Yoga at home: Relaxing space, relaxed mind

Yoga, the ancient practice of breathing, movement and meditation, is thriving in Montreal. In fact, there are so many types of yoga now on offer that you can choose a practice entirely based on your sensibilities, such as bikram if you like it hot, ashtanga if you like it more physical, kundalini if you’re interested in breathing alignment, or kripalu, which adds meditation.

As more people, young and old, take up yoga for good health, suppleness and sometimes for enlightenment, they often discover that they want more than a yoga class a few times a week.

They look for a favourite spot at home where they can complete the daily yoga ritual, a place they dedicate to their practice. Some use a separate room, while others simply carve out a quiet space in a corner of the living room. Whatever they choose, the key is to create an atmosphere that is so calming that even the family dog, with a deep sigh, is able to relax. What makes the space? Start with soft colours, music, candles and statuary.

All of these are in abundance in the yoga spaces that follow. Whether you’re a relative novice like Marie-Ève Méthot, who has been doing yoga for just a few years, or a veteran practitioner like yoga…

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teacher Kelly McGrath, a tranquil space sets the stage for the calm concentration needed when doing yoga.

Marie-Ève Méthot learned about quiet spaces while living in Tokyo. “I lived in a traditional house in Japan, with a tatami bedroom,” she says. “There was a tokonoma, a little alcove space to meditate, that you could decorate with your favourite flowers.”

The little carved cabinet that she used for meditation in Tokyo is now part of her personal yoga space, a raised platform in her Westmount loft. Surrounded by fine gauze drapery, the cabinet stands on an antique lacquered side table, and on it Méthot places objects that inspire her – a set of bells from Japan, lacquered rose petals, a crystal and her favourite photo from her collection of black-and-whites from Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert’s startling series on wild creatures.

On the floor near the edge of the Persian rug on which she practises her yoga early each morning, she keeps a low table with teacups and a pink wax bowl from Morocco filled with water and floating candles.

“When I practise, I like to light the candles if it’s dark, and put on soft music,” says Méthot, who began yoga when she returned from Tokyo in 2008. “Now I have a different body with yoga; I feel taller. And now I’m addicted.”

Each morning, the living room of Kelly McGrath’s small N.D.G. apartment undergoes a transformation. The coffee table is moved aside, the couches are pushed back, and a rattan screen becomes the backdrop for the low table in front of which she lays her yoga mat. With her three dogs relaxing nearby, inhaling the tender scent of Tibetan incense, she completes her hour-long ritual.

“I like to make up a small table, which I call an altar, so I can meditate,” says McGrath, who has been teaching yoga for 11 years full time, and practising for more than 20. On it, for inspiration, she puts a statue of Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty and prosperity, and images of people she loves: her husband snowboarding on a mountainside, her two nieces and, at the forefront, the Dalai Lama.

“One is supposed to put a photograph of one’s teacher, and he has never been my teacher,” McGrath admits, “but I’ve been in his presence a few times and to me he is the living embodiment of compassion and humanity. He is a great teacher.”

She wears comfortable, loose clothing, always cotton, and usually plays soft music, feeling a sense of the sky or vast ocean from the turquoise walls. “I find turquoise very calming; it helps me feel more balanced,” she says.

“And I like the accents of red in the room: it’s associated with the root chakra, at the bottom of the pelvic floor, so it helps to feel grounded and stable. I put red in the cushions and the curtains as a highlight in the room.”

A large space isn’t necessary to practise yoga, says McGrath, who teaches at United Yoga Montreal. Doing yoga at home gives her a chance to practise with her three dogs around her. “Sometimes it brings a sense of playfulness, and other times they get so relaxed from the yoga that I’m doing that they’re often lying down around me. I really love that.”

Yoga teacher Bram Levinson has wide open spaces in his Plateau loft, lots of green plants and evocative yoga art and statuary set against sage green walls, but wherever he chooses to place his yoga mat, the ritual remains the same. “I make sure that I sweep the floor so that it’s really clean, and I wash my hands,” he says.

Then he chooses a piece of furniture, like a cabinet, which he covers with a soft cloth and prepares as the centrepiece for his practice. He places candles and a statue of Ganesh, “the remover of obstacles, prayed to at the beginning of celebrations,” says Levinson, who also has a tattoo of the god on his left calf.

Most days, with his sweet old Jack Russell terrier Oliver sound asleep nearby and illuminated by candles and natural light, he begins his practice with a short meditation and chant.

Home practice is a necessity for Lee-Ann Matthews, whose yoga teaching has its own particular rewards and challenges – her students are children from age 3 to age 10. Specially trained at the Kripalu yoga centre in Massachusetts, she has been teaching children for five years.

“I practise at home because I need quiet, and there’s something nice about early morning for me, when no one’s around and you’re not too far from your dream state,” she says. “It helps me get into the zone.”

Matthews is referring to the meditation zone, which she believes is central to any yoga practice and affords a sense of inner life that you can bring to any activity. For this reason, she believes yoga practice can be done anywhere, and with no props at all – in her case, a Persian rug and blanket is all she uses.

“When I’m on my own, I don’t need anything extra,” she says. “I try to dive in, to go inside. You don’t need a yoga mat to do yoga. It’s a state of mind.”

No shivers and no shoes

Spending a productive hour doing yoga, without being bothered by people talking or loud music, means you need to set aside a quiet time and a quiet space. To do that, it’s best to keep in mind the following:

First, outfit yourself in loose clothing, to allow unrestricted movement for the yoga postures and breathing exercises.

Keep the temperature moderately warm, and have a shawl handy as cover so you don’t get cold when you settle into relaxation mode.

Bare feet are preferable; it’s easier to keep them firmly planted on a yoga mat, which should be slightly tacky. Hardwood flooring is preferable to rugs, although you can lay your mat down on any surface. If you’re not using a mat, a clean, bare floor or small area rug will do.

Add a few pieces of contemplative art to an otherwise uncluttered space, and use natural light whenever possible. If you’re practising at night, light a few candles. Do your best to avoid harsh fluorescent lights.

If you like music during your practice, consider natural sounds, Eastern chants or soft classical music.

Interview for this story:

Kelly McGrath teaches kripalu yoga at United Yoga Montreal, 451 Ste. Catherine St. W., Suite 203. Phone 514-849-7100; visit

Bram Levinson manages and teaches at Centre Luna Yoga, 231 St. Paul St. W., Suite 200. Call 514-845-1881; visit He is also featured in the Yoga Flo for the Earth DVD, sold at all Montreal Lululemon locations as well as at Centre Luna Yoga.

Lee-Ann Matthews is founder and teacher at Kids Space Yoga. She can be reached at 514-262-4060 or

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