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I've been on holiday for about a week, and one of my summer projects is to return to yoga.

When I first moved to Montreal 12 years ago, I took classes at Sivananda Yoga on St-Laurent Boulevard, one of the oldest yoga centres in the city. I absolutely loved it. I felt relaxed after every class. I even visited the centre's Ashram in the Laurentians for an afternoon of yoga and meditation. Sivananda was always a very spiritual experience; it was never about chasing a fad.

When I changed neighbourhoods, I found another yoga class offered by the city of Westmount. The instructor was a ballet teacher and she taught Hatha yoga. This, too, was a wonderful experience. I found myself doing headstands in my living room and even the crow position (Ah, don't forget to raise your head!) in the evenings.

I moved back to the Mile End and after my daughter was born, I returned to Sivananda. However, yoga was suddenly hugely popular, and my relatively cheap class was now more expensive and packed with neophyte yoga enthusiasts. Let's just say that crowded yoga classes are not as relaxing.

Over the years, I tried pilates and one or two yoga classes at the YMCA, but I always felt stiff afterwards. As many of you know, if you breathe properly when exercising you shouldn't feel stiff at all. Finding a good yoga class is hard, and attending a yoga class regularly with young children is a challenge.

When we moved to Villeray two years ago, I noticed a small yoga studio a few streets away. In the spring, I took one class for a whopping $18 dollars. I arrived 10 minutes early and found a tight but comfortable spot. Of course, there were stragglers, and we were asked to move forwards not once but twice. As I struggled to keep up with the group, my arms kept colliding with other people's limbs, and in the plough position I actually touched flesh and possibly some hair (clearly someone else's) with my toes. This felt like capitalist yoga--zero spiritualism, lots of people, strictly for profit. I never returned.

Then a yoga studio opened around the corner from us in an old bank building with gloriously high ceilings. In my first class, there were only three other women in various stages of fitness, which was perfect. It meant that we would go fairly slowly. However, on this overcast Saturday morning, our teacher checked for messages as she taught, consulted her iPad and even turned pages in what appeared to be an instructor's manual. I resigned myself to the fact that e-yoga may well be what traditional yoga has morphed into in the last 10 years. The class was still pretty good, so I bought a one-month pass.

I haven't regretted my purchase at all. I have just accepted that some instructors are better than others, and some of the classes are more difficult than others. I also accept that there are some poses that will take me a few months to master, but I'm feeling relaxed, something I haven't felt in a very long time.

In my first week, I attended three yoga and two pilates classes. On Saturday, after my "beginner" Hatha class, I took my daughter to the library to embark on her summer reading challenge (of course, some bribery would take place). However, I seemed to notice every step over to the Park Extension Library. I even had to tell her to wait up at one point. There was a chance to sit at the library, but realizing that I may never be able to get up again, I stood and counted the steps home.

Yoga should never be underestimated. It involves intense exercise.

I promise more posts about my neighbourhood.

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Messin' With Male Stereotypes

Last week as part of the Residual Reading series, Wanda O'Connor introduced two visiting writers to read from their new releases at Drawn and Quarterly. Authors Marguerite Pigeon and Natalee Caple have penned stories with women leads in traditionally male-dominated genres. The first to read was Pigeon who has written a political thriller set in Central America, while Peterborough-based Caple gave an inspired reading from In Calamity's Wake, a fictionalization of the life of Calamity Jane.

Pigeon, a former journalist, has drawn on her past work in Central America to create Open Pit, a story of five Canadian human-rights activists who are taken hostage by a former revolutionary in El Salvador. This transpires just as NorthOre, a Canadian gold-mining company, has begun mining operations. The revolutionary is not interested in any kind of ransom. Instead, he wants NorthOre to cease operations so that his family's remains can be exhumed from the mining site. While the other four activists find the kidnapping traumatic, 50-year-old Danielle Byrd, the main character, finds the situation eerily familiar, as she worked as an embedded journalist during El Salvador's decade-long civil war.

After the reading, Pigeon said that publishers did not initially warm to Open Pit. The fact that it was a political thriller with a woman lead was not easy. "I had to up the political and thriller aspects to find a publisher," said Pigeon. For many of us who have worked in Latin America, women human rights activists are pretty common, as are Canadian mining companies operating in countries with questionable human rights records. It would appear that Open Pit has a highly realistic premise, an added plus for any political thriller.
So why the reluctance to have a woman main character? Was it because a woman in a non-traditional role is not a sure sell or is it because the public is not yet aware of the many spheres women successfully work in?

Natalee Caple might argue the latter. The author of In Calamity's Wake wrote her PhD dissertation on Calamity Jane, and in her research, discovered a lot of things she'd long suspected. "Women occupied a wide range of jobs in the West," said Caple. However, this fact is not reflected in pop culture. Instead, when we think of women in the wild west, the saloon hooker with a heart of gold and the long-suffering farmer's wife are the two stereotypes that immediately come to mind. This might also explain why a cowboy film or theme is not always a popular choice. The lack of diversity makes for a highly predictable story. However, according to the author, cowboys were not all white."The West was a lot more diverse than we are led to believe," said Caple. There were apparently people of colour in frontier towns, and in Deadwood, South Dakota, a town long-associated with Calamity Jane, there was even a Chinese quarter.

Trying to rectify long-held misconceptions is a gutsy undertaking, but not for Caple. In Calamity's Wake is the 37-year-old's seventh book. To move completely away from the male-dominated west scenario, Caple has made bad-girl Calamity Jane and her fictional daughter Miette the two main characters, with male characters playing only supporting roles.

What's next for this trailblazer? "I'm going to write a book about women pirates," said Caple. "There were a lot of those too." I guess they just never made their way into pop culture.

At any rate, a greater diversity of women characters is always welcome in fiction, especially the anti-hero.

Other book-related posts:
Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée
Studio Saint-Ex by Ania Szado
Bombay Wali and other stories by Veena Gokhale
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
Gay Dwarves of America by Anne Fleming
One Good Hustle by Billie Livingston
The World is Moving Around Me by Dany Laferrière
The Return by Dany Laferrière

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