HOW Y&B CAME TO BE, THE YOGA AND BEYOND STORY – NING GAO
I grew up in Harbin, a small city in far north eastern corner of mainland China. My childhood was beyond what most in western culture could imagine. My early childhood was impacted by the strong influence of communism and Chairman Mao. Though my childhood occurred on the cusp of a monumental proletarian cultural revolution and the beginning of enormous change, in my early years communism was still very strong. For instance, during my infancy, my parents were reported by neighbours for supposedly Western supportive comments, arrested, and sent to a work camp for almost 3 years. I lived on the street from age 4 to 7.
Following that ordeal my family moved cities, my father educated, and ultimately became the equivalent of a Magistrate in Chairman Mao’s ‘no-legal’ system. But our family struggled many years. We lived without many comforts. We never knew television, phones or a car. Our family of five lived in one room for 18 years. Those years were the happiest of my life. I remember the warmth and contentment when my mother would cook rice for us. I still recall the joy and excitement when Spring Festival came, and I could have a new piece of clothing, a few candies, or a dumpling dinner. It took little to make us happy. And, some of my youngest memories also included an inexplicable great emotion when I would move my body to music. Without understanding its origins, I began to love dance.
When I was 17, my father informed me dancing would not provide for me. With that admonition, and his stern guidance, I turned my attention to my studies. I studied hard becoming ultimately one of the 2% qualified for acceptance to University. I moved on to become one of the few accepted to Law School. And again, becoming one of the rare few accepted as legal counsel to work in the High Court of China. Sacrifice had become my constant companion. For personal elation, growth, and joy I returned often to the music in my heart that blossomed into movement of my feet and body. My love of music, cadence and rhythm never stopped growing. It became and remains an intrinsic part of my soul.
After 9 years of law, a failed marriage, and a yearning for change, I chose to leave China. This adventure required that I leave behind me all I knew and loved. With one suitcase, and only my memories, I bade farewell to my family, my successful career, and the only country and culture I knew. But I moved to Canada with with two new friends: dreams and hope . Not knowing one word of English I began again.
I arrived in Vancouver in 1996. I saw blue sky, breathed clean air, and immediately sensed freedom and opportunity. I fell in love with Canada instantly. Challenges were routine. I could not find work. I could not communicate. I failed an interview for a dish washing position. I feared public situations because of my language barrier. I overcame it, and studied for eight months to learn English. I next attended massage training, began a business, and soon after, yoga found me, but this time re-united with my old friend: joy of music, rhythm and body movement. In 1997 A very dear friend who I will never forget offered me free basement commercial space. I used it to begin my first yoga studio. The newfound outlet for the expression and flow which came from my heart grew rapidly. As the yoga grew, so did many beautiful friendships. As I look back on that little basement studio which continued 13 years, those years forged the skills and foundation of my yoga practice, and showed me how to maintain and grow a yoga business.
In our life experience we touch many lives and find many friends. Few people in my life have provided a more meaningful place for change and growth as did that dear friend who gave me that free practice space. He selflessly gave a gift which I feel a duty to ‘pay it forward’. Yes, it may be said we need to survive and earn a living. But to me, I am honoured with my struggles and life experiences, and am also honoured to create opportunities and places for change in others now. I believe in the miracle of Yoga.
I continued my quest for excellence, for peace, for harmony and for flow and expression from the heart. I trained continuously. As the ability to travel the world in search of excellence grew, I continuously sought to learn, and pass my lessons forward, in honour of those who have been and are models for me. I sought out the best conferences, retreats, workshops and as many varieties of teacher training as I could find. This quest gave me many great experiences. In the meantime I had the privilege of instructing over the years in numerous Calgary yoga studios. I have been blessed be invited to guest host Chinese yoga conferences and training programs. I have now hosted many many yoga retreats, and, the joy of them is indescribable. Of the many joys of life, few match the conclusion of an intensive retreat occasioned with tears, embracing, beautiful new friendships, and new abilities celebrated by all. In 2005, I met one of the founding executives of the world wide Yoga Works institution which has trained some very famous yoga instructors. In 2015 that relationship was renewed and Yoga and Beyond hosted Yoga Works Teacher Training. Again, another dream fulfilled.
As part of my continuing quest, while in Bali in 2009, I was deep in discussion with a woman I had just met in coffee shop. She inspired me. Her words of encouragement found a home in my heart. I risked the house I had greatly struggled and sacrificed to obtain, and used it as security for a business loan, and took another enormous leap of faith. I built the Yoga and Beyond Studio in Kensington. And then waited for lovers of yoga to come. Or lose my house. They came. They were beautiful. And they kept coming, in greater numbers. The joy of having a place to celebrate my dreams and love of teaching was fulfilled. And. It was repeated again in October of 2014 when we opened a second Yoga and Beyond location near Centre Street and 16th Avenue N.
But going back briefly to 2004. I was intrigued by a yoga practitioner who was attracting great attention worldwide, so I travelled to Hong Kong to attend one of her workshops. It was Ana Forrest. The change that her philosophies and methods brought to my practice were profound. From that time I followed her, and trained in Forrest Yoga as much as I could. For more than 2 decades I have trained under many amazing teachers , but I have to say, Ana Forrest had the biggest impact on my practice and my life. Her discipline and strength inspired me. Her training, thought by some to be among the toughest in the world, has taken my personal practice to levels I never thought possible. I have now completed two “Forrest Yoga” Advanced Teacher Training courses. With Ana’s encouragement, I have finally enrolled in the program which will qualify me to be an accredited Forrest Yoga Instructor. For 10 years I have sought to bring Ana to Calgary to share her gifts here. That quest was fulfilled in a beautiful way in August 2015, when Yoga and Beyond hosted Ana Forrest for 5 workshops, and forged the beginning of many more to come. Again, another amazing dream come true.
Summarizing, for about two and a half decades, through many overlapping journeys, all of YOU who have come to us, are a beautiful gift. The Yoga and Beyond community has grown beyond any dreams that accompanied me with that one suitcase and my hopes when I stepped off the plane in Vancouver those many years ago. I will never be able to fully describe how much all of you mean to me. But again, it is with love and immeasurable gratitude that I tell you that you are part of my journey.
Life begins with nothing material and ends with nothing material. The joy of acquiring friends, sharing, learning, yields the greatest gifts of all. Those gifts follow us through eternity. With tearful recollection now: I thank my father for his love and encouragement. And I will never forget my dear friend Gary for his kindness, generosity and greatest example of my life. I thank ‘music, body, and movement, which have become the vessel which have immeasurably elevated the experience of life. And lastly, I thank my husband Daniel, my son Jerry , and I thank my family in China. And I thank every one of you, all of my friends.
I can say without reservation, truly I am in love with my life with all of you.
Love and Light