By Heather Killen
Yoga mats and meditation cushions were scattered over the mission-style plank floors, while kirtan chants replaced the usual psalms sung in the shelter of the majestic hemlocks at the Berwick Camp for three days earlier this month.
A Halifax-based yoga teacher recently organized a festival to benefit the camp, while restoring bodies and souls.
Originally built by the Methodist Church and later owned by the United Church of Canada, Berwick Camp has been a place of worship, fellowship and healing for generations. Through both World Wars, The Great Depression and into present day, it has served as a haven for faith and spiritual renewal.
The Camp has opened its door to other groups, including the Atlantic Christian Ashram, Baha’i Summer School, Choral Federation of Nova Scotia and even school bands. Over the July 6 weekend, as many as 100 yogis from across the province had a chance to experience the tranquility of the camp during what Jenny Kierstead hopes will be an annual Berwick Yoga Festival.
Kierstead, owner of Breathing Space Yoga Studio, facilitated the three-day event partly to benefit the camp’s restoration and partly to inspire her staff and students with fresh insights on how to nurture the life force within.
The festival was the realization of a dream, she said, “to create a space where people can live together for a time, sharing meals, prayer, movement, silence, music and joy.”
The daughter of a United Church minister, Kierstead been going to the camp since was three years old and decided this year to help the place that has given her so much.
“Each year the camp has been my favorite 10 days,” she said. “It’s a community of people who return year after year, it’s a beautiful reunion in a scared place. There are 26 acres where children can roam freely. How many places are left that offer this?”
A devastating wind storm in December 2010 ripped through the camp, destroying many of the cottages on the property and leaving stumps behind in the regal forest. While the storm left behind a trail of destruction, the path is leading towards renewal. Volunteers have been working tirelessly to rebuild the cottages and restore the camp. New trees have been planted, new cottages have been built, and much needed plumbing and electrical upgrades have taken place over the last 18 onths.
Keirstead said she and her family wanted to do something to help support rejuvenation efforts, so future generations can continue to enjoy the special property. Her brother works in forestry and part of the money raised during the festival will be used towards planting new trees.
“The timing was right to do this,” she said. “We’ve been building the (yoga) business over the last number of years and we were finally able to put everything in place.”
A former physical education teacher, Keirstead received the Women of Excellence Award in entrepreneurship and innovation in 2009. In addition to expanding her yoga studio into a successful franchise with three locations, she contributed to the development of the new Yoga 11 curriculum being taught in schools throughout Nova Scotia.
She said the yoga camp was her expression of her life’s work to help others discover their own inner light and purpose, she says.
Sometimes the winds of change allow us to identify and shed unproductive habits and mindsets that keep us locked in place, Keirstead said. Yoga encourages people to become aware of the innate wisdom within and to become present in our daily lives, allowing us to recognize new possibilities in our everyday lives.
“The same force that created the mountains, the redwood forests and flows within a newborn baby is inside each of us,” she said. “Nothing outside us can diminish this force. It is robust and unexplainable, but it can be dampened under the layers of ego, or identity.”
Yoga and meditation are paths leading to an internal serenity and develop the ability to see the world with clear perception, she added, rather than repeating the same unproductive patterns.
“The life force inside us needs space to breathe,” she said. “When we strip off the layers of what we aren’t the more fully we can fulfill our life purpose.”
The three day-retreat featured informative talks and workshops, yoga classes, group meditation, fabulous food, chanting, and music.
Workshops included motivational speaker Peter Davison’s Hasya (Laughter) Yoga that combines laughter with yogic breathing. T
herapist Blair Abbass led a guided meditation to overcome fear and enhance creativity.
Peter Goodman offered an introduction to Shambala meditation practice.