We asked the co-organizers of the Southeast Yoga Conference (formerly known as the Atlanta Yoga Conference) all about this amazing event which is coming up the first weekend of October. Nicole Jurovics and Melissa Katz
Melissa Katz (far left) and Nicole Jurovics (far right) at the Atlanta Yoga Conference 2011
have cooked up an epic schedule of workshops, presenters, and even a new Friday night symposium to bring yogis in the Southeast a varied and well-rounded weekend of events to expand and deepen their practice. Read our interview below:
NY: You organized and hosted the first Atlanta Yoga Conference in 2006. What was the inspiration to create a conference in Atlanta and how did you go about pulling it off?
MK: The Atlanta Yoga Conference started in 2006 as a one-day local event bringing together the diversity of yoga practices as represented by several prominent and community-building yoga teachers with a depth of practice and teaching in Atlanta. The Atlanta Yoga Conference’s initial mission was to be a forum for yogis of all experience levels in the community to learn about and immerse themselves in the practices and philosophies of various yoga styles represented by these teachers. The conference was also formed as a celebration of the breadth and depth of yoga teaching and practice available within the Atlanta yoga community. The conference began as a very grassroots effort, started by two local yoga teachers with hands-on help and financial support from local volunteers, teachers, and sponsors.
The conference has consistently expanded since its inaugural year. In 2007 and 2008, the conference was still focused on fostering the growth and development of local yogis in Atlanta and learning from within the local community from local yoga teachers, but became a weekend-long event with more workshops offered. By this time, the conference was already receiving attendees from outside of Atlanta, elsewhere in the southeast, throughout the country, and even outside the country.
In 2009, the Atlanta Yoga Conference began to look beyond the resources of the immediate yoga community to include national- and internationally-known teachers in its presenter lineup as well as a broader geographic draw of sponsorship and financial support. While the conference continued to utilize the wonderful experience and knowledge base of local teachers within Atlanta, its mission expanded to make Atlanta a forum for the development and understanding of yoga as practiced throughout the world.
NY: This year, the conference has been renamed the Southeast Yoga Conference. What is the significance behind the new moniker?
MK: 2012 is the first year we are operating under our new name, the Southeast Yoga Conference. This name change reflects our more regional draw of participants and our growing national presence as well. While a key component of our mission is still to foster the growth and development of yogis in the Atlanta community, our mission has further expanded to include yogis in the larger southeastern regional community as well. 2012 is definitely a watershed year for the conference.
NY: Your location has moved from a yoga studio to the W Hotel. What can past attendees (and new ones) expect from this space?
NJ: The main difference is the size of the workshop rooms. In our previous location(s) we’ve only been able to accommodate 25-28 people in each room, now we can comfortably have double the mats with plenty of breathing room. The Marketplace is also larger, allowing more Vendors and Sponsors, which will make it more fun to hang out in the time between workshops. Also, this particular W feels like stepping into a far-off island escape; the decor is all rocks and water, it’s just awesome inside.
NY: Another change this year is the addition of an offering on Friday evening…the Symposium (of which I am honored to play a small part!) and the panel discussion with workshop instructors. Can you tell us a bit more about the structure on Friday and especially how the panel discussion will work?
NJ: Yes, I am especially thrilled about the Friday afternoon Symposium! We’ve pulled together what we think are six wonderful presentations covering special ideas or therapies that support a growing yoga practice; for example we are fortunate enough to have you giving an overview of Ayurveda and how learning our Doshas and the foods that support them, we can better develop a lifestyle that flows more seamlessly with our yoga practice. We also have a Thai Yoga Bodywork demo, where people can either watch or participate while the masterful Tra Kirkpatrick talks you through some yummy partner bodywork and explains the benefits of Thai Yoga Massage. Jim Bennitt, a knowledgeable and wonderful yoga teacher from Chicago will provide a dynamic Tantric Vinyasa yoga sequence, so you can sit back and just watch this amazing flow and get inspired! There will be music and yoga chanting, a presentation on discovering your authentic self and how to thread that knowledge into your yoga teaching, or any other profession. And another former-Chattanooga resident, Mike Fecht, will speak about Healing the Soul, and how yoga in all it’s mental and physical offerings, can be used as a tool for overcoming grief. The Symposium will conclude with a panel discussion featuring three of our presenters, Faith Hunter, Sarah Faircloth, and Joe Palese. Attendees are welcome to email questions in advance (to firstname.lastname@example.org) that they’d like to ask these teachers; anything pertaining to their personal yoga experiences or their thoughts on the somewhat tumultuous terrain that the yoga blogosphere experienced in the past year. There’s so many amazing people and ideas coming together for this Symposium, I hope people take advantage of this Symposium! The event costs only $20 and all the money will go to the METAvivor Organization, funding research and support for Metastatic Breast Cancer.
NY: Yoga festivals and conferences seem to be popping up all over the country (even the world) these days. What are the differences between a conference and a festival and why did you choose to create a conference in the Southeast rather than a festival?
MK: We think of a festival as primarily a celebration. For example, in Atlanta we have several arts festivals offered in the city that are a celebration and showcase of the talents of artists in the city. These arts festivals are a chance for the artists to reach a large audience and for like-minded individuals to gather and share in their appreciation for the arts in Atlanta. A yoga festival can be considered in the same light – as a celebration of yoga practice and community among like-minded yogis.
We hope that the Southeast Yoga Conference is also a celebration of yoga and community, which was an major component of the conference when it was originally founded in 2006. However, we think a conference should also have a more “serious” component of being a forum for yogis to learn and develop in their personal yoga practice (and teaching for those yogis who are yoga teachers as well) by both deepening and broadening their understanding of yoga styles and philosophies. We hope that with both yoga festivals and yoga conferences, there is overlap so that a yoga festival might be an opportunity to learn and grow and a yoga conference might be an opportunity to celebrate!
NY: Is there a particular workshop or offering at this year’s conference that you are particularly proud of or excited to offer?
NJ: I can’t say that one workshop stands out more than others, I’m pretty overwhelmed by the variety and expertise that our presenters are bringing to us. Again, I think the Symposium will be a blast, and it runs directly into the kick-off party, which is free and offers food and drink and an opportunity to get together with our regional community, it’s just a great time….and we have a yoga-loving DJ providing music for the party!
NY: What advice can you give attendees to maximize their experience this year (especially if they can only get away for one day?)
NJ: Give yourself time to get to the W, it’s very easy to find and there’s a lot of $5 parking lots located across the street or up a block or two, so you won’t have far to walk. The event will be on the 4th floor and the Marketplace is open to anyone, whether they’re taking a workshop or not, so we hope people will drop by just to visit the amazing Vendors and Sponsors. As for choosing workshops, think about your practice and what you’re curious about or what you’d like to cultivate in your practice; there’s workshops for inversions, for twisting, for relaxing, for any level of yogi, no experience necessary unless indicated in the workshop description. And if you’re a seasoned practitioner, pace yourself! Don’t tackle three challenging workshops in a row, you might not make it back the next day.
NY: Your prices remain significantly lower than some other weekend yoga events around the country? How do you keep the cost of admission so affordable?
NJ: It’s hugely important to us that this conference remain accessible to every level of yoga practitioner. Our community is home to some of the most knowledgeable and driven and compassionate yoga-minds, it’s our hope that this event brings them a greater audience as that, in turn, spread the gifts of yoga and builds other communities. The Sponsor support allows us to bring in these nationally-recognized teachers and give those of us, myself included, who do not have the opportunity to travel as much as we’d like, a chance to practice with people we’ve read about and admired. We would love to double our numbers this year, since the space is there, and have each workshop full with open minds and open hearts. We want to keep this event affordable for a very long time!!
NY: I have a feeling you’ll be pretty busy during the conference but will you be able sneak away to take any of the workshops?
NJ: Absolutely! I try and sneak into at least one workshop a day, although maybe this year I’ll aim for two.
NY: It must take a lot of organization to pull off an event this size. Do you have a volunteer program in place to help out and do you need any more help? What can people do to be a member of the volunteer staff and what are their responsibilities?
NJ: We do welcome volunteers, just email me, and we thankfully have a growing number of volunteers this year. It’s a pretty fun responsibility; picking up teachers at the airport and bringing them to the W, directing people into the appropriate workshop room and monitoring the door so no one sneaks in too terribly late, spending time at the registration desk checking people in, selling the custom-made (by our out-of-town teachers) Arden’s Garden smoothies, attending to the bag lunches that attendees pre-order, simple but important stuff.
NY: As you approach your 7th year putting on this event, you must be reflecting on how it has evolved and taken shape. What’s your vision for the Southeast Yoga Conference in the coming years?
NJ: We’ve grown organically and feel that the event will take shape in the coming years to reflect the feedback we receive after each conference. We’d like to serve our regional community and offer more or less of things based on this feedback. I could see us tying-in more music and more group-events, dinners, speakers, there’s so many ways to grow the experience.
The Southeast Yoga Conference is taking place at the W Atlanta Downtown Friday October 5 through Sunday October 7, 2012. Registration is open so go ahead and snag your spot today! Some of these workshops will fill up fast so reserve your class space online to ensure you get to experience all that the conference has to offer!