Yoga with Belugas

Beluga whales provide yoga class backdrop at Vancouver Aquariam

Rebecca Tay— Qila and Aurora kinda sound like new-age yoga chants, but they’re actually the names of the Vancouver Aquarium’s two resident beluga whales. The white cetaceans could also your new yoga buddies, thanks to Yoga with the Beluga Whales, when you can downward dog, half moon and savasana in the aquarium’s beluga-viewing gallery.

Aquarium staff and volunteers have been doing similar classes for several years, and the first public class was led by lululemon ambassador and blissologist Eoin Finn to mark World Oceans Day back in 2011. As part of an initiative to reach new audiences, though, Aquarium Program Manager Jonathan Hultquist is now rolling out a whole series to the public—and it’s come at a good time, too, given the heat that aquariums and zoos worldwide increasingly feel from critics.

“Eighty per cent of Canadians live in cities now, compared to about 50 per cent 40 years ago,” says Jonathan. “When people aren’t in rural settings, it’s easy to become less connected to nature.” And programs such as Yoga with the Beluga Whales, he continues, help to reconnect them.

A non-profit organization, the Vancouver Aquarium is fully committed to conservation, connection, and protection. Check out its frog breeding program, which aims to save amphibians from extinction due to fungus; its off-site Rescue Centre, which this summer housed almost 100 seal pups, a harbor porpoise, and a sea otter; and the fact that eight of the 12 marine mammals (nearly 70 per cent) living at the Aquarium are rescue animals. Yoga with the Beluga Whales is simply another demonstration of these commitments.

The great thing about the classes with the belugas is that yoga is such a healthy activity, Jonathan says, “and by helping create people who are healthy, we can start to work on making the world more healthy, too.”

Qila and Aurora are apparently into it, too. “Last month they were blowing lots of bubble rings and looking at folks,” Jonathan says. “It depends on how they’re feeling, of course, but because you’re in front of them for an hour in a calm, meditative state, you’ll notice things you might not otherwise notice.”

Lucky for us, increasing demand means more people can now get their yoga on with the belugas; November’s class, taught by Celeste Lyon, is open to 35 students of all levels (up from 10 in September and 20 in October). Eventually Jonathan hopes to bring in an assistant instructor to fill the second viewing gallery.

This month’s class has sold out, but watch this space for more events to come.

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