It's just after 6 a.m., and 14 men and women are stretched out on their yoga mats. They're partaking in one of Sabu Chaitanya's month-long intensives at ShantiYoga in downtown Whitehorse.
Each participant is attending a class like this five days a week for four weeks, accepting the challenge and growth that comes with this process. For many of the students, this is not an easy task. However, the rewards are quick to reveal themselves.
"Classes can be intense at times, especially when you first start out," says Joe, who's been coming to Shanti Yoga for more than a year.
"But Sabu works with you where you're at, and helps you to move forward. Daily practice, for me, has meant big improvements in how I feel both physically and mentally."
"Several years ago I had trouble with my body alignment," says Carla, another of Sabu's students.
"After two years of physio, the therapist said there was nothing more she could do for me. She suggested I try yoga. That was the best advice I ever received. I am now living pain free, as long as I do yoga."
Carla's story isn't unique. Lori is one of Sabu's first students in the Yukon.
"When I took my first yoga intensive with Sabu five years ago, I was unable to lift my back off of my mat to do a simple back bend. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 15 and, although always fit and active, I had limited range of motion in my back and hips," she reminisces.
"With Sabu's unrelenting encouragement and guidance, I am now not only able to hold myself in advanced back bends, I can perform, with ease, simple everyday tasks such as shoulder checking when I drive. My doctor, a scoliosis specialist for 40 years, has told me that he has never had a patient whose range of motion and flexibility has improved so dramatically."
Sabu acknowledges that the effects of regular yoga practice with a knowledgeable teacher can be profound. He speaks from experience; he's taught thousands of people over the last 25 years.
Born in Kerala in southern India, he began studying to become a monk (Swami) at the age of 16.
After a few years of rigorous training he received his Yoga Teachers Training and Advanced Yoga Teachers Training through the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Organization, and later managed various yoga centres in India and San Francisco.
He taught classes in Nassau and a number of Canadian and U.S. cities before moving to the Yukon in 2007. Since that time, he's taught 55 intensives to at least 350 Yukoners.
"The value of the intensive is that it gives people an opportunity to leave their confusions and fears behind. Not only do they advance quickly with regard to their physical abilities but they are changed mentally and spiritually, too," says Sabu.
"I can see them becoming more confident and having more peace of mind. They are re-discovering who they really are."
"Lots of people have told me that they can't do yoga because they are not flexible," says Sabu. "But even the most inflexible person will gain flexibility by doing yoga.
"Yoga knows no age. If your spine is stiff you are becoming old, even if you are 20 years of age. If your spine is flexible you are young, even if you are 80."
The important thing, he says, is to start the practice and keep at it, no matter how old you are.
"It will keep you young for the rest of your life," Sabu adds.
"I started doing yoga four years ago, just before my 50th birthday," says Garry, who has taken many of Sabu's intensives. "Now I feel like a 20-year old again!"
Sabu takes a systematic approach to teaching classical Hatha-style yoga. Each class begins with breathing exercises, followed by several rounds of sun salutations to warm up the body and stimulate the mind.
Next comes a series of poses (known as asanas) that stretch and strengthen every part of the body and work every muscle group in every direction.
Classes end with a period of relaxation.
"By the end of class, the energy in the room has totally changed," says Sabu.
"That's especially true when there are a large number of people in the class—put 50 people in a room doing yoga and the entire city will feel the positive energy."
Sabu's dream is to see every Yukoner doing yoga. "Imagine what a wonderful spiritual mood that would create!"
For more information about Sabu's yoga intensives, visit www.sabuyoga.com or visit his studio at 303 Hawkins Street in Whitehorse.
Janet Patterson is a Whitehorse writer who has been doing yoga on and off for most of her life. She’s taken Sabu’s classes for the last two years.