Robyn Bowman practiced yoga long before it became trendy. Twenty three years ago yoga was not a noun and it did not have stores full of dedicated clothing, mats and props. There were no hot yoga studios or variations designed to keep the workout crowd happy. Back then, people did not wear yoga pants to the grocery store either and now you can buy them there!
At first glance it would seem that Creating Space Yoga Studio in Southeast Oakville is another yoga studio in a crowded market. The deeper you look, the more you begin to understand why its owner Robyn has seen so many other studios open, only to have to close their doors.
Robyn’s journey to owner of a yoga studio was not due to an emerging trend or even a formal business plan. She had started her career as a photographer and then ran an art gallery in Oakville where she met her husband Jon. The couple have two children who are high performance athletes. Both are flatwater sprint paddlers with the Burloak Canoe Club, with Alex, age 17, racing sprint kayaks and Gabrielle, age 14, racing sprint canoes. Both attend Oakville Trafalgar High School.
About nine years ago, when Gabrielle started school, Robyn decided to re-start her photography business. Jon is a builder and developer and Robyn was going make a small photo studio from the raw industrial space that her husband was converting for his offices. When they put in a cork floor a little whisper made her think “well, maybe I’ll just teach a few yoga classes as well.” Soon, Robyn’s yoga teacher and mentor heard about her space and asked to join her. Within a year they were knocking out a wall to take over her husband’s office! Everything since has been slow, organic growth and that is exactly the way Robyn likes it. For years she ran the studio around her children’s school year and schedules.
Freedom is very important to Robyn and she never wanted to be confined to a traditional job. She says, “I love the fact that I come from an art background and I can still be very creative. My photography eye allows me to see people and movement and bodies a little differently. It has helped me as a yoga teacher.” The studio became a vehicle to pursue her passions and it has grown as she and her children have grown. Her family now enjoy simple pleasures, like cheering each other on at regattas and a homemade meal together. The couple have a thirst for outdoor adventure and hiking. Last summer they took a month to hike 115 miles of the John Muir Trail all through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. “There is a peace and magic in the mountains,” explains Robyn, yet the trek had its challenges due to altitude and the sheer length of the journey. “Hiking in that environment becomes a deep practice of mindfulness taking one step at a time, one breath at a time.”
Mindfulness is becoming one of those buzzwords like yoga and LuLuLemon, yet once again, Robyn was ahead of the trend. The studio has branched out in the last six years to bring mindfulness into everything they do and as a result and they have created an amazing community dedicated to exploring mindfulness through movement, meditation, lecture, music and conversation.
For those who don’t know, yoga is traditionally referred to as a practice. It’s not something you do or master, it’s part of who you are. “For people who come to practice at our studio the space is a touchstone for them,” explains Robyn, “we don’t do choreographed yoga with everyone doing the same thing at the same time together and that’s why this is a sustainable practice for the rest of their lives.”
Robyn’s heart shines through when she talks about her students. “My students are a huge source of inspiration for me,” she says. “Many of them come to the studio with physical or emotional challenges. It is exciting to watch them slowly discover their connection to their bodies and embody mindfulness. Observing them walk out of the studio with a greater sense of ease and peace is the best part of my job.”
Many people think they cannot meditate because they get caught up with wondering if they are doing it right or judging themselves for their wandering minds. “I try not to make the mindful movement practice too complicated or full of rules because people can be really hard on themselves. “ Robyn wants people to feel free, to get a sense of how it feels to have more ease in the body as opposed to trying so hard all the time. She shares how we’ve all been taught to work hard and then harder. She explains, “we have to let go of ‘no pain, no gain’. So we teach how to reduce and strip away, instead of push, push, drive, drive.”
According to Robyn we receive whispers and messages from our bodies all the time. She wants to teach people to be present for those whispers and to notice when we feel resistance and then to pay attention. One of her primary messages is to teach people to how to balance effort and ease. People can learn to undo tension and to let go.
So, what do students of Creating Space Yoga Studio walk out with? Robyn’s answer, “when they start to listen to the whispers in their bodies, they begin to see new possibilities. They also learn that a mindful yoga practice is really down to earth and accessible for all.” With continued practice the whispers become a little easier to hear and people begin to open themselves to allow more in their life. When that tiny crack of resistance finally opens, that’s when the real magic starts!
~written by Adwynna MacKenzie, originally published in Neighbours of Olde Oakville, May 2016
~photo by Inger MacKenzie