Sunday, May 11, 2014

For Every Phase of the Moon: Toronto Yoga Educator Diane Bruni on Resilience and Reinvention

Diane Bruni, both photos: House of Bonas

O n Friday, April 13th, 2012, Toronto yoga educator Diane Bruni was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 3 breast cancer and the dark side of the moon so graphically tattooed on her left arm (always a focus of my curiosity and admiration to be honest) would be a reminder that life mirrors the moon and its half-lit cycles, forcing tides and bodies into unknown mutations, welcoming ebb and change on a cellular level...

No stranger to radical reinvention, (the kind that tests all existing assumptions about what it means to live and move) Diane Bruni’s powerful exploratory classes are well-known to anyone who has ever set foot in Toronto’s Downward Dog Yoga Centre, that iconic institution dedicated to ashtanga yoga that Diane co-founded with business partner, Ron Reid. Yet, despite being frequently identified as an ashtangi, Diane’s personal practice as of the past ten years has in fact been far less interested in those virtuosic performances of lithe physicality commonly associated with the syllabi of the Jois lineage, than they have been with those more subtle cues of movement efficacy: grace, fluidity, circularity and resilience. Resilience in particular forms a cornerstone of Diane’s practice. With that in mind, Diane opened 80 Gladstone – carefully carving out a spot in Toronto from which to cultivate yoga not as its own segregated practice, but as part of a much larger matrix of movement practices that bridge the martial arts to dance and beyond.

Diane Bruni has been practicing yoga for 35 years, teaching students for 20 years, and training teachers for nearly two decades. The first Ashtanga yoga teacher in Canada, Bruni co-founded the Downward Dog Yoga Centre, and hosted an internationally aired television series called Breathing Space Yoga. Her new studio at 80 Gladstone avenue in Toronto is a  movement and yoga research lab where innovative new ways to practice yoga, move and heal are being born. The creative incubator has birthed a revolutionary form on body work called Tensegrity Touch Therapy that incorporates treatment done on a bed of balls, as well as a new yoga prop called the Body Braid, a thick elastic woven onto the body following the spiral lines.

In our conversation, Diane talks about her early years studying kundalini with Yogi Bhajan, with the BKS Iyengar/Scaravelli trained Lisa Schwartz, and later, her training with Richard Freeman and  extraordinary partnership with Toronto’s Ron Reid. She also talks about how through her diverse explorations into dance and varied movement practices, she has tried to come to terms with the realities of her own body, not as an ideal embodiment of any classical practice, but as an instrument pliable enough to confront injury, illness and the changing realities of everyday life.
"When you're living and dealing with a diagnosis like cancer you question everything. You question the water you drink, you question the plastic bags that are carrying your food, everything. Everything feels like it could be a potential reason why I have cancer, why so many people have cancer. And I also believe that there's always an emotional component in any illness. It may not be the cause of it, but it's definitely an opportunity to confront and to deal with whatever emotional issues are underlying the surface of your existence that you're not dealing with and you're not processing, something that you'd suppressed." (Diane Bruni)

Diane Bruni, photo (bottom) House of Bonas
 "What happened was I started questioning yoga, of course. I wondered what went wrong with me and my body. And I was really curious. I was always reading. And I was reading a book written by a physiotherapist and dancer. And the book was about anatomy and movement. And I was learning so much from this book about my body and how it moved. Not about yoga poses, not about yoga philosophy, but about my body and how it was designed move. Not designed to hold postures in a static position, but designed to move. And I said: What else is out there in the world of dance that might be interesting to me?” (Diane Bruni)
Yuan Sifu (Shaolin Monk) and Diane Bruni at 80 Gladstone, photo: Earl Beadle