The Yogis of OmTO
By: Jamie Bussin
One of the benefits of hosting OmTO is that I got (and continue to get) to meet fantastic people. And the yoga community has some of the best people around. Tracey Soghrati not only is a contributor for the magazine and talk show, she runs Soghrati Yoga where she teaches Yin yoga to practitioners and other teachers alike. Once upon a time Julie Watson wrote the “Optimom” column for the magazine – she left the city, came back and opened Afterglow studio in the Beach neighborhood – and she and her studio became a regular and valued member of the OmTO team. Hana Lukac and her downtown studio Mula is one of the highest rated in the city – we’re looking forward to her first time class at OmTO.
The Tonic (TT): What brought you to your yoga practice?
Tracey Soghrati (TS): My relationship with yoga is dynamic in that it changes all the time. As I mature, so does my practice and the parts that move me (literally and spiritually) reflect what I need in both body and mind. In my 20’s, I came to yoga to find peace. At the time, I experienced intense anxiety due to a traumatizing loss, and I learned to pause that fear on the mat. That thread remains true to this day. While my mind is more calm and grounded in my 40’s, the practice of yoga supports my ability to process my experiences physically.
Julie Watson (JW): I began yoga when I was in theater school way back as a means to ground myself physically and mentally. I’ve been practicing for 30 years and my practice has changed, and evolved depending on my life and needs.
Hana Lukacs (HL): I started yoga almost 20 years ago as a tool for healing my body after many years of classical dance.
TT: What’s something about you that’s surprising?
HL: I ride motorcycles and I dance flamenco.
JW: I am not calm. I am (sometimes) loud, assertive, excited and love to laugh (when I am teaching and not). My energy is grounded but not zen. I feel like being myself gives others permission to relax, let go of expectations and embrace making mistakes.
TS I’m a certified yoga therapist, registered nurse and psychotherapist and I’ve worked in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I think my diverse education and experience in the helping profession gives me a unique and grounded perspective. My students and clients are encouraged to think critically, and to be guided by their experience and science. Likewise, I encourage people to challenge claims that are unscientific – this isn’t always popular!
TT: What is your favourite part of your yoga practice?
JW: My favourite part of teaching is knowing I am having a positive impact on someone’s day. My favourite part of the practice is constantly coming back to myself, into my body and my breath. Reconnecting with me, in a world that tries to pull me away from myself.
TS: I love so many things – but if I have to name one, it’s the part where movement is coordinated through the breath and thinking is left behind. My favourite style of yoga is yang-yin. The first half of the class is breath-focused movement that literally supports metabolism of stress hormones and the production of relaxing endorphins. The second half of the class includes slow, melting stretches – where the mind is so still that the practitioner can see themselves (all parts) with compassion and clarity.
HL: My favourite part of the practice is energy work (breathwork & bandhas).
TT: Where has your yoga practice led you?
TS: I am continuously surprised by the relationships I’ve developed through yoga over time. This practice, especially the way that I teach it, can be accessible to anybody. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with people doing jobs, or living lives so vastly different from mine, that if it wasn’t for yoga we would never have crossed paths. I am deeply inspired and invigorated when supporting people in their own self-discovery and the yin yoga practice in particular has allowed me to integrate psychological exploration with mindfulness of the body. Taken together, I’ve been lucky enough to share mind-body practices internationally, and with corporations and government agencies. I also love reading the urban fantasy genre 🙂
HL: My practice has gone through many phases over the last couple of decades. From hot yoga to ashtanga Mysore, to Smart Flow, Budokon (martial arts yoga) to finally Para Yoga (Tantra Hatha) , that’s been my style for the last 10 years. Through every phase, I was able to lean into yoga as a tool to balance my busy life, grow physically, energetically, and mentally and learn so much about myself.
JW: Yoga has brought me to and through unexpected dramatic life changes. It has saved me on numerous occasions. It has pulled me out of depression and healed my body physically. It has brought me to the career path I have chosen for the last 15 years in creating Afterglow. It has introduced me to a community that is welcoming and supportive. It has influenced my confidence, my eagerness to grow, and love of teaching others.
TT: Let’s hear your 60 second yoga elevator pitch (what would you tell someone who’s never practiced yoga – why should they?)
TS: Therapeutic yoga practices can help you get more comfortable in your own skin – especially as you age. Likewise, simple postures and breathing techniques can be used almost anywhere to calm your mind. Yoga will lengthen your health span – the time in your life when you’re active, engaged and healthy, while making you happier at the same time.
HL: [some opening lines] Do you wanna know a cool trick? How’s your energy level today? Are you interested in improving your energy? Do you have a minute to breathe with me? Cool, right?
JW: YOGA IS EVERYTHING. That is all.
TT: What is a myth about yoga that you’d like to bust?
HL: Yoga is not a workout. Being able to do fancy poses is not an indicator of the level of spiritual enlightenment. Took me years to learn this myself.
JW: That you must be quiet, zen, flexible and burn incense. Yoga is for everyone. It is not just the physical practice, and it is not just meditation.
TS: I worry about the length of this answer!! The thing that currently annoys me the most is hearing yoga teachers talk about deep breathing to increase oxygen to the organs. Your body maintains a pretty consistent oxygen saturation in the blood if you’re a healthy person walking around (between 95-100% saturation). Exercise (including yoga) might increase oxygen consumption, but it won’t increase actual oxygen saturation in your blood. In fact, saturation will sometimes decrease due to anaerobic metabolism (the production of energy molecules without the presence of oxygen).
TT: What is unique about your yoga studio(s)/business?
TS I teach therapeutic practices that leave students feeling balanced, stable and mentally strong. I’m not the teacher for you if you’re looking for an acrobatic practice, but if you want to explore the relationship between your mind and body, then I’m the one for you!
HL: We are the only studio in town that offers strong physical practice combined with deep spiritual teachings and tools for empowerment, balance, and growth.
JW: Afterglow is a vibrant inclusive community. That is our main focus. Building connections with ourselves and with others. We like to have fun and celebrate. If you come to Afterglow, it’s like coming to Cheers (the bar from the TV show back In the 80’s), Everybody knows your name.
TT: Pre-pandemic there was a vibrant Toronto yoga community – What’s it like now?
JW: Pre-pandemic people were searching for something in yoga, and now I believe they have found it. We are all most careful with our time. We select what we need in a more intentional way. If you are coming to yoga, you may now be trying Yin or Restore, not just Power, because you know the healing yoga can offer. You may be choosing Power, because you want to feel stronger. The pandemic forced us to know ourselves better.
TS: In many ways the pandemic was an opportunity to rebirth the yoga community. While it was vibrant before the pandemic, there were also a lot of challenges. There was an undertone of hierarchy between teacher and student and a lack of critical thinking overall. Post-pandemic, I’ve noticed a shift away from dogmatic teaching and more professionalism. And while change can be painful, I think this is good for the community.
HL: I believe that things are starting to get back into the flow.
TT: How has your studio(s)/business changed since the pandemic?
HL: I was given an opportunity to offer deep spiritual experiences through 40 day kriyas and that created a reference point for quite a few students going forward. The practice now seems a lot more meaningful.
TS: I spend more time teaching seminars or giving talks to large corporations on mindfulness and mental health now. Our mental health has collectively and individually suffered since the beginning of the pandemic. Businesses are noticing that their employees need support, and mental health support improves productivity and efficiency.
JW: We were all hit hard. It has been a difficult climb out of a dark place. Afterglow was lucky to survive but not without a lot of damage and debt. We are definitely more selective about our offerings, more protective of our instructors and community, and more thoughtful about our words, and the effect we have in the world.
TT: : Why is yoga so relevant now?
TS: We live during interesting times. Things are moving so quickly (AI, wars, climate change) that our brains are struggling to make sense of it all. I notice that people in general are struggling to focus, prioritize and make prosocial or adaptive changes in their lives. A yoga practice supports our ability to slow down long enough to see the impact of living in this kind of society. For example, the use of social media has many negative effects on mood and self-concept, especially for teens. Yet we’re so entranced by scrolling that parents fail to advocate for their kids, because they don’t have the space to see that they’re in a trance themselves. Yoga gives us the space to contemplate what actually matters, what will actually feel important when we’re about to die and look back on our lives. It certainly won’t be how many likes we got on social accounts or our popularity with people who know nothing about us. But will our deepest relationships matter? Yes. That starts with our relationship with ourselves.
JW: Have I mentioned Yoga is everything? Yoga is a healer. When we heal ourselves, we can take that out into the world and share it with others. We all need the practice of yoga now more than ever. We need the breath, we need the connection to ourselves, we need the internal liberation, balance, equanimity.
HL: Because we live in a world that keeps increasing its pace and we are expected to follow. As a result, we disconnect from ourselves. Yoga is a form of self-attendance. We are invited to check in with ourselves, address what is not useful and become more optimal with our physical, energetic, and mental investments.