I volunteered at the Yoga Show and Conference here in Toronto last weekend. Previously I had attended only one such event back in 2004, where I signed up for workshops with Mark Darby, Dharma Mittra and Beryl Bender Birch. The experience had been positive back then; it broadened my perspective and took me beyond asanas really for the first time. I found literature (in Paramahansa Yogananda’s interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita and in Iyengar’s guide to the Yoga Sutras) that fundamental transformed my approach to Yoga. I was also inspired in the company of the thousands of Yogis of all ages who had wandered into Toronto for the show from all over the continent – with their enthusiasm, commitment, and zeal. Also, it was at that conference that I made what now seems to me a common sense realization that being in the company of Yogis makes you feel good – at peace, contented, relaxed and deep-breathing (It seems common sense to me now because I guess I’ve known all along that you absorb the energy, positive or negative, of those around you).
I started out planning to sign up for some workshops and come as a regular attendee, but changed my mind and decided to volunteer instead. What with the return to reasonable work hours, and the wife and girls accompanying my In-Laws to Los Angeles for the weekend, the timing of the show was perfect for me.
I chose to volunteer primarily as a way to ‘give back’ to Yoga (having gotten so much from it); having unpaid volunteers instead of paid staff allows the event to become accessible (i.e. cheaper) for attendees. Also, perhaps after 8 years of practice I figure maybe even I had some modest insights to share with the other attendees (as well as benefiting myself from theirs). Then, there was professional curiosity compelling me; I’m a Project Manager and I wanted to see how a Project such as this one, so far outside my usual business (IT Consulting) is run. Volunteers are expected to be available for 19 hours of work. The work itself is varied and includes anything from assisting the various exhibitors to running workshops (managing the doors, keeping the faculty on time etc). In return volunteers can attend workshops when they aren’t scheduled for tasks (provided there’s room) and have free access to the show floor. We also got to keep our uniforms (a nice bag from Bandha, Yoga Pants from Show sponsors Roots, and a show ‘staff’ T-shirt.
Instead of the mandated 19, I must have put in about 30 hours over weekend. The place was addictive. I didn’t want to leave each day – it just felt good to be in the company of these Yogis, whether attendees, volunteers, staff or faculty. But ironically, in spite of intending to give back, and for all the extra time I donated working the show, I still figure I got so much more out of it than I gave.