By Katherine Ellis
Photography by James Park
Rolling out yoga mats and stretching while chatting with neighbours, yoginis and yoga enthusiasts prepared for their class under the noon sun. But this was no ordinary yoga class. As the chimes of the Peace Tower rang, Yoga on the Hill – a weekly yoga session taking place on the front lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa – began.
“We come from such an amazing country where we can do yoga on our Government’s main hill. That makes me very proud to be a Canadian,” says Bridget Muldoon, a yoga enthusiast who has been attending the sessions for the past four years. “I think we are just so fortunate to do this. We play Frisbee on the lawn, might as well do yoga!”
Yoga on the Hill began as an event to promote healthy living by two lululemon athletica stores in 2008 with only six attendees. Over the past five years, it has become a familiar sight in downtown Ottawa, with anywhere from 500 to 1,000 attendees on the Parliament’s lawn.
“It is the perfect way to break up your day,” says Cara Cameron, a lululemon athletica spokesperson. “After a long morning, it gives people the opportunity to get up from their desks and have an hour to stretch their bodies, quiet their minds and sweat it out.”
On Aug.15 this year, that number increased, with nearly 2,400 people stretching, humming and meditating, while participating in the annual Big One, a yearly event. Though shy of the 5,000 person goal, it did not seem to dampen the spirits of the more than 80 volunteers present.
And why do people like doing Yoga on the Hill? “It’s accessible, it’s complimentary, they are great teachers, it’s outdoors, [and] it builds and connects the community,” says Ichih Wang, a local yoga instructor, lululemon athletica Ambassador and the volunteer instructor/organizer of this year’s Big One.
Wang, a yoga instructor practicing for the past 12 years and teaching for the past eight, teaches three different styles: power vinyasa, hatha and yin. She adds, that from her own personal experience, the benefits of yoga include better posture and alignment; more energy; increased flexibility and strength, depending on the body type and type of yoga; and better peace of mind, patience and overall mood. “Yoga has helped me in every aspect of my life, in mind, body and spirit.”
A strong advocate of yoga, Wang says those interested should practice consecutively for seven to 10 days, followed by a rest day to see the full benefits. “I find that if you just do one class […] it can be overwhelming, you are not giving it enough opportunity to really soak in,” she says. “If you can practice every day, it would be fantastic! Though some yoga is better than no yoga.”
Wang states that yoga was a calling for her, having been fortunate enough to have never had to apply for a teaching position in the past eight years; she does not even have an up-to-date resume.
Yoga on the Hill runs from May to September, with courses offered for free every Wednesday, weather permitting. Sessions begin at noon.