I remember the moment that I realized something was off about the face of the Western yoga craze. I was an undergraduate student during final exams and had finally skulked out of the library for a 60 minute class in an attempt to do something nice for myself. But as I sat in that class, listening to the teacher talk about the importance of practicing as often as possible, of being in touch with oneself, of the unimportance of material things, I was struck by the irony: the number of times I would have practiced but couldn’t afford a drop in, let alone a membership; the number of times I have had to wait for my next paycheque before I could practice; the number of times I have had to make a choice between paying for yoga and paying for something else. Yoga is something so simple, so pure, and so introspective in its essence; surely there had to be another way to practice. Several weeks later, a friend took me to Karma Teachers. She took me down the alley behind Save on Meats and we reached a door, unmarked except for a strip of masking tape that had “Yoga” written in sharpie, and an arrow pointing to the doorbell. I wasn’t sure what to expect; but once I came into the studio and experienced the simple, pure warmth, I never looked back. Since then, Karma Teachers has grown to be a movement, a community, a reminder of the essence of yoga.
Yoga is about unequivocally accepting oneself in that moment, which is something revolutionary for many marginalized communities that have been taught shame their whole lives. Studies have proven again and again that yoga has positive effects not only on the body, but on our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Yoga has been used as part of treatment for addiction, mental health issues, and trauma. Over the years, my yoga practice has had an immense role in helping me get in tune with my body and recover from an eating disorder. It has helped me stay grounded and stable when life stressors threatened to throw off me off my path of recovery. For me, yoga is not just about flexibility, it is not just about strength, it is not about looking good. Being on the mat is a time for introspection, for oneness with myself, with my body and my mind. It, quite literally, keeps me sane. And that is why, whether I was practicing in my cramped bedroom in front of a YouTube video or shelling out three weeks’ worth of groceries for a yoga membership, I always found a way to practice. That is why a community like Karma Teachers is so valuable: a place where I can give nothing one week and more the next, where I can always practice no matter what.
It is usually vulnerable populations—those battling addiction, those living with mental illness, those with PTSD and traumatic pasts—that can receive the most benefits from a healing practice. And yet it has somehow grown into something inaccessible and elite. You shouldn’t have to put a price on your health and wellbeing. You shouldn’t have to skimp in other facets of your life in order to practice yoga. And that is where Karma Teachers comes in, stripping away all of the name brand yoga gear and expensive practice, down to the true essence of yoga. It is a vulnerable position to be in, being dependent on donations and kindness, but the growing success of the concept also teaches that vulnerability isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’ve got a community to catch you.
Tags: free yoga, karma teachers, karma yoga, yoga vancouver