January 20, 2011

Hot Bods Head to San Francisco | 2011 Yoga Journal Conference

Yoga Journal is the definitive lifestyle magazine for American yoga practitioners. Headquartered in San Francisco, the publication’s annual West Coast conference took place here last weekend. As a local, I had been hearing about it for months, but was deterred by the cost—-over $1,000 for a five-day pass. For a freelance writer and editor, that price tag was beyond my means. So, when Elephant Journal invited me to attend the gathering, I jumped at the chance—-I’d never been to any yoga event of this scale before.

Attendees from across the country convened at the host hotel, the Hyatt Regency, which is nestled between the Financial District and Embarcadero Pier. Despite heavy construction work right in front of the 17-story building, scores of sporty pilgrims with mat-rolls slung over their shoulders managed to navigate their way inside. Women comprised an overwhelming majority of the visitors, making some of the industry’s more-prominent male superstars, such as Spearhead-frontman Michael Franti and Yoga Journal darling Jason Crandell, all the more visible. The magazine’s readership was also evident in the mostly-Caucasian, cross-generational demographics–everybody from svelte, silver-haired seniors, to a group of 15 high-school students who came via a five-hour train-ride from Visailla.

Stationed throughout the hotel, Yoga Journal reps wearing aquamarine t-shirts and carrying clipboards beckoned students into the ballrooms and conference halls that served as class venues. Outside of most classrooms, huge silver carafes full of ice-cold water were available for filling one’s reusable water bottle, or one of the disposable, plastic cups provided by the conference—-to no avail, I asked around, hoping that in fact these cups were potato-based and compostable. Still, even if guests hadn’t brought brought a water bottle from home (whether that be Hoboken or Hollywood), the Yoga Journal totes distributed at the registration table contained complimentary Gaiam water bottles, along with other karmically-uplifting schwag.

Within the classroom spaces, blue tape affixed to the carpeted floors cordoned off mat-sized rectangles to facilitate efficient set-up. In the larger classes, instructors wore headset mics with corresponding power packs strapped around one of their biceps. Teachers included some of America’s most preeminent and celebrated practitioners, such as Anna Forrest, Rod Stryker, and Patricia Walden. From Yoga Nidra to Acro Yoga, anatomy to Anusara, Buddhism to back therapy, the Yoga Journal Conference offered an impressively comprehensive series of workshops addressing both the science and spirituality of a practice that, according to The New York Times, some 16 million Americans now practice. Accordingly, consumers now spend $5.7 billion annually in this ever-growing niche-industry.

The first floor of the Hyatt served as the “Yoga Marketplace,” at which vendors set up tables and booths–and even a Lulu Lemon lounge, in which the Canadian yoga-clothing company provided couches and offered free photo-booth pictures. Midday, food vendors sold pre-packaged vegetarian and vegan wraps and salads, fruit, granola, and yogurt. Those who made the sojourn to the conference didn’t want for anything: workout pants and shorts, tanks and tees, jackets and shawls, socks and mittens, bolsters, blocks, straps, blankets, mats, candles, oils, acai-fruit frozen dessert, power-yoga DVDs, energy bars, teacher training program sign-up, other yoga-lifestyle magazines, along with a lone, unbranded booth. A man selling wares from Nepal and Tibet—-gorgeous singing prayer bowls and handsome stone-and-silver jewelry. His booth was in a far corner of an extension of the sales areas, in the basement.

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