When Loren Crawford first started teaching gay men’s yoga classes at GayZone in the summer of 2009, he was sure that they would be therapeutically focused — with classes made up of primarily poz men who were referred from the GayZone testing clinic for health reasons.
With a background in HIV and AIDS activism and education from his time in Edmonton and Vancouver during his 20s and 30s, Crawford welcomed the challenge.
“I thought it was an opportunity for me to plug in [again]… that I could bring my expertise there as a yoga teacher,” says Crawford, who works full-time in outreach and communications with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, teaches seven yoga classes around town each week, heads up the Power of Yoga Program and co-directs the yoga-teacher training program at Upward Dog Yoga Centre. “In my view, it seemed like a great opening to try to make those links that health and well-being can be bigger than some people perceive it.”
But, as it turns out, there aren’t a lot of guys coming in with serious health concerns.
“I don’t see that so much,” says Crawford. “There might be one or two participants who are working with that kind of framework, but a lot of [them] seem to be younger guys who just come after work.”
For those who haven’t heard of the program, GayZone is a drop-in social space for men who are into men. It runs each Thursday night at the Centretown Community Health Centre and includes STI testing and treatment, health and wellness workshops, a book club, yoga classes and more.
Crawford now has a small but loyal following of gay men who come to his free, weekly classes at the Centretown Community Health Centre each Thursday night to blow off some steam, hang out with other gay men and loosen up their bodies.
“It’s people who are genuinely interested in learning how to relax and be more at peace with themselves,” says Crawford. “There’s a nice core of participants who keep coming back weekly, and what’s really beautiful as a teacher is seeing how there’s a progression in terms of how yoga is evolving in their lives.”
He’s passionate about what he’s offering and hopes to spread the word about yoga at GayZone in the hopes that more guys will take advantage of the free classes — which are open to all gay-identified men.
“There’s a healing element there, just in terms of finding a safe, quiet space to do this stuff. I’m thinking of one particular fellow who comes regularly. Over the past year, both his mind and his body have opened to the yoga — on the physical level, his body is a lot more open and at ease, and on a mental level, there’s a certain quietness he’s able to get to more readily. To me, that’s what yoga’s about. In our crazy busy society, being able to come to a place of quiet — and yoga is rarely free.”
This isn’t the first time that Crawford has offered yoga classes to the gay men’s community. In September 2008, he began offering nude men’s classes under the banner of Ottawa Men’s Yoga. He continued to do so until summer 2009, when another teacher took over to free him up for other projects, like GayZone and the Power of Yoga Program. The nude men’s classes are now offered at his yoga space in Vanier, at 209 Hannah St.
His main goals in teaching these classes are to provide gay men with tools to improve their overall health, and to expand perceptions of yoga as something more than just an exercise class.
“Yoga is about overall well-being. In our modern context, yoga seems to be about fancy exercise class – which is fine – but for me it’s much more. Wholeness and health and integrated well-being. So I figured, sexual health, sexual well-being, yoga… what a beautiful fit. It works.”