“I want to be of service to others by sharing yoga selflessly and free of charge.”

Via on Jun 8, 2012

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.

Photo: Courtesy of Pure Souls Photography

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

Like elephant Yoga on Facebook.

About Sophie Legrand

Sophie is the littlest French hobo. After studying American Literature in Paris, she left France in 1998 to first live in Santa Barbara, California, for a year. She then went to Madrid where she started working in publishing, as a literary agent. After 5 years of movida in Spain, she moved to London. There, she was introduced to yoga by two fantastic teachers, who gave her some very good foundations, a sense of precision and a taste for Asian philosophy. She completed her Yoga Teacher Training in Vancouver in 2011 and is now back to England where she is a proud stay-at-home mom and a yoga teacher. She is also a passionate home-cook with a focus on multicultural, tasty and healthy dishes. Her culinary explorations are on L'Artichaut. You can find her on Twitter and on Mindful Mum She also helps looking after Reviews at Elephant Journal.


24 Responses to ““I want to be of service to others by sharing yoga selflessly and free of charge.””

  1. sophie says:

    Thanks a lot Bob! There’s a lot wonderful yogis in Vancouver and wanted to celebrate them this week in my little marathon of yoga writing.

  2. Erin says:

    YES! Best thing I’ve read about the yoga ‘commnity’ in a long time!

  3. sophie says:

    Thanks Erin!

  4. Anouscka says:

    Add Aruba to the list of karma yoga teachers …

  5. Stedo says:

    Finally real yoga. The evolution of yoga is to go back to its roots, offering yoga for free. Very enlightening. I hope this spreads.

  6. sophie says:

    Absolutely right Stedo, back to yoga for free or on donations. It is very refreshing in times when yoga has become an industry.

  7. josephine Lim says:

    Inspiring!!!! You built it and they came and a lot of people are finally living. I wish i have somebody to do it with here but I see the pictures shared by Emerson and I just do it with my meditationsand my breathing.I LOVE YOU MY DEAR EMERSON and again and again congratulations ..for EmersonLim

  8. cathy says:

    Thank you.
    I offer yoga togethers at a nearby park in my area at times.
    In my city there are many summer outdoor yoga events which do not charge. it is important to keep yoga free and low cost.

  9. Minerva says:

    In the new height ,boom and marketability of the yoga business, I'm glad someone was brave enough to turn it around and do it the way it was supposed to be done. Free. We see Tai Chi teachers in the park where people clamor up to follow, we see aerobic instructors by the bay walk with their followers exercising for free, why not yoga? Emerson Lim started this program with the purest intention, to give back. To give back to yoga, to give back to the people who needs it but can't afford it and to give back to the community. And with that in his heart and in his mind, success follows. Congratulations Emerson, your little dream is now becoming a huge reality. Added congratulatory to all the yoga teachers in Karma for helping make all this possible. More power to all of you guys and gals!!!

  10. […] “I want to be of service to others by sharing yoga selflessly and free of charge.” (elephantjournal.com) […]

  11. Austin Reid says:

    What an inspiring story… It’s great to know that there’s great selflessness still in the world.
    Hope that Karma Teachers movement live on & it’s pure intentions inflict others to do the same.
    You are a brave soul Emerson El Lim… And may you be rewarded with love tenfold.
    Beautifully written article!

  12. sophie says:

    Thanks Austin. It is wonderful to know that there are brave and selfless souls around. Let’s hope their initiatives give others the courage to act on their kind intentions!

  13. […] When people do bad stuff, call them on it. Yes, their karma will eventually have them, but the entire world need not suffer in the meantime. Sometimes karma […]

  14. […] “I want to be of service to others by sharing yoga selflessly and free of charge.” […]

  15. David K. says:

    Wonderful article. This the reclaiming of yoga. Everyone needs to read this article and share. Good karma is in motion here. Much love and respect to the people behind karma teachers. This is everything that John friend is not. He should learn lessons from these karma yogis.

  16. Kelly says:

    So inspiring! What an amazing movement. What brave souls! What a breathe of fresh air! What a beautifully written article! I wonder why not more people have read this beautiful piece and had 1 millions hits. It's said that elephant journal did not promote this article. Everyone needs to read this.

  17. […] article from Elephant Journal that was posted on the Karma Teacher’s website. It’s entitled “Karma Teachers: Showing the Huddled Masses How to Breathe for Free”. What I’d like to draw some attention to here is the language used to the describe the […]

  18. […] BC. In a recent post, Andrea, the voice behind the blog, did a smart and incisive analysis of an Elephant Journal profile of Karma Teachers, a studio that offers free or by donation classes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The DTES […]

Leave a Reply