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Healthy Montrealer: Shirley So

by Anouare Abdou

Shirley So is the owner of Ha Yoga, a studio that boasts the philosophy that “yoga is meant to strengthen and stretch your arms and legs, not cost you one.”  The classes live up to the claim, costing only $7 for 70 minutes. Having grown up in Hong Kong and lived in Vancouver, Shirley came to Montreal to study Commerce at McGill University. After going through yoga teacher training in New York, she decided came back to Montreal to open her own studio and make her passion a full-time job.  Shirley is a true Healthy Montrealer because not only does she live and breathe yoga, she is dedicated to making it accessible to everyone.

The inside of Ha Yoga studio (courtesy of Shirley So)

How did yoga change you?

At first, my practice was much more physical. But then I started being more aware and mindful of the effects on my mind. I started taking the lessons I learned on the mat off the mat. I also spent a month in an Ashram in the Bahamas and it made me feel strongly about the community aspect of yoga.  

Why did you decide to open Ha Yoga?

I thought Montreal needed an affordable yoga studio where people won’t have to think twice about taking a class because its $ 20. It was kind of scary at first because I felt young and inexperienced but I told myself that I will regret it if I don’t do it now.

What are the challenges of running your own yoga studio?

It is fulfilling and I love it and every day I love coming here but of course there is the stress of doing the marketing, paperwork and tax returns. But the biggest challenge for a young entrepreneur is patience. Because what you constantly hear in business school is that it takes a couple of years for a business to thrive.

Why is it important to you to make yoga accessible to everyone?

I believe that if everyone practiced yoga the world would be a better place.

Shirley So (courtesy of Shirley So)

How do you compromise between offering classes at such a low price and running a successful business?

In order to maintain the price and still survive as a business we definitely need to rely on the number of students that come to the studio. We’re still in the baby phase of our business to get that number growing.

What is your favorite yoga pose?

It changes all the time but right now I really like the Scorpion. 

What is your eating philosophy?

Moderation. Also to be thankful for being nourished and being mindful and present when I eat.

Where do you go out to eat?

I like The Green Panther and Burritoville. I sometimes go for a juice at Kafein.  The Vietnamese sandwiches at Vua are really good too.

What other workouts do you enjoy?

I take a variety of dance classes at the MAA since I teach yoga classes there. I also swim a lot, about three times a week.  My favorite pool is the one at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal.  

Describe the perfect one-day itinerary that you would suggest to a friend visiting from out of town.

I would take them to the mountain and then go for brunch at Aux Vivres. Maybe walk on Mount Royal Ave. to see the little stores.  Then go to the Old Port to walk near the river and get some ice cream. And at night go to a BYOB restaurant around the Plateau for dinner.