Monday, November 12, 2018

Ottawa Yoga Teacher Profile - Janice Tokaryk

Back in 06/07, I used to start my Saturday mornings off with Janice's Ashtanga class at Santosha Westboro on Richmond Rd. When I started my Ashtanga practice, I was sweating like I'd been in a heated room and usually needed a two-hour nap following class to recover. I loved the discipline and simplicity of Ashtanga, simplicity not to be confused with ease - it was a challenging practice, one we see much less of on the Ottawa yoga scene today. It was the original "flow" practice: no frills, no music - just you, your breath and your body.

Janice was the teacher who, after weeks of practicing my headstand with the help of a wall, ever so casually walked by me in class one day and said, without any kind of aggression or force, "You're ready." I knew exactly what she meant. I stepped away from the wall. And did my very first unassisted headstand successfully. I was indeed ready but I didn't know it or was too afraid to try. To me, that's the mark of a great teacher. Observant, kind and ready to gently push you forward past your fears and show you your true potential.

Luckily for the Ottawa yoga community, Janice is still teaching. What's important to her? She loves teaching at different places and helping students of different capabilities, levels and needs, whether they are a beginner, intermediate or advanced yogi. She derives great satisfaction as a teacher and in watching students progress. She's also a lead trainer for Adi Shesha Yoga Zone's 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training courses, along with Basia Going, and has been for about 10 years. She finds this facet of her teaching extremely rewarding.

As a teacher, she feels what's most important is being who you are and sharing what you have to offer. Her first love was Ashtanga Yoga and her classes are Ashtanga-based so they tend to be more on the strong side. That being said, she also likes meditation and incorporates this aspect into her workshops. She started taking yoga classes at the age of 16, and according to her mother, had a fascination with India as a young child. Janice has been practicing for about 25 years and teaching for 20 years.

Her first teacher training was an intensive with Bryan Kest in California. She then studied with David Swenson and completed five teacher trainings with Richard Freeman so it goes without saying that her classes are heavily influenced by Freeman's approach to yoga.

As mentioned in previous profiles, I'm asking my interviewees how they feel the Ottawa yoga scene has changed over the last decade. In Janice's view, there are more studios opening up but she's not sure what we're currently teaching is yoga. She suspects we're a little too busy "entertaining" our students with marketing gimmicks and music. Are we yoga teachers or entertainers? Are we stripping yoga of its rituals and discipline to appeal to a mass market? Just as the introduction of the 24-hour news cycle blurred the lines between news and entertainment, are we blurring the lines between this ancient science we call yoga and a perceived need to coddle or impress our students?

A traditional yoga practice is now viewed as something foreign or "un-hip" and a certain depth of knowledge is quickly eroding. There is more "copying" than experiencing and learning. What have we given up in the name of yoga's newfound popularity?

After my conversation with Janice, I felt compelled to re-examine my own approach to teaching, and for the past few months, I've adopted a "back to basics" attitude, reintroducing certain key aspects of a traditional yoga practice in my classes. What have I learned so far? We underestimate our students when we pander to them, and we do them a disservice by withholding certain teachings and techniques for fear of not appearing "trendy". Thank you, Janice, for teaching me some very important lessons off the mat.

I certainly consider Janice a senior teacher in the Ottawa yoga community and anyone looking for a truly authentic and knowledgeable approach to yoga will find it with her. Janice teaches two weekly classes at Adi Shesha Yoga Zone (99 Fourth Ave. in the Glebe) - Wednesdays and Fridays: 10-11:30 am, and at her own home studio (17 O'Meara St. in Hintonburg). Classes at her studio are set up in sessions of two or three months and pre-registration is required. She also offers workshops at her studio and pre-registration is also required for these. You can find more info on her website and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter: @yogajstudio.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ottawa Yoga Teacher Profile - Joa Keur

I first stepped into one of Joa's classes many moons ago when he was teaching at the Rama Lotus Yoga Centre. What I experienced was part yoga, dance party, empowerment patterning and quite possibly, one of the most profound spiritual revelations I've ever had. When I left, I wasn't quite sure what had happened, but I knew it was good. It was exactly what I needed at the time, although it didn't quite arrive in the package I expected.

Taking a yoga class with Joa is guaranteed to be a unique experience. You'll probably have to step out of your comfort zone, but isn't that why we do yoga? To move past stagnation, blockage and rigidity to fully inhabit ourselves? Spend some time in Joa's classes, and you'll find where your self-imposed limitations lie. Joa's warm personality and truly authentic way of being are the perfect counter-balance and support for self-exploration that may feel a little uncomfortable or daunting at times.

Joa has been practicing yoga for 27 years and teaching for the past 14 years. For the past 7 years, he's been teaching at the PranaShanti Yoga Centre in Hintonburg. He started out doing yoga in a gym as a warm up to his weight training. Since then, he's completed training in Kundalini and Hatha Yoga, done four years of intensive Ashtanga Yoga practice, and done master classes in Yin and alignment-based practices. He also uses dance as his method of rejuvenation and mindful body transformation.


In his classes, you can expect to dive deep into asana, pranayama and drishti (postures, breath and point of focus), allowing you to tap into your own deep resonance, stacking your bones, engaging your muscles for strength, but also for deep release. You'll learn how to use your breath in a variety of ways to be able to relax, and utilize it to flow into and out of various postures. You'll also learn about your core and the importance of its engagement in your practice, and about alignment, what it is and how to find a proper alignment that works for your body, so you're not forcing yourself into contortions that don't work for you and turn you off.

One of the most memorable features of Joa's classes is his Savasana, when you're treated to a complete immersion in a healing "sound bath lullaby", as Joa puts it, so you can take the time to integrate the practice, relax, let go, and dream of good things to come. Or, you may have, as I once did, a spontaneous spiritual revelation about your true nature. Even though my rational mind quickly snapped shut like an angry clam after the experience, I've never forgotten it, or its significance, and it may take me the remainder of this lifetime, and quite possibly many more, to fully integrate the truth of that revelation. Joa continues to explore the healing power of sound and so far, has had a very positive response.

Joa's classes are a safe space for people of different cultures, religions, spiritual beliefs and for the LGBTQ community to feel respected and treated with unconditional love. He teaches a weekly volunteer class (sponsored by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa) at the Centretown Health Community Centre for the LGBTQ community.

Joa is also a gifted painter and photographer. My partner and I have two of his paintings in our home. He's recently finished two new pieces that took 8 years to complete, and continues to explore photography of various flowers.

One of Joa's paintings hangs over the fireplace mantel in our living room.
When I asked Joa how he feels yoga has changed over the past decade, he stated that students seem to be wanting more now than just an asana practice, that the superficiality of asana only is starting to fade as a hunger for something deeper and more meaningful emerges.

Joa wants his students to know that, although he's a teacher, he continues to be a student as well, constantly learning and continuing to expand his knowledge of the practice. He takes it seriously but also likes to be light in his approach to it. Perfectionism is dangerous and futile. You have to be able to laugh at yourself too. I couldn't agree more.

Joa teaches weekly classes at PranaShanti Yoga Centre (52 Armstrong St., Ottawa, ON) on Mondays and Wednesdays: 7:30-9:00 pm and on Saturdays: 3:30-5:00 pm. This fall and winter, Joa's classes will be focusing on the Yamas and Niyamas contained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, so if you'd like to integrate yogic philosophy and asana practice, now's your chance!

You can also find Joa on Facebook (Joa Keur) and on Instagram @joakeur.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lost Burberry playlist traffic meltdown

I recently suffered an unexpected break up. It felt like I had lost a limb, it was so sudden... I ran to catch the bus one afternoon, and the next thing I knew, they were gone. My Burberry sunglasses had slipped out of my pocket, and probably landed somewhere along the sidewalk. By the time I noticed, it was too late.

We'd been together for almost a decade, through much sunny weather, and those weirdly bright overcast days when wearing shades puts you in the category of annoying hipster trying too hard to be cool but you don't care because squinting causes wrinkles, or so you've heard. 

My Burberrys had been incessantly dropped, scratched and even forgotten overnight in a yoga studio, but we were always reunited, until recently. I was like a lost puppy looking for its home, forced to wear my cheap aviator knock-off "back-up" pair of shades. I've morphed from classy Audrey Hepburn look-alike to trashy Abercrombie and Fitch walking advertisement (from the neck up only - I'm not a pre-pubescent tween girl after all).

Goodbye super cool awesome shades. I'll never look this good again.
Prior to this trauma, I had a full-blown technology-related breakdown at that ill-fated bus stop (I'm beginning to think it's cursed). I had recently been trying to free up memory on my ancient iPhone 6, when I came across a suggestion online that said all I had to do was sign out of my Apple ID account and then sign back in. So I did that. And it worked. And I was elated. Until I got to that damned bus stop on my way to teach a yoga class and pulled up my playlists to pick one out for my upcoming class.

OH MY F*CKING GOD WHERE ARE ALL MY PLAYLISTS!!!! They had disappeared. I spend more time on my class playlists than on personal hygiene so I completely lost my shit. Once I managed to somewhat compose myself, I figured there must be a way to fix this. So I went to Settings, then to Music, and realized that my little sign out / sign in trick had turned off "show playlists on all devices". So I turned it back on. My playlists came back, and I wallowed in shame at my total and complete slavery to technology.

Following my Apple aneurysm at said cursed bus stop, the bus arrives, I get on, and then quickly realize we're stuck in an unusual traffic jam. I have less than an hour to get to the yoga studio, where I'm expected to be teaching a class. It's rush hour and I realize the situation is reaching a critical point so I get up and go ask the bus driver if there's any chance we'll be across town in about 20 minutes. His look said it all: "Not a chance in hell." We're still fairly close to my house, where the car is sitting in the garage. I have a decision to make. I get off the bus, run to my house, cursing all the way there, jump in my car and pray there's no traffic on my secret "back route" which usually takes at least 20-30 minutes. I have about 20 left, and I'm desperately trying not to behave like a race car driver on crack.

Miraculously, I arrived at the studio three minutes before the start of my class, completely stressed and out of breath but I had my playlists, so life as I knew it could go on.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

From Obsequious Omnivore to Vivacious Vegan

A couple years ago, my stepdaughter became a vegan. On a weekend ski vacation, she hinted that her father and I should try it too. We politely scoffed, both convinced that it was a great choice, for other people. We were happy omnivores. I was also still working for the animal agriculture industry at that time, convinced that we were doing all we could to minimize animal suffering.

About a year and a half later, I was fired, so I had a lot of time on my hands, and I was also freed from the karmic handcuffs of animal farming. I engaged in what my partner and I call "Netflix research" which basically consists of watching a shitload of documentaries on one particular subject (because Netflix breeds obsession) and afterwards declaring oneself an "expert" on said subject. In this case, the subject was, in a nutshell, how to stay alive, without getting fat or sick or precipitating an already near planetary apocalypse by contributing to the raping and pillaging of the planet.

I could feel my love of greasy bacon slipping away, to be replaced by what can only be described as a "social conscience". Also, there seems to be a lot of evidence that meat and dairy are crappy for humans (I'm an expert now). I know, I know, who to believe? They told us eggs were the root of all evil, and if we continued to eat them our cholesterol levels would rise faster than a hooker's skirt on payday. Then sugar was bad, until the sugar lobbyists pointed the finger at dietary fat. Then gluten was deemed the poison du jour, and all things wheat became public enemy numero uno. So who's telling the truth?

I guess what really got to me was: a) the not dying part, and b) my ardent anthropomorphizing of animals. Call it an epiphany or the result of reading too much Deepak Chopra, but I can't eat anything anymore that had a face, and parents. So, my research was then transferred from Netflix to Google. If I'm going to attempt veganism, how the hell do I go about it? I barely know my way around a kitchen. Perfecting the balance between butter, cream and a powdery pouch of Kraft cheese was, up to that point, my greatest culinary achievement.

(FYI, this is not an endorsement. I was not paid to write this, although I could use the cash. Just sayin'.) I stumbled upon the Forks Over Knives meal planner online. Aha! How to eat vegan, for Dummies. There is also an associated documentary which, of course, I watched on Netflix, prior to finding their handy meal planner. I thought to myself: "With this kind of guidance, I might actually be able to do this."

My boyfriend was working in Europe at the time and I asked him if, upon his return, he would mind if we tried veganism, on the condition that I would take charge of all our meals. He quickly agreed, if only to be relieved of almost exclusive responsibility for our meals up to that point, and also doubting this would last more than a couple weeks, so why put up a fight?

It's been about three and a half months, and I've stuck with it so far. I've set off our smoke alarm at least twice trying to roast vegetables in the oven, and I recently made guacamole so salty, I broke out into a sweat as I ate it. I bought an eggplant for the first time in my life, and can now say "nutritional yeast" without laughing. I poop every day, I can make a pretty decent smoothie (when I follow a recipe and don't freestyle it) and I haven't burned our house down yet. What more can a girl ask for?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A divided self, a divided world

If asked what characterizes the current state of our world, the first word that comes to mind is division: us vs. them; right vs. wrong; winners and losers; black and white. This is a very simplistic way of viewing things, when one considers that there is far more grey than black and white. Not everything can be defined, cut into neat little pieces for easy consumption, or be easily understood.

It's simple to lash out and blame all our current ills on Trump, Putin, rapacious corporations, the media, etc., etc... If we are to even begin bridging the gaps, we need to look at the divisions within ourselves, at how we so easily compartmentalize without asking the big questions.

We sit back and proclaim that climate change should be addressed but we're unwilling to change our lifestyles. We bemoan cruelty to animals but continue eating meat because we're so far removed from its source that all we see is the neat little package in the grocery store without asking ourselves where it came from, how the animal was raised and how it died.

We are masters at lying to ourselves, at ignoring those dark corners we wish didn't exist, at whitewashing pain, ugliness and struggle, at extracting with surgical precision those parts of ourselves that don't fit into the current accepted narrative. If we are at war with ourselves, how can we possibly begin to bring peace to a fractured world when it is simply a reflection of our inner state?

We are not separate from anyone or anything. We are each other's caretakers and keepers of our environment, and other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. We are failing miserably on both counts.

As Gandhi proclaimed: "Be the change you want to see in the world." The only place to start is with ourselves. Can we quiet the constant stream of mental noise and distraction that only allows us to skim the surface of things? Can we summon the courage to delve deeper, get acquainted with our soft underbelly and befriend it? Can we find out where our fear resides and try to release it? Can we be brave enough to be still and listen?

Every choice we make matters. Wouldn't it be better if those choices were conscious ones?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Unlocking our POWERful potential

This past July, internationally-renowned yoga teacher Bryan Kest was in Ottawa giving a weekend of master classes. If you're wondering who that is, along with being credited for its creation, he coined the term "Power Yoga". Ironically, he mentioned to us that he was open to suggestions for a new name to replace "Power Yoga" since he felt the term was perceived as intimidating.

I tend to agree. I practice and teach this type of yoga, which can also be classified as a vigorous type of "Flow Yoga" but as soon as you throw in the word "Power", people wince and retreat in terror. I'm beginning to think that, intrinsically, we don't like to be challenged. We avoid stepping out of our comfort zone. We stick with what we know, and what we think we're capable of. Problem is, we're always capable of so much more than we think we are. But we'll never find out if we don't step beyond our perceived limitations.

I'm the first to admit I'm lazy. My default setting is sloth - exerting the least amount of effort most of the time. I have to consciously fight against this tendency. Sometimes, sloth is totally appropriate and called for; yin and yang. But my yin gets greedy and wants all the attention. However, when I do work actively against my laziness and commit to an active, empowering yang practice, afterwards I can feel every inch of my body teeming with something I can only describe as "aliveness".

It's not always a pleasant experience. I usually feel bitter when I'm being challenged. Of course, the other side of that coin is that afterwards, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for not having walked away from something that reminded me of my own strength and resilience, and left me feeling like a million bucks.

Kest also reminds us that we should approach this type of yoga practice with moderation. Sure, it can be challenging but we don't have to go crazy. It's possible to find a balance between effort and ease when we tell our ego to take a hike and release any notions of physical or athletic "performance". What it truly comes down to is a steady breath and being present. Can we allow ourselves to feel challenged yet remain calm? Imagine how effectively we could deal with our daily lives off the mat if we simply mastered that.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Song Without Music

Me: "You know how much I love spending time in the kitchen." Boyfriend: "With a phone and a take out menu."

Now that I've kicked off this post with the requisite witty humour, I can turn to other insignificant things, such as my playwriting. The idea recently flashed in my brain of sharing some of that writing here on my blog, kind of like a story in serial installments. I mean, why not?

A few months back, I began very preliminary work on a musical; the writing part, that is. I'm not sure where that project is headed but I wrote my first ever song lyrics. It's not exactly an uplifting ballad as I was exorcising some demons at the time but I think it could be a catchy tune. I call it: " A Song Without Music". 

Good morning, good morning 
You're my wife, short of a ring
You're my mother, only better
You're my daughter, don't run for cover

Good morning, good morning
Under my thumb, blessed underling
It's the only way I know, the only love I can show
Look pretty, don't think. Hint at desire, leave me on the brink

Good morning, good morning
Your submission is a sacred thing
It's your calling, weaker sex
You've got no strength, no muscle to flex

Good morning, good morning
I'm the master and you the slave adoring
My psychic steel rod violating your space
Hunting you down, because I need the chase

Good morning, good morning
Come to me and say good morning
Good morning, good morning
Bend the knee and say good morning 

Stay tuned for my next creative writing installment. I think I'll go with a comedy next time.


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