Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hot Yoga Done Right: Moksha Yoga and Ted Grand :)

As most of my regular readers know, I gave 'hot' yoga a good try. From Moksha to Baptiste a half dozen sessions resulted in my acceptance that it is alright to actually not like a certain style of yoga (perhaps my pitta-vata self?).

Heated yoga, in all it's versions, is quickly becoming one of the trendiest forms of yoga out there. Everyone is doing it. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Until you start thinking of the sheer amount of energy (and oil) used in order to heat those studios.

Which is why I am very excited to share with you a special opportunity I was given last week! Ted Grand is one of the founders of Moksha Yoga. An passionate environmentalist and impressive 'yogi-background', I 'met' Ted for the first time via an interview with Jian Gomeshi on Q. It was a fabulous interview and I was extremely impressed with how well he answered challenging questions and discussed the conundrum of yoga and business with Yoga Inc film and book author John Philip.

Moksha Studio Halifax taken today on my lunch break :)
Moksha studios do a lot to negate and lower the impact of their energy usage. Unlike other studios, Moksha actually has a written environmental contract that they require all their studios to sign. They use heating panels and systems that can decrease energy usage by 40 to 50%, sustainable building supplies (from cork or bamboo flooring to low-energy lighting and low VOC paints). Most studios use Bullfrog Power; a company that will take your coal energy and put sustainable energy back into the grid. If the province or state does not have Bullfrog, then they will offset their use or carbon throught 'zerofootprint.net' (or an equivalent organization). Rooms are insulated to keep in the precious heat and decrease actual energy required for heating.

Halifax has a beautiful studio which I have had the opportunity to practice in and Dartmouth will soon be opening their very own. Both studios have many environmental benefits, the most impressive being the heating panels and use of Bullfrog Power.

Ted was kind enough to accept my request in answering a few questions and I am so happy to share his thoughtful answers with you! So without further ado:

1. First things first: as an environmentally conscious blog, featuring Hot Yoga would seem a bit counter intuitive, but as per the description above, Moksha Studios do a LOT to counteract their carbon footprint. I feel Moksha is the best eco-Hot Yoga organization out there. As someone with an environmental activism background, why did you choose heated yoga instead of another, less energy intensive style?

The reason we chose to go with heated yoga was primarily due the effects it had when compared to practicing asana in regular-heated class settings.  I had never felt anything like the sense of feeling cleaner and less weighted down - I slept deeply, my digestion was better and my mental clarity was greatly improved from practicing asana in a heated room.  Certainly there are advantages with the heat in terms of increasing flexibility as well, but the sense of clarity and detoxification was what kind of rocked my world.

That said, I have also had crappy experiences in hot yoga.  I have been to studios where the air quality is very poor, where there is carpet that absorbs or holds the sweat of others, and where the instructors encouraged students to fight through all the warning signals that the body gives when it is overheated.  So with Moksha we took all the things that were great and ditched all of those variables that we felt were not so good.

As for the environmental aspects, we were hyper-aware of the energy consumption that occurs in most hot yoga studios, so we went waaaaay out of our way to design the best eco-studios that we could.  The heating panels we use, the light fixtures, the plumbing, the office supplies and the cleaning products are all chosen specifically for their diminished impact on the earth.
2. Is Moksha continuously striving to lower the impact of heating so many studios? If so, in what ways and are there any obstacles?

As a community, Moksha Yoga is continually looking for ways to decrease our carbon footprint, but it can be really difficult.  One of the great things about there being 40+ Moksha studios is that we have that many more people out there looking for the greenest avenues towards constructing and managing the studios.
Some studio owners have looked into solar panels, some have considered geo-thermal heating/cooling, and some have done research on what the best bamboo is for flooring.  Some of the technology needs to get to the next generation of sophistication and affordability in order for small businesses to embrace them, so that is a big variable.

I do have to say though, I think that time is getting close.  The insulation we are using for example, is so much better than it was 10 years ago - there is some really great soy foam that a lot of the studios are using, and one studio uses insulation made from old blue jeans.  I think in the near future we are going to see some amazing innovations in green building because the government is now recognizing that if businesses are greening themselves up, then everyone benefits.

3. Moksha does so much to make yoga accessible, which is interesting as it is (like discussed on Q) becoming a trendy option. Why was it important to offer affordable yoga and how were you able to make it work in the studio business model? 

For a guy who is so involved and interested in the yoga world, there is a lot about it that drives me crazy.  Though things are changing now and more and more communities are getting involved in yoga, it has traditionally (in the West) been a pursuit of image-obsessed caucasians with disposable income.  Quite simply, yoga is not accessible to everyone, both in terms of what it costs and where it is offered.  So all of the Moksha studios have in place ways that people who could not otherwise afford it can do as much yoga as they want.  First of all, there is a trade system in place whereby students can clean the studio, do administrative work or do odd jobs, all in exchange for unlimited yoga.

The average studio has about 15-20 'energy-exchangers' and some of the bigger studios can have as many as 50 people on 'trade'.  We also encourage studio owners to give free yoga or greatly discounted classes to those who just can't afford it.  We also support and help sustain the New Leaf Yoga Foundation (Moksha Yoga teacher Laura Sygrove and Moksha Yoga co-founder Jess Robertson founded the organization), which goes out to youth detention centres and offers yoga to the inmates there.  The success of New Leaf is massive and their reach is expanding daily.

We also have weekly 'karma classes' at every Moksha Yoga studio, whereby people anonymously pay what they can.  The money raised through the Karma classes goes to local and progressive charities and causes in the studio's local area. 

4. How does Yoga as a discipline fit with your environmental views?

Quite frankly, yoga as a discipline and the philosophies inherent within it are what have kept me sane.  I have gone from being in environmental clubs to fundraising for environmental groups to protesting to blockading roads to hanging off of ships to getting arrested, but it all caused me more and more suffering and sadness.  
For every environmental victory that served as a step forward, there were multiple ongoing travesties that felt like 10 steps back.  The injustices and the manipulation involved in forestry, mining, manufacturing and politics were really getting to me and I was getting more and more radical to match the intensity with which I felt things.  Of course I eventually burned out and realized that I needed some help if I were going to remain in a place of caring and compassion, and this is how meditation and yoga came into my life.  

Through the tools and techniques that can be cultivated in a yoga practice, I found myself less reactive and angry and more focused and peaceful.  I will never forget one day I was blockading a road into a mill, and these guys would bring their cars up to the gate and spin their wheels to have me choke on the dust. 
They also decapitated a pigeon and put it right in front of me. When I was hanging off of the ship, the workers were trying to shake me off of the rope even though I would likely have been crushed by the ship had I fallen. 

What I am trying to say is that my anger and efforts and resistance were met with acts of greater anger and acts of resistance.  I was not making the world a better place, only perpetuating and amplifying anger in the world.  
To be clear, I am still a big fan of civil disobedience and non-violent direct action, but I know that if I want to make a difference, it is in cultivating peace in people's lives, so that they are less inclined towards anger, reactivity, conspicuous consumerism, and abuse in all forms.  This is my activism, and it is as sneaky and subversive as it ever was, cause it looks all peaceful and non-threatening!

5. I've read that you're the father of three lovely girls (congratulations!), how has that changed your perspective on yoga, life and the environment?

My girls are my world.  Just writing this out brings tears to my eyes.  Parenting has taught me how to be an activist through storytelling, kid science, and illustrating the principles of cause and effect.  In no ways am I trying to brainwash them - I just want them to see how magical and infinitely fascinating the earth and the universe are, and how blessed we are to be a part of this web that gives life.  And it is so cool that the girls and I can try to play (in the woods and waters) and eat (no animals) and love (all peoples and creatures) with reverence and empathy, because as they say in yoga, it is illusory to think that we are fully separate from anything else.  

The more we feel we are separate from the earth, the universe and the mechanisms that work together to give life, the unhappier and more disillusioned we will become - and I would love it if my kids grew up to be curious, connected and inspired.  Ultimately, this is what I hope to achieve in and through both my parenting and my yoga practice - to see how harmony and peace is created in nature and focus my efforts towards replicating that in my actions and in my home.

Inside of the lobby of Moksha Studio Halifax where I was able to officially meet Joanna- studio owner, in person! Unfortunately there was a class going on, so no pictures of the pretty cork flooring! But trust me, it's there :)

Exactly! This was such a wonderful experience for myself. I will say that I am *very* impressed with all the Moksha Studios have been doing from an environmental perspective and am excited to see where it will lead them in the future. I hope you were touched by Ted's answers as much as I was.

Again much thanks to Ted Grand and his willingness to help a heated yoga skeptic see the positive.


ps- this article is dedicated to my friend JenP who ADORES Moksha and my fellow bloggy-friend Callah who is currently taking her Moksha Teacher Training. :) 


  1. very informative! thanks for doing the interview : )

  2. I'm pitta-vata, too, and the entire concept of hot yoga makes me feel slightly nauseous. But I appreciate these thoughts about yoga being a practice for the disposable-income set. I have the same reservations. It's great to know that some studios are addressing this issue in a direct way. There's a non-profit yoga studio in my town that similarly offers work-trade and low-cost classes to make yoga available to everyone in the community.

  3. All power (no pun intended) to Moksha Yoga for trying to do hot yoga in a sustainable fashion. I wish more studios thought that way!

    However, IMHO, it is still an unnecessary drain of energy on the environment.

    I know different people get different things out of this or that style of yoga (me too!) but personally I don't love hot yoga either.

    And given the extra energy consumption involved, I find it hard to understand how anyone could say they are pro-environment while they do a form of yoga that uses more energy than is really required... I mean, I can cause my body (or the bodies of people I teach) to be heated in a yoga practice without any external form of heat... just my 2c worth.

  4. Yay!
    Loved the interview and am totally addicted to Moksha!
    Ted Grand seems like such an interesting person with unique views.
    Will you ever consider trying a week of classes there?C'mon.....

  5. what an amazing post- thanks so much for the dedication! :) I am definitely re-blogging this :-p

    I start on Canada day... I cannot believe it's finally here! It feels like I've been waiting forever, when in reality it was only a few months!

    In response to svasti above, I see what you are saying about unnecessarily wasting energy. However while I was always conscious of recycling etc, it wasn't until I discovered the "moksha philosophy" for me, and as part of the energy exchange crew as a cleaner using eco-friendly cleaning methods, that i really took the next step into making these bigger changes in my own home. Now I only use natural cleaners, reusable rags for cleaning, etc. So I think the hyper-awareness of being green helps offset the energy used to heat the studio- just my personal experience!

  6. Yoga being a thing for white people with a high disposible income which is one reason why I hate yoga in gyms or yoga studios.

    My favourite classes and the best classes tend to be held in village or church halls. Since I left London I haven't been able to find one. I have this week and I am finally going again to a real class on Thursday. I am very excited!

    1. wow..how sad such a racist comment, makes my heart hurt...Yoga, as we know it , was created in India, or could be far east,ten thousand years ago, or longer, who really knows for sure, but the point is yoga is for everyone no matter race or color... Yoga is a blessing for us ALL!, it teaches us mental peace, as well as physical fitness. We are all of the same light & unconditional love source....

      Love , Blessings, & Peace to you.

    2. I'm not quite sure @Darkpurplemoon was being racist, I think she was simply pointing out that in the Western culture yoga tends to be promoted for white, upperclass, thin women and is not inclusive.
      I would also just point out that the yoga as we know it isn't in fact thousands of years old, and it was originally extremely exclusive (to be practiced by men only).

      However, I agree with you, Jackie, wholeheartedly that yoga should be for all- and as yogins I feel it is important to be at the same time realistic about our current cultural and social situation (ie yoga is NOT in fact inclusive) in order to move forward and find solutions. :)

  7. I very much agree with Svasti. I like all of the good things Moksha and Ted Grand are doing (affordable yoga, trade for classes, sustainable building materials), but excessively heating a yoga studio in Canada to simulate the climate somewhere in India in the summer is a flat out waste of energy, full stop. My understanding of yoga is that it is something one adapts to one's own environment, body, mind, and life. It seems completely narcissistic and self-centered, IMHO, to think I am entitled to waste energy in North America so I can co-opt someone else's natural environment. But, that's just my opinion, which I am sure is not widely shared.


  8. I loved reading Ted's answer to the question about parenting. I can't wait to see how my yoga practice and life evolves by having children some day.

  9. I would just like to say to those who are talking about the unnecessary energy that Hot yoga uses...
    I was in a Moksha Studio once and was talking with the owner about my expensive power bill from a 3 bedroom condo. The studio owner told me that I was paying more to heat/power the condo, then she was paying to heat the hot room. So, I think it is unfair for people to automatically assume that the energy is any worse than heating someones home.
    ALSO, the heat isn't just to replicate the temperature of India like someone said...
    The heat is intended to help you to go deeper into postures more safely and it is also great to detoxify your body..

    I do realize it is not for everybody, but I just thought I'd state my opinion about the wasteful energy....

  10. Great work; this was nicely done.

    Two of the studios I teach for are hot yoga studios, and the environmental impact never even occurred to me. One operates on Bullfrog power, but when I came in early last week and the heat was left on overnight I only thought about the cost.

    Goes to show how our experiences shape how we see the world and render some things invisible.

  11. what about the ridiculous price of Moksha? How could poor students ever afford a 1200 per year membership?! its just ridiculous

  12. @Anonymous (just above):
    I would argue that most studios are ridiculously out of my price range right now, not just Moksha. It's just that when you look at memberships or passes most studios don't offer a full year membership... so you don't see the cost comparison.
    Moksha does offer (like stated in the interview) alternatives such as karma classes (5$ a class) or energy exchanges.... I would say here in Halifax, Moksha offers more when it comes to alternatives to affordable yoga than other studios.


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