Yoga as Refuge and Resistance

A few weeks ago, Leena and I went to a climate change support group. The event alternated between conversations in pairs and as a whole group. We talked about our love and appreciation of nature and our pain and worry at seeing the climate crisis evolve. We ended by envisioning new actions we could take, as individuals and as communities. 

I thought I would leave the group feeling sad and overwhelmed, but instead I left energized and upbeat. I felt relieved to be sitting in a room of people talking about the crisis, rather than avoiding it. 

And it brought Leena and I back to wondering what the practice of yoga can be at this time. If there can be a place for yoga to be a part of the change we want to see, rather than carrying on like it’s business as usual. 

Yoga is a business, and Queen Street Yoga exists within capitalism. Yoga can be viewed as a tool of capitalism, a way to keep the cogs in the machine going. Yoga can help reduce stress in the workforce so everyone can keep consuming and the machine of big business can continue, unchecked. 

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She knows your name. Do you know hers?

I need to tell you about Andy.

It was 2012, and Leena and I had just taken over the studio from the former owner, Meaghan. Andy had been a work trade on the desk for several months. She was the kind of miracle person that would come up with improvements to the current system and implement them herself. When we realized we needed help getting the studio online (can you believe we used to have a paper pass system?) we hired Andy for a few hours a week.

She quickly made herself indispensable.

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What Canada Can Be

At the start of June, I began our Wednesday Yoga in the Park sessions with a land acknowledgement.

I asked people to gather together near my mat, and I acknowledged that we all live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. And that a land acknowledgement is only the first step in growing awareness and beginning to redress the harm that has been done and continues to be done to the land and the First Nations people.

I was nervous. I am always nervous to do a land acknowledgement.

I think I am nervous for several reasons. One is that I am afraid people might be angry that I am bringing a political issue into a space where they might not have been expecting it. Another is that I am afraid I will somehow do it wrong, say it in a way that somehow shows my ignorance about the issues. Should I say First Nations or First Peoples? Should I say Indigenous or something else?

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My Yoga Practice: An Unexpected Realization

This guest-post was written by a member of our Yoga Teacher Training program, Nicole. She’s pictured here with her favorite gal, Mags.

nicolephotoMy friends and family were super-supportive of my deep dive into yoga through teacher training, and I’ve been enthusiastic to talk about my experience overall.  Though my physical practice wasn’t consistent directly leading up to the start of the program, few people expressed surprise that I would pursue my yoga teaching certification.  However, for reasons that I will attempt to share, I kept my plan to apply for teacher training on the down-low initially. 

While I’d practiced at QSY many years ago, I was by no means a regular face-about-the-studio in 2014, when I first learned about QSY’s yoga teacher certification program.  That year, I took notice that the course was being offered, gave it some surface-level thought, and then proceeded to dismiss it, rhyming off the many reasons why the timing wasn’t right. 

Fast-forward to Spring of 2015, and I was creeping the QSY website once again, keeping my eyes peeled for teacher training updates for the coming Fall.  When I saw that an info session was being offered later that year, I decided to attend.

The info session was a casual and intimate gathering facilitated by the directors of the studio, Leena and Emma.  We sat on the floor in a circle—more on this format later—introduced ourselves, our individual interests in teacher training, asked questions, and got answers.  Continue reading

Walking Backwards – Widening My View

This blog post was written by studio director Emma, who has been travelling across Canada and in the United States for the last few months on a sabbatical from teaching. Emma will be back to teaching at the studio in November, and wishes to share this update about her trip with the QSY community. This post relates to the recent work Queen Street Yoga has been doing on Indigenous land acknowledgement and educating ourselves about the cultural genocide of First Nations populations in Canada.

At a contact dance workshop this summer, I participated in an exercise that included walking backwards along a forest path. The exercise encouraged us to sense the space behind us, which is a useful awareness to cultivate in dance. I walked backwards for over an hour along a winding forest path, over jagged rocks, bumpy tree roots and clumps of moss. The sensation was fascinating. I realized that I have had a habit of looking down at the ground as I walk, in order not to trip. Facing away from where I was walking to required me to slow down a great deal and sense carefully with my feet the texture and topography of the ground. Looking down was no longer a helpful strategy. My gaze was up and my awareness surrounded me like a sphere. I was no longer focused on moving ahead, on getting somewhere; I was filled up with the view of the landscape I was moving through, and an energetic sense of the landscape I was backing into.

One of the most noticeable differences in the experience of walking backwards is that your view is constantly widening.  Rather than things disappearing from your peripheral vision (which is what happens when you move forwards) the landscape appears slowly at your sides and seems to bloom out and emerge from the edges of your vision. What you see seems to grow in context and size, rather than shrink in anticipation and pursuit of your destination. Walking backwards, one is not preoccupied with the destination, rather, with having the fullest sense of the landscape, and of treading carefully on the ground. Continue reading

Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice and Inclusion

This guest post is by Christine Witmer Lang, a long-time yoga and meditation practitioner, a member of QSY’s 2015-2016 Yoga Teacher Training program.

Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice, and Inclusion

Before I began Yoga Teacher Training, I admit I spent very little time thinking about the broader social and cultural aspects of yoga. Like many things that come into our lives, I came to yoga aware only of what this practice could do for me. I enjoyed the challenge of the physical movement through poses, the integration of breath, and the continual invitation to be aware of how my body felt as it moved through a sequence.  Yoga gave me a sense of embodiment and calm, which over time permeated into other parts of my life.  Through yoga, I believed I had found a home.  Yoga made my life better, my body stronger, and my mind clearer.  It felt as though yoga had been made for my body and temperament – as if yoga had been made for me.

Through discussion on yoga teacher training weekends, through readings, videos, and workshops, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that yoga has a history and cultural complexity that extends far beyond our North American understanding of its practice. The very practice through which I learned embodiment has been cut off from its roots, and has suffered a disembodiment of its own. Continue reading