The Vancouver Yoga Vibe

The Dam Breaks

Just Trust me." It was six years ago now that Israeli transplant Ifat Erez, founder of Prana Yoga Center told the woman selling classified ads for the Georgia Straight that "if you start a section for Yoga classes, it will become huge in no time."

At that particular point in time, there was very few dedicated commercial yoga studios. By most accounts the earliest established yoga network was the Iyengar yoga community. A lot of those teachers like Gioia Irwin, Ingela Abbot and Wende Davis were teaching in community centres or in small spaces around there or in their homes. Incidentally those teachers still continue to teach out of the same locations – kind of the established order in the midst of an outpouring of new teachers and studios.

Then it happened. "The floodgates really started opening about four or five years ago," says Louie Ettling, owener or the Yoga Space. "When I first opened our studio there were very few other yoga studios around, now the number has increased dramatically. From my personal experience running the’s class-finder database I would say that over the last few years almost one new studio opens up in the greater Vancouver area every month! This yoga phenomenon is not just like a floodgate opening it is like a tsunami. All those in Richmond please keep a canoe strapped outside of your top floor window because this yoga wave is making an impact.

So what is with this love affair between Vancouverites and Yoga? Why is it such a perfect fit?

Firstly we have to realize that there are very few places on Planet Earth where people are as into healthy living as they are in Vancouver. When I walk to my yoga class on Sunday mornings along Kit’s Beach, there are so many joggers that I feel like I am going against the flow of a mob of people getting off a Tokyo Subway during morning rush hour. The Vancouver Sun Run has 42,143 participants making it the second largest 10k race in the world. People in Vancouver are sports fanatics – we love our skis, snowboards, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain bikes and any other form of fitness.

What has started to jive with the average sports enthusiast is that yoga takes care of all the pounding that all the other activities do to our bodies. It is a perfect compliment to our active BC lifestyle – a kind of RRSP for your body countering some of the taxing punishment that we subject our bodies.

Likewise, for those who are more used to sitting on the couch, eating a big meal and watching sit-coms (this asana is called boa Pose), yoga takes care of all the punishment we subject our bodies to in the form of inactivity also.
What people seemed to realize is that Yoga offers a form a fitness that is unparalleled for it’s ability to take care of our whole being, not just our outer shells.

"As more yoga instructors started popping up, more infrastructure was implemented. People had more choices about what style of yoga they could do and when they could do it. This helped to increase the popularity of yoga dramatically," says James Nicholson who has been teaching power yoga since 1996. People across the city started telling their friends about what great classes they were attending and the whole yoga movement took off. After all, is there any better foundation for viral marketing than people feeling their best?

The Common Thread

Aside from the physical benefits of yoga practice, there is a spiritual content to yoga that people in BC are naturally in tune with. I talk with people daily about why they got into yoga and the vast majority of the people who do yoga in Vancouver gravitate to it because there is a lot more going on than just mere calisthenics.

The experience of Yoga is not that new to Vancouverites . Ultimately, Yoga is about transcending one’s ego to feel deeply the power of one’s soul, and that individual soul is a particle of the myriad of life forms that come from the same life giving energy. In more simple words, all things are connected. We just have to get still enough to feel it.

This stillness can come during a yoga practice and meditation for sure, but is also an experience that a lot of people in BC have regularly. When you are in BC every time you find yourself in a beautiful space where the radiance of nature can be tasted – that feeling that all things are connected, however subtle it may seem, speaks to us.
Whether on a hike, while jogging along the sea wall, sitting at the beach for sunset or riding down the mountain slopes. In the heart of the city, beautiful trees and the lushness of Nature are constantly on some small level elevating our level of consciousness. Even if it is just for a few seconds, when one sees the splendor of Nature as we do daily in Vancouver, one is ripped out of their ordinary state of consciousness and becomes ultra-present and filled with the sheer bliss of Being. Whether they would describe it this way or not, this experience is Yoga.
So in one sense, the people of BC are naturally in tune with the goal of Yoga. No wonder they can relate to the practice so well. In one very real but lose sense I consider the original yogis to be the Native American Indians, but that is a whole new story.

From Competition to Compassion

There is an attractive dynamic of true community that is appealing to people also. What spiritually gets me off more than any other thing about yoga in Vancouver is this unbelievable sense of community that has been built here.
In a dog eat dog world, where greed is arguably the biggest destroyer of individuals, personal relationships, societies and perhaps the planet itself, isn’t it refreshing to see people in the same industry living from the heart. , By and large and the core of the people who make up our yoga network are not living like a bunch of hungry lion’s fighting for a zebra carcass.

In my opinion the most practical gift that yoga can offer to us as individuals and as a society is the ability to move from a mind set of competition to one of compassion. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part really look at how this open-hearted, non-competitive state of being is manifesting itself in the Vancouver Yoga Community.

The instances of this mindset are many, but take for example a chant at City Yoga last December. The performers, owners and teachers and audience members were largely made up of people from other studios. Business was a secondary concern, what mattered was people coming together and celebrating.
It is rare to find a yoga studio that doesn’t display the brochures for events and workshops of other studios, How many Vancouver Yoga studios have links to other yoga studios on there web sites? Almost all. As the barriers between the styles of yoga are being broken down people trying all the great and wonderful forms of yoga out there. Knowledge is being shared without the practitioner judging one style as better or worse than another. One style may just be more suited for them.

Everyday, I silently hope that as the popularity of yoga continues to skyrocket, that true kindness (maitreya) continues to be a recognizable force in the Vancouver yoga movement we don’t become blinded by greed.
Every Friday when I go out for lunch after my teacher Gioia’s class with a whole network of other yoga teachers, I realize the vibe here is very organic and sweeter than the chai that we share together. "The world needs more of this’, I think, "less competition and more community"

With a natural world like this,
one is automatically in tune
with the goal of yoga....
quiet mind, open heart,
a sense of awe.

have an ectastic day!

love and aloha,