yoga in turbulent times: what it means to hold a yoga festival in the midst of a revolution

At times it feels trivial to be promoting a yoga festival while my social media feeds are full of invites to protests and demonstrations, news stories about Montreal’s political climate, and the noisy revolution taking place in the city’s streets. It’s a wild, exhilarating, uncertain time.

And yet it’s the perfect time to be having a yoga festival. Montreal’s vibrant festival season is one of the hallmarks of the city, but this year, a cloud of tension hangs over the proposed festivities. Nightly protests ring through the city (although right now, very peacefully) and the threat of disruption looms over some of the city’s major festivals (including the Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is happening the same weekend as our little yoga festival).

If there’s ever been a time for the city to pause and take a few deep breaths, it’s now. That’s the promise of Yoga Festival Montreal, the event I’m co-organizing with four amazing women.

Culture jamming Hanuman: the red square has become the symbol of solidarity with the student movement

We haven’t taken an official stance on the political climate of our city, and even between the five of us, there’s a wide spectrum of perspectives on the situation. Yet, it feels wrong to close our eyes to what’s happening and not address it.

Rows of police line the downtown streets and helicopters buzz through the night air. The clang of wooden spoons on pots and pans rings through neighbourhoods. Thousands of people march through the downtown core every night. The city vibrates with protest and dissent – and joy, togetherness and solidarity.

It’s no secret that the city is divided about the ongoing protests. There are many people who are frustrated and annoyed by the clogged streets, while others are celebrating the opportunity to be in solidarity with students and speak out against a corrupt government that doesn’t serve in the interests of citizens. Personally, I am in alignment with the latter. But these are my politics and I’m not comfortable with imposing them on an event that I’m co-organizing.

If I was a more simplistic thinker, I would say that yoga, popularly defined as “union,” would be a way to unite and overcome this division. However, I don’t believe that. I know that yoga practitioners’ feelings about this conflict are as complicated and diverse as the rest of the population.

But there are a few things of which I am certain:

I’m grateful that Yoga Festival Montreal is happening in a single venue on the Plateau, a central neighbourhood that’s just out of reach of the downtown core.

The festival will provide a safe, nurturing place for Montrealers to process and discuss what’s happening in our city.

By coming together to practice, we will offer a space for engaged reflection and creative inspiration.

Flyer for a planned protest at the F1 Grand Prix, Sunday June 10 (image via Facebook)

As my friend and co-organizer Jordan said in a CKUT radio interview, “People are experiencing community in a way that they haven’t been able to before. The practice of yoga is a great way to cultivate discernment and power.”

Let’s see what happens when this is taken back into our home studios and immediate communities. I have no idea what the weekend will hold or what will emerge, for our festival or any of the other events taking place in Montreal. All I know is that have my wooden spoon and saucepan in hand, and I’m ready for anything.

Please note that this post reflects my personal views and not the unified views of Yoga Festival Montreal organizers or participants.

  1. Do the political divides in any way correspond to language/culture divides?

    • interesting question, carol. at the moment, no. they’re just regular old left/right divides.

      but there has been much more discourse in the french language media, leaving many anglophones mis/uninformed about the debate. a collective has been working hard to translate the french media coverage so everyone can know what’s going on:

  2. Roseanne, how about leading a few asanas during the protest at Parc Jean Drapeau?

    Shame on those Montreal/Westmount yoga instructors who regularly hang out at the F1 festivities with the likes of Richard Branson or eat at the Ferrari tent or scope out the bikini beer girls on Crescent Street. There are more than a few and they know who they are. Anonymous has specifically targeted the F1 so don’t buy any tickets lest you want your credit rating messed up.

  3. interestingly, being an observer outside of the province of Qc who listens to the French Radio cbc, I’ve also noticed a DRASTIC difference in media coverage between radio-canada and cbc. No one I know has any idea about what is going on in Qc… as most of my friends are anglophone.
    It’s frustrating.

    You’re right though- yoga festival is the PERFECT timing for healing and strength 🙂

  4. Post génial, très pertinent! And I love the ending 🙂 and the picture with the red square 🙂

  5. I am saddened by the turbulent times Montreal is facing right now. Hopefully the Yoga Festival will be an “eye of the storm”.

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  1. my dream yoga festival (yoga festival montreal, of course!)