wanderlust lands in montreal, opens second studio

Mar 4, 2013 by

laurier-stlaurent

The new home of Le Studio de Yoga Wanderlust (top left, where the “For Rent” signs are); Google Street view screenshot, summertime.

Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood is probably the closest thing to Williamsburg, Brooklyn in all of Canada, and possibly even the world. The artistic neighbourhood is known for its density of artists, musicians, writers and filmmakers. It has been the homebase for musicians like Arcade Fire, Grimes, The Barr Brothers, Plants and Animals, and thousands of others. Last year, The Telegraph even named Montreal “The New Brooklyn” (and this seems to happen every three or four years).

With its tech and music scenes, Mile End bears a similarity to another hip American city: Austin, Texas. In a further striking resemblance, Mile End hosts the annual Pop Montreal festival (which is like a less techy SXSW, launching countless Montreal and non-Montreal musical acts over the past decade).

It’s not a surprise that Wanderlust, the annual music and yoga outdoor festival that has swept through North America over the past four years, would choose to open its second studio in Mile End. The Williamsburg-based company opened its first studio, Wanderlust LIVE, in Austin in Spring 2012.

lestudio2But other than the surface cool factor, there is no obvious connection between Montreal and the Wanderlust franchise. The only Canadian date on the Wanderlust circuit is Whistler, British Columbia, on the other side of the country. While yoga is as popular in Montreal as it is in every other North American city, it’s a smaller market than Vancouver or Toronto.

So in a conversation with Le Studio de Yoga Wanderlust co-founder Erik Giasson, I had to ask the obvious question: Why Montreal?

“It’s happening,” he replied. “There’s a connection between Mile End and Williamsburg. Both have a vibe of music and yoga.”

Giasson knows that vibe. He did a yoga teacher training in Williamsburg with Schuyler Grant, director of Kula Yoga Project and co-founder of Wanderlust. Like the festival and the Austin studio, Le Studio will operate according to the mandate, “Yoga first. Music always.” The schedule at Le Studio will centre on yoga and music, featuring DJs and live musicians on a regular basis.

Even though Giasson lives in the slightly more upscale neighbouring neighbourhood of Outremont, he knows what’s going on.  “Mile End is the centre of yoga and music in Montreal. We plan to leverage our community of musicians in Mile End.” Despite this local community, however, Bears of Legend, the folksy bluegrass band that will play at Le Studio’s March 21 opening party, are from Trois Rivieres (“Three Rivers,” a small town halfway between Montreal and Quebec City).

Before discovering yoga, Giasson worked in the finance industry for “the largest hedge fund in the world” until the 2008 financial crisis. Yoga helped the transition in his professional life. He did a Moksha Yoga teacher training program, and then wanted to open his own studio. Not just any studio. Giasson had a vision.

“I wanted to bring good vinyasa to Montreal, like the kind you find at Kula,” he said. “Creative, challenging vinyasa with good alignment – and live music and DJs in class. There’s nothing in Montreal like what we’re bringing.”

lestudioExcept there is, kind of. Montreal has no shortage of vinyasa, with or without music. Is a brand of vinyasa imported from New York City any bigger or better?

Naada Yoga* has been offering vinyasa classes set to live music since 2009 in the neighbourhood, three blocks from where Le Studio has opened. It was founded by husband and wife team, Jason Sharp and Elizabeth Emberly; Sharp is a musician, Emberly a yoga teacher and dancer.

“The studio is a small business that’s reflective of the community,” Sharp told me one afternoon over coffee at Café Falco. “We’re in a constant state of evolution as we respond to the community and provide yoga that the people want.”

As a musician, he’s tapped into the local community: the aforementioned Barr Brothers and Sam Shalabi have played intimate concerts in the studio, and the exterior is adorned with work by street artist Roadsworth

It’s pretty clear that Le Studio is doing something very similar to what Naada is doing, but with a big business model and financial backing. In a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, the weight and presence of Le Studio could change the local landscape.

Or perhaps it simply reflects the changing nature of the neighbourhood, which in recent years has seen increasing rents, more condo developments and an influx of stores selling vintage eyeglasses.

Nevertheless, the proximity and content of the glitzy new studio is enough to make Sharp and Emberly uneasy. And it’s likely making the approximately 15 studios within a 10-block radius also feel a little nervous. The word on the street is that Le Studio has approached star teachers at neighbouring studios, offering them more weekly classes and higher rates.

Like Brooklyn, and every other major North American city, yoga is booming in Montreal. There are countless trained yoga teachers eager to teach, and people in recently purchased condos eager to get their yoga on to some dope beats. Only time will tell what kind of impact a heavyweight brand with strong financial backing will have on the ecosystem of the neighbourhood, and the needs of the community will gradually be revealed.

* Disclosure: I practice yoga regularly at Naada, and they advertise on IAYB.

12 Comments

  1. Doris Maat

    So sorry to hear this – Perhaps they would be better named “Wanderbucks” or “Starlust”. Looks like “slash and burn” business tactics aren’t just for Starbucks and Whole Foods anymore. Just read somewhere (I think it was on a blog called “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York”) that the cost of living in Williamsburg has shot up astronomically in the last few years. Hope Montreal can escape what’s happening here in NYC and elsewhere.

  2. do we need another yoga studio??? and in the mile-end? we have one that is very community-oriented.
    and do we want montreal to be like williamsburg, where people cannot pay their rent unless they are a happy few?

    and montreal IS the city of music and yoga. maybe less hip than nyc et heureusement!

  3. Jason Steinhauer

    Another guy who made a ton of money and wants to have a yoga studio. So sad and cliché. This Erik is doing a disservice to the Montréal yoga scene. Wanderbucks Yoga is right, Doris!

  4. The craftiest trickery are too short and ragged a cloak to cover a bad heart. I feel bad for the people that follow a bad seed with a smile, it is hard to detect sometimes. Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without himself and eventually when the newness, the smoke and music fades all that will be left is your realization of how ungenuine the foundations were and yoga is about building the soul.

    Good teaching, like good yoga, is hard to find. You can attract talent with money but a true yoga soul will not be bought and having a constant turn over of teachers might keep things fresh but it will never create consistency or embellish the soul of a studio.

    I believe there is a space for what is happening at ‘le studio’ there will always be a need for a soulless cup of Wanderbucks but I, like you, can choose to go to a local café where the brew is (maybe) inconsistent but made with love. And I can taste that.

    Glitz and glam always seems to fade away and considering my visit to lestudiodeyogawanderlust.com, i was surprised to see that maybe ‘le studio de yoga’ didn’t make many friends along the way.

  5. Ugh. Not a Montreal person, but I wouldn’t want another yoga brand in my town of Boston.

    Support the local independent yoga studios (san daddy warbucks backers) – please and thank you!

  6. Um, Studio Bliss and Enso Yoga also offer live music in studio during class as well.

    And yeah, I agree with nayla, does the Mile End and Plateau seriously need another yoga studio? They’re as ubiquitous as re-purposed clothing shops and hipster hangouts now. Meanwhile other up and coming (i.e undergoing gentrification) neighborhoods in Montreal are virtually studio-free and could use a couple more like Verdun, Lasalle, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Rosemont (PS: the rents are still cheap!)

  7. I think you folks are being a little harsh. I don’t see the need to criticize other person for pursuing their dreams. Erik is a yoga teacher who wants to follow in his teacher’s footsteps. Who hasn’t wanted to do that? Ok, maybe he hasn’t done his market research, but the fact that he wants to invest money into his business and set it up close to his home is his prorogative. Plus, Mile-End / Plateau has one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in all of Canada.

    There is space for yoga everywhere, especially when there are still more people who don’t yet practice yoga and those who do. Maybe we should all team up for an official ‘Got Yoga?’ campaign. (This has always been a dream of mine…sigh…)

    Have faith my friends. Be your own fabulous selves and Live and let live.

  8. Actually Shaghnessy Village/Concordia Ghetto is the most densely populated area of Quebec. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaughnessy_Village

    The only studio there is HappyTree Yoga, maybe Ha Yoga and Enso if you decide to walk a few blocks. It doesn’t even come close the over-saturation point of the Plateau and Mile End.

  9. If some yogis and yoginis are still today making a judgement on someone based on what he did or where he lives, this may confirm that I am on my path and that we were right in opening a yoga studio in the hood,

    looking forward to meet you all :)

    thank you so much for all the comments

    we are all one, love, namaste

    Erik

  10. Choral Lewin

    You can’t judge someone for wanting to open a franchised model of yoga but it is very unfortunate that it has landed in the Mile End…a neighbourhood particularly sensitive to the topic of gentrification. I can see why this has rubbed people the wrong way.

    I do agree with Yasmin though: “There is space for yoga everywhere, especially when there are still more people who don’t yet practice yoga and those who do.” Often these big chains introduce people to yoga and then they eventually go elsewhere to find something deeper. Overtime Wanderbucks may actually serve the independent studios well.

  11. Yes we actually did need another Yoga studio…in Montreal…and in Mile End. As a recent transplant from Philadelphia who is used to strong, powerful, creative, yet intelligently sequenced vinyasa classes that leave you dripping in sweat not because the room is hot, but because you are building the heat from within I am extremely excited to have this studio open in my neighborhood! While I love Montreal, I found it to be lacking in fun and challenging vinyasa classes full of arm balances and inversions…at least near my house in the Mile End. I only tried 2 other studios before finding this one and while I found them to be full of excellent instruction and technically “good” classes, I found them to be lacking in creativity and what I consider advanced postures and did nothing to advance my personal asana practice. So far the classes at Le Studio have been my favorite since moving to Montreal in the Fall. I look forward to continuing my practice here!

  12. Christian

    Good Luck Eric and Genevieve, I will come and try the studio.

    Om!

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