July 14, 2009

Vancouver: Yogathon + Blissfest ~ via Insiya Rasiwala

Yogis salute the sun.

Vancouver’s 8th Annual Yogathon + Blissfest aligns minds, bodies and souls with larger city issues.

By Insiya Rasiwala.

The author, at left, with Mayor Gregor Robertson (pictured, at centre) getting ready for Yoga.

Can the practice of yoga impact the consciousness of a city and the world?

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson certainly thinks so. The youthful looking mayor, who stays fit from cycling around Canada’s laidback, west-coast city, officially proclaimed Saturday July 11, 2009 as “Yoga Day.”

Why? Well, the Mayor wanted to honour Vancouver’s longest-running yoga event, the annual Camp Moomba Yogathon + Blissfest, a festival celebrating yoga, sustainability and music that raises funds for a camp for Canadian children impacted by HIV/AIDS.

“(The event) is a quintessential celebration of what makes Vancouver great. It recognizes the many values our City is known for, whether it’s our commitment to community, the environment, health and wellness, or the ability to help those in need—in this case, children impacted by HIV/AIDS across Canada – through our collective actions,” said Robertson.

Eoin Finn, founder of the Camp Moomba Yogathon + Blissfest, leading 1,600 yogis in unison.

Founded eight years ago by local yoga teacher Eoin Finn, founder of vancouveryoga.com, an online yoga studio database; the Yogathon and Blissfest has evolved from a small gathering at Kits Beach to a hotly-anticipated event on the city’s summer calendar, mirroring the increasing popularity of yoga in a city where according to Finn, “yoga studios are almost as plentiful as coffee shops.”

“Eight years ago one of my students came to me with a challenge,” says the popular yogi. “She wanted to run a week-long camp for children impacted by HIV, where they could simply be childlike and free without the stigma and subsequent adult-like situations they have to incur in their normal lives. But she didn’t have the funds to make it happen.”

So Finn came up with the idea of a “yogathon” to garner support from the yoga community. “Over one too many cups of chai,” he jokes.

On Saturday morning, while Finn and a team of experienced teachers from Vancouver yoga studios prepared to teach a 108 minute-long collective yoga class on the event stage, hundreds of yoga enthusiasts of all ages walked into the University of British Columbia’s Thunderbird Stadium and unrolled colourful yoga mats onto the grassy field. Others strolled the “Blissfest” marketplace, a fair showcasing local, sustainable designers, products and yoga related services, while tunes by local musicians added to the festive air. Above, the sun shone bright through a hazy blue sky. It was a bluebird Vancouver summer day.

Robertson joined Finn onstage for a few moments to applaud the participants for their commitment to helping children through their yoga. He asked them to take that same focus into their lives as citizens of Vancouver, a city viewed as one of Canada’s most green and progressive cities.

“Lets find that alignment between our personal (yoga) practice and take that sensibility out into the larger world,” he said. “It will make a difference, not just to our city, but to the world.”

Finn added, “This Yogathon is about finding that balance between our personal desires and how we can impact the larger web of life,” he told the crowd. “Yoga allows us to achieve a more balanced, cohesive state, by which we can positively and effectively impact the larger environment around us.”

On that note, Finn called upon the sea of yogis to stand up, “spread the love” and hug their neighbours in true West Coast style, kicking off a collective yoga practice that led more than 1,600 children and adults moving in synchronicity to the voices of well-known Vancouver yoga teachers.

For Suzanne Slocum-Giri, an on-stage instructor and founder of Yoga for the People, Vancouver; a soon to open collective yoga studio in the city’s gritty downtown-eastside, the experience was one of “ incredible interconnectedness between the teachers and the crowd. I felt so much appreciation and gratitude,” she smiled.

Erica Blitz, another on-stage yoga instructor and director at the Y Yoga chain of Vancouver studios, agreed: “It was incredible to glimpse people moving together so beautifully with the specific intention of making a profound difference in the lives of children.”

“Yoga is something we normally do by ourselves, alone or in a class,” said Carolyn Trengrove, a yoga enthusiast, “to practice together in community and for a common cause felt so powerful.”

“I don’t want it to end,” said one of the Blissfest vendors, who lingered on in the sunshine, “I can feel all the good energy right here.”

Saturday’s Yogathon raised over CAD $81,000, allowing 109 Canadian children impacted by HIV to attend summer camp this year!

“Yoga is less about touching your toes…than touching your heart,” beamed Finn at the close of the long, full, brilliant day.

Another view of the sea of yogis.

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