Karma Teachers: Showing the Huddled Masses How to Breathe for Free.
If you go to Vancouver on holiday, guides and websites will routinely warn you to stay away from Downtown Eastside also known as East Hastings because it’s the skid row of this Canadian tourist destination.
One can’t help but be astonished to find that the poorest postal code in Canada is located in the downtown area of one of the richest towns in the country. This discrepancy is even more striking amidst the stunning jewel of natural beauty that is Vancouver. One would be tempted to capture the magnificence of this Pacific coastal town by using Baudelaire’s line: “There, everything’s order and beauty, calm, voluptuousness, and luxury.” Deceitfully so; unfortunately, this dream setting hides sights that tourists might want to avoid.
My husband and I always joke about how we would still live there if it weren’t for the copious rations of daily rain and the extravagant price of decent cheese. Then we infallibly dwell on a bit of nostalgia and sigh out: “But the yoga! Oh, the yoga is so good there.”
We have walked around East Hastings several times, treading carefully around its edges as if not to wake a dragon. The sights are indeed lamentable: homeless, drug addicts, drunks, prostitutes stumble mindlessly from one side of the street to the other, some silent and lost in thought, others raging loudly against the world, some mumbling incoherently and some intimidating outside voyeurs with defiant looks.
This is where Karma Teachers have opened their new studio. They are on a mission: teaching yoga for free with an open door policy in this forgotten part of town.
Open door and free really does mean that anyone is welcome and it also means that people who would never have access to yoga or meditation now have a place to discover it, no questions asked.
This is a very daring move that Emerson El Lim, the founder of Karma Teachers took in December 2011. It’s interesting that he would follow this direction, especially when nearby trendy and glamorous yoga studios offer spa-like amenities for those who like their yoga a bit more exclusive.
Lim says: “Yoga transformed my life and I want to share it with others. I want to teach from my heart and I want to be of service to others by sharing yoga selflessly and free of charge. I started Karma Teachers along with many brave yogis to answer a higher calling and to practice the act of selfless giving and to pass it on to others.”
He adds: “In the past five months, we have hosted more than 50 teachers and introduced yoga to hundreds of people who are not able to pay. We have taught homeless youth, immigrants, as well as children who suffer from autism and ADD/ADHD. We also teach people in recovery from addiction and people with mental health issues referred to us by the CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association).”
Karma Teachers is also a proving ground for new talented teachers. It’s a great laboratory for more experimental yoga, as it encourages creative expression from both students and teachers. More seasoned teachers poke their heads in to see what Karma Teachers are doing and give their time and support to help out the project.
Trevor Westerlund who teaches PUNKundalini got involved because he “really liked the original members that started the group. The space is unique in feel and location, definitely not pretentious in any way.”
Karma Teachers’ initiative is supported by other yoga studios and businesses with a similar ethos, who help them by sending all types of donations. They organize fundraising events such as Yogathons in order to pay the studio’s rent and bills. Their summer edition is this Saturday, June 9 and will feature 17 teachers and some very exciting classes ranging from Ecstatic Kundalini to Power Vinyasa Rock. In winter, they have managed to raise $2,500 and hopefully they will do even better this time, so that they can pursue their laudable attempts to make East Hastings a happier and healthier place.
Editor: Brianna Bemel