Elizabeth Emberly and Dawn Mauricio run the Yoga Mala Foundation, which works to fund yoga projects for groups in need. Emberly is also the founder of Naada Yoga in Montreal, a studio with one of the most well-recognized teacher training programs in Canada. While the cost of practicing yoga can be prohibitive, Emberly and Mauricio believe in the idea of yoga teachers as ambassadors, sharing their skills with under-served communities through the Yoga Mala Foundation. We spoke with the two women about the studio and the foundation, and turning a love of yoga into a career.
She Does The City: Tell us about the path that led both of you here. How did you decide that yoga was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
Elizabeth Emberly: I have a degree from Concordia University in dance choreography and like most people was drawn to yoga as a technique to further my body’s strength and flexibility. Yoga came into my life via dance and has since evolved to include understanding the dynamism of relationship to myself but also to my community. For this reason I feel that yoga is a pursuit with no real end, the career just happens to be a nice part of the bigger picture.
Dawn Mauricio: After finishing university I began working in my field of study, Public Relations. For an entire year, I had a very full schedule, yet a very empty feeling. Soon after, I left my job confused, and the only solace I got was when I was practicing yoga. After several months of regular practice I was hooked and from then on, yoga chose me.
SDTC: Elizabeth, when did you open the studio? What was that process like?
EE: Springtime 2009. It was very exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time. The process of building the studio was so arduous so it felt really incredible to see our hard work finally be launched to the public. It is such a reward to build something from scratch and see it evolve into something tangible but also something that develops its own momentum.
SDTC: Any lessons you learned in the experience you want to share?
EE: That taking risks is a big part of running a business and if you trust what you do then the fear that follows risk eventually pays off. You have to trust moving into places you have never been before and follow your gut instincts. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes but the rewards are far greater than the mistakes.
SDTC. What does yoga give each of your in your individual lives?
EE: It has been a real understanding of play. Not in the sense of childhood play but in the awareness of possibility. Yoga reminds me of this when my outlook on life gets too serious.
DM: Strength and flexibility: A balanced yoga practice works the entire body. When a part of the body is stretching, there are other parts that are strengthening, and vice versa. Confidence and playfulness: As I got stronger I became more confident. Additionally, as I got more flexible I became more playful. Trying difficult and sometimes scary poses and variations that resulted in me falling in a room full of strangers, taught me how to laugh things off. Connected and calm: In yoga I practice being acutely aware of my body’s messages in each pose so as to not injure myself. These messages appear as subtle changes in sensation or breath, and this fine observation increases my concentration and connection to both body and breath. Consequently, when I’m feeling connected, I also feel calm as I am often not thinking about anything else in those moments. Intuition and creativity: With increased connection to my body, I became more familiar with my “gut feeling,” which I learned is, in great part, my intuition. Over the years, yoga has also helped me loosen up and I have started creating in my own ways – molding play doh creatures, making collages, colouring mandala stencils, and arranging flowers. Creating in these ways has proved to be meditative and fun.
SDTC: What is the best thing about your jobs?
EE: Most inspiring has to be watching the affects that yoga has on individuals and to be somewhat involved in that development is the best part of my job.
DM: Meeting new people everyday, and witnessing students evolve in mind and body through their regular practice.
SDTC: Give us a sense of your workday.
EE: Each day is a workday. Owning a business can swallow up all your time if you don’t take time for yourself. I feel so much gratitude for yoga for this reason. It’s such a beautiful form of intimacy with oneself. I wish that each human can discover for themselves, whether it be yoga or another form, a practice that develops this intimate relationship.
DM: I start each day, workday or not, with quiet time – an hour of meditation, some writing, some yoga. Then I check emails (and try not to get swallowed up in them), do a few social media posts for the day. By mid-day I disconnect so I can get some quiet time and start thinking of my upcoming classes, possible themes and poses that we’ll explore. Mid-afternoon until evening I am usually teaching, either a private, in a corporate setting, or at the studio. If I am not teaching, then I treat myself to a studio class.
SDTC: What is the Montreal yoga community like?
EE/DM:The Montreal yoga community is blossoming! In recent years, I’ve witnessed an increase in both the number of certified teachers and studios. There is also a growth in yoga outreach with the start of the Yoga Mala Foundation and other yoga related non-profit organizations like YOCOMO and donation based studio BODHI. Big business yoga events are also on the rise, with Lolë’s White Yoga event that boasts 2000 participants, the Montreal Yoga Festival, and large outdoor Urban Yoga classes by lululemon.
SDTC: What are some ways people can make yoga their livelihood?
EE: Today the possibilities for a career in yoga have never been better and for most North Americans the options are pretty open. I am really interested in students pursuing their personal interests in yoga and thinking creatively with how to effectively use yoga. The beauty of yoga is it can benefit anyone and because of this we need to move away from franchising yoga and into diversifying yoga.
DM:Yoga, and running a yoga-related business, encompass so much, there are so many options in making it a career. Owning a studio and teaching – privately, in corporate settings, in a studio – are the most obvious ways to earn a living through yoga. Other options include: organizing retreats, hosting workshops, social media marketing for studios or teachers, writing for online publications or a personal blog, even working as a community connector in yoga apparel stores. As yoga increases in popularity, the possibilities become more and more endless!