A week of poses, practice, and philosophy for Samavesha

Revolved low lunge stimulates and detoxifies the abdominal organs and improves digestion. — Photo by Siobhan Beasley

Last week a host of national and international yoga teachers gathered on the Island for Samavesha, a yoga festival run by the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga. “Samavesha,” is a Sanskrit word that means “to unite with the whole that one was never separate from, to come together … to learn, collaborate, practice, and grow.”

It was evident just by being in the same room with the instructors and students on the first full day of the festival that it was aptly named. Anusara Yogis traveled from all over the globe to attend this six-day event, and were happily surrounded with members of their tribe, coming together to learn, practice, and grow on our beautiful Island.

When people think of yoga, what often comes to mind is the physical practice, called asana, but yoga is much more than just that. The Samavesha Festival provided a diverse array of classes that focused on the many different yogic practices: asana, meditation, philosophy, and kirtan (singing and chanting). Over 30 presenters, teachers, and musicians taught and performed at the event.

Local Martha’s Vineyard yoga teacher Jane Norton helped to bring the festival to the Island. Ms. Norton currently teaches Anusara Yoga at the Yoga Barn, Island Cohousing, and the Martha’s Vineyard Yoga Center.

Non-Anusara students, like myself, were invited to come to all of the events as well.

I had just returned from several days of travel to the Hamptons Yoga Festival the week before, and was excited to take advantage of even more education in my own backyard, at the Vineyard Arts Project in Edgartown. As a relatively new yoga teacher myself, I was eager to learn more about the practice of Anusara.

Anusara is a type of Hatha Yoga which serves to balance the body and mind, using physical poses — asanas — as well as breathing techniques — pranayama — and meditation. Anusara yoga focuses on precise bodily alignment and also a heart-centered spirituality.

Every class, as I learned, begins with an invocation, a Sanskrit mantra:

“Om Namah Shivaya Gurave (Hail to Shiva, the Teacher)

Sachidananda Murtaye (Whose Form is Truth, Consciousness and Bliss)

Nishprapanchaya Shantaya (The Singular One, the Peaceful One)

Niralambaya Tejase” (The Self-Supported One, the Lustrous One)

Many of the festival classes encouraged students, who mostly did not know one another, to work together to assist each other into new or difficult poses. Not only did it help students into poses, but it also built community, as former strangers became new (and sweaty!) friends.

The first class on Tuesday morning to officially commence the festival, “All Together Now!” was taught by five yoga instructors, each taking a turn at leading the packed room of students. BJ Galvan, Vineyard local Jane Norton, Deb Payne, Jackie Prete, and Doc Savage all led students in an opening invocation, and an invitation to get to know the strangers around you, partner poses, asana practice, and a meditation. It was beautiful to see so many yogis who had traveled from far-off places merging with local students and teachers from all over the Island.

I also attended a philosophical talk on the Hindu deities, “Form and Formlessness,” by Manoj Chalom. In discussing the gods and goddesses, he explained that one way of looking at the deities is as symbols to lead us on our journey toward enlightenment. The deities can be seen as archetypes that live within each of us (for psychotherapists among us, think Carl Jung) that help us gain a better understanding of ourselves. For example, Ganesha, the god with the elephant head, is known as the remover of obstacles, but incidentally is also the one who puts them in our path. Shiva is the destroyer as well as the creator. He represents the power in each of us to get rid of old habits that no longer serve us, in an effort to make room for new ones that do.

I did not expect a talk on the Hindu pantheon to be so easy to understand, not to mention completely applicable to my daily life. Manoj also addressed other major life lessons. “Pain is real. Suffering is optional,” he said. Life will certainly present us with painful moments, but it is how we choose to respond to them that creates suffering or happiness within. Manoj went on, “Our true nature is happiness. One can never seek it from outside. You will get stung if you constantly seek happiness outside yourself.”

The festival also offered classes on yoga therapy for autoimmune disorders, postoperative trauma, hip replacements, yoga for the elderly, nine meditation courses, an introduction to Ayurveda, and asana classes for every level. Some workshops focused on going upside down into inversions; others were philosophy discussions with internationally renowned teachers. The comprehensive offerings made for a successful and meaningful event. The only thing I wished for was for additional time to attend more of the festival.

For more information on Anusara Yoga, visit anusarayoga.com.