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Sarah Crawford Russell

Sarah Crawford Russell

There’s nothing like strolling into a room and catching the sound of a nice full laugh. With Sarah you’ll frequently get that in and out of class. Light and breezy, her classes can feel rather muted in their difficulty yet never in their energy. From hatha to yin, you’ll be able to get everything you want out of yoga through her. Though I don’t sweat in her power classes like I do in others, mental and physical strengthening from her are just as potent and noticeable after the practice.

It wouldn’t be a long shot to say you can be thrown off by her approach to each class. With a bright and sunny disposition she’ll wander about the room and ask, very literally, everyone on their energy level of the day and whether or not they have any injuries. After her rounds she adjusts her class to fit the class average to great affect. I say this because I’ve noticed that classes with a few more advanced practitioners will feel that much more challenging than a class with a handful of beginners.

Some teachers will hold their line, unchanging in their itinerary, but Sarah always takes care to strike a balance. Her hatha classes see the most changes, as it’s the most accessible style of yoga, and yin and power change the least. I can’t really think of a more gentle and/or relaxing teacher to help someone wind down a day or a week. Her genuine cheeriness is a pleasure to be around, and we would all do a bit better with a brightness such as hers. She also has an amazing hairdo. Just sayin’.

She teaches, to my knowledge, at Spirit YogaUnity Yoga, and YYoga.

Emily Millen

You’re looking to feel like a marshmallow, you say? Perfect, read on!

Emily Millen happens to be one of those people that perplexes me. The first time she wafted into the room I didn’t believe that she was always so soft-spoken and ripple-free. After a year of taking her classes I’ve come to realize that I still have no idea. She could have a penchant to cuss up a storm when away from the studio for all I know. Hey, I know I do.

But I digress. I’ve only ever taken her power and hatha classes and I have to say both are the most consistently mellow practices I’ve experienced. Not that she’s predictable, but you’ll know what to expect unlike, say, Liv Hilde. However, Emily is as equally stable and strong as Liv and floats into inversions as if someone had her on puppet-strings. Seeing her perform these feats you’d be hard-pressed to imagine that she (if I remember correctly) tore her ACL some time ago along with some other knee parts.

Those injuries (fascia-types) can be long-term and extremely debilitating but she told the class one day that mended her injury through sound healing. She proceeded to demonstrate and got all of us to try it; humming the alphabet one letter at a time in different pitches and tones. I admit it was awkward though I can’t deny my back felt oddly loose and limber without actually moving. Oh, and that’s another thing about Emily’s influence; you may feel like you’re not doing much but she’s actually getting you to work every atom in your body. I wouldn’t say it’s effortless (since she’s putting her full effort into the class) but it’s a certain type of minimalism. There’s a cliche that everyone uses that fits here but I don’t feel like typing it.

Bright and beaming is what you’ll always get. (http://yyoga.ca/welcome/our-team/emily-millen/)

With that experience in mind, I practiced both sound healing and minimalism after my eye surgery (PRK) and again after tearing my hip flexor. I wonder how I would’ve handled those recovery periods if I hadn’t met her or the likes of Anila and Alex, two other teachers that remind you to just take it easy. The yoga community is very fortunate to have teachers that stretch the spectrum of pure power and complete softness, and the best ones teeter between the two. Emily is one of those teachers that can effortlessly switch from all-out to wind-down at the appropriate moments. I imagine her injury had a part to play in the  forgiving nature of her practice and how she can do so much while seemingly doing little.

Her power classes on Wednesday (both regular and upside downs) aren’t too strenuous and she normally doesn’t suggest insane postures if there are more than a few newcomers. She’ll put in a headstand in the upside down class as it’s relatively accessible and adventurous enough already. She’s conscious about how intimidating yoga can get and I’m sure it wouldn’t do to traumatize anyone. Her hatha class on Saturday evening is excellent for those looking to start up or veterans to go shake it out. I try my best to attend since it ends/starts any week on a fine note.

After my tearing my hip flexor the first class I went to was hers since I knew her experience could help. It was difficult to move my leg without using my hands, but she showed me all the variations I could do without compromising the tender integrity of my healing hip. That one class provided me with an enormous amount of flexibility and strength the next day, which is excellent because sitting motionless with an icepack on the hip only got me so far. That and I was getting batty from immobility.

The other nice part about her classes is that her way of speaking, her tone, can put one in a trance. More than once I’ve snapped back to my senses at the end of a savasana to realize that I don’t recall doing anything between the starting “aum” and hearing her ask us to sit up from savasana. That may be why her classes seems like a breeze; you’re not aware you’re doing anything at all. It’s difficult these days to come across people such as Emily; people that make you feel at ease without trying too hard to be funny or wax philosophical.

Anila

My first power class was lead by a very stern and straight-forward teacher. She started with a curt introduction for the new people, myself included at the time, and lit the fuses underneath our butts immediately thereafter. We did some partner work in balancing poses and I ended up in my first full wheel. That was actually the last class I saw my friend in; I think she may have stopped her practice altogether.

For me it was another handhold for my ascent up the mountain that yoga is. That kind of brisk yet solid pacing and concise manner in which she spoke was something that locked me into my practice. She never waffled or forgot her sequences. She made sure we knew where she was taking us. She asks us to build a practice from our experiences in life whether they be ones to cultivate or ones to shed. Instead of reading from a book or notes she gets us to dredge the depths of the self.

Anila Lacroix likes to push the boundaries as much as shatter them. Many of her classes involve doing things that we normally wouldn’t fathom in any given day, say hugging strangers or share personal stories (if you want to, that is) with the class. Odd as they may be she’s just putting the yogic way into practice; to open up and connect in every way.

www.yyoga.ca

Her voice is strong and fierce if not simply bold. Yin classes are ones where people go to in order to relax and be soothed by words and chants. I come out of her classes feeling like I want to destroy a marathon or leap to the moon. She can supercharge your brain by the way she instills you with the facts of life and yanks your inner power to the surface. If you can’t tell it’s quite difficult to describe her aura. I do encourage you to try her ways.

During my recovery period she imparted a very interesting method of resetting the mind. A few days here and there, when my eyes didn’t aggravate me so much, I sat/lay/crumpled somewhere quiet and imagined my brain as a field. I would then imagine a plow running through the soil and scrapping all the old growth and leaving the field bare for new seeds. I’d imagine the new seeds being planted as ideas, sprouting into whatever I wished them to be.

If you get to know her you’ll find out she’ll always have a little something for you to help you through the spats that life has with us. She can revitalize you with a word and spur you with a breath. She’s amazing.

Alex Atherton, Rockstar

Alex Atherton, the intrepid director of YYoga Richmond, is the rare male teacher that I’m comfortable with. It’s curious, perhaps, but I like female teachers better. Anyhow, his best classes (I find) are for power and anusara. At this time these two classes are the challenging ones for me, but Alex makes them very mellow. I like the styles a lot, it’s just that some days I’d like to do them without warping my bone structure.

I credit Alex with facilitating my progress. After doing the 30 Day Challenge in August of 2010, everybody that took part would be entered to win a slew of prizes for their participation. I happened to win a 3 Month Pass (whether by luck of the draw of some meddling) and my practice went off the deep end from there. Encouragement, which is relatively abundant in the yoga community, is a huge factor too. That pass was like someone tossed me out of an airplane again with all the exhilaration and fear that goes along with it.

He gets you to push a little further class by class and even though he can make some poses look very easy he doesn’t hide his threshold. Him admitting his difficulty with some of the nuttier poses is refreshing. Some teachers I’ve had in the past made it look as if they were invincible (which I may not doubt), but pointing one’s own wobbliness can do a lot to bolster the confidence and adventurism of others. There’s always a different way to inspire people. Some do superhuman things one after another to get the blood flowing. Others point out the human limits to encourage and lead through prudence.

That's his look of truth. (photo from YYoga's teacher page: http://yyoga.ca/welcome/our-team/)

From what I know, Alex had a major injury years ago. I believe it was to his neck/spine and his healing process eventually moved toward yoga. It’s pretty amazing at how many teachers and students I know who’ve recovered from what would have been debilitating injuries. The snippets of his past life that I’ve gathered are markedly different from what he is (or at least how I see him) now. He sort of saunters around, perhaps wisping even, and can give off a discombobulated feel. Don’t be fooled by his swaying and slow drawl as he’s 100% present. He’s got a quick wit and he’ll bloody well use it.

He renamed one of his classes as “broga” one day. His rationale was that it was quite a sight to see as many as 10 guys in his class (but this is still against 30 women). His said he wasn’t sure how he’d ever react if he walked into a class of just guys, though he’d up to the challenge regardless. His humour is, for lack of a better word, grounded. Nothing really goes over your head since he pokes at things that are happening right in the room. Again, he’s only one of two male teachers that I’m okay with. Nothing against anyone else, but I’ve felt uncomfortable in quite a few other male-lead classes. A big factor is the attitude and personality.

Alex makes sure the atmosphere is super-chill and he won’t go gallivanting  into La-La Land with dense scripts or sutras; he keeps his words and sentence structures very clear and concise, so he ain’t a blatherer. His classes are the same way in that you can anticipate and mentally prepare for the next posture and/or relax because there are no surprises. Well, that’s not true. He helped me into a handstand from Hanumanasana on a whim. It caught me by surprise but he wasn’t intrusive nor was he pushy. He knows his yogis and their capabilities and I sometimes think he changes his class on the fly depending on who he sees in class.

He also has a tendency to rearrange mats, placing the advanced kids in the first two rows when they turn their backs. It’s not malicious or anything since he does it to help the class by placing leaders at the front. This way others can get a grip on some advanced postures while those up front are being encouraged to step outside the comfort zone of tucking into the middle/back of the class. He’s one to help others get out there and shine, but without the over-exuberance that can lead to miss-timed jumps or rocky foundations. Alex will remind you to keep a level head and stay in the now so you don’t crash and burn.

Quaint Kerrisdale

Last Wednesday, the 16th, I realized how bloody spoiled I’ve been. I started my yoga adventures at YYoga and did a tour through Semperviva as well. Their spaces are quite large with white-washed walls, cushy lounge areas, change rooms, and other amenities. I knew of smaller studios, but never had the time to really seek them out. I go to YYoga because of the familiarity (with the space and the people) and its proximity to where I do my business around town.

During the reading break of last week I was able to book an excursion to Kerrisdale Yoga. Unfortunately, I was only able to hit 2 of the initially planned 3 classes. Don’t let that dampen your mood though, because (for my part) it was a blast through and through. Situated between 45th and 46th on East Boulevard, the studio was a small walk from where I dismounted the public limo on 41st. I would’ve driven if I knew parking was relatively easy to find, but that’s neither here not there.

The studio-front. Quite attractive if you ask me, as simplicity and cleanliness reigns.

Elisa Wakabayashi, owner of the studio, took me through Yoga with Spinning. It’s 30 minutes of cycling followed by 30 minutes of yoga, both of which are not ridiculously destructive. Actually, it was the calmest yet most effective spin class I’ve had in a while. You know, instead of the hardcore sprinting that leaves you crippled the next day sorta deal. Elisa taught both parts of the class, being a personal trainer as well, and then laid out the studio for me.

She noted that a small independent studio is great in that there aren’t many “big deals,” in that the world won’t end if someone forgets something. After the hustle and bustle of YYoga, I could see clearly what she meant as the studio has a laissez-faire quality as there isn’t corporate pressure or strict codes of conduct. I’m not saying that there’s a lack of professionalism or anything, but the air is very different. At YYoga I find people tend to quickly zip about, where at Kerrisdale there’s a bit of meandering and lingering.

The all-important yoga room, which can comfortably fit about 10 people I believe.

As one can imagine, the class sizes are relatively small. Yoga with Spinning totaled 4 people excluding Elisa, and the Kundalini class was 6. It’s a far cry from the average 15-20 yogis I’m used to, but there’s something nice about a bit more intimacy. Instead of feeling the energy of a myriad of other yogis, with only 4 people it’s easier to notice your own and really tap into your comfort zones.

The yoga and spin rooms are not sealed off from one another, with a gap between the ceiling and wall between them offering a better airflow. Though it also meant it was colder than what I was used to, the cool fresh air that cycled around the studio was very welcome. There’s also more natural light here as the windows facing the back for yoga and facing the back for spin are generously sized. My first go at Kundalini was also here, and I was supposed to try out Iyengar as well. I lament not being able to make that last class.

All the props and whatzits.

Tucked in the back are 7 cycles for some spinning.

And here be the video tour, guided by Elisa:

Yogis that live in Kerrisdale probably know of Elisa’s studio, and though I travel through and hang out in the neighbourhood often I didn’t know of the studio until I jumped on Twitter. Oh, the miracles of social tools. Elisa is a blast of an owner, being very relaxed and applies no pressure on her guests. From what I noticed inside and outside of classes she has a solid connection to those that practice with her. Small groups tend to notice and remember the schedules and tendencies of their compatriots, and the community/family feelings is quite evident.

It’s a very nice space, in a great neighbourhood, and owned and staffed by fantastic people.

Liv Hilde, Upside Down

Since lectures started up a the beginning of January I’ve been mostly held to one yoga class a week, with the rare free weekend for some yin/yin:yang or something. Instead of something soft and easy to get me through the crush of the days, I went for the hardcore to really wring out the nasty vibes. I’ve been taking Liv’s classes since the summer sometime, and everything from hatha to YRide was in the books.

Out of curiosity, I just had to look up the origins of her last name. Apparently, Hilde carries a meaning like “ready for battle” or “woman of battle”. In this case the meaning is extremely apt, but don’t let her cheery demeanor fool you. In the last 5 months since I’ve started taking Liv’s Power Upside Down classes, I’ve only missed one due to a sore throat. Every Wednesday at 6:30pm I haul myself to her classes knowing I’m going to be fighting myself the whole way through. Yes, the male ego and pride still kicks around and lingers, pushing me to make every posture in the class.

Liv Hilde is absolutely ridiculous, and her strength is astonishing. I’ve also noticed that she really treats every class like a how a 5 year old would treat a day at the beach: with wild exuberance and unabashed enthusiasm. As such her classes don’t get too heavy with philosophy and wisdom either, sticking to lighter fare like odd happenstances in her life or poke around the lives of the yogis in class. She also has a penchant for making funny groans and grunts during tough poses, and has even called me a “ninja” for how I windmill into Warrior II.

Oh, and I should’ve mentioned that she’s been under the tutelage of Ana Forrest. Anyone else shakin’ on their mats?

What's that look on her face? Ah, deviousness.

Her Power Upside Down class is a very fast vinyasa affair with minimal rest. The inversions are placed near the end of the class when the body is all worked up, but it presents a problem because she trashes almost everyone. We’re all way too tired at the end to give the inversions a solid go, though we don’t slack off on purpose or anything. I repeat: she’s not malicious.

The classes are getting harder and harder, mostly because everyone in the class is a regular. I think a weekly class such as this with such a consistent group of followers speaks volumes to her magnetism. She makes everything look so easy, that it’s just within reach, that everyone just goes for it; caution is thrown to the wind and injury seems impossible. For the record, I’ve taken my fair share of tumbles (with everyone watching, even).

The YRide classes she used to teach at the downtown Flow studio were equally exhausting. I wrote a piece about YRide a few months back and one can get a gist of it with a decent glance through it. She’s a pure taskmaster alright, but with a heart of gold. The journey she drags you on is perilous to both mind and body; it’s that challenging when she’s on her game. All she asks for is a good effort and she’ll be there to prop you up the entire way.

I attribute my being able to get into Forearm Stands and Headstands largely to Liv’s influence. She’ll help work all the proper muscle groups, warming them all up, while encouraging…well, courage to go beyond. Before her classes I wouldn’t even dare prop myself against a wall. Today I’m comfortable with two freestanding inversions and a slew of arm balances. Never would I have imagined myself doing anything like them, and Liv and her instructor compatriots are to thank.

Oh, and if you haven’t done inversions yet but wish to try it, I’ll say that you’re brain will love it. Guaranteed.

Danielle Hoogenboom

I’ve only started taking Danielle’s classes in the last month or so. Since the departure of one my favourite instructors (Violetta Pioro) I’ve been searching for another mellow soul to fill the void. Danielle’s hatha classes function more like yin than anything, and I personally couldn’t have been more thrilled. The postures and the transitions she fields are slow and soft, and such methods are important to balance out those hardcore classes. Taking power everyday isn’t a bad thing as long as one knows to find slower and gentler classes for balance.

Danielle is soft-spoken, with a hint of lisp, and packs her dreads around like they’re clouds that float her around. Before each class she sifts around the room, asking every yogi if they have any injuries or any postures that they’d personally like to go into. I like the fact that almost all instructors ask their classes for requests, but Danielle’s one by one inquiries seem rare to me. For those that may wonder, I normally ask for twists.

I do have to say that her slow hatha classes are exceptionally effective. It’s only in her classes that I’ve caught myself at the beginning of a snore, twice, during heart-openers and such. It got to that point after she came by and lifted my chest even higher as I was lying on a bolster for Savasana; with everything supported and opened I guess my insides just melted outright. I distinctly remember one night that I relaxed so much I actually didn’t remember who I was, where I was, and how to drive home for about 10mins after the end of class.

www.lovelightyoga.com

Many of the postures in her classes are seated or in low lunges and I haven’t done any crazy inversions or arm balances with her yet. It’s a welcome change of pace after hitting up Anila and Liv’s power classes (of whom I will talk about in a few weeks) as my muscles could really use some laziness. I always get thrown off by powerful/aggressive instructors in slow classes since their strong voices seem to push me faster and further, but Danielle’s demeanor matches her class style perfectly to turn everything down.

She likes to explain every step, though always with a lull that really gets you to move the same way: slowly. Sometimes we all get caught up in the flow of a class and we really do forget to be aware. Her speed makes it so that there’s really no way to not realize the exclamations of the body. Since her movements aren’t sharp, and in our tendencies to match the instructors, the whole class claws around. I was still enough at the end of one class to end it in a sitting meditation. She later came up and said that she could see from my eyes that I had disconnected and rebooted. I didn’t deny it since it did indeed feel like that.

She has a way of making one feel like that they’re in the clouds with her, just swaying around shifting along with the vapours themselves. Like most instructors she offers food for thought, though she normally talks about the interplay between what we see to what we feel. It’s a bit different than taking a snippet from a yoga text and transposing it, rather drawing very clear lines to connect different aspects of our life.

From what I know she lives on Commercial Drive, has a roommate that digs astrological spiritualism, and sports her staple dreadlocks all the time. She even joked at how she seemed stereotypical to herself, which she then said wasn’t too far off the mark if her roommates didn’t rub off on her so much. She has her own sites, Danielle Hoogenboom and Lovelight, and teaches at Unity Yoga Tea House and YYoga.

From Semperviva

To be honest, I was nervous at the thought of “reviewing” a yoga studio. I’m 23, only 3 months into yoga, and I was heading to a studio like a movie critic (but not as jaded and bitter). And this was Semperviva Kits Beach no less, the newest expansion studio for a respected community-oriented yoga outfit. It’s not like I was from a bigwig yoga magazine or some newspaper that wielded a mighty stick. Regardless, it was a chance to explore and meet new yogis.

East Window

I must say, I dig the colour scheme and design choice of their logo.

After a bit of transit and walking, which was a little wonky after a 75 minute spin class, I made it to the lovely corner of West 4th and Yew where Semperviva Kits Beach is located. Familiar smells of mat sprays and lavender immediately greeted me as I walked in. Actually, I’ll let some photos do the gabbing for me:

Lounge Area

The common area is spacious and very inviting with the large windows. I wish I had a wide-angle lens.

Gear Wall & Entrance

From inside to out. The events wall is on the right and can be seen better in the video tour.

Community Photo Wall

This here is the photo wall assembled by the community, either of personal practices or to yoga events and retreats held by Semperviva.

And, of course, here’s the video tour guided by Callie Gray! If you can’t tell by the video, she’s bright, chipper and exudes love and passion for the realm of yoga.

The yoga room itself is not what I’m used to what with no ceiling panels to hide the air ducts and pipes and enormous windows lining the East wall. However, without a constricting ceiling plus the enormous windows, you feel like you can expand to wherever you choose. Also, the windows are one-way so pedestrians won’t get to creepily peer in as you practice.

I’d like to thank Callie, Jana, and Jen for accommodating this small-time writer on a drizzly Saturday. Your genuine kindness further fuels my passion for yoga.

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