Monday, August 16, 2010


Matthew Remski, Co-founder of Yoga Festival Toronto
Matthew Remski is the co-founder of this weekend's Yoga Festival Toronto, which runs August 20th through 22nd, at the National Ballet School. Matthew and I first met when I was fifteen. We were both part of a week-long intensive held in Ottawa designed for politically-inclined youth from across Canada called Forum for Young Canadians. I think in our mock parliament, Matthew was the anarchist. As you can see from the Q&A, some things don't change...some fish swim upstream. He had a few minutes to type out his thoughts about this weekend's Yoga Festival and his involvement in Yoga Community Toronto. Our conversation below:

PT: What is your involvement with the Yoga Festival and Yoga Community Toronto; and how did you get involved?

MR: With Dennison Smith and Scott Petrie, I'm a co-founder. My profound alienation as a consumer dragged me into this by the scruff of the neck. I wanted to create something communal, familial, integral. I saw yoga, which has given me my body, mind, and heart, back and returned me to a basic relationship with natural order, begin to turn into a commodity, and I said -- Nuh-uh... o no you don't. It also seems to be a strong personal karma of mine to help create idealistic things with high failure-possibility, and somehow push it through.

PT:  Would you say Toronto has a strong yoga community? How would you like to see that community grow and/or change in that community over the coming years?

MR: It's definitely strong, but only when you strip it down. Under the marketing, the studios competing for market share, the yoga vacations, the lineage trappings, and fly-in gurus, there are hundreds of practitioners and perhaps dozens of senior teachers who have been quietly doing their neighbourhood work for decades. Helping folks, healing hearts, changing lives, adapting old principles to new applications.

Three things I'd personally like to see change (-- these are not official YOCOTO positions!). Number one: that we all re-evaluate the socio-economic experiment of the yoga studio. High overhead turns every space into a commercial space. Commercial space breeds competitive attitudes, quite naturally. But when yoga is shared in the home of the teacher, everyone's a lot happier. Number two: that we get serious about our ecological sentiments, and stop flying to Costa Rica to do headstands. Number three: that yoga community starts to take up more and more of the tribal functions that our various churches used to take care of, but can't because they are now either boring, irrelevant, or disgraced. Yoga will be fully integrated and functional in our culture when there's a formal expectation that your teacher of asana or chanting or meditation will be at your bedside if you're ill, will help bury your mother, or will host a naming ceremony for your child. Right now, most yoga practitioners stand on a cultural threshold -- their hearts are in the yoga shala, but when the suffering hits the fan, they lean on religious or social structures that they feel ambivalent about. Yoga culture eventually has to do more than provide individual evolution, or coping/adjustment mechanisms against the stress of present chaos. It has to hold us, cradle to grave.

PT: What’s involved in membership and what are its benefits?

MR: There's a list of manifest benefits on the site. The unseen benefits are far more interesting: to feel part of a city-wide family that makes studio and lineage boundaries porous. To put some "so-ham" into social networking.

PT: What do you think the appeal of an immersive 3 day conference/festival is for practitioners?

MR: To be inspired by our backyard embarassment of riches. To have time to study, chill out, and discuss. The National Ballet School is our urban bubble for the weekend, and folks love to disappear into themselves, into each other...

PT: With the festival just days away, are you getting any sleep at all?

MR: It's called the yoga of delegation. It's taken me 3 years to realize that doing it all and stressing about it can look like karma yoga, but it's usually just egomaniacal and compensatory behaviour for chronic low self-esteem. So now I sleep like a baby. What me worry? I've got a yoga community.

For information on festival passes and Yoga Community Toronto memberships visit

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