So, we’re a little bit behind schedule (sorry!) but here we are! Interview numero uno by Sagal Kahin _________________________________________________________________________________________
When Tarini invited me to be part of this series, I knew right away that I wanted to talk to Anita Cheung. A yoga and pilates instructor in Vancouver, and the woman behind Community Social Yoga and Pop-Up MOMENT.
Anita and I did not meet for coffee. I know, breaking the rules already. Instead, we met at This Open Space (formerly, The Chinatown Experiment), where she was hosting a week long pop-up installation dedicated to bringing mindfullness to our busy city. This Open Space is an “ideas playground” that has hosted over 70 pop-up installations in the last two years.
“MOMENT Is a pop up installation dedicated to sparking curiosity about mindfulness. We aim to make mindful meditation simple, and accessible. We believe that meditation allows us to take more responsibility of our mind and our mental health. By changing the way we think, we can change our own lives as well as the world around us. “
MOMENT has since wrapped up, but the audio meditations are available online are available here. The space had been transformed with the help of Anita’s friends, or as she calls them, her crew. The afternoon sun was pouring in and it was just dreamy. There were plants everywhere, beautiful photographs on the walls, and on the floor were bamboo mats topped with pillows .
Since the installation was only a week long, I assumed (hoped) that you would forgive me for not conducting the interview in a café. To keep the spirit of the series alive, I made a point to have coffee some place new, so I could report back. Luckily, This Open Space is right next door to The Shop. The Shop is a store front that sells motorcycle parts, men’s clothing, and coffee. A space I would never have wandered into otherwise, but I’m glad to have found this gem.
While studying international nutrition at The University of British Columbia, Anita travelled to Melbourne Austrailia to fulfill a degree requirement and to run away from her own unhappiness. “I went there running away from problems, running away from dark thoughts.” At the time, she was certain that Vancouver was to blame. Soon after she realized that those feelings would have followed her anywhere. Eventually, the excitement of a new place wore off, and the unhappiness crept back in.
It was only in her darkest hour that Anita turned to meditation. “I found meditation, and as I always say, it saved my life. It allowed me to distance myself from my thoughts, and know that they’re just thoughts.”
Anita gained piece of mind, and became increasingly comfortable in her own skin. When she spoke to her friends, they told her meditation was not for them, it was too spiritual they explained. Now, she’s focused on making the practices of yoga and meditation accessible. Anita wants to give her students an experience that’s difficult to replicate. “I want to offer movement and connection in a way that makes us kinder, more conscious people. That’s my mission statement, if I were to have one.
What do you hope to give to your students as a yoga teacher? Similar to what I received, it’s the idea of being comfortable with who you are. You’ll notice that in a lot of my classes I’m always like ‘And if you fall out of a balance, that’s fine just come back in! Or, not.’ It’s your practice. I’m just here to kind of guide you through it. You can listen to me if you want. I always say that. Another thing is, like I said earlier, my mission statement, if I were to have one, is to connect people, I think a lot of people are doing a really great job in the yoga community of teaching people how to be really self reflective. What I aim to do with my other business, Social Yoga, is to continue that self reflection, and being really conscious of what you’re doing in your day to day life, but at the same time, connecting. Self consciousness and connecting. Connecting with people, especially in cities, we’re just b lining in our own world, and in reality, we’re all living through the same things. We all crave connection, we’re just too shy to admit it.
Can you tell me about Community Social Yoga?
It is small group progressive yoga class. What I’ve realized, is that people think that means liberal, like progressive art or something, but it’s progressive in the very literal sense. It’s like a dance class, you’re progressing. You take one, and you learn a little bit more and you see the same people, and you sign up for four classes at a time. They’re small group, so no more than 8 or 10, I have one that’s 12, but that’s just because the venue is larger. They’re held in unconventional places, that was a really organic thing that happened. I originally was going to rent out a space in Hastings temporarily and then a friend of mind sort of stepped up and said ‘Do you want to hold it in my shop?’ she wanted to do some yoga at the same time, so it was perfect. Then I realized, ‘Hey, that really works!’ because not only do you get people — you know, people always talk about yoga, off the mat which is the idea of being gentle with yourself and being kind with yourself off your yoga mat, in real life — but taking it one step further, and taking yoga out of the studio, I think is really powerful. I was reading somewhere that, when you see your kitchen table, your brain knows it’s time to eat. You see your bed and you’re like ‘Okay, it’s time to sleep’ so it’s really easy for us to fall into a state of calm and peace when we see our yoga studio because we’re so trained to see that. When you throw someone into a brewery, a coffee shop, or something, it re-jigs you. I think that if you can find peace in a brewery, you can find peace anywhere. That’s the goal there.
What sounded really great about Community Social Yoga is … Maybe an anecdote because I don’t know how to explain it. I played rugby for a long time and then I was really injured and I couldn’t play anymore. I was really itching for something to help me deal with all of the stress and anxiety I was feeling, so I bought a Groupon for Bikram Yoga. Now, I wouldn’t do Bikram, but if not for that experience, I wouldn’t have been open to trying other styles of yoga. Even though I was able to find the release and stress relief, and feeling like my body was working, I still really craved the community that comes from being on a team and having those people, where you all always show up and work hard together…
Your crew, essentially.
Yeah! And so, I’m not very good at approaching people, but I still always thought it strange that every day, at the same time, the same people are there and you get naked together, you go in the room and you sweat together, and it’s awful, and then you leave. Nobody says hi, no one talks to each other. I wasn’t bold enough to say hi and that is a thing I’m working on, but that is why Community Social Yoga sounded so amazing to me. What I’m wondering is, how do you incorporate that social element into a yoga practice?
The classes are different. Here’s the thing, people are like ‘Oh it’s so cool, it’s yoga in a brewery or it’s yoga to cool music‘ but I feel like anybody can do that. Anybody could put out a cool event, and it could be yoga to cool music, and maybe they’ll have beers, but it’s not the same. For me, it’s the social aspect, that you see the same peopel four times in a row, whenever somebody wants to sign up and they’re like ‘Actually, I’m gonna‘ be gone this week‘ I usually say, ‘sorry, wait for the next one’, because it’s so crucial and so essential to be there. It includes a flow practice, but it starts with conscious time of breaking the ice. Whether it’s telling someone about your day, well that’s actually really cheesy, I’ve never done that! Something that helps us mingle together very consciously. Then, the last 15 to 20 minutes is a little bit of the digging deep. The thing is that we are all watching Netflix, and we’re so fucking alone. It’s the real talk that doesn’t happen. That’s the goal, the layers and why things are the way they are. The class is very special on it’s own and it’s hard to replicate in a one hour yoga class anywhere else.
I ramble a lot! Sorry.
No! I feel like I’m nerding out a little bit, getting to talk to you. It’s weird to say this… actually it’s not weird to say. Through social media, I feel like I learn about a lot of cool people and I feel like I’m following they’re lives through photos. Sometimes though, I’ll see the person in real time and I’m like ‘Oh my goodness this is horrible! I don’t know how to behave!
Oh, don’t worry!
But, that’s what it’s there for! So that you find about people and the things that are happening, but when it comes to ‘in real life‘ I never know how to behave so I’m ‘ugh!’
Oh! I’m the queen of awkward, right here.
No way! Okay, so I wanted to ask you… well I should probably explain first. I saw this video series on YouTube and it’s called Partners in Crime. What I really like about it is that they find people who are doing really cool things, usually they’re entrepreneurs, and rather than talk about themselves the series has them take five to seven minutes and talk about all the people who help them be amazing and do cool things. Not for seven minutes, of course, but I’m wondering who are some of the people who help you to be awesome?
Oh my god. I have no problem listing this. I could probably ramble for seven minutes! Well do, if you feel like it! I just didn’t want you to think you had to talk for that long.
There’s so many people! First person that I can think of is a yoga teacher named Alex Mazerolle, everybody calls her Ally Maz. She is from Vancouver, she is very well known in the yoga community, is an ambassador for Lululemon. Honestly, having her as a mentor, she’s like a friend, big sister, boss because I work at her studio. It’s this jack of all trades thing. She’s so grounded and has a really god ear, to listen and help you figure things out, which I think everybody needs. She owns Distrikt, she just opened a yoga studio, and she does yoga for teen girls.
That’s how I found out about you, actually! I somehow stumbled across girlvana and was obsessed with it! I was like, I’m too old but everyone needs this. I wish I could go on their retreats.
Yeah! When I was coming back from Melbourne, I’m the kind of person that I can’t just casually come back with my tail between my legs, right? I was like ‘I need a purpose, something where I could be like I came back for this’. So, I met Alex online. I googled ‘yoga teen girls’ and she came up. I emailed her and told her my skill set and she was like ‘perfect, you’re just the person I need to get my shit sorted’. Then we skyped, we met and I came back then started interning for her, working for free and that has been amazing. She’s always so supportive. Of this (Pop-Up Moment) of social yoga. Alex is one, definitely.
My blood sister is another one for sure! She’s Confetti & Co, I don’t know if you know that?
I’ve seen that! I feel like a weirdo for knowing.
That’s my sister! Her work ethic and her support is such an inspiration. My edible advice, Jennifer Trecartin is someone else.
I saw that you are part of My Edible Advice, on the blog…
Yeah! It’s sort of weird. We’re friends, I worked with her sister, at barre method a couple years ago, and that’s how we know each other. Jen just needed help with her admin and she wanted to make some more fun work for me, so I wrote a little bit for her blog and then started teaching yoga to some of her clients. Really, she’s got my back! She’s an entrepreur that I really look up to.
All of my friends from high school, from university, from sorority land. Always so supportive. Parents, also so supportive. Even in this space, Marina an interior designer friend, Jordan who is a photographer. Megan all the plants are from this woman who owns three shops in Deep Cove: Ahoy, Sunnyside and Room Six. She co-owns two of them with the guys from Herschel. She came in and did the plants and they’re just so beautiful it really lightens up the space. Cat who painted the pallets. So many people.
The girl who does the malas! I’m an ambassador for her, with this and when she first asked me I was like ‘What? You asked me to be an ambassador and I was like, Why me? I’m no one!’ It’s funny because her company has really grown, and I’ve grown since then too.
Jian, who co-owns Distrikt, he’s the best man that could possibly exist. He’s just a really solid guy, whose helped both Alex and I with our boy problems and life problems, stuff like that.
So many friends. The guy who DJ’d our opening night and the Social Yoga night at Fortune, he’s a friend of mine. He’s a math geek by day, DJ by night, pretty rad! His name is Rob, but his DJ name is elrizzy.
There’s so many! Any yoga teacher, studio owner, like the kids yoga studio I sub at, Yoga Buttons. So, Carolyn from Yoga Buttons, I’m like ‘You trust me with children?” Well, I actually have a lot of experience working with children, so it’s really not weird at all.
I know what you mean though, trusting you with their business.
Yes. As a budding yoga teacher, anyone who gives you the opportunity is golden! The guys from the Juice Truck, again trusting me to come into your space. Josh from the brewery. ‘What are you people thinking?! Are you crazy?’ I’ve got a friend that’s a photographer as well that’s very inspiring. So many young entrepreneurs that I admire so much. . Those people are my crew, I’d say.
I meant to ask this sooner, sorry I’m botching the order here. What is your passion?
It’s funny. Before, my passion was to ‘save people,’ (using her university degree, though she said she learned quickly that the world didn’t need saving, especially from the western world) and then I realized that my passion was never food. I actually have a terrible relationship with food. It’s better now, but as a teenager, it was terrible. I think I was trying to hide that a lot. For me now, my passion is to bring together people and give connection and consciousness, it always comes down to that. And adding self compassion too, but it’s to connect people. In this space, it’s a beautiful marriage of everyone’s best work. I love being the connector. Just being aware of who you are and what you bring to the table. I love self help books and self discovery things, and being able to share those learnings.
What’s a really inspiring book that you read recently, or ever, or…
The Art of Possibility, it’s a beautiful book. I used to work for Ivviva — oh yeah, those are some other people to add to that list! My manager and assistant manager, amazing — but yeah, The Art of Possibility.
Nice. Okay, I have two more questions, and then I’ll be done. They’re not deep at all. The first one is, what is your favourite coffee shop in Vancouver?
Hm! It’s funny, I don’t drink coffee. I do drink tea.
You don’t drink coffee? That’s fine! Or, what’s your favourite tea shop.
I actually just started drinking vietnamese coffee, but that I make at home. Favourite coffee shop, I’d say Nelson the Seagull probably. I haven’t been to Matchstick yet, everybody tells me I would love matchstick.
Matchstick is really beautiful! It’s very different from Nelson the Seagull.
Really? I haven’t been yet.
I’ll ask you first, what is it that you like about Nelson the Seagull?
Well, they’re really cool people in the sense that they’re really supportive of things. I know that Ally, my friend, mentor, sister from another mister-ish, she did Yoga Eat Repeat there.
I went to that!
Yeah! That they’re so supportive of that is amazing. They’re food is delicous, they’re all about local homemade and all that stuff. I love anyone who supports local businesses. Anybody who falls in that group. And, they’re space is beautiful, that helps!
I really like Nelson the Seagull because it feels like somebody’s home. I like how they have communal tables, too. I mean, I don’t know how to talk to strangers, but I still like sitting beside other people.
Another thing that I really like about them is that they seem to be really aware of where they’re situated geographically.
Yes! The suspended coffees. Love that!
Yes, and there’s people always coming in and talking to the people who work there and they really seem to have integrated into the community really nicely, and they found a way to make it work. That’s always a touchy subject, young and hip and in what neighbourhood, and at whose expense, but I think that’s something special about them.
I totally agree.
What’s your drink of choice?
Oh, that’s a hard one! Alcoholic or…..
No caffeinated, or tea.
Well vietnamese coffee if we’re going to say a coffee type thing. Or a milky oolong. Ooooh! A Thai iced tea actually.
Oh, what is that?
I don’t what the difference is actually. They do something with the tea that’s a little bit different and I’ve had it only at a few restaurants here.
Oh, I think I know what that is. It’s with milk, and it’s sweet and it’s cold.
Yes. So good!
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