The fifth annual Newtown Yoga Festival, presented by The Avielle Foundation’s Spark Project, welcomed nearly 300 yogis to the NYA Sports & Fitness Center on Saturday, August 26, from 9 am to 4 pm.
This year’s event sought to focus on honoring strength in the community with its all-day yoga-fueled activities. Proceeds raised went to benefit Spark for local yoga and mindfulness programs.
The sun was shining over the NYA courtyard as guests participated in the silent auction, ate healthy meals prepared by Seasonal Catering and Aquarian Caterers, listened to music by the Rang RaaGa Kirtan Band, and visited a variety of yoga and wellness vendors.
There were also ongoing activities for all ages to participate in, such as Youth Nation yoga, hoop yoga, restorative yoga, and tai chi.
Inside on the turf, four celebrity instructors — Hala Khouri, Todd Norian, Kathryn Templeton, and Tao Porchon-Lynch — headlined the Newtown Yoga Festival.
Ms Khouri started the morning community class with practices for being present. She guided the group in many breathing exercises, speaking in a warm soothing tone to relax the body and mind.
With a background in psychotherapy, specifically Somatic Experiencing, that addresses trauma and its effects on the body, she spoke about not being ashamed of past difficulties.
“We all experience some sort of stress and some sort of trauma. We are shaped by our experiences,” Ms Khouri said.
She went on to say how one of the biggest side effects of trauma is shame and that it can cause people to feel anxious.
“These are normal reactions to abnormal situations,” Ms Khouri said.
She hoped those in the class could release the stigma of shame to feel free and focus on the sensation of being present, acknowledging discomfort and building resilience through yoga.
Ms Khouri added, “I often say our gifts come from our wounds.”
For the second part of the morning community class, Mr Norian geared his teaching toward kindness for oneself and for the world.
“Yoga is founded on the premise of nonviolence,” Mr Norian said, later emphasizing that “nonviolence starts with you.”
Throughout the session he applied his theme of kindness to the yoga moves themselves, saying, “Be kind to yourself, you can always modify.”
He engaged the class in moves to do by themselves, as well as with a partner, which in those cases many used as an opportunity to introduce themselves to the person on the neighboring mat.
During Ms Templeton’s part of the afternoon community class, she emphasized posture and breathing.
“Every part of our breath has the ability to nourish us and to cleanse us,” Ms Templeton said. “It is up to us to give proper space and time, so we might be able to examine a life with compassion.”
She also personalized her session by incorporating humor into her dialogue to ease those who may have felt self-consciousness, like referencing to sing the song “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen movie to feel comfortable while in baby pose.
‘99 Years Young’
The final headliner of the Newtown Yoga Festival was world renowned yoga instructor Tao Porchon-Lynch, who is “99 years young.”
“Thank you all for coming today,” Mrs Porchon-Lynch said humbly at the beginning of the class.
Even though Mrs Porchon-Lynch spoke very softly, her words were bold and purposeful. Those who attended the afternoon community class waited in anticipation over her every instruction, many even snapping photos of the icon between poses.
Age had no correlation with difficulty, for she not only instructed those who attended the class, but also did many of the poses herself; she sat on her knees or cross-legged with her feet up, and at one point even did downward dog with an extended leg raise.
Her class was challenging and technical — “Don’t be dainty, that’s no good,” she said; but also kind and encouraging — “Beautiful, bravo” she would say while praising students.
Mrs Porchon-Lynch also took the time to hone in on what to avoid when doing certain poses so no one hurt themselves, and gave advice on ways to prevent falling during difficult poses.
Throughout her instructions, she spoke about the importance of feeling the energy flow in the body and to feel the stillness and harmony all around.
She ended the community class with a message of peace saying “Shanti, shanti, shanti. Shalom, shalom, shalom. Amen, amen, amen… Bless you all.”
As the crowd gave her a standing ovation, Mrs Porchon-Lynch skipped away and was immediately met by a crowd of many admirers who were eagerly waiting for their turn to speak with her.
After her class, guests flocked to her tent to purchase copies of her books, including Dancing Light, which is all about her life experiences, including walking with Gandhi and her time at MGM. Each copy of Dancing Light at the Newtown Yoga Festival exclusively included a personal handwritten message from Mrs Porchon-Lynch at the beginning of the book.
With such in-demand headliners leading the community classes and the new partnership with Spark, the Newtown Yoga Festival reached its highest number preregisters — a whopping 200 people.
Newtown Yoga Festival co-founder and Spark director Suzy DeYoung said the festival had a “phenomenal year.”
She credits her Newtown Yoga Festival planning team for all their hard work making the event happen, which includes Karen Pierce, Jennifer Smith, Michael Anderson, Renee Kennedy, Amie Meleshkewich, John Vacca, Kathleen Snyder, Robyn Mortiboys, and Sharon Poarch.
Looking back on this year’s Newtown Yoga Festival, Ms DeYoung said, “I think this will impact Spark in that gradually more and more community members will become familiar with the name and the kind of events/programs which Spark holds or will be holding in the future… This event will help in furthering the mission of community engagement and education.”
To learn more about The Avielle Foundation’s Spark Project and its upcoming events, visit aviellefoundation.org/community/spark.