When I first heard about Passport to Prana, I was skeptical. 30 yoga classes, for $30, at some of the best studios in Montreal? There has to be a catch. But there isn’t! The initiative, which was conceived by Toronto-based yoga teacher YuMee Chung in 2005, is available in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and, now, Montreal (San Francisco, while not a Canadian city, was also recently added to the roster).
So how does it work? You get this little plastic card with a bar code, you activate the card on the Passport to Prana website, and you are enabled to attend one class at each of the participating yoga studios. There’s even a handy online tracking system, so you can keep note of which studios you’ve attended.
With my little passport in hand, I decided to start in my neighbourhood, Mile End, and work my way out. First up: an intermediate hatha yoga class at the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center Montreal. This is just a 3-minute walk from my house, and I pass it almost every day. This centre has historical significance, as it was the first yoga centre founded by Swami Vishnudevananda after he was instructed by his guru, the famous Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, to bring the yoga teachings to the west in 1950s. He opened this centre in 1959, then went on to open the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Camp in Val Morin, an hour north of Montreal, which operates as the Sivananda world headquarters.
With all these gurus and lineages, you can expect the centre to have a very traditional feel. Which it does, with Hindu deities, flowers and prayer beads everywhere. The centre fills a three-storey building on Montreal’s busy St Laurent Blvd (which, interestingly, unites the west and east sides of the city), though the practice room is so quiet and tranquil that you’d have no idea. The practice room is spacious and clean, with hardwood floors and windows in the front and back. There is a huge well-maintained altar at the front, adorned with images of the gurus and various offerings. For this Friday morning practice, the double room was full (with approximately 22 people).
This is what you can expect from a Sivananda practice: the person leading the class wears white pants and a yellow shirt, the practice begins with some pranayama, then sun salutations and the 12 basic asanas, and concludes with mantra recitation and savasana. The 1.5 hour practice has a deep sense of devotion and is rooted in scripture. I have a deep respect for the Sivananda tradition, and I admire its ability to adhere to the vision of its founders as well as resist trends and fads in the yoga world.
One studio down, 29 to go! My goal is to take one class per week at each studio on the list. I’ve set aside Friday afternoon as the practice time, but being flexible here depending on my schedule and the studio (I’m willing to make exceptions to take classes in a certain style, or with a particular teacher).
With my passport in hand, I feel a bit like some kind of “yogi tourist.” I’m a little different from the target market for this kind of initiative, since I’m not trying to figure out what kind of yoga is right for me. I have a practice and a community (Anusara), I have a space where I regularly teach and practice (rad’a). But I’m always looking to broaden my experience and take on new challenges. The intention here is to simply experience and learn ~ I’m not about to critique styles or “review” studios. If I come across an exceptional (or awful) teacher, I’ll make note. But I will not compare studios, or compare styles to my own practice. These are the loose guidelines that I’m going to follow over the next 30 weeks (7 and a half months ~ what a commitment!).
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center
5178 Saint Laurent Blvd, Montreal