June 13, 2011

Canadian Tantric Tips for Global Yoga Community

by Matthew Remski, with the staffs of yocoto and yocomo


“Why ARE Canadian yogis so effin intelligent and innovative?”

Carol Horton asked this critical question in a Facebook link to this Yoga Community Montreal event, and after sharing this piece on Yoga Community Toronto a few weeks ago. She probably also knows that Michael Stone is a Toronto boy, Georg Feuerstein is in samadhi under a frozen lake in Saskatchewan, Pema Chodron lives on a cliff in Cape Breton, and that Vivekananda gave one of his first retreats in the Muskokas.

Carol’s on her way to Yoga Festival Toronto this August as an esteemed panelist (with Elephant Journal’s very own Bob Weisenberg and “It’s All Yoga Baby’s” Roseanne Harvey) in our live yoga-bloggers summit. If the 2000 and 2004 elections didn’t make her emigrate, the yoga just might.

We do admit: we sometimes seem to be a little like the Himalayas to the American flatland. Our physicists make antimatter last long enough for tea-time. Clearly, we’ve got the whole maya thing nailed.

So what’s going on up here, eh? Well, here’s a few things that make Canada an excellent place to roll out a mat:

canadian kundalini

The cold makes it easy to hold and explore asanas for a long time, because you effin freeze in them.

The North is like the subconscious made visible. Looking at the Canadian map is like looking at an MRI of your brain: you know you’re only using 2% of it. This creates the ideal angst/excitement mixture for excellent practice.

Two official languages. When every letter from the government comes in two languages, you know you’re sharing your space and resources, and that you only have one side of the story. Keeps you humble: like Sanskrit.

Canada is not a melting pot, nor is Canadian yoga. We come from all over the world, and we’re encouraged to retain our heritage so that we’re all cross-pollinated by diversity. Ragas, goulash, Caribana, Chinese New Year, pho, curry, klezmer, injera.  Mmmmm, injera. Toronto City Hall answers phone calls in 300 languages. There are more Indian dialects here than in Pune.

national symbol of "we take care of each other"

National health care. The incredible impact of growing up knowing that we can see a doctor whenever we need to, for free. It’s part of our political DNA to believe that we should take care of each other. Seems like the good folks in Vermont agree. We’re not surprised – to us, Vermont has always just been Southern Quebec. National health care makes yoga community a cinch.

In Montreal, all the rents turn over on July 1st. Half the city is out in the streets with bags of laundry and boxes of books, playing musical apartments, and musical relationships. It’s good for non-attachment.

FOX news recently opened a rubbish Canadian subsidiary called SunTV. They’ve having a hard time finding on-air talent that won’t self-deprecate or apologize, which is what we’re good at. Nobody watches it. Prana increases as bloviation declines.

national symbol of "we listen to each other"

Although it’s always touch-and-go, we have bona-fide arts funding for local and national projects. For a long time we’ve declared that our art is a national resource. This ethos is underlies a project like Yoga Community Canada.

In Canadian Parliament, the only way you can make anything happen is by asking a question. MPs can make statements, but only to congratulate folks in their ridings on their silver anniversaries or curling victories. Both conflict and public policy begins with “Question Period”. So does yoga.

national symbol of "who the heck are we?"

Leonard Cohen and his burning cigarette heart. A pioneer among BuJews. Reportedly he does asana to keep in shape for Boogie Street.

Canada is a postmodern country-type thingy. Meaning: we don’t believe in grandiose stories about what the country is, where it’s going, what its role is in the coming apocalypse, etc. We’re just here, making another cup of tea, knitting tea cozies and intellectual revolutions.

In fact, the perennial question in Canadian cafés is: “What is Canadian Identity?” Imagine the shakti of a whole country shrugging its shoulders.

(This might have been the beginning of Canadian yoga, actually. For those of you who wish to fully partake in the Canadian yoga experience, the advanced version of Tundrasana involves facing north while shrugging. Take time to find your edge here. Then, please smooth your edge out so it doesn’t offend anybody.)

Anyway, it seems that we have no identity. We’re terribly sorry. But this makes Buddhism and Vedanta a no-brainer for us.


But seriously. It’s NOT about the country!

What Carol is spying through her northward-pointed telescope is happening everywhere yogis value local culture, resistance to commercialism, community-building, and the excitement of ever-deepening questions. We’ll be the first to tell you: we’re not special in any way. Grass-roots yoga is, and it’s all over everywhere.

Just a few examples:

There seems to be a little bit of Great White North in Florida: it’s called Rasalila Festival. It’s a local gig: diverse programming and a low-commercialism vibe. “I looked at the cost of going to a festival,” founder Nathan Bangs said, “and realized I should just create my own.”

And as far as intelligence goes, we’re huge fans of the Yoga Research Society in Philadelphia, and the Kaivalyadhama Ashram in Lonavla. Both of these institutions run on a non-denominational public service mandate that generates excellent yoga research with zero woo-woo.

Also sharp as tacks and champions of community are the yogis of Texas. They’re standing together for self-regulation of practice and teaching, to make sure that yogis decide what yoga is in the state. The politics of the issue are complex.  The Texas Yoga Association has made the bold move to request exemption from regulation by claiming that yoga is religious by nature, and the state cannot regulate a religion. There must be many Texas yogis who are more than a little uncomfortable in arguing this position, but its apparent pragmatism is serving the greater good of community. Here’s a bunch who have plunged headlong and fearless into the most contentious debate modern yogis can have. Whatever the result, self and group-awareness are blossoming like yucca in the spring.

But the women of Gorilla Yogis in Minnesota are our favourites: busting out of studio culture and economy to stage flash yoga-mobs in public spaces. For video shoots? No. To avoid rent? No. To raise money for all of the social infrastructure that yoga yearns to have. (This is what I wrote about last week.) “Dedicated to connecting and creating a community of peace, love and bananas in the urban jungle”, they say. One of their mob, Lisa Venticinque, runs YogaLab, “a unique yoga studio project in Northeast Minneapolis launched in 2009 to offer high-quality and affordable yoga classes to local artists, musicians, and other community members who don’t quite fit into the regular yoga studio scene.” Right on.

We’re a little suspicious of these Gorilla women. Minnesota is awfully close to the Manitoba border. If we find moose in their freezers we’re calling the Mounties and the INS. (Mounties are cooler.)

Of course, all such projects can be aide by the Tantric visualization we all do here, which we now present freely as a public service through the Canadian Ministry of International Yogic Goodwill, Eh:


Stand in Tundrasana like a Douglas Fir.
Make sure your skis and poles are standing absolutely vertical beside you.
Feel warm prana descend from your tea-cozy hat into the cave of your heart, which is shaped like an igloo.

Inhale, and exhale.

Your heart-chakra is a maple leaf the size of your thumb, blazing scarlet against the ice.
Tiny goddesses in deerskins and fuzzy antlers twirl around the maple leaf in figure skates, their blades flashing and cutting fractal swaths of heat that makes the sap melt and run from the sharp leaf-tips.
This sap fills the igloo and begins to steam and boil and reduce to the nectar of syrup.

Inhale, and exhale.

Maple syrup flows out of your heart on every outbreath in sticky tendrils of bliss, immersing all beings in universal health care, self-deprecating humour, awesome beer, government grants for cool projects, a happy Babylon of languages, Question Period, Leonard Cohen’s zen robe, antimatter, the CBC, the brain of Marshall McLuhan, lots of empty space, a giant cuppa Red Rose, and that nationless feeling you can have anywhere, at any time, that anything is possible — if you start small, stay modest, be polite, rub your hands with excitement against the cold, inhale the big sky, and huddle close to each other for warmth and support.


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