An experience of mindfulness and self-awareness, with the serving of dessert
Rachel D’Sa // Arts and Culture Editor
My traumatizing high school experience with recreational yoga (which consisted of me and my friends getting yelled at by our instructor to stop falling) had me avoiding the practice. That is until I came across a vegan-friendly yoga event put on by Zoe Ho’s Republic of Yoga, in partnership with Lisa Lou’s Chocolate Bar, an event that allows goers to practice yoga while consuming ice cream and chocolate – does it get any better?
“I find that a lot of the time we try to be spiritual, try to be good at a later stage in practice especially, people tend to become hard on themselves. And you always have to be so pure and neat and perfect, but for me with yoga it’s about internal freedom, celebrating life, making every moment sacred,” said Ho. “I discovered Lisa Lou’s ice cream and I could feel savasana, and all these fireworks going off and I was like ‘wow this is like the feeling you get when you have a really good practice.’ So I thought ‘let’s bring it together’.”
Sept. 13 rolled around, and after having somehow calmed my excited self down enough to maintain a steady heartbeat, I made my way to yoga studio Strecth in the heart of Chinatown. I marched up the soft-lit stairs and upon entering I was greeted with the warm smiles of the studio’s employees and fellow yoga practitioners, and a serene atmosphere. Once signed in, I set up my mat and bolster, and grabbed an emerald green leaf to place on my mat to indicate I was plant-based, I met up with Ho who welcomed me with a big smile.
The sweet sound of a harmonium and soft percussion filled the air right as Ho invited everyone to take their seats on their mats. As the participants assumed our relaxed positions, we were told that, “there’s no way you can do this wrong. No way,” by Ho followed by a soft hum of giggles throughout the space. The class begun with tingsha bells, putting me in a meditative trance.
After about half an hour of yoga, I was in a relaxed position, lying down with my eyes closed, when Ho told the class that the ice cream would be handed out. “The team will be serving the ice cream now, so once you open your eyes you will notice a bowl in front of you. Isn’t it the best? You get to wake up to ice cream,” she said, and the room burst out in laughter. I could hear plastic utensils at work and bodies shuffling. Soon after I opened my eyes and sat up on my bolster cross-legged, to face my paper bowl filled with a scoop of off-white ice cream with a red drizzle.
I was instructed to explore the five senses which included putting my face close to the dessert. “Feel the change in temperature as you move the ice cream closer and farther away from your face,” said Ho. From there I went on to take my first savoury bite, letting the frozen treat melt in my mouth. “Taste every flavour the dessert has to offer. Taste the passion of the chocolatier.”
Throughout the slow tasting I couldn’t quite put my finger on the flavour, but I was sure it was a fruit. The class was then told that the event-exclusive flavour was peach with a raspberry drizzle. From Okanogan peaches to the fresh made raspberry topping, everything had been made within 24-hours of the event. “Taste the process of picking and baking the peaches. Taste the time.” The class then shared with the person sitting closest to us what the flavours reminded us most of. My partner was reminded of her parents who used to buy peaches in the summer, while memories of my Italian Nonni’s garden came flooding back. My heart sank a bit after we moved back to doing yoga — for this was the first time ever that I hadn’t finished a bowl of ice cream — yet I felt satisfied.
Light poured into the studio through the wall-to-wall windows as we went onwards with poses. Soon after it was time for the chocolate and Ho got each of us to look deep inside ourselves and say “hi darling!” to our insecure feelings. We opened our tiffany blue boxes which consisted of two chocolates. Both were dark and one had specks of red on top and went by the name Kylo, while the other had tiny chunks of some sort of nut, with the name Oscar.
After touching and smelling the treats we were instructed to try Oscar. The small but decadent chocolate unravelled in my mouth, revealing its multi-layered goodness of banana caramel with rice crisp. Soon after we continued with restorative yoga, leaving the remaining treats for after the class while assuming still positions. Ho told us the story of the Hindu God Ganesh and his love of everything sweet, and the importance of mindful and enlightened eating — a way of eating that we as individuals in a technology-heavy world are deprived of as we are often distracted through a process of passive chewing.
The class ended with feelings of buoyancy, and a chant as well as a buzz of Oms. “Through my experiences in life, I’ve realized that yoga and self-love and mindfulness was the key factor in nourishing myself,” said Ho. She advised those looking to start their yoga journey to have a sense of humour and learn to apply what they learn on the mat, to what happens off the mat — falling and getting back up and telling yourself that you tried.
Though Stretch is her training facility for yoga therapy, Ho plans on bringing her practice to many areas in the Lower Mainland. Her private space, which is currently where she does her embodiment and mindfulness yoga therapy, offers innovative one-on-one sessions. The yoga therapist hopes to turn her work with Republic of Yoga and Yogaanytime.com into a global online experience, and plans on bringing Om Sweet Om back around the Christmas season. Through her work, Ho strives to deliver the positive message of self-exploration and love without the pressure of bowing to an authority, allowing for a sense of choice and freedom.
For more information on Republic of Yoga’s offerings and future events like Om Sweet Om visit Republicofyoga.org.