Throughout her 20s, Gloria Latham was never one to devote much time to stress relief. A pharmacist, she often found herself working seven days a week while she and her husband raised their kids.
Things started to get unbearably intense, though, when close family members were diagnosed with serious illnesses. At her breaking point, Latham one day snuck home from work and exercised to a 15-minute yoga video in her living room. Immediately after hitting rewind, she went out and signed up for yoga-teacher training.
That was 12 years ago. She and her husband went on to found Semperviva Yoga, which is preparing to open its fifth studio. They’re obviously doing something right: Georgia Straight readers voted Semperviva the city’s top yoga studio in this year’s Best of Vancouver survey, followed by Bikram’s Yoga and Exhale Studio. And yoga topped the list as this year’s hottest fitness “trend”. (Never mind that the practice is more than 5,000 years old.)
Latham never dreamed her experience with that amateur yoga video would transform her life so profoundly.
“I wanted to get out of pharmacy and closer to something much more health-related instead of peddling drugs,” Latham says on the line from Kythira, Greece, where she’s hosting a yoga retreat. She and her husband first opened a health-food store, but she realized that in many cases, people were taking supplements for the same reasons they were popping pharmaceuticals.
“People were looking for something outside of themselves to make them feel better,” Latham explains. “I had dabbled a bit in yoga, but once I did that video, I just got hooked. It helped me so much with everything in my life.
“Life seemed to be crashing down all around us,” Latham adds of that terribly tense time in her 20s. “I needed space to breathe. Yoga’s benefits were so powerful. I thought, ”˜I have to share this with people. If people knew how powerful this was, everyone would be doing it.’ ”
She admits that she and her husband were skeptical of their new venture at first, wondering who would actually show up to do yoga, which was then still suffering from those burgundy leotards of the ’70s.
But if yoga seems hot now, Latham says its popularity will only continue to rise, given the stress of modern society.
“This is the right thing for the times,” she asserts. “What I love the most about yoga is that it’s all about you: there are no cellphones, no technology; for an hour and a half, you have that peace, that quiet, where you can be alone with your thoughts or you can let go of your thoughts.
“It really changes how you manage difficult situations,” she adds. “You learn techniques in class that seep into your life and keep you calmer and more focused. Your worries melt away, or at the very least don’t seem insurmountable anymore.”
Tranquillity is just one of the benefits of yoga. So is getting into better shape. According to Latham, yoga-derived physical fitness is different than that of conventional exercise. Herself a runner, Latham explains that going for a jog gives you a great high, but it’s followed soon after by a crash. Not yoga. “The breath work involved in yoga completely regenerates you,” she says.
Obviously, regular yoga practice yields greater flexibility, which only becomes more important with age. Yet all too often people shy away from it because they fear they aren’t pliable enough. Latham stresses that there is a form to suit everyone.
“There is a lot of stuff in yoga I can’t do,” Latham says. “A lot of people experience intimidation. Sometimes when I visit studios in New York or Los Angeles, they’ll be doing all this funky stuff. It’s easy to get caught up in that. But whether you can or you can’t do all these complicated postures doesn’t matter. Are you present with your breath? Are you present with yourself? Are you moving your body to some extent? Are you moving energy through your body? It’s not a competitive environment.”
There are scores of other benefits, according to Yoga Movement (www.yogamovement.com/ ), an on-line yoga resource. There are the physical effects, like improved respiration, circulation, and energy. The mental benefits include the development of a positive attitude. And, spiritually, the practice helps people unite their mind, body, and soul.
Rachel Wainwright opened Exhale Studio (formerly Prana Yoga) in May. Like Latham, she discovered the beauty of yoga at a time when life was pretty much sucking. A dancer, Wainwright got injured. Then three of her friends died within a short period of time.
“I felt like my body was breaking down, and my nerves felt shot,” Wainwright says. “A massage therapist recommended I do yoga, and I fell in love with it. As soon as I started doing yoga, I learned how to take a moment to breathe, to relax. Now I do it every day.”
She too says it’s only inevitable that more and more people will get into yoga.
“More people want health and happiness. Yoga provides physical and mental strengthening.”
For those who are new to the form, Latham suggests trying Hatha yoga to learn the postures at a moderate pace and minimize the risk of injury. From there, people can move on to any of the more complex styles, such as Kundalini and Ashtanga.
Yoga is a perfect fit for Vancouver, Latham adds, with all its health-conscious citizens.
“We are also a fairly open-minded bunch and don’t get scared away by talk of yoga being a spiritual practice. Spirituality can be a bit of a loaded word, but I like to explain it like this: by doing a practice that makes me feel so good about myself, I will, in turn, be kinder to others, and so on and so on.”
An activity that does wonders for the body, clears the mind, soothes the soul—and can make the world a better place? No wonder so many Vancouverites are embracing it.