Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Yoga: The Vancouver cliche I tried to resist

I used to pride myself on the fact that I had never done yoga in my life, ever.

Perhaps it's not the most shocking statement in the world. But in a city like Vancouver where yoga's as much a cultural institution as Starbucks, denying yoga is like being vegan in France. "What?! You mean... never? Not even once?" It simply doesn't compute to the locals.

But when did Vancouver become a yoga paradise, anyway? When did it stray from the fringes of society into the spotlight it occupies now? How did it become entrenched in the local identity? It certainly wasn't like that growing up.

I think I first became aware of yoga as a mainstream practice while I was dating a transplanted Ontarian-via-Montreal about 10 years ago. It was in his basement suite off the Drive where I'd leaf through his yoga text books when he wasn't looking. He used to work out at the Britannia Community Centre, and when he wasn't doing that, it was yoga. And he was fit and good-looking. And all I could muster was, "Yoga? Seriously? People really do yoga?"

That was in 2001.

I was young, naive, barely 21.

Yoga somehow exploded along the way when I was in self-discovery mode, rocking out and fumbling through UBC. And it really didn't occur to me, this cult of yoga, until I moved to Yaletown from Steveston, and girls (and guys) would proudly tout their yoga mats down the streets, rolled up in their pastel spendour.

Maybe it had been like this all along, but I hadn't noticed. Yet there I was, living amidst yoga studio after yoga studio, and it extended into the suburbs and beyond: Semper Viva, Bikram's Hot Yoga, etc. - they were everywhere! And there were more people parading around yoga mats than ever before.

I was legitimately puzzled. "People really pay money to do yoga?!" With my student budget, I couldn't fathom the thought.

As Vancouver's yoga cult flourished, I started to become proud of the fact that I had never done it at all. "If I ever do yoga, shoot me." I once mockingly told my friends. I flaunted my attitude to anyone who'd listen.

It's not that I have anything against yoga. In fact, I've always done pseudo-yoga with my ballet, modern, and jazz dance classes. In those classes, the warm-ups consist of what are essentially yoga poses. But I guess it was the fabricated cult of yoga that had put me off. It was the "you're not a true Vancouverite if you don't do yoga" attitude that I loved so much to defy.

And so it just happens that a week ago Saturday, I found myself at the Main on Main, drunk, and ordering another bourbon, when I was given a free yoga pass from a yoga instructor I had just met. "Drop by!! And say Lael sent you!" She was sweet, enthusiastic, and inebriated too. How could I say no?

It was part out of curiosity and part out of being dared that I attended my first-ever yoga class this past Friday. It was "Yin Yoga" just by chance. Yin yoga is essentially yoga in 5 minute intervals where you're either lying down or sitting in poses. While not challenging enough (for me), I did find it very relaxing.

I came to realize that yoga class felt a lot like my dance classes. The moves were pretty much the same, and the pace of the class was familiar. The only alienation came from the Sanskrit cultural aspects which were completely unfamiliar. In those situations, I simply sat and observed, like a kid watching mass in a cathedral.  But unlike dance class (where it's 90% female) at yoga everyone represented: the young, the old, the hip, the frumpy. There was even a Harley Davidson biker in the class.

When the 75 minute class ended and everyone said their namaste's, I thought, "Well, that went by fast!" Perhaps the "cult of yoga" was merely a fabrication in my mind.

And I know you're thinking, "Would I do it again?"


Perhaps another type of yoga.

But as I meandered down the stairs, I laughed as I realized that I can't say I've never done yoga any more.


Anonymous said...

Another one bites the dust

Robyn said...

I know! It's kind of sad. I'm no longer a yoga virgin!

Justin Morrison said...

That's funny. As a transplant myself, it's been interesting to observe Vancouver's 'yoga cult'. I wonder what it'll look like in ten years time....

I think there should be a band called 'Pastel Splendour'. Nice, eh, phraseology.

Robyn said...

Ha! Good call on the band name.

Shawn C. said...


Anonymous said...

Loved this ... I agree that if one could do the yoga without all the schmaltz and preaching, it would be the perfect toning and relaxation exercise.