Questioning “Yoga Culture”

This guest-post was written by Jason Spencer, a graduate of our 2015-2016 Yoga Teacher Training program. You can meet Jason as part of the team of teachers leading the Sunday 6pm Community Classes!

I feel like I live in a yoga bubble call Queen Street Yoga. Initially, I was attracted to the studio by it’s location and because I had practiced in the past with Meaghan Johnson (who founded QSY). In the four years that I have passed since starting to practice at QSY, my connection to the studio has deepened, I have volunteered as a Trade, I have participated in Queen Street Conversations and I have continued my yoga practice to the point of wanting to learn to be a yoga teacher taught by the wonderful teachers who practice with this studio. What makes this studio so attractive to me is the focus on community and inclusion. Even as a newbie yoga practitioner, I always felt supported and encouraged to build my practice. When I was going through a difficult time in my life, the studio offered me options to continue my practice. In my classes, I see diversity of people and there is a clear message that all are welcomed. At QSY, there feels like an open invitation to be a part of community. Continue reading

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Pain and the Other Voices In My Head

natalieThis thoughtful post was written by Natalie Barrales-Hall, a member of our 2015-2016 Yoga Teacher Training (YTT).  Natalie has worked as a community and youth worker, and in February she began teaching Queer & Trans Yoga at Queen Street Yoga. Natalie strives to facilitate safer spaces for students who may not see themselves represented in mainstream yoga spaces or those who may be questioning whether yoga is really for them. Her approach is gentle and permissive, and she invites students to consider a practice of gratitude and self-compassion.

Whether emotional, physical or traumatic, I’ve been thinking a lot about pain. Maybe that is because of the injuries and losses I experienced during the course of the training program (don’t worry, it wasn’t the yoga asanas!), or maybe it’s informed by my work and holding space for people who are hurting, or maybe it’s simply because pain is an inevitable part of being human. Whatever the reason, I’ve been thinking about it and in all my thinking, I’ve started to wonder about the stories we are told and tell ourselves about pain – pain as the cause of loss and disconnection, pain as a source of growth and healing, and what pain says about us and how we show up in the world.

In early 2015, I was struggling to understand and manage increasingly severe knee pain which had, for all intents and purposes, come from “nowhere”. In my efforts to alleviate the pain and restore full range of movement, I was encouraged to pursue further testing to rule out any underlying injury. Thus ensued a 4-month long process which concluded with a visit to an orthopedic clinic, where upon reviewing my MRI, I was reminded of one of the first stories I can remember being told about pain: this is your fault. As the weeks passed, I would be offered many more stories by practitioners who suggested that the pain could be the result of a meniscal tear, pelvic alignment and related biomechanical concerns or energy stagnation.   Continue reading

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

Why I’ll Never Do the Splits – And That’s OK.

This post was written by Leslie Stockman. Leslie is a graduate of QSY’s 2015 Yoga Teacher Training, and she’s also a supply teacher with the WRDSB. She loves walking in her minimal shoes, is an avid rock climber, and has recently fallen madly in slacklining. In addition to admiring her beautiful chalkboard art around QSY, you can find Leslie on the QSY course schedule this fall teaching Intro to Yoga Courses.

We all inquire into Yoga,” states the first line of Matthew Remski’s threads of yoga, his self-described remix of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, an ancient and foundational Yoga philosophy text. A more classical translation by Chip Harntranft reads, “Now, the teachings of Yoga.”

Seems important right? If we’re about to go into a huge spiel about Yoga, you better open with a zinger. Either one works, I’m ready to listen up in both cases. When I talk to myself about my practice, I flip Remski’s remix to read, “Yoga calls to us all.” But that immediately leads me to the follow up: why does it do so? Sometimes I ask my students, “What brings you to yoga today?” Even the intake waivers at Queen Street Yoga ask new students which of following is their main reason for practicing: increase flexibility/strength, stress/anxiety/depression relief community/family, pre-natal or post-natal support, spirituality, compliment another physical regimen, or other.

During our sessions with Remski, he challenged us yoga teacher-trainees to consider two major drives that underlie each of our personal practices and modern postural yoga (MPY) as a whole: the transcendental drive (to go beyond the body to the greater realm of the spirit) and therapeutic drive (to nurture the body). Check out Remski’s WAWADIA project update post for a background summary. And if Yoga calls to me, is it so I can transcend my body, or so I can nurture it? 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

Cultural Appropriation & Yoga

Queen Street Yoga was approached by local newspaper The Community Edition to write something about cultural appropriation and yoga, after this Ottawa Sun news article went viral. There is a lot more to the Ottawa Sun story than was originally reported, and we highly recommend reading our colleague Matthew Remski’s take on it, in which he details how the story was mis-reported, and the way in which popular media mostly shut down and derided the idea of cultural appropriation in yoga. At Queen Street Yoga we think awareness of cultural appropriation in yoga is very important, and in the following piece that Emma wrote for The Community Edition, she shares some thoughts and reflections on how her teaching has changed in the last few years, as she has learned more about the reality of cultural appropriation. Emma wants to acknowledge SAAPYA (South-Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America) and other colleagues in the yoga community for helping her better understand the issues and impacts of cultural appropriation and yoga.

reaching up yoga class imageIn the last several years, Queen Street Yoga has been looking more deeply into questions of privilege, oppression and cultural (mis)appropriation, and how they show up in the teaching of yoga, and in the experience of yoga studios. We have been examining how yoga was taught to us by mostly white, cis-gendered teachers, and thinking carefully about what it means to be North-American born practitioners of a tradition that has its origins in India. I define cultural (mis)appropriation as instances when members of a dominant culture take elements of a minority culture and use them outside of their original cultural context, often times reducing or commodifying those cultural aspects to “exotic” and meaningless fashion or activities. Cultural appropriation is a complex subject, and people often get defensive when it is mentioned. Recently an article was published in the Ottawa Sun about a yoga class at the University of Ottawa that was purportedly cancelled due to fears that it could be considered cultural appropriation. The Ottawa Sun later printed a retraction and reported that the class was cancelled due to low attendance, but that did not stop the viral media-storm in which many white columnists and writers derided the whole idea that yoga could be considered cultural (mis)appropriation.

Thinking about the issue of cultural appropriation in the last few years has changed the way that I teach yoga and create studio programming, as the Creative Director of the studio, and as the Co-Director of our Teacher Training Program. My teaching has changed a great deal from when I first began. Continue reading

100 Faces- 10 Years of QSY

This post was written by QSY Director, Leena Miller Cressman.

This fall, Queen Street Yoga turns 10! It’s a significant milestone as a small business and as a community. According to this article by Forbes, only about one-third of small business survive 10 or more years. Yippee, beating the odds! In addition to throwing an awesome party to celebrate (more on that later on), I wanted to share some of the story of how Queen Street Yoga came to be what it is today.

DSC_6433Just over ten years ago Meaghan Johnson, a Kitchener native, founded the studio. From the story I remember Meaghan telling me, at the time she wasn’t planning to open a large yoga studio. However, someone tipped her off about this beautiful space with glowing hardwood floors, big windows and high ceilings that used to be a dance studio, but now was sitting vacant. (Before it was a dance studio our space was a club called Pop the Gator- if anyone has photos or stories about that send them our way!) Meaghan arranged to visit the vacant space, and upon walking into the space she exclaimed, “Well shit, now I have to open a yoga studio. This space is too perfect.”

image (5)The studio opened with a staff of several other teachers in addition to Meaghan, and always had an emphasis on mindful, alignment-based yoga, with a grassroots community feel. Meaghan once told me that she opened the studio with about $1,000 and slowly invested and grew the business from there. This gradual model of growth, alongside a lot of community support, thoughtful offerings, and caring, dedicated students, teachers and administrators is why we’re still open and still growing today, ten years later. Continue reading