“I’m up for anything. No sense sitting back and thinking ‘Oh boy.’ Life is to be lived,” said Nekurak.
The great-grandmother practices gentle yoga at the Willow Plains yoga studio in Assiniboia. It’s a small cramped studio, shared with the local karate club at the community center.
Nekurak doesn’t mind. She’s just happy to add the new exercise routine to her life. “It’s such a relaxing hour to put in. I think everyone my age group should be doing it.”
When Santo opened Willow Plains studio she wasn’t sure it would be successful but she was anxious to start spreading her yoga knowledge.
“I thought I’d just try it and see what happens. There’s still a lot of the population I’d like to introduce yoga to,” Santo said. “It’s something I want to share with people.”
She has been teaching fitness classes since the ‘80s and discovered yoga 14 years ago at a conference. There weren’t many opportunities to study yoga in Saskatchewan, so she turned to DVD’s but found them too impersonal.
Santo decided to travel to Regina to certify herself as a yoga teacher. After falling in love with yoga, opening a studio in her native Assiniboia seemed like the natural second step and Willow Plains was born.
Santo offers four classes in Assiniboia and one in Lafleche, a small town 40 km away. About 60 students come through her doors every week, many of whom are quite dedicated.
Santo experiments with her practice in order to gain new clients. She teaches classes at the local high school, provides ‘Yoga for Cancer’ classes and also experiments with yoga massage therapy.
“It’s a nice feeling to be able to provide a yoga studio. You’d have to be going to Moose Jaw or Regina if we weren’t here,” said Santo. “Yoga is an amazing practice. It’s a wonderful thing it’s getting popular.”
Assiniboia isn’t the only small town that is capitalizing on yoga’s recent popularity. Warman, Wynyard and Moosomin are all towns with fewer than 3,000 people that boast yoga studios.
“I go out of my way if there’s people from small towns who want to teach yoga,” said Colin Hall, owner of Bodhi Tree in Regina and a renowned yogi in the Saskatchewan community.
Hall has classes at his studio in Regina for people who want to teach yoga. He taught Santo and says she’s one of many small-towners who have taken yoga back to their rural communities.
“A lot of times, the people who grow up (in a small town) can’t wait to leave and go to big cities. One of the reasons is that the opportunity for activities are limited,” said Hall. He says yoga will help small towns remain vibrant and thriving.
Hall doesn’t prescribe yoga as necessarily the answer for youth migration, but it is one aspect that can make the quality of life better.
“It’s almost like going for coffee. A place to hang out and connect with people but instead of drinking coffee you can do something good for your body.”
It’s part of Hall’s personal mandate to continuing building a yoga community across Saskatchewan. A big indication this is happening is the opening of a Lululemon Athletica in Regina recently— the popular yoga workout store typically found in larger centres like Winnipeg and Calgary.
If people in rural towns are still not convinced yoga is for them, Hall likes to mention that even the Saskatchewan Roughrider football players have got involved. The team takes classes from local teachers all year round.
“If people see that the Roughriders are doing yoga, and that’s the thing that gets them over the hump—that’s fantastic,” said Hall.
Back at Willow Creek yoga studio, the Roughriders had nothing to do with Nekurak starting yoga but she’s thankful her local studio is making strides and can’t imagine stopping anytime soon.
“I think it’s wonderful. The more things we have in such a small community, the better we are,” she said.