(Published in Aqua Magazine, December 1, 2014)
Moksha Yoga founder Ted Grand is not the kind of guy who does things by halves. With 70 studios from Sydney to Paris, one of Salt Spring’s great ‘activist entrepreneurs’ believes that yoga has the power to change the world.
As a young man, he joined legions of people who flocked to the west coast of Vancouver Island in defense of Clayoquot Sound. On the front lines in the War of the Woods, his passionate activism went beyond marching and placard waving. Grand took to chaining himself to logging equipment and dangling from cargo ships: all to defend the coastal rainforest he loves.
“Ultimately, I burned out,” says Grand. “I still love radical actions: they move the dialogue along very effectively. But, in my own life, I realized that a lot of what I was doing was creating more separation.” Unable to balance his sense of responsibility with his sense of self-preservation, the chip on his shoulder became a crushing weight. Exhausted and alienated, he made his way up to Birken, north of Whistler, where he started meditating with two Buddhist monks in the wilderness.
Finding solace in silence, Grand immersed himself in yogic philosophy and practice. Along the way, he met Jessica Roberston, a fellow activist and former aid worker. Together, they developed Moksha, a form of hot yoga that integrates a commitment to ethical, compassionate, and environmentally conscious living. The pair started the first environmentally sustainable studio in what would become an international network of green yoga centres.
True to his radical roots, Grand’s Moksha network has raised over three million dollars for various non-profits, from funding rape crisis centres to bringing yoga therapy to incarcerated kids. Grand has recently relocated his family to Salt Spring Island to run Moksha’s operations from his beloved coastal forest.
Activism on the Emerald Edge
While the wellness community is a vital part of the culture and economy in the Gulf Islands, the comfort and joy of a life on the emerald edge can sometimes lead to complacency. “It’s frustrating sometimes,” Grand admits, “because one of the things that happens in spiritual communities is a sense of retreat away from the world, a passivity.” Some feel the only way to cope with a fragmented world is to turn down the blinds and turn up the chanting.
“For me, it was quite different,” says filmmaker Velcrow Ripper. “I moved to Galiano in the midst of shooting Bones of the Forest, which chronicles the struggle to save B.C.’s rainforests. The incredible beauty of Galiano Island made me even more committed to do everything I could, using my art and my activism.”
During his seven years on Galiano, Ripper developed the idea for his award-winning film “Scared Sacred”. Intuiting that a fusion between spirituality and activism could be powerful enough to overcome some of the world’s most pressing problems, Ripper travelled to Afghanistan, Palestine, Cambodia, and Bosnia to test his theory. He discovered such a wellspring of spiritual activism that his initial single film became a trilogy.
“There’s a beautiful practice that I learned making Scared Sacred,” says Ripper. “I was travelling to the ground zeros of the world, and finding some of the most inspiring people you can imagine. Yet— I was also confronting great tragedies.”
To find the strength to bear witness without shutting down, Ripper turned to a technique called Tonglen meditation. Tonglen involves a simple, radically transformative idea: to breathe in suffering—transform it in one’s heart— and breathe out compassion. “I call it indestructible vulnerability,” says Ripper.
Ripper’s teachings are particularly salient in an era of climate change, where the Long Emergency precipitated by the climate crisis calls for continuous commitment.
“Anger is what propels many people into action,” says Ripper. “But anger is like a high octane fuel— it will burn us out. “
Grand agrees. Describing the dance between inward-going meditative practice and outward-going activism, he says “it’s like a love affair. If you are filled with fire—you’ll get burned. But if you have this slow burning thing, over the course of a long time—your relationship with your activism will last.”
Stretch Across BC: look out Enbridge, the Yogis are coming
When spiritual seekers use the force of compassion to inspire collective action, game-changing ideas can arise.
The “Pull Together” campaign— which calls on citizens to stand with First Nations in their struggle to protect their traditional territories against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline— is one such initiative.
Pull Together’s goal—to raise $250,000 by the end of December—means First Nations will have equitable access to justice in challenging Enbridge. It’s a move to put our commitments to reconciliation into action, by supporting indigenous communities who are standing up to protect sacred landscapes.
Pledging to ‘unleash the power of yoga to stop a pipeline,’ Moksha studios teamed up with Sierra Club BC and RAVEN Trust, and called on fellow yogis across the province to join in fundraising for First Nations.
“With the dismantling of so much environmental legislation in Canada, the last —and hopefully inviolable— line of defence is First Nations’ Treaty and Constitutional rights,” says Susan Smitten, RAVEN’s executive director. “Going to court is expensive. With Pull Together, British Columbians are stepping forward to help shoulder this financial burden.”
Studios, teachers, and practitioners in the Gulf Islands have responded by pulling together a series of events and fundraisers for the campaign.
“When I heard the idea, I just thought—wow, what a way to unleash the spiritual warriors of this province,” says Nomi Lyonns.
A board member of Transition Salt Spring and self styled “EcoDiva”, Lyonns runs boutique yoga retreats from her Paradise Found studio on Cusheon Lake.
Together with Ganges Yoga Studio, Dorothy Price, Lyndsay Savage, the Nest Hot Yoga, Cate McEwen and the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, Lyonns donated a portion of proceeds from her November classes and workshops to Pull Together. To date, the yoga community has raised over $12,000 for Pull Together.
“The threat of pipelines and tankers landing on our front doorstep—while terrifying—may serve to further awaken us,” says Lyonns. “It reminds us of what our duties are as yogis: if we want to truly be healthy and well, we have to take action to create a safe environment— for all life.”