The last weekend in May 1999 when everyone around the world was busy with the opening of the new "Star Wars" film, I experienced another kind of force. It was the mind-body-spirit energy of yoga as part of a three-day Contact Yoga Workshop at the Inn at Manitou, outside Toronto. Ken "Nateshvar" Scott and Helen Goldstein, both long-time and innovative yoga teachers, who exude pixyish charm and radiant youthfulness--they appear 15 years younger than their ages--led the workshop.
The success of the workshop was due in no small part to its setting. The luxurious Inn at Manitou is on a beautiful lake and has lovely grounds. Public spaces and the dining room are magnificent and incorporate quality European and Asian art and beautiful flower arrangements. My grand suite with a fireplace, sauna, Jacuzzi and a porch overlooking the water was well appointed with every comfort. But thankfully, it lacked the intrusion of a television.
At every meal the Inn's nine French chefs prepared praiseworthy dishes with imaginative flair and complex flavors. The menu in the elegant dining room always offered spa versions (less fat and cholesterol) of several regular items. A beautiful salon is the venue for high tea each afternoon.
The Inn originally started as a hard-core tennis boot camp, but is now a five-star Relais & Chateau property with a world-renowned tennis clinic. Boating, sailing, kayaking, pontoon cruising and canoeing take place on the lake. Hiking and horseback riding are other options and a golf academy is just down the road.
There is a health club, exercise classes and a beautiful spa, which opened this year and offers a full range of European treatments and products. Beautifully decorated with soft tones and exotic flowers suggested by a feng shui expert, the spa emanates a restful feeling. Dawn Chinchen, director, noted that the spa takes a more European than North American approach to beauty and skin care by personalizing the treatments and using marine-extract rather than acid-based products. A shiatsu and aromatherapy aesthetician is on staff. I delighted in a sea-salt scrub, which purifies and exfoliates the skin and leaves it smooth and glistening. I also enjoyed a heavenly aromatherapy massage as well as the Vichy waterfall, a warm water jet that kneads the entire body.
The first evening, Scott and Goldstein demonstrated the poses that they would teach over the next few days, specifically a kind of yoga that Ken has pioneered called "flying." We watched incredulously as he lifted Goldstein off the ground with his legs and guided her through a series of poses, reminiscent of a Cirque du Soleil acrobatic routine. When told that by the end of the weekend we, too, would be able to "fly," many of the workshop attendees were skeptical. Moreover, Scott, who is yogi to glitterati such as Demi Moore, Robin Williams, Hillary Clinton and Donna Karan, said he'd "flown" a 300-pound man and that anyone, regardless of shape, size or age could do it. Some of the participants, like myself, have been practitioners of yoga for quite a few years, while others were neophytes. The leaders explained that the workshop is designed to help realign our bodies and rejuvenate our minds and spirits.
"You look at these poses and think 'I could never do that,' " Scott said. "But when you do it, you realize that you can do anything. This kind of work inspires confidence."
The following morning, Scott and Goldstein discussed Chakra Yoga, which focuses on the seven energy channels of the body. We then worked on the root chakra, the key to youthfulness. By being upside down in many of the poses, we defied the usual pull of gravity enabling us to fight the aging process. Ken discussed the importance of kinetic healing experienced through movement and of prana--yogic breathing, which we explored through meditation and breath work. Soon it was time to take flight.
For a glorious 15 minutes, Scott "flew" me, while Goldstein assisted in guiding me through a series of poses that made me feel part ballerina, part bird. I felt a physical and emotional release and recognized the sensation of weightlessness and exhilaration as the kind of spiritual ecstasy Ken had described earlier.
The remaining sessions centered on other aspects of yoga. Yogassage is contact yoga, practiced alone or with a partner that enables deep-tissue massage and stretching. Power Yoga has faster, more dynamic and flowing postures used alone or in tandem. For maximum flexibility, we practiced the Breath of Fire to create heat in the body. Joy Yoga is a combination of dance and stretching that left the group with warm and fuzzy feelings.
As the rain pattered outside and the mist rose off the lake, the final class was one-on-one work with the leaders. We joined hands in a small circle in what is called Light Yoga and stretched together as one unit while being led through a flow of releasing postures. The group came together for a last time to shed inhibitions and stress.
At the end of the third and final day, I was sorry to leave the Inn, but I was able to carry my experience with me. Not only did I still enjoy my new found Zen state from all the exercise, meditation and pampering, but the Inn sent me home with a gourmet packed lunch prepared with the delectable French flair I'd grown accustomed to over the weekend.
The Inn at Manitou. Summer: McKellar, Ontario, Canada POG 1CO. Tel. 800-571-8818.
Winter: 77 Ingram Drive, Suite #200, Toronto, Canada M6M 2L7. Rates start at
$237 all inclusive. The rate for the yoga weekend for three nights all inclusive,
double occupancy is $895 per person. The Inn is open from the beginning of May
to mid-October. In July 1999, Helen Goldstein taught "How to Grow Younger,"
a weekend workshop using yoga, meditation, visualization and breathing to promote
restful sleep, conscious eating and weight management, and to awaken the immune
system. Her holistic approach to health employs Ayurveda, an ancient science
of health and longevity. Contact the Inn for more information. www.manitou-online.com
Air Canada flies to Toronto from over 50 cities around the world.
800-776-3000. The Inn, which is 150 miles from Toronto, can arrange transportation
from the airport for an additional charge. www.aircanada.ca
- Emily Fancher