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Laughter first, yoga second: Through the Gaze of a Navel

By Courtney Merchand on June 19, 2015

Well, it finally happened folks. There I was, bent over in my Downward Dog when Emelia Symington Fedy – the yoga instructor, professional advice giver, self-proclaimed pop psychology expert and witty performer – told the class to “twerk it like you can work it”.

I never thought I’d see the day I’d be encouraged to twerk in a yoga class, let alone in front of an audience, but I can (somewhat) proudly strike that off my bucket list now. I’m not saying it was Emeila’s very real threat to keep the butts bouncing until everyone participated, but sometimes peer pressure prevails.

Through the Gaze of a Navel is a performance in the form of a yoga class, which gave attendees the choice of participating by claiming a mat at the front of the room or observing by taking a seat in the audience. The interactive class was created by the Vancouver-based theatre company, The Chop, and was featured at the Arts Court as part of the Magnetic North Theatre Festival.

It was immediately clear that Emelia is an impressively clever performer as she guides the audience through her satirical version of a yoga class. She has her audience in stitches from the moment she enters the room, making it increasingly difficult to hold any pose. The laughing was more demanding and labour-intensive than the yoga itself, as the class is easily adaptable to all levels.

Unsure of what I was really getting myself into, my sense of self-awareness was heightened when I claimed one of the 10 rolled out mats closest to the audience.

The characteristically silent, meditative state that embodies every yoga class I’ve ever attended was immediately shattered the minute I got a handful of fragrant flower petals to the face – for good “blessings”, of course.
But her piece isn’t all about fun and games. Emeila uses her refreshing brand of dry humour to lighten the room before she tiptoes around the underlying, deeper theme of her performance – the darkness we’ve all faced at one time or another.

“I’ve done everything I can to get around those anxious, uncomfortable feelings. I’m an expert at avoiding the void,” she said.

In order to be a legitimate self-proclaimed pop psychology expert, or a self-proclaimed anything, you need to back it up. And that’s exactly what she did, unraveling a scroll that stretched from one wall to the other, listing every new-age medicine you could think of – and then some.

After dedicating 15+ years and spending roughly $70,000 to date on various self-help techniques, I think she more than qualifies for the position.

If you aren’t aware what kind of mystic enlightenment that kind of money can buy you, let me share a few of my favourites:

  • Emotional acupuncturist: “Her name’s MoMo and we meet on Skype. She just pokes me in places where it hurts, emotionally, which brings about feeling.”
  • Hallucinogenic drugs: “Just mushrooms, mostly”
  • Ecstatic dance: “You’re in a room, it’s about 10 in the morning, there are usually a lot of dreadlocks and you’re listening to techno music. It’s basically like going to hell.”
  • Jade egg therapy: I’ll spare you the details here, but it’s a vagina strengthening technique

In retrospect, the better question might have been what it can’t buy you.

This is not your average yoga class. Or theatrical performance, for that matter. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and for that I applaud Emeila for her brutally honest and absurdly comical performance.

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