June 29, 2016

Stretching boundaries of yoga

Squamish branches out into new forms of yoga

— Discover Squamish
Yoga instructor Charlie Pentland in interlock warrior pose. — David Buzzard

If you think the yoga market has reached its saturation point and Squamish can’t possibly accommodate the opening of another studio, think again. Considerable industry-wide growth in North America over the past few decades has seen each new twist on the ancient art capture its share of an increasing market for active leisure options. With so many reasons to dabble in downward dog, yoga-inspired businesses tailor their offerings to existing niches or create new ways to draw a crowd. 

Luis Palmero, a North Vancouver resident, opened an Oxygen Yoga and Fitness franchise in downtown Squamish in August. His studio offers more than 30 yoga-inspired hot fitness classes weekly for participants interested in using yogic elements to produce gym results of muscular bodies. One class, the “Hot Freedom Flow,” features athletic transitions from rock star to falling angel pose set to the slow and edgy cover of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” as heard in 50 Shades of Grey. 

At his studio, visitors stretch and twist under 16 far infrared (FIR) panels. Good old-fashioned sunshine is a natural FIR therapy. The franchise claims the heat produced by the panels is the key to myriad health benefits.

Oxygen’s focus is on yoga-inspired fitness, not traditional yoga culture. There is no Sanskrit at Oxygen. Students don’t stand in the hallway after class to share third eye-opening experiences. This is a yoga-inspired business, and the classes are full. 

Student Ophelia Kwong represents the non-yogi market share and recently turned to yoga as a way to stay fit during the shoulder season between ideal mountain biking and skiing conditions. “I wouldn’t say it is fun, but it’s good for me,” Kwong smiles. 

Instructor Kristy Soper moved to Squamish in July. She recalls the first time she participated in a yoga class with a friend. In final resting pose, she realized: “For the first time, my mind was totally empty. I had a lot of anxiety and insecurities; yoga helped to slow down the busyness.” 

Although she has practised yoga for a decade, she became a registered yoga teacher only this year. 

She teaches at several local studios, including Oxygen Yoga and Fitness and Chief Yoga and Wellness. “I like the diversity. Each studio feels different. The studio owner’s vision is apparent. Yoga is different in every place, with every teacher, every single day.” 

Palmero notes the differences he observes between the Squamish yoga market and the urban one: “There are lots of moms. Fit people. There are no beginners and lots of couples.”

Chief Yoga and Wellness co-owner Teresa Joe recently added a beginners’ class to her studio repertoire. Squamish is short on beginners’ classes, not beginners, says Joe. Breath is the basic yoga move and the key to calm a chattering mind; it’s a practice that is always beneficial and never perfected. “If you don’t feel the stretch, the expanding of your breath, you’re probably in your head,” says Joe. 

Despite her sculpted shoulders, Joe does not consider herself or her practice athletic. Forrest yoga, she says, is the only physical practice that has stuck with her. It also helped her to heal emotionally, she says. Six years ago, Joe was unhappy following several unsuccessful attempts at romance: “I needed out of the way I was feeling.” 

Joe swore off of dating and made a personal vow to focus on her well-being. During her self-imposed man strike, she discovered a fondness for Forrest yoga, a style that emphasizes long holds and core strength. Joe credits the style with healing a longstanding yoga-related wrist injury.

Her first Forrest yoga classes were taught by now-boyfriend and studio co-owner Charles Pentland. The two commuted to Squamish weekly to teach two classes at Shala Yoga before they decided to pack up their city life. Joe sold her lucrative Vancouver studio at Main and 19th for a chance at the small time in Squamish with Pentland.  

Chief Yoga and Wellness is a discreet studio on Second Avenue that can be found by following a series of Wonderland-style signs. The small studio, accessorized with Joe’s precious family mementos, has a mom-and-pop feel: “We get high from seeing our students succeed.” Joe, a registered massage therapist, also has a treatment room on site, and patients often become students. 

For Joe, the spirit of yoga is essential to its teaching: “Do you know what namaste means?” she asks. “It means ‘My spirit sees your spirit.’ If namaste scares you, there’s something wrong,” she laughs.

Many yoga students become instructors so that they can guide others to its benefits. Sarah Manwaring-Jones is an original co-owner of The Yoga Studio. She opened the studio with friend Lydia Zamorano in 2009.

“When we first opened as a business, it didn’t work,” Manwaring-Jones says. The studio required more classes and more money to sustain it as a business than the two women were prepared to offer: “It’s an enormous amount of money to keep a studio going,” she says.

 The two friends saw the yellow room transition into a successful co-operative business model with space made available to teachers who felt called to share yogic teachings for principle, not profit. “We’re not trying to sell yoga as a physical form of exercise,” Manwaring-Jones says. The small studio’s co-operative practitioners offer only 12 classes weekly but focus on workshops that help students delve deeper into personal practice. 

The community-minded studio is host to Howe Sound Women’s Center Society’s drop-in yoga program. The Thursday morning classes are by donation and offer free child care. “Every penny goes to children’s programs,” says Manwaring-Jones. These classes are taught by volunteers, and the program is an entrance point for new teachers and those who want to be of service with yoga, which is different than being in the business of yoga, she says. 

Yoga and yoga-inspired business continue to grow as an industry. Yoga-inspired athletic apparel company Lululemon reported a gross profit increase of nine per cent for 2014. Yoga is both product and practice. Only some consumers are yogis; studio owners can be in it for profit or principle.

There is room for all styles of yoga in Squamish: hot, infrared, hip-opening and shamanic, pre- and post-natal, Forrest and tensegrity. You only have to choose which works best for you, an act that itself offers an essential yogic teaching: Where do you feel at ease?

© Copyright 2019 Discover Squamish

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