Yoga in Vancouver

To the beat of a different om.

In terms of Vancouver stereotypes, yoga is near the top for both frequency and accuracy—there is no shortage of studio spaces, teachers, and brands aiming at the city’s dedicated yogi following. All the noise, however, can start to sound the same. Here, three studios that are doing it differently.

Stretch It Out

At Stretch, a bright, white space in Chinatown, the music is what stands out. Yoga classes are offered with live cello and sitar players, providing a more relaxing experience; for those who want to mix it up, the studio has classes with a live DJ spinning club hits (warning: it may end in a dance party). “Every class, with or without music, is always so different,” says Emmanuelle Rousseau, who founded the space with her partner Boyd Thomson. “The goal, with a lot of what we do at Stretch, is to attract new people to yoga—people that might have ideas of what a yoga class is and hesitate to try it. Adding a DJ or musicians brings people in that have never done yoga before, and finally allows them to see for themselves.” Rousseau’s background is in film and Thomson’s is in engineering, but the duo had long been nursing an itch to open a yoga studio—one with their own twist. “There was always this idea to create a space for a modern perspective on yoga: an all-inclusive, welcoming, and secular environment,” says Rousseau. “We wanted to bring the best of what Vancouver had to offer in terms of yoga, the richness of its diversity, without recreating what already existed.”

Fostering community was also an important point for Rousseau and Thomson, and as such, they rent out Stretch’s spacious front room for local events, be they launch parties or hairdresser tutorials. “We both think community is important to everyone,” Rousseau explains. “People thrive when they connect with others.” Stretch is part of the thisopenspace, a digital marketplace for people offering and seeking out spaces for pop-ups. It is all very clearly symbiotic, natural moving parts of a cohesive whole.

Enter the Distrikt

Jian Pablico and Alex Mazerolle opened the Distrikt Movement nearly two years ago in North Vancouver with the intention of combining their passions for physical activity, “youth work, rap music, and real talk,” says Pablico. “We still wanted the workouts to be hard and the yoga to be life-changing, but we also wanted to do it in a way that spoke to the tribe of people that we wanted to cultivate.” This tribe is now large and mighty—a community of like-minded people who want a mashup of sweat life and social life. One of the Distrikt’s most popular classes is Crush Hush: a 75-minute class comprised of a warm-up, an intense workout circuit, and a cool-down yoga class. Crush Hush begins with a fun question that everyone in the class answers (“What movie do you wish had a sequel?”) and on Fridays, ends with craft beer. Also on offer are classes including Ugly Sweaters (the ultimate sweat workout) and Wknd Warriors (interval training meets boxing pad exercises), as well as Tight Club sessions and programs designed specifically for youth.

“It was important for us to offer something different because we ourselves craved something different,” Pablico says. “The passion for breaking the mold of what fitness/yoga studios are supposed to look and feel like comes from our own desire to practice in a space that reflects our vibe.” The Distrikt is as much about connecting with other people as connecting with breath, and it shows in both the classes and the studio where they happen: the simple, bright, acutely trendy space, with framed motivational quotes and a shoe rack made of apple crates, creates an immediate level of comfort that stays through the entire experience. Pablico explains that they want people to leave with a sense of personal accomplishment and belonging, plus “that weird feeling that you just went to a gym but it wasn’t a ‘gym,’” and “that feeling you get when your song plays at a party and you get the most excited.” At the end of the day, the Distrikt makes physical activity hip.

Get Social

Upon finishing her yoga teacher training and helping her friends open the Distrikt, Anita Cheung realized that having a brick-and-mortar studio of her own might not be for her. Instead, Cheung decided to offer four- and five-week-long sessions in different spaces around the city. The Social Yoga, as her nomadic studio is called, has taken place in the Juice Truck  cafe, Pizzeria Barbarella, 33 Acres Brewing, Railtown Café, The Soap Dispensary, and Krokodile Pear, to name a few. Each location has its own twist; after classes at Pizzeria Barbarella, for example, everyone sits down and, well, eats pizza. “The fun partnerships and ideas come up as a way to shake up the typically understood way of what yoga is supposed to ‘look like,’” says Cheung. “We’re embracing the unconventional.” The spaces are truly woven into the classes, which also have a strong emphasis on self-reflection and group conversation.

Typically, Cheung begins each practise by having everyone pull a question from her deck of branded cards (“What is a goal you reached this year?” “What are you obsessed with right now?”), and then everyone goes around the circle and answers each one. It’s equal parts summer camp icebreaker and mature discussion-starter. “Yoga people always talk about how we’re all connected, but I found that for most everyday people, yoga classes weren’t conducive to making and building relationships,” she explains. “Some studios do a great job of connecting people who are super passionate about yoga—which is great—but what about those of us who do yoga, but it isn’t our number one love? With The Social Yoga, the practice is a reason to get together, but the candid conversations we have as unique individuals before, after, and during class are what makes it special.” The bottom line for Cheung is that yoga, for all its shining qualities, wasn’t living up to its full potential: “While I love the drop-in and get’er-done yoga classes (and have taken a billion of those), I felt like yoga could be used as a tool for something greater.”

Photos of Emmanuelle Rousseau and Boyd Thomson by Grant Harder. The Distrikt photos by Britney Gill. The Social Yoga cafe photo by Alexa Mazzarello; photo in 33 Acres courtesy of 33 Acres Brewing; other photos by Amy Teixeira.

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September 4, 2015