April 9, 2011

I Lived The North American Yoga Dream.

Imagine you’re a humble Euro-yogi like me, and you find yourself in yoga paradise, Vancouver, by the beach, splendid views of the mountains, yoga on tap, everyday from 7.00 am to 9.00 pm, 150 classes a week, inspiring teachers, five big and bright studios, endless possibilities.

Now imagine that, after 6 months, the dream is over and you have to go back to England, to Essex, or, to be more precise, to this:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely thrilled to be reunited with many of the things I love about England. I can’t wait to put my wellies on and go for a walk with Bumble the dog in the English countryside and to meet my friends for a Sunday roast in a cosy old pub.

Vancouver Kits Beach

The yoga however will never be the same as what I’ve enjoyed here so much, and any comparison would be unfair. It felt like a 6 months yoga holiday camp, in a town that has several times been voted the best place to live in the world. Yoga is so popular here that it was recently suggested by the Toronto Star as one of the Top 10 Things to do in Vancouver in Spring.

When I arrived here last November with my boyfriend, I was amazed by the number of studios and the quality and variety of the teaching. We both got ourselves monthly passes and the Semperviva class schedule became our new movie listings. Our flat was walking distance from their 5 studios, so whenever we were idle, we had a browse through it. We discussed our choices, as if pitching to each other a new movie, describing the style instead of the genre, the pace instead of the plot: ‘well, there’s Alli at 4.oo at Kits Beach. It’s a flowing Hatha class with a bit of Kundalini moves. Or later we have Vinyasa Power Flow with Anila, she’s an Anusara teacher, it’s at 5.30 at the City studio, her sequences are amazing, a real good mood one. But if we want something quieter there’s also Yin with Bernie, at 7.15 at the Sea studio.’

In the beginning, I have to admit I felt like a spoilt yoga brat but I soon adjusted myself to this lavish lifestyle and finally took it for granted. A few days ago however, as the teacher training was coming to an end, I suddenly realised that our time here was up.

When I started yoga in England a few years ago, all I could afford was my local leisure center. Luckily, I found two wonderful teachers there, who gave us a lot of attention and made our practice blossom. They regularly went to the US to see their teachers and I had always wondered why they had to go that far away for their training. It all makes sense to me now. When I told Marta, my Ashtanga teacher in London, that I was coming to Vancouver to do my teacher training, she was quite thrilled: ‘you’ll have fun there, I did my teacher training in Toronto and it was much more relaxed than in England. People take things too seriously here.’ It doesn’t mean that North American yoga education is less scrupulous, far from that, my practice here has become safer than ever, but teachers have cunning ways to keep things interesting. Actually, believe or not, our most entertaining moment was the anatomy workshop, which should be renamed ‘funny bones weekend’. It’s true that in Europe generally our education style could do with a bit more lightness.

During our training, we spent entire weekends with three different master teachers: Michael Stone, who revolutionized my thinking and planted some seeds for the years to come, Janet Stone, who made us sweat buckets gracefully, and bolstered our confidence talking us through intricate poses and vibrant flows, and finally Seane Corn, who took care of my spring cleaning. Unfortunately, North American master teachers don’t come to visit us too often in England. Since those three encounters, I’ve been browsing through their schedules anxiously and realised that I won’t have a chance to see them again soon.

I have a French friend who lives in the Castro in San Francisco, down the road from what used to be Harvey Milk’s photography shop, but also a couple of blocks away from where Janet Stone teaches. I keep on telling her to go, probably because I want to live this class and its proximity vicariously.

One of my regrets, when I was in California last October, was to not have gone to a class there. I was jetlagged during my first week in San Francisco, and too tired from all the great bike rides. The yoga scene was very enticing however; studios in every part of town and free classes fliers pushed into your hand. Even when we went to Boulder Creek, in the middle of the Santa Cruz  mountains, on the only shopping street in town, there was a yoga studio to cater to the needs of the alternative-minded population. At the wedding we went to in Santa Monica, I met an ex-Vancouverite who was doing her teacher training with Max Strom. Instead, I did a few sun salutations in between two beds on the dubious carpet of our dodgy hotel room on Santa Monica boulevard. Not quite that fabulous.

When back in Essex, I will write to my yoga buddies here, asking them nostalgically what class they have been to recently, and if Bernie Clark the Yin teacher, still makes good jokes when he knows everyone is cursing him after hearing ‘one more minute’ in Dragon pose, or if my favourite teacher, Susan, has found yet another creative way to use straps and blocks or to show that the Elvis pelvis is not ideal for Tree pose, or if Cameron‘s savasanas are still so blissful, or if Reno still prepares eclectic playlists that infallibly involve some great reggae.

Meanwhile, I will have to reinvent my own yoga dream. I will lay my mat in the shade of the cherry tree at the back my boyfriends’s parents garden, or on that little beach in Portugal. In my head, I will replay Reno’s reggae, Susan’s spot-on cues, Bernie’s joke, and Cameron’s guided meditations, but also, I’ll read Michael Stone’s books, sweat gracefully remembering Janet Stone and smile in my Pigeons, in gratitude to Seane Corn.

Most importantly, with all of that new knowledge fresh in my mind, I will start teaching, because in the end, apart from the wonderful experience, this is what it was all about: the dream of finally teaching yoga. Now I feel I have plenty to give back.

Photo credits:

Vancouver Kits Beach: www.destination360.com

Dog On The Beach: Photo: Pure Souls – www.yogaphotography.ca and Semperviva Yoga – www.semperviva.com

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