Earlier this year I participated in a quintessential Vancouver activity: I took part in a yoga challenge. It was January, I was feeling inspired and motivated because it was resolution time again. A certain famous yoga wear retailer started urging global yogis to take part in a 40-day yoga challenge. So I heeded the call.
“A 40-day yoga challenge? I can do this. Piece of flourless chocolate cake,” I thought digging out my dusty yoga mat and stretchy pants. At just over a month, the challenge would be difficult but not too difficult and a short time commitment. My exercise-routine-commitment-phobe-self could sign on to this one.
But, being a contrarian, budget-minded Taurus, I decided to do a modified version of the Lululemon challenge. I would attempt to practice yoga daily while exploring as many different venues around Vancouver offering free or almost-free yoga. I’ve always been non-committal when it comes to yoga – locking myself into a three, six or 12 month contract scares the heck out because of finances and indecision.
Enter the concept of karma yoga. Many studios in Vancouver offer free or by-donation yoga classes. The purpose of these classes is two-fold: to offer teaching opportunities to less experienced yoga instructors and to build on the ethos of ‘selfless or altruistic service through yoga.’ Translated from Sanskrit yoga means union and karma means ‘to do’, so the term karma yoga translates roughly to ‘union through action’.
According to Khundalini yoga guru Yogi Bhajan, “the attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga.” As I visited different karma yoga sessions throughout my 40-day yoga challenge, I experienced gratitude in many forms: smiles, group ohms, modest donations, in-store yogi discounts.
Whether you love fluid vinyasa or sweaty moksha or quiet hatha, there’s a karma yoga class for you in Vancouver. If you’re looking to explore a variety of yoga traditions on a budget, check out the list below.
Retailer yoga – beware of kicking those racks of tempting, colourful clothes. British Columbia’s very own Sitka and Lululemon locations offer free yoga classes once a week. The Hatha flow class at Sitka Wednesdays nights are must-do for yogis hoping to work out those mid-week stresses.
Studio karma classes –many yoga studios offer karma classes to give newly minted yogis an opportunity to teach. East Van’s Unity Yoga offers a Sunday afternoon class by donation. Stick around for a replenishing cup of fair-trade tea afterwards. Yoga Cara studios offer a ‘Pay it Forward’ yoga class where the studio donates three dollars per student to a local charity. Since 2008 Yoga Cara has donated $3,287 to local charities and over 2000 food items to Vancouver food banks. Looking to get hot for not a lot? Moksha Yoga offers Moksha karma for five dollars. All Moksha karma donations go to a charity of the month.
Outdoor yoga – Breathe the fresh ocean air and soak in the spectacular view. For the last few summers Semperviva Yoga Kits Beach has hosted free yoga en plein air on the lawn near the Kitsilano Showboat. This summer the class runs from July 7 through August 25 each Sunday from 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Karma Teachers – “We’re open 365 days a year. Just in case someone needs yoga, we’re there,” says Karma Teachers founder Emerson Lim. About 15 months ago Lin and 10 yoga teacher friends decided to give back to their community by teaching karma yoga classes at a studio in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. Karma teachers offers a number of by-donation classes each day at their exposed brick, hardwood floored studio next to Save on Meats. Emerson’s passion for karma yoga is contagious and sweet. “If someone can’t pay, we ask them to just smile at everyone for the rest of the day. Pay it forward, show people how yoga is changing your life by smiling.”
Office or living room yoga – Rodney Yee once said, “the most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind.” Add an internet connection to that statement. If you can’t catch yoga classes live then download a podcast or free video. Search for surfer/yogi/father/blissologist Eoin Finn on iTunes and download one of his free 20 minute yoga + blissology podcasts to practice in the office. Or roll out the mat in your living room or at a local park to follow along one of the dozens of free videos by Vancouver and Victoria-based instructors from DoYogawithMe.com.
**Bonus tips: if the class is by donation then bring cash, call ahead to book a spot in class as they do fill up, be on time, breathe and most importantly, smile.**
Any karma yoga recommendations? What kind of yoga do you practice? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.