Every year that I go to the Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco, which just ended on Monday, I come away with the same realization: Yoga is so many different things. It can be a practice for health, fitness, philosophy, acrobatics, community, self-realization, deity worship, or empowerment. While traditionalists sometimes frown at what they call the misuse of the word “yoga” and declare that it’s meant to be practiced in a particular way at a particular time of day in a particular sequence and with a particular teacher, I admire modern yoga’s scope. This is because yoga, to me, is not just a mat practice -- it’s a way of raising consciousness in life.
I’ve attended the conference for the past six years (often as a correspondent for Yoga Journal, itself, and this year as a correspondent for Om Front) and I’ve always found the event to be a window into every possible avenue and expression of yoga.
As I’ve become a teacher, the conference has become even more useful to me, as it imports some of the best national yoga scientists, therapists, and researchers. I took classes this past weekend on back and shoulder therapeutics (with Viniyoga founder Gary Kraftsow) and handstands (with Acro Yogis Jenny Sauer-Klein and Jeremy Simon), as well as a daylong session on brain science and will power (with Stanford researcher Kelly McGonigal). In each course, I was able to examine a different aspect of myself, and come out with strategies of how to live (and teach) better. Yoga is fascinating that way. Any avenue -- whether health, play, or self-investigation -- has the opportunity to take you into any of the other realms. The conference also serves as a giant playground for the greater local yoga community. If you pop in for a day, or even for a class, you’re bound to see someone you know.
Though the main draw of the conference is the education, the sprawling marketplace is a close second. There are dozens of independent business owners selling goodies like conscious and/or homemade art, food, clothing, jewelry, books, and DVDs. (The marketplace is free, by the way, and worth a gander even if you don’t have a ticket for the actual classes.) Though the items sold here are often not cheap, the businesses are examples of conscious innovation and sustainability, which illustrates another way people experience yoga practice and principles. For instance, fashion designer Minhee Chu created the Hanuman Yoga Clothing line, which consists of yoga clothes made from recycled water bottles. Wow.
And there was a new, unexpected development for the conference this year: a strike against it. There’s been a labor dispute for the last several years at the Hyatt Regency, where the event is annually held, and this year a group of local yoga practitioners decided to picket outside the conference (alongside hotel workers) to protest the patronage of the hotel during the dispute . The small action inspired one of the conference’s most popular teachers, human rights activist Seane Corn, to issue a statement on her Facebook page saying she will not teach next year at the conference unless it’s moved to a different hotel or the dispute is resolved -- which, hopefully, it will be. (The protest led to other changes  as well.)
For Corn, whose organization Off the Mat has raised millions for terrific causes throughout the world, the practice of yoga has always been about action. In a class that I took with her years ago, she was very clear about what the yogic path meant to her. “I’m not about enlightenment in this lifetime,” she said. “I’m about empowerment.”
Karen Macklin (www.karenmacklin.com ) is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco.
Explore Every Avenue
Yoga and Spirituality event listings by Joanne Greenstein
Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit with Ana Forrest
Experience yoga as philosophy. Founder of Forrest yoga and author of Fierce Medicine is coming to town to share her approach to self-healing. She will empower and inspire you to face fear, live a life free from pain, listen to your body and do what brings you delight.
Thurs/24, 7:00 – 9:00 PM, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, SF, $15/$12 for members. More info 
Performance Healing Through Compassionate Joy with Laura Rae Bernasconi
Experience yoga as art. Don’t miss this performance of AcroYoga dance and live music. The performance also includes a healing segment where you’ll be taught Thai massage techniques and laughter exercises.
Wed-Thurs/24-25, 8pm, KUNST-STOFF Arts, 1 Grove, SF, $10, 415-209-3766
Relaxing, Centering, Renewing with Charu Rachlis
Experience yoga as relaxation. This workshop includes gentle yoga poses and meditation designed to help you let go of control and tensions and relax.
Sun/27, 1:15 – 4:15 PM, Yoga Tree, 780 Stanyan, SF, $40 in advance, $45 at the door. More info 
The Self-Healing of Ayurveda with Eleni Gekas
Experience yoga as healthy living. Learn how to bring balance to your life and body through Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga.
Sun/27, 4:30 – 6:30 PM, Integral Yoga Institute, 770 Dolores, SF, $20. More info 
Flow into a new day with yoga and live music. Teachers Roche and Katherine will guide you into the midnight hour accompanied by the sweet sounds of guitar, drums, didgeridoo and more.
Every Friday night, 10 PM – midnight, Laughing Lotus, 3271 16th Street, SF, $16. More info