Self-care is a buzzword, and we use it liberally at Queen Street Yoga. It can be an important practice of slowing down, taking time for yourself, and caring for your heart, body and mind. However, self-care and yoga practice can be inaccessible to many people. What we need to complement self-care and enhance overall wellness is community care, where people “are committed to leveraging their privilege to benefit others. ¹“
Community care takes the onus off of the individual to take care of themselves, all by themselves, and places the responsibility for care within the community, in friend networks, or through structured groups or organizations. For true wellness, “people should receive community care from both their government and their friend networks.” Of course, we know that that doesn’t always happen. And recently, with drastic cuts to provincial healthcare, education, and the arts, more and more community care is being taken away from those who need it most.
We want community care to become as strong a buzzword as self-care. We also want it to mean something, and to actively practice and embody it. Two ways that we are amplifying the principle of community care at Queen Street Yoga are:
A few weeks ago, Leena and I went to a climate change support group. The event alternated between conversations in pairs and as a whole group. We talked about our love and appreciation of nature and our pain and worry at seeing the climate crisis evolve. We ended by envisioning new actions we could take, as individuals and as communities.
I thought I would leave the group feeling sad and overwhelmed, but instead I left energized and upbeat. I felt relieved to be sitting in a room of people talking about the crisis, rather than avoiding it.
And it brought Leena and I back to wondering what the practice of yoga can be at this time. If there can be a place for yoga to be a part of the change we want to see, rather than carrying on like it’s business as usual.
Yoga is a business, and Queen Street Yoga exists within capitalism. Yoga can be viewed as a tool of capitalism, a way to keep the cogs in the machine going. Yoga can help reduce stress in the workforce so everyone can keep consuming and the machine of big business can continue, unchecked.
It was 2012, and Leena and I had just taken over the studio from the former owner, Meaghan. Andy had been a work trade on the desk for several months. She was the kind of miracle person that would come up with improvements to the current system and implement them herself. When we realized we needed help getting the studio online (can you believe we used to have a paper pass system?) we hired Andy for a few hours a week.
I asked people to gather together near my mat, and I acknowledged that we all live and work on the traditional territory of the Neutral, Anishnaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples. And that a land acknowledgement is only the first step in growing awareness and beginning to redress the harm that has been done and continues to be done to the land and the First Nations people.
I was nervous. I am always nervous to do a land acknowledgement.
I think I am nervous for several reasons. One is that I am afraid people might be angry that I am bringing a political issue into a space where they might not have been expecting it. Another is that I am afraid I will somehow do it wrong, say it in a way that somehow shows my ignorance about the issues. Should I say First Nations or First Peoples? Should I say Indigenous or something else?
Monica made these cookies for a few of our holiday staff get-togethers, and they pack some punch! Try making these at home to add a gingery kick to your December. Enjoy them with tea, coffee or something stronger. 😉
My 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 “My Yoga Practice: An Unexpected Realization”
At a contact dance workshop this summer, I participated in an exercise that included walking backwards along a forest path. The exercise encouraged us to sense the space behind us, which is a useful awareness to cultivate in dance. I walked backwards for over an hour along a winding forest path, over jagged rocks, bumpy tree roots and clumps of moss. The sensation was fascinating. I realized that I have had a habit of looking down at the ground as I walk, in order not to trip. Facing away from where I was walking to required me to slow down a great deal and sense carefully with my feet the texture and topography of the ground. Looking down was no longer a helpful strategy. My gaze was up and my awareness surrounded me like a sphere. I was no longer focused on moving ahead, on getting somewhere; I was filled up with the view of the landscape I was moving through, and an energetic sense of the landscape I was backing into.
One of the most noticeable differences in the experience of walking backwards is that your view is constantly widening. Rather than things disappearing from your peripheral vision (which is what happens when you move forwards) the landscape appears slowly at your sides and seems to bloom out and emerge from the edges of your vision.What you see seems to grow in context and size, rather than shrink in anticipation and pursuit of your destination.Walking backwards, one is not preoccupied with the destination, rather, with having the fullest sense of the landscape, and of treading carefully on the ground.Continue reading “Walking Backwards – Widening My View”
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 “Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice and Inclusion”
Queen Street Yoga teacher and creative director Emma Dines shares an important personal experience about race and representation as it relates to yoga teaching and representation in the yoga studio community.
During our March Yoga Teacher Training weekend, QSY hosted two presenters from Toronto who shared their experiences and best practices of merging anti-oppression work with the teaching of yoga/hosting of yoga studio communities. Jamilah Malika and Christi-an Slomka led the group in considering the experiences of those who are underrepresented in yoga studios and yoga media/imagery, and understanding how and why yoga studios remain mostly white and mostly cis-gendered spaces, and how and why we might work to shift this.
During our closing circle, where we shared our insights, reflections and challenges with one another, I shared the following personal story, which touches on themes of race and representation. It was a story that I had forgotten about, but it bubbled up to the surface during the circle.
A bit of background before the story. I grew up in Toronto in a mostly white neighbourhood, going to a mostly white school. I am mixed race – my mom is third-generation Japanese Canadian, and my dad is second-generation Scottish Canadian. I remember being pretty aware of my race as a child – I was one of two or three Asian or half-Asian kids in my class. When I blew the candles out on the cake at my eighth birthday, my wish was to wake up the next day with white skin and blond hair. My mother experienced what I now understand to be micro-aggressions from many of the other parents in the area. The racism that my mother, my siblings and I experienced was subtle, sometimes internalized, but definitely present.Continue reading “Yoga and Race: Why Representation Matters”
This post was co-authored by our studio directors Leena Miller Cressman & Emma Dines, with input from Luane Lentz, Cheryl Maksymyk, and Jaydum Hunt at theWaterloo Aboriginal Education Centre.
Last year the Canadian government acknowledged the reality and harm of Residential Schools in the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Canadians were invited to read the text of the Commission to understand the real harm that Indigenous Peoples in Canada endured. Another part of that story started earlier. The past and ongoing reality is that the ancestral land of Indigenous people has been seized, environmentally exploited, and extracted from, and many treaties and agreements between the Crown (which refers to all Canadians) and Indigenous groups were dishonoured.
Yoga means to unite or connect. The purpose of a personal yoga practice might be to listen to, bring together, and acknowledge the various parts of ourselves, including the parts that we might label uncomfortable, unworthy, or imperfect. We might also choose to extend that part of our yoga practice to the world around us, and encourage ourselves to bring together the various parts of our societal reality that might be uncomfortable, vulnerable, or unjust. We might participate in a collective practice that seeks to listen to, acknowledge, and address injustices.
The ongoing story of land in Canada is uncomfortable and hard to acknowledge. It has a complex history with current impacts. What are ways that we might be accountable and responsive to these realities?