breath control) stood out as a common thread.

“I love to do my breathing practices because when you lengthen your breath then your mind starts to slow down,” Yogi Shambu, one of the teachers, sound engineers, and drummers at the event told me.

“There is a practice that you plug your ears like a baby and you hum, almost like a child who’s trying to ignore their parents,” Shambu explained. “That practice has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, so I use that any time I’m feeling anxious.”

The teachers at the VYC, in being true to their own experience with yoga, helped expand our understanding of what it means to practise and connect to yoga’s fundamental basics, but it would be impossible for me to try to summarize a tradition that goes back millennia in a few paragraphs.

Yet, the words that resonate the most are usually the ones that you most urgently need to hear. That is why, as students, I think it would be wise to truly listen to Armstrong when she says: “We’re not trying to get somewhere. Your life is right now. Believe in yourself, because you’re already amazing.”

This article has been updated to remove a quote that was misattributed to Carolyne Taylor. We sincerely regret the error.

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