This story is the third in a ten-part series on innovation and resiliency in Saint John, published by Enterprise Saint John in advance of the Walrus Talks, an evening of artful conversation on innovation with eight leading thinkers and doers taking place in Saint John on October 26th. For more information, or for tickets, visit the Walrus Talks website. For more information on Enterprise Saint John initiatives, check out the True Growth website.
Jason Maclean is co-owner of Yoga Haus, a Rothesay yoga studio, and organizer of Inclusive Yoga, a program specifically designed for people with physical and mental disabilities. Born in Bathurst, Maclean moved from city to city in New Brunswick. After leaving the province for a while, he discovered yoga, and brought it back to the city he now calls home. Maclean and I sat down with cold-pressed juices to chat at his studio about Inclusive Yoga and the role of innovation in Saint John.
Can you tell me a little about your history with yoga?
In my travels, I discovered yoga in Santa Barbara, California, only because I had an injury. I had an issue with my back when I was younger. [Once I got into it], I wanted to teach it because people were interested in what I was doing, so I was teaching at various facilities, gyms and church halls, and anywhere I could teach. Then, I realized that this was something that I had to dive headfirst into and make the leap and go for it all the way. Hence, the Yoga Haus was born. Since then, we have been trying to spread yoga in as many different directions as we can because we really believe it is something everybody can benefit from, especially in a comparatively unhealthy province. We need to have those tools and we need to embrace them. Yoga is a gift from the East, it’s practiced worldwide, and it’s a growing phenomenon; and we like to think that we are a place that really delivers it with a high level of integrity and tries to make it as accessible to New Brunswickers as possible.
Tell me a little more about the inclusive yoga series you did back in June.
Well, we had the wonderful opportunity to work with people who have disabilities and to modify yoga from its most common sequences to something that’s a little more customized for people who are living with a specific condition or limitation. We’ve been seeing an incredible response and also realizing that it speaks more to the fact that yoga can be for everyone, regardless of what your physical condition is and even what your mental condition is, it will help you to reduce stress and to heal and bring health to your body.
How did you end up coming up with and executing the idea for your series?
Greg Cutler [coordinator of Leisure Services Saint John] and I had worked on a variety of projects, always looking for a variety of ways to incorporate yoga into activities, so he called when they were doing Recreation Your Way, an event for people with disabilities, and added us to the roster last minute. We were really well received, to the point where I’d say we had one of the largest crowds of all the activities. People kept coming back and learning new postures, new techniques to help either manage pain or help develop a little more range of motion of comfort in a posture. We spent the whole day there and there was a lot of great feedback. While that was happening, I was working with a lot of people privately who had various issues and conditions like MS, arthritis, depression, anxiety, amputees, only to realize that this is a style of yoga in itself. Yoga needs to be taught in a way where there is a common denominator for all people, so working with people who were blind or hard of hearing or deaf, we designed a program that could speak to everyone and everyone can benefit from. The key focus of yoga is breath, so there is always a way to modify. As long as you’re checking in with the breath, and the breath is supporting the movement, then it’s the proper movement for your body. That’s just the natural design of yoga itself. So it really lent itself to this particular group.
Do you have plans to incorporate more events like these in the future?
There’s a regular class, actually, about to appear on the schedule here in the coming weeks. Twice a week there’s going to be an inclusive yoga class on Monday and Wednesday, and absolutely, we’re really trying to work with the government to make it more accessible to people who have disabilities in other parts of the province, so hopefully have the opportunity to train some people so they can teach. We’re actually teaching a workshop in Nova Scotia in December on inclusive yoga, so hopefully planting a seed there as well, and really trying to spread this approach and methodology, I guess.
Do you feel like by creating this inclusive yoga experience, you’re going back to what yoga really is as opposed to the western culture’s version of it?
I’d like to think that, yeah. I think that when [yoga] became a fashion statement, it was heading in the wrong direction. Ultimately, there is a deeper purpose of yoga, and that comes back to its roots to help you through suffering and to help you find peace through the changes in your life. And if it brings you peace, and if it brings you a little more happiness, then that’s in its essence what it was designed to do.
So in creating this program, what were some of the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge was connecting with the various networks. We had to put ourselves out there, and try to present to and work with various with ability advisory groups. When we explained that we were going to do yoga, at first some eyebrows were raised, but then we’d go into these meetings and actually explain the approach, and it was quickly embraced. So that, I’d say, was an initial obstacle. Because there are just so many preconceived ideas of what yoga really is. So, our toughest challenge was to convince people and to explain to them that it isn’t about contortionism; it isn’t about how flexible you can be.
Why did you choose to stay here and do this stuff in New Brunswick rather than going somewhere that already has a yoga community?
A lot of people ask me that question. I think when you have a passion, you want to share it with the people and the places that are dearest to you, and New Brunswick is the most wonderful place in Canada. The people, I think, are what make it. The yoga community we have here is very different than anywhere else because it crosses generations, you know, it is a really inclusive culture. Where in larger places, you’re anonymous and you may carry yourself in a much more protected way, here, it’s our nature to be really outgoing and communal, so it just lends itself to making a better yoga community. I’ve practiced and taught for over ten years in this area, so sharing so much success with them, and them sharing their success with me and bringing their practice here, it’s a real honour. People are very loyal and they talk, and if you do a good job, people are going to support you or try you out.
What do you think is the role of innovation in Saint John’s future?
Everything. Without innovation, we’ll just be navel-gazing, going nowhere. We have to reinvent ourselves daily, and look at how can we compete internationally, especially in the knowledge-based economy. Look at places like Copenhagen, like Seattle, that have people that are using their brains and not using up resources. I mean, it’s great that we have such an abundance of resources, but we have to diversify ourselves, and Saint John has the infrastructure to support a lot of these people who have a creative flair. And it serves as a wonderful backdrop for that creativity. So innovation is absolutely essential.
Do you have any advice for anyone else to solve a problem they see in Saint John or New Brunswick in a new way?
A problem isn’t really a problem until you make it a problem. If you have a team that has cohesiveness, passion, creativity, and work ethic, problems are huge milestones that you overcome that make you even more confident to tackle that next milestone and move towards it. So sure, there are going to be things that are going to make it difficult to do business here, but don’t focus on just those things. Focus on the advantage to doing business in New Brunswick. Focus on that. Then, the problems will sort themselves out. We have really great enterprise groups like Enterprise Saint John that have helped a lot of businesses in the area incubate, grow, and again, if you were in a larger place, a larger city, would you get that support? Here, we do. People need to take advantage of that. That’s the key. They need to get involved.