09 September 2010

Arts & Upstarts: Julie Gladstone, Starving Artist Yoga

Mixed-Media Artist, Abstract Painter

Starving Artist Yoga
Creative and affordable yoga classes, held in alternative spaces, to feed body, mind and spirit. Started: 2009

What type of business do you run and why did you decide to start it?

Starving Artist Yoga provides yoga classes that most people can afford, in spaces that feel personalized and inviting. The classes are geared towards providing an alternative for people working in the arts, who are self-employed, students or both; however, everyone is welcome to attend, including those who aren’t artists or who have never practiced yoga.

The classes fuse together my training in Hatha yoga, energy work and mindfulness meditation with discussion on ways to apply yogic teachings to everyday living situations, to improve relationships, to let go of unneccessary tension, to develop self-awareness and non-reactivity, to develop a capacity to enjoy life, and to tap into our unlimited creative energy.

I started Starving Artist Yoga out of a desire to demystify and de-stereotype yoga, as well as to share the extremely practical teachings with those who might otherwise be cynical and/or dissuaded from practice. The truth is that many creative and independent thinkers could use the benefits of yoga, which helps to reduce stress, manage overthinking, and help the body feel better, which can become tight and sore by too much sitting or by repetitive movements.

When I moved to Toronto from Montreal in 2009, I was surprised to discover that the cost of a typical class at a yoga studio ranged from $12–$20 and that there seemed to be an increasing emphasis on having a yoga image. At the same time, I see many of my friends and colleagues who are suffering from stress due to financial concerns, or the struggle of trying to make it in the art world, and who feel that they can’t afford to take care of themselves. In addition, many of them feel discouraged from practice because they don’t own the right clothes, or don’t know how to act at a yoga studio, or can’t afford the increasingly rising costs of classes, or just generally don’t feel like they belong in the "yoga world." So I decided to start Starving Artist Yoga.

As soon as I had the idea, fate stepped in in the form of Studio 404 — an open concept loft space in downtown Toronto. The space was operated by artist Bryan Belanger as a type of not-for-profit, mixed-use space for art and wellness practices, including photo and film shoots, burlesque dance rehearsals, kung fu, and Belanger’s own abstract painting practice. Regular classes have been running there since the winter of 2009, and during that time we have also put on a group art show called “The Body Show” with the curatorial assistance of Starving Artist Yoga and OCAD student Kelsea Knowles.

Studio 404
Since then, Starving Artist Yoga has branched out and is now offering classes and yoga intensives in different spaces. [Last year], we had two early morning yoga challenges out of 918 Bathurst, a former Buddhist Temple, which now runs as an arts, culture and media centre. This summer we completed a five-day morning challenge out of Trinity — a quiet, hidden, community-based studio in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood.  [And, earlier this year], I started a Friday evening pay-what-you-can class at Spirit Wind Internal Arts in Kensington Market. Although rooted in Hatha yoga, classes incorporate self-massage, acupressure points and meridian stretching for a restorative and deep healing experience.

This fall is a time of rebirth for Starving Artist Yoga as we will switch our regular Monday evening Hatha yoga class permanently to Trinity. Studio 404 is now Loft 404 ~ the Ambrosia Hub run by the lovely and talented Genna Bauder, and Starving Artist Yoga will continue to teach workshops and special classes there such as our upcoming Yoga and Zen Drawing workshop, to be announced in the near future. 

How do you balance your business with your own art practice?

ARTIST: Julie Gladstone, Potholes & Galaxies (Mixed Media), 5 x 4 feet

Balance is important for me. I spend a lot of time in the studio, and my painting  process is extremely physically demanding. I am on my feet for long hours, I am constantly lifting and rotating large wood panels, and one of my primary techniques involves chiselling through paint and wood — all of which has perpetuated a situation of chronic tension in my right shoulder and upper back. In addition, my painting process is time-oriented and involves patiently building up layers of surface. Overall, my process requires that I strike a balance between raw, spontaneous expression and compositional and time-inspired restraint.

ARTIST: Julie Gladstone, After the Fire (Mixed Media), 2 x 2 feet

I find that teaching yoga is a good complement to my art practice. For one thing, it has proven to be an excellent way for me to leave my painting alone when it needs time to dry, or when my mind and eyes need time away from the composition to help resolve any creative problems, which cannot be solved through force or will.

I love the practice of yoga itself and have seen proven time and again, in my own life, how it helps to put things into perspective. Not only physically does it make me feel fantastic, but intellectually, creatively and emotionally it removes the perception of obstacles and allows for ideas to flow.

What has been the biggest challenge in running of your business? And, what has been the greatest outcome?

On a purely practical level, running my own classes makes sense for me time-wise, as I am, for all intents and purposes, in charge of my own time and can plan my schedule as I wish, which allows me to have creative time.

Perhaps the greatest challenge to date has been the amount of administrative and promotional work that is required of me in order to keep people informed of new classes and to spread the word so that there is a continual influx of new students. Although I am continually trying to refine the balance between the two aspects of my life, ultimately the dream has been to have the classes grow enough through word of mouth that it is a self-sustaining entity that requires little administrative attention so that 100% of my energy can go into class content and creativity.

I’m very excited about making the switch this fall to Trinity Yoga. The space is beautiful, can accommodate more students, and is in an amazing location in the heart of Trinity Bellwoods, which is the epicentre in Toronto for creative and artsy types. I feel very fortunate to have met so many amazing people in Toronto and am always inspired and compelled to keep going when I see the positive impact that yoga seems to be having in people's lives.

In what ways are your artistic vision and entrepreneurial spirit connected?

The word yoga means "union." It’s practices encourage us to understand and connect with our true nature, which is inherently creative and expansive. The practice of yoga trains us to let go of our identification with the petty and transitory aspects of our life experience and to operate based on a deep connection to our creative life source.

My painting practice explores transformation cycles and is equal parts creation and destruction on the route towards achieving the finished composition. Each work goes through many rebirths and phases before it’s final form or true essence is unveiled at the end when the work is complete. I see the processes of digging, searching, letting go of what’s not needed, refining, evolving and transforming as being essential in both my art and yoga practice.

Julie Gladstone

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