What has happened to my Yoga class? (Guest post)

‘Do not kill the instinct of the body for the glory of the pose.’
Vanda Scaravelli 

 

When I first thought of writing this article, I struggled as to how to get my point across without sounding like I was whining about how things have changed.  Change can be a good thing.  Some of the changes I have seen over the years have made Yoga more accessible to those who would have never attempted it in the past, which is of course, a good thing. So then, if the changes have brought good things then what is the point of bringing up the things that aren’t so good about what I like to call the “Lululemonization of Yoga”?  Well, I think bringing the not so good things to the forefront can also be a good thing and that hopefully we can be made aware of and will, hopefully change our views and actions.

Now, I know there will be those who will not be happy with my title.  I am not blaming Lululemon on the demise of Yoga, but there is a correlation between the rise of Lululemon paralleling the rise the Yoga in Canada and the United States.

I began practicing Yoga in 1998.  I had been injured running and saw a poster on a local telephone pole for Yoga at the church in my neighbourhood in Hamilton.  At that point in time, I believe there were one or two Yoga studios in all of Hamilton and maybe a few classes at local recreation centres. After moving the chairs out of the way at St. Cuthbert’s, the ambiance was perfect for Yoga.   The teacher was fresh out of her teacher training and was warm and welcoming.  She doted on each and every one of us as if we were the only students in her class.  The class was filled with a diverse group of mainly women, although there were a couple of men in the class even at that time, and of varying size, shape, and athletic ability.  The hour and a half long Hatha class was anything but slow moving.  Although Hatha Yoga is labelled often as gentle, the class was challenging but non-harming, which I fear is missing from today’s typical repertoire in most Yoga classes, my own included.

At the time when I began my practice, Yoga was still a fringe activity that was not a ‘workout’ enough for most people.  Yoga was for the old throwbacks from when the first wave of Yoga made its way to the west in the 60’s or for those who were looking for some stress relief.  As the years went by I saw the classes become more popular, which is when I first noticed the other trend beginning; the rise of the Lululemon.  Admittedly, at first I thought the gear was cool.  Although it was expensive, I thought it was great that Yoga was growing in popularity and everything that I loved about it would spread like wild fire to the public.  My preaching about what I was getting out of my own classes would finally be understood.  When I said, ‘I do Yoga’, I wouldn’t be looked at with a questioning stare, but others would be able to comprehend where I was coming from when I talked about Yoga.  What was so wrong about Lululemon?

In 2006, I began teaching Yoga after receiving my teacher training certification from Sheridan College.  This was a two year, night school program that was very comprehensive and included 4 units of philosophy as well as asana work.  I started my teaching by instructing classes for many different offices on their lunch hours as part of employee health promotion initiatives.  The students were eager and very open to learn.  They were looking for stretching, strengthening, but mainly for stress relief.  They were surprised when they would find some of the poses challenging and we often talked afterwards about the different poses and what the benefits of each were.  The students were warm and welcoming, much like my first teacher was.  There was no Lululemon worn at any of these classes.  Coincidence? Maybe.

Then came the emergence of Hot Yoga.

About 5 years ago, I attended my first hot yoga class.  Now, this was not a traditional Bikram class, which yes, is supposed to be hot.  Bikram was developed to mimic the hot, humid, weather of India for those who were not able to practice there.  The heat, they also believe allows for the body to sweat out toxins.  Lululemon was fast to jump on this band wagon because it meant a whole new line up for sexy new Yoga clothes.  Soon after that, some studios stopped offering not hot classes as the popularity rose for the sweat filled, music thumping, Cirque De Soleil type classes.  In fact, if you didn’t offer hot Yoga, your studio was soon falling behind the times.  Now we see studios that offer no traditional Hatha Yoga at all and only offer their own brand of Yoga taught by teachers that are only trained by them.

Fast forward almost 10 years and if I allow myself to look back, I have mixed feelings about this Yoga evolution. Whether I am a student in a class at the local studio (one of at least 10 in my end of the city, not including the classes available the gym and rec centres), or teaching at a studio, Lululemon is present at each and every one of them.  As a student, I have had teachers who have minimal training taking us through poses with the exuberance of a drill sergeant, only to have people praise them for the great ‘workout’ they just had.   The feel of the class is dramatically different from the St.Cuthbert’s classes I once attended.  I feel that the warm and welcoming openness is lost in the sea of spandex and crop tops.  My own practice alters during these classes as I force my body into poses it has no right being in, ignoring old injuries all for the sake of fitting into the model Yoga student profile, complete with Lululemon ensemble.

As a teacher, my classes have changed as well, to a more Vinyasa (sequence) filled class to ensure that my students get what they are paying for; a workout.  I reflect on this evolution and feel disappointed with myself.  I have allowed the pressure to ‘perform’ cloud my judgement of how I would like my classes to be.  The Lululemonized class I teach now is not the same as it was when I first began.  When the guilt overwhelms me and I go back to my roots and how I was taught, more often than not, there is a student or two leaving never to return to my time slot.  The class was not fast enough.  The class was not challenging enough.  The class was not advanced enough; at least in their heads it wasn’t.  I can’t really blame them.  The Yoga they started with is not the same as the one I did but isn’t it my job to show them all Yoga can give them?  Am I just as guilty as Lululemon because I am forcing myself to fit in to not only their clothes, but their version of what Yoga is?

But from this evolution, can we learn anything?

I find that lately, perhaps because of this guilt, I make sure I instruct my students to attend many different classes.  I express all of their individual benefits, but encourage them to welcome Yoga of all types into their practices, just as Yoga is for all students. I reiterate to them that the mind must listen to the body, instead of the other way around. Most of all I try, and will continue to tell those who ask, that Yoga is just as much for the mind as it is for the body.  If we are moving mindlessly through sequence after sequence, then we are missing out on so much that Yoga can give us.

Sure Lululemon can’t be held responsible for the guilt in my own practice, nor can I point the finger at their clothing for what I see as a slide in the purity of Yoga, but I change the way I teach.  Change is good, after all.

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Nicole Jessome lives in Hamilton, Ontario where she can be found running in the trails or down at the waterfront. Nicole has completed many 5km and 10 km races along with 9 Around the Bay 30km road races. When she isn’t at work, she is teaching Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga, baking and writing for cravelife.org.

 

Into the Trails for the Run for the Toad (Guest Post)

“Sometimes you have to stop to see. Then, follow the trail to see some more…”

In 2004 after 15 years of running, and mainly road running, I was getting bored.  I tried to interchange running with biking and going to the gym but the problem was I always felt like I was cheating on running with other activities.  Only the distorted mind of a runner can relate to this way of thinking.  If I wasn’t running, I wasn’t really getting all that my body was craving, but the road running was really getting monotonous.  So what do you do when you get bored of running?  You sign up for a race in hopes that it will motivate you to run!

As I looked for a race I hadn’t done before and one that was over 10 km, but not a marathon, I found a 25km trail race that was nearby in Paris, Ontario.  The Run for the Toad was in its infancy at the time and it was only the third year this 25km or 50km trail race had been held.  With summer approaching, the training would be great for this early fall race, so I signed up.  The first year I ran this race, I fell in love with it. The organization of this race is superb, even with the growth in popularity from only 272 participants in the 25km race the first year I ran it to 1250 runners and 100 kids running in this year’s race. They added a 1 km run for the kids for free, with the added bonus of a medal this year for all 100 kids that participated making the event is truly a family friendly atmosphere.   It sounds cliché but if you do it once, you’ll be hooked and I guarantee you’ll be back.

Driving into the park, you are greeted by an exceedingly friendly volunteer at the gate house, which sets the tone for the rest of the day, no matter what Mother Nature has in store for you.  Volunteers direct you where to park and there are many that show you the way to ‘tent city’.  Event tents house the expo, registration, and a smaller one as a venue for the kids to watch some cartoons on the big screen they have set up.  The larger event tent is where you will get your catered lunch after the race…which I will highlight later as it deserves its own paragraph…that’s how good it is.

The setting at Pinehurst Conservation Area could not get any better.  The park is impeccably kept and the trails are pristine.  The race is run as a 12.5km loop, so for the 25 km, you do this loop twice.  Normally I am not a fan of the double loop, but because of the stunning scenery and the diverse terrain you cover over the 12.5 km, the loops don’t really feel like you are repeating it…well until you get to the gargantuan grassy hill at about the 11.5 km mark. Ok, maybe not gargantuan, but when you are on the second loop and it is placed at the 23 km mark, it is gargantuan.  My mind cannot even get around doing this course 4 times for the 50km.  Every year I am amazed to see the 50km runners amongst the pack, chugging along and unfazed by the fact that they have to do this challenging course 4 times. Respect.  The course changes beautifully from wooded single file trail to wide, cedar lined and pine needle carpeted trail.  The plains consist of wide open grassy knolls rolling you up and down like a roller coaster.  When the weather is good, it is a lovely part of the course; however, when the weather is bad, this is the part of the course that makes you start to question your sanity.  The term ‘rolling hills’ is an understatement for this race; which makes it interesting if the day is rainy and the course gets muddy.  All along the trail, there are plenty of marshals and volunteers always happy to cheer you on and give out high fives.  As it is in a conservation area, part of the course is a run through the camp grounds where weekend and seasonal campers line up their camp chairs and cheer you on as they have their morning coffees.

My running buddy and good friend, Rayanne, are on our fourth Toad (as you end up calling it over the years) together.  We train in the Dundas Conservation area trails where the trails very closely mimic those of the Toad.  This year the training was superb and the weather this summer could not have been more cooperative.  We were hopeful that this year’s race day would be sunny and warm.  We were hopeful that we each wear our favourite shorts and t shirts. We were hopeful that we would be able to eat our gourmet lunch outside in the sunshine, like we had a couple of times before.  Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.  This past Saturday, October 3rd, marked my sixth running of the 25km Run for the Toad.  I have run this race in beautiful sunshine, teaming rain, and this year, in extremely high wind gusts and not so seasonal temperatures.  Despite the blowing winds and colder temperatures, we were able to beat our time from the last year we had run the Toad.

Feeling good about our finish, we made our way to the event tent holding rows of tables and chairs to accommodate the runners for their lunch.  The lunch is served up to you by the Stone Crock restaurant in St. Jacob’s, Ontario.  When asked why we keep coming back to do this race, we often say it is because of the lunch.  Vegetables, noodles, pasta salads, couscous salad, chicken and pie are some of the offerings to feed your hunger after running 25 km.  All of the dishes are delicious and definitely worth running 25 km for.

As I looked around at the Run for the Toad, there is a certain atmosphere here that is not duplicated in any other race I have done.  The elite runners are plentiful here and you can’t help but marvel over their accomplishments, but there is a certain mellowness that radiates from the founders Peggy and George that spills over to everyone. They began hosting this race back in 2001 and even though it has grown substantially, the family vibe is still in tact.  The Run for the Toad is a total package run.  The scenery of the park is stellar.  The post-race meal is excellent.  The swag bag consists of a back pack (not another race shirt that is 2 sizes too big) and some goodies to bring home.

Of all of the great things I can say about this race, the best thing to come out of running the Run for the Toad all these years is being able to explore trail running.  The Toad got me off the road and into the technical world of trail running.  The Toad got me off the pavement and onto the dirt.  The Toad took me away from running among the cars and trucks and brought me to trees, brooks and nature; and for that, I say thanks Peggy and George.  I’ll see you next October.

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Nicole Jessome lives in Hamilton, Ontario where she can be found running in the trails or down at the waterfront. Nicole has completed many 5km and 10 km races along with 9 Around the Bay 30km road races. When she isn’t at work, she is teaching Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga, baking and writing for cravelife.org.