Out on the Town, Student Life

“Snowga”: Weekend outdoor yoga lessons attract crowds to local Montreal parks

Come winter, the average Montrealer can be found partaking in common outdoor activities such as skiing, skating, and sledding. But snow yoga, a newcomer to the scene also known as “snowga”, is on the rise, vying for a spot as one of the city’s most popular winter sports. Each Saturday and Sunday from Jan. 13 to Mar. 18, crowds of people gather in parks La Fontaine and Laurier to brave the freezing temperatures and partake in this shockingly relaxing activity.

“Snowga,” as instructor Melissa Ciampanelli explains, is the name given to yoga performed outside in the snow. It is taught by Pop Spirit, a “virtual yoga studio” in which owner Marie-Ève Bertrand uses public spaces, such as parks and waterfronts, to lead public groups in physical activities like yoga and stand-up paddle boarding.

“[Bertrand] started Pop Spirit seven years ago, and she started Snowga five years ago,” Ciampanelli said. “[Snowga] comes from Colorado. When [Bertrand] heard of that she said ‘Oh, I think people in Montreal would like that!’”

Apparently, she was right. According to Ciampanelli, morning snowga lessons consistently attract a crowd of 50 “snowgis”.

Although Bertrand’s original vision was to start the free “Snowga” classes simply for fun, their quick success enticed Bertrand to pitch the activity to the Montreal government for funding.  

“When she approached the city of Montreal they actually thought it was a pretty good idea, so they’re even sending her here [and] paying her to do this, which is cool because she just wanted to do it for fun,” Ciampanelli said.

Each Snowga class lasts approximately 40 minutes, as a Pop Spirit instructor leads participants, each with their own yoga mat, through classic yoga moves such as sun salutations, tree pose, and child’s pose. Partakers of the sport typically prepare for the cold by wearing a warm winter coat, comfortable pants, waterproof gloves, and snow boots. At the end of the class, yoga enthusiasts finish off the session with a two-minute relaxation period lying down on the snowy ground.

Although many traditional yoga positions cannot be performed when wearing bundles of warm winter clothing, Snowga incorporates many diverse yoga positions, such as mountain pose and triangle pose, in order to introduce the practice to those trying it for the first time.

“It’s kind of a sample of what yoga is, just to give people that desire to start practicing yoga, to get them to move around and you know, [get] addicted to it,” Ciampanelli said. “It’s just passing on the joy of yoga.”

Just like with most styles of yoga, the goal of Snowga is to get in touch with one’s body and exercise in a low-impact and meditative way. Snowga, however, has an additional central aim: To encourage people to go outdoors to get some exercise while enjoying the beautiful winter landscape, regardless of the temperature.

“The goal is to get people outside,” Ciampanelli said. “[It is] for people to come to the park and enjoy winter, because we enjoy summer, but we don’t always enjoy winter.”

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