Last week was my first visit to Toronto. I was looking forward to it being a well-organised city, to be well catered for in terms of food and shopping, and for there, of course, to be lots of Yoga :). It didn't disappoint.
Yoga is a big deal in Canada, as can be attested by the fact that one of the biggest yoga apparel chains - Lulu Lemon - is from there. The range of yoga styles in Toronto is similar to that in London, although there does seem to be more of a preference for, and predominance of, ashtanga-based hot yoga classes and Vinyasa Flow. In contrast, restorative hatha type classes are also very popular and I saw Yin popping up on studio schedules a lot as well.
The best tip I had was to get a Passport to Prana. Almost as valuable as my real passport, this allowed me to visit 1 class in each studio as a taster over the course of one year. For a yoga tourist like me, this was perfect! It's also available across other major cities in Canada, the US and Australia, including New York and San Francisco.
My first stop was Moksha Yoga. Moksha is a group of independent hot yoga studios committed to ethical, compassionate and environmentally conscious living, and they believe that the benefits of yoga are limitless and accessible to all. They have 7 ethical pillars which make them a more socially-conscious alternative to Bikram. I stepped into a smart, dimly lit room packed mat to mat with intent yogis, and took their customary preparatory savasana, getting ready for a practice in 40 degree heat while facing the mirror. Our teacher Brenden Jensen, an eloquent speaker with a good eye for alignment, guided us through the sequence and I enjoyed a sweaty, satisfying intermediate-level session, despite not typically being a lover of hot yoga.
Next up, I headed to YogaSpace. This is a quiet, unintimidating studio and wellness center on Ossington, and has a suburban vibe. My class was a general level Flow class, and sadly was not really to my taste. I think the style of teaching here might be more suited to beginners or to those looking for a more restorative experience, with a strong preference for safety and alignment rather than a challenge or exploration.
Fortunately, 889 Yoga on Yonge was a much more my style.
Jodi Fischtein's class was fun and challenging, full of interesting arm balances and variations to keep us on our toes. Her bright, bubbly demeanor helped the 90 minute class pass by very pleasantly and vaguely reminded me of one of my favourite classes in London - Celeste Perreira's Vinyasa Flow class at Triyoga. The studio was also a lovely space, with a great store and friendly staff.
Octopus Garden is one of the bigger studios in the city, with a fantastic vegan cafe and a wide range of classes (although restorative is reportedly one of their specialties). I was curious to try Christine Alevizakis's level 2 class. Christine has a very warm, down-to-earth personality which makes her level 2 class feel more accessible than the norm. The class began with more of a flow, but the more interesting elements came later on, where we shifted to more of a workshop-type structure and broke down a number of poses and carried out targeted exercises to help us improve. Most notably, we practiced back bends using chairs, really opening up the shoulders and thoracic spine, which felt amazing. Although she doesn't mention it in class, it's evident that Christine has a broad range of influences from beyond the standard yoga world (there were some tai chi-like elements for example), which made her class very engaging.
Also, the great thing about Octopus Garden is that they offer a free trial week!
IAM is a funky downtown hot yoga studio which I think I'd find myself in a lot if I lived in Toronto (I'm now converted into a hot yoga fan). The staff are great and it's a beautiful space. Angela Morley rocked up to intermediate flow class and led us through an intelligently constructed practice, making very appropriate adjustments and suggestions. There was something about her style that echoed my next class, as well as Jodi's, and I think actually encapulates a certain 'flavour' that the Toronto Vinyasa Flow classes have compared to London, for example.
Located on the very hip Queen Street, Downward Dog is big on the Toronto scene. The reception staff are clearly aware of this, however, and would recommend you don't come to this studio looking for a warm, fuzzy feeling. The range of yoga classes though is impressive.
My class was a level 2-3 with Sheldon Shannon, and our large Mysore-style room was packed with his disciples (including a disproportionately high ratio of scantily clad men) on a hot Saturday afternoon.
Sheldon is a charismatic teacher, who joked and danced along to a pretty kicking soundtrack while guiding us through a tough 90 minutes. While it was a hot day, this was not a hot yoga studio - still, the sweat dripped off me to the point where I was clinging onto the edges of my mat to stay in downward dog.
The sequence was really well planned, and incorporated many advanced poses which offered a challenge even to the most ardent followers in the class. Despite there being a lot of people to keep track of, he picked up on my "cheating" in virasana - lying back fully on the mat when I'm not really ready to go down that far and graciously told me to ease back.
This class was a great way to round off my Toronto "Yoga Tour". Studios I really wanted to visit but didn't get round to are Ahimsa , Kula and Esther Myers, all situated around the trendy Annex area of town. Next time. In the meantime, I'm really grateful to the wonder teachers and studios I practiced with last week. Namaste!