Mashing up art and yoga

If you love yoga or are just inquisitive, the Art Gallery of Mississauga might be of interest to you. One Wednesday a month, the gallery holds Art and Yoga, a yoga session led by a professional Kundalini yoga teacher, at which you can contemplate the art and your body and spirit all at once.

I spoke with Tina Chu, the engagement officer at the AGO, and Salimah Kassim-Lakha, the gallery’s yoga instructor, about how the event came to be and the links between yoga and visual art.

Meeting the right person at the right time is the embodiment of yoga, according to Kassim-Lakha. A chance encounter last summer started Art and Yoga: Kassim-Lakha wandered by an AGM info table at Celebration Square that was staffed by Chu, and told her that she was a yoga therapist.

One of the gallery’s exhibitions at the time was 011+91 | 011+92, which explored the themes of fluidity and the cross-pollination of South Asian cultural rituals and Western ones. The AGM’s special projects docent, Sana Saleem, was interested in comparing Kundalini yoga to azan, the Muslim call to prayer. After Chu introduced them, Kassim-Lakha and Saleem put together the first Art and Yoga event. It was such a success that the AGM invited Kassim-Lakha to design a wellness residency inspired by the gallery’s exhibitions, says Chu.

For Kassim-Lakha, practising yoga while surrounded by art was an uplifting experience. “When I think of art, I think about the artist being inspired by what they see around them. So much comes from community memberships,” says Kassim-Lakha. Like art, yoga is about translating those experiences to another form.

During the sessions, each inspired by the gallery’s art, a dialogue takes place between art and yoga. Kassim-Lakha describes this process: “In the space, I look around. I wait for the moment when I make the connection, and that’s what I teach. It’s always inspired by the theme of the gallery.” The mood is different for each session. “There’s a palpable electricity in how you become charged through visual arts and Kundalini yoga,” says Chu.

For Kassim-Lakha, yoga offers a chance to touch the brahman, traditionally the part of your being that’s infinite and undying. “Once you touch the part of yourself that’s lived thousands of experiences, there’s no answer that’s untapped,” she says. According to her, this connection leads to a stronger nervous system. “When the nervous system is strong, emotions of doubt and fear—causing stress—can be moved through with fewer blocks, and you have the ability to bounce back from stress,” Kassim-Lakha explains.

“For students who are juggling work, studies, and social life, Kundalini yoga is a good way to tune into the needs of one’s body and to re-energize,” says Chu. The program is free, and participants are welcome to pay what they can. “The format allows the community members who might not be able to afford yoga at a studio to drop in and contribute what they can, even if it’s simply their presence.”

Art and Yoga gives participants a fun way to become more self-aware through Kundalini yoga while enjoying the AGM’s exhibitions. The next session will be held April 9, just in time for exam season.

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