Whitecroft Filmmaker Wants to Teach You to Breathe with Forest Yoga

CapU film instructor Dasha Novak aims to bring the community together amid COVID-19 and to give back to nature 

Wen Zhai // Contributor
Alison Johnstone // Illustrator

COVID-19 reminds us of the importance of mental well-being and of the connections we take for granted with the community and nature. To combat this, Capilano University (CapU) film instructor Dasha Novak moved to Whitecroft—located at the foot of Sun Peaks Mountain—where she started a non-profit organization to address the mental health struggles people have been facing during the pandemic. 

“I found myself at a place where I felt at peace… things just made sense when I was in the forest at the creek doing meditation or yoga,” said Novak. During the summer, she decided to provide yoga classes at the creek. “The philosophy is to give back to the forest. It’s been a labor of love, but mostly it’s been an amazing journey. I had a few people from the community helping me build [a deck for classes to take place on].” The 20×20 deck can hold 12-15 people normally and 6-8 people observing social distancing. 

As human beings we are used to using nature as a tool—but Novak believes it is time to think about what we can do for the forest. “The most obvious is to disappear and let the forest be… but it’s kind of an extremist position.” Novak hopes to give people the opportunity to experience how these connections happen. “We are connected to each other and to nature—[during a session] everybody becomes aware of where we are and how we are connected to the flow of everything around us.” 

A yoga and meditation practitioner on and off for ten years, Novak once signed up for a course to be a yoga instructor but didn’t get to complete her course due to COVID-19. Novak plans to resume the sessions in springtime. “It’s a lived experience,” said Novak. “You can read magazines, and you can read other people’s ideas and research and philosophies but unless you actually get onto a yoga mat and do it yourself it’s very hard to fully comprehend and absorb that energy and what it can do for you.”

Novak thinks lots of people have misconceptions of yoga as a rigid, perfectionist-ridden practice. “If you want to start by laying there the whole class and watching the sky and the trees move above you, that’s completely fine. Or if you go inside the classroom, wherever you are,” said Novak. “The most important thing is that you show up and you are open to the energy that is offered by the instructor.” 

In addition to yoga classes, the North Vancouver director hopes to hold outdoor film screenings at the property. “I’m working on my two own projects that are more experimental, just playing with ideas,” said Novak. “As an artist, I’ve been working experimentally with ice and snow and building different sculptures and installations.…A big part of what I do is to document that process,” she said, “ I don’t think I can keep making film without having this outlet to experiment with different ways of looking at nature—especially in winter with ice and snow and water in different forms.”

Novak hopes to establish permaculture while keeping the forest and the landscape the way it is. “The idea of it is beautiful, but the reality of it is pretty hard… There’ve been some challenges that I needed to figure out,” said Novak. “I’ll never take any water, especially hot running water for granted, because [I’m] aware of what it takes to bring it home.”

For Novak, yoga allows us to be in the moment. “I think we just spend so much time planning and trying to foresee events or we spend time in the past regretting or reconstructing things. Everything that we really need is available within our own capacity. You just need to learn how to breathe.”

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