Yoga is a way of life for joa Keur. A longtime instructor, he’s been practising for 20 years and has seen the benefits it can have for both the body and the mind. He’s also a visual artist and a life coach whose focus is on bringing all of life’s elements into balance and on nurturing the creative, expressive qualities that most of us tend to ignore.
When he first started, Keur found that yoga improved his focus and gave him a better relationship with his body. “Through yoga, I learned [that] taking care of the body means you’re going to end up taking care of the mind, and that has been really working for me in a big, big way,” he says. Having personally experienced the benefits of including yoga in his lifestyle, it wasn’t long before Keur had something of a revelation. “It came to that point where I was just like, well, this is such a fabulous way to help people.”
Realizing that he wanted to help others conquer their physical and emotional challenges through yoga, Keur began his training as an instructor. One group he feels could particularly benefit from this approach is the gay community. “My observation, being gay myself, is that I find a lot of men, anyways, that are gay, once they’ve come out of the closet, it’s sort of like they’ve gained this sense of pride all of a sudden in who they are, and then . . . they don’t need to grow any further,” he says.
Keur also points to the particular level of body awareness that can be unique to gay men, explaining that yoga’s focus on personal growth and listening to the body can be a more beneficial, holistic way of approaching self-improvement than logging hours at the gym. “Yoga is helping you to become stronger from more of a foundation physically,” he says. “Once you’ve conquered yourself physically and you’re feeling really good . . . then you can take on the mental intrigues of the mind.”
Yoga’s healing effect can also be beneficial for those recovering from traumatic experiences, such as a difficult or painful coming-out process. “Once you start taking on yourself physically, that means you’re spending time for yourself. You’re giving yourself time to love yourself by doing something for yourself that’s very positive and nurturing.”
The deep breathing and rhythmic movements encourage an inward concentration that can help refocus your perspective, which Keur says is a great way to nurture creativity. “Sometimes my best creative ideas come while I’m actually teaching a class,” he says, laughing.
It’s also an all-ages pursuit, something people young and old can come together and enjoy, and a great way to meet people and form community connections in a safe, positive environment. “That’s the other thing,” Keur says. “Yoga centres are safe havens for GLBT people. When you go in through those doors, you can actually let your guard down.”
These days, Keur can be found teaching at PranaShanti Yoga Centre in Hintonburg, where he leads six classes each week in various styles of yoga, including hot and Hatha. He’s also working on putting together a full-day workshop of yoga, art and counselling, to be held sometime in the warmer months. The day will feature yoga practice, a collaborative mural project, live sitar and singing-bowl music, and a vegan dinner specially prepared by Ottawa chef Caroline Ishii. In the meantime, anyone who wants to get back in touch with their body and mind can head to PranaShanti and try out a class. After all, it’s never too soon to start achieving inner peace.