Roseanne Harvey • Photo by Joe Yarmush

Roseanne Harvey

Interview by Angela MacKenzie
Portrait by Joe Yarmush

The former editor of Ascent Magazine, Roseanne now runs her own yoga blog, has just edited a book of essays entitled 21st Century Yoga and is one of the founding organizers of the Montreal Yoga Festival. I met with Roseanne at Naada Yoga Studio in Montreal’s Mile-End back in April. She’s been hard at work since then so I’ve updated the interview to reflect the current state of her various awesome initiatives.

Angela: You have an incredibly interesting career that involves writing, publishing and yoga. What did you study in school and how did you come to all of those conclusions?
Roseanne: I studied creative writing at the University of Victoria so the writing came first. The yoga came quite a while later, maybe five or six years after I finished school. During that time I did some traveling and worked, though not so much in my field. I got into yoga really quickly. I’d practiced a bit before but in my late 20s I decided to go live in an ashram in BC. I’d gone through a rough spell, some depression and aimlessness and was really trying to figure out what I was doing. I ended up there feeling directionless and in need of healing. It was Yasodhara Ashram in BC. There’s a lot of tradition there in writing, reflecting and journaling, which was a natural fit because I did all of that anyway. I also got involved in the publishing wing of the ashram— they publish books and they published Ascent Magazine. Timeless Books was the ashram’s in-house publisher. It was there that I kind of got back on track professionally. I worked on editing some books and did an internship as their communications person doing marketing work and newsletters.

This is a pretty amazing ashram!
It’s the kind of place where when you go up there they’ll find out what your skills are and put them to use in the community in some way. They have a knack for that. That’s how the yoga and the writing all came together. And that’s what brought me to Montreal.

Because Ascent Magazine had its main office here?
Ascent had been based here since it was founded in 1999. It originally started as the Ashram’s in-house journal and then they decided to launch it as a yoga magazine. It was auspicious timing because it was just around when yoga was starting to become really popular here. Yoga Journal had just done a rebranding/re-launch so it was good timing to kind of get in on the yoga publishing market (laughs). In 2006 they needed a new editor and I’d heard the position was coming up so I expressed strong interest and was trained and mentored. Then in May 2006 I came to Montreal to do the job. I’ve been here ever since. Six years.

What

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do you miss about editing the magazine now that it’s no longer being published?
I miss working as part of a team. I miss having a team project. What I like about blogging is writing, finding and developing stories and coordinating things. I liked all those aspects of Ascent. We had a unique environment there. You were your whole person. Not your corporate self or your personal self but your whole self. It was a really unique and supportive environment.

Was there anything that you didn’t enjoy about being an editor?
At

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the time, 2006-2009 there were a lot of changes in the magazine world and in publishing. The economy affected everything really badly, so I didn’t like that aspect! I didn’t like the sort of economic, business climate. In some ways there’s a big gap in time that happens, an incubation, between the time when a story idea starts and when it actually comes out into the world. We were a quarterly magazine so this gap was every 6 months. By the time a story we’d worked on actually came out I’d be Oh, right… so I found the pacing hard to manage because you’re never really present. You’re always in the future and the past feels really old.

I guess the nice thing about blogging is that it’s so timely and instant. You can put something out there and share it right away.
Yes, exactly.

So now you have this blog called It’s All Yoga Baby, which is an awesome name by the way. What inspired you to start that?
I started it right after the magazine closed. I wanted a place where I could explore and write about yoga in the way that I wanted to. Maybe that was one of the things I didn’t like about working for a magazine, we had an editorial board etc…

Sure, you had to stick within certain boundaries.
I needed a place where I could say, What is yoga to me? What do I love about it? What do I want to see? So that was the main reason. I wanted to explore the practice and where it fit in contemporary culture. I also wanted to maintain my contacts and community from the magazine because I liked it. I wanted to continue to work in the milieu of yoga and health and so I thought it would be good to keep up with those contacts and stay connected.

Now that you have a blog have you faced a learning curve? Was there something that you weren’t expecting that has been challenging?
For the first couple of years when the blog was just a hobby, a thing on the side, I didn’t learn much technically in terms of blogging or writing. The learning was more around different ideas, personalities, concepts of yoga, more about the content. Then I closed it for a while last year and reopened it in the summer and since then I’ve been working more on monetization and developing relationships.

So you’re learning how to build something that you can make a living with, that’s great.
Yeah, and there were technical things to learn to like how to understand the analytics, how to approach people and ask them to become advertisers and sponsors, how to figure out what it’s worth. That’s been a big learning curve, the business approach.

I also saw that you are co-writing a book on yoga?
I’m co-editing it with a writer and yoga teacher in Chicago, Carol Horton. The book is called 21st Century Yoga, Culture, Practice and Politics. She had the initial idea to edit a collection of essays about contemporary yoga practice and she approached me to collaborate. I thought that it sounded awesome.

It seems like it’s needed.
There’s been a lot of publishing about yoga lately, but they tend to focus either on the technical aspect, the asanas (the poses) or the history or bio personality kind of things. But none were written in the way that she and I kind of think about it. There were a lot of other bloggers in the community also writing about it in the way that we were— a socially engaged, kind of modern/post-modernist way of the practice and how it intersects with culture and social action and politics and commercialism. So then we started just brainstorming people whose voices we liked from the blogosphere. We sent a bunch of emails out to people and most responded. We approached well-known yoga teachers and a lot of others who were involved from a certain niche in the community. We were both involved in giving feedback to the writers. Our original vision was that the writers would collaborate more with each other and read each other’s work, but that didn’t end up happening. People just didn’t really have time to do that.

You went the route of crowdfunding this publication. Why?
We chose to self-publish, first of all, on the Amazon CreateSpace. We chose to do that because we don’t really think the book has much commercial potential (laughs)!

Because you think the niche is too small?
It’s a small niche and also from Carol’s experience. She’s just written a book that’s on the same themes, but her own writing. She has an agent who was shopping it around and it kept getting rejected. With each revision it became less and less mainstream and more theoretical and critical, and she wondered after a while why she was putting herself through it. So she decided to self-publish that book. It’s also about time. If we were going the traditional publishing route we would just now be starting to work on drafts.

Yeah, it can take at least a year to go through that process.
Yeah, we just wanted to bypass all of that and just do it ourselves. Which I think is kind of in line with alternative culture, alternative economy.

It also seems to be happening more often now and it’s an area of publishing that’s becoming more accepted.
We’re not looking for mass distribution or for it to be in big bookstores.

You just want it to be read by the people that really interested in this aspect of yoga culture.
We just wanted it to get out. So the crowdfunding… neither of us had the money to fund it ourselves and it’s not very much through CreateSpace. It’s under $1000 to self-publish. It seemed like crowd funding would be a good way to also have our first marketing effort. We did it through Indiegogo.

It’s kind of like Kickstarter?
It’s like Kickstarter’s ugly little brother. It’s not as sexy and glamorous but it totally does the job. Our goal was $2000. We were worried that we wouldn’t make it, gave ourselves the goal of the end of April. And then we ended up getting full funding within 48 hours of launching the campaign. UPDATE: In the end we raised about $3000 on Indiegogo which covered all of the design and promotional costs.

Well that’s telling you something!
There’s been so much enthusiasm and so much interest. It’s kind of a good way to open up the conversation more and get it out on a bigger platform. I feel like it has more reach, which is weird (more reach than the internet?) but the reception from the community has been really amazing.

How many hardcopies are you going to print?
Well that’s the great thing, it’s print-on-demand.

You just do it as someone orders it. That’s a great format. You don’t get stuck with too many copies.
Even with Timeless, it’s a vanity press and print runs were like 5000 copies. They’re cheaper if you do more of them, say 10000 copies, but then you end up with 8000 books sitting in a warehouse. These obscure things.

UPDATE: When did you finally launch 21st Century Yoga and what has the response been like so far?
It came out in September. The response has been phenomenal—lots of interest and great press. Although I would like to see more discussion around the issues in the book, rather than the book itself.

 

Tell me about this yoga conference that you’re organizing in Montreal. Is it the first of its kind in Quebec?
Yes. This is the first one. It’s called Yoga Festival Montreal and it’s happening at the beginning of June, June 8,9 10. It’s inspired by and based on the Toronto yoga festivals. There’s two big yoga events in Montreal every year, the Toronto Yoga Conference and Show which happens in April. It’s like a trade show in the convention centre. They fly in the big names from all over, it’s a big commercial event. There’s still community in it, and there’s a few local teachers.

But it’s more of an International model.
It’s kind of the model that’s used in the Yoga industry, the big conference model. And then there’s the Toronto Yoga Festival that happens in August and it’s like a smaller grassroots, community organized, community grown event. I’d just come back from that event in 2010. I was really inspired by it and it was nice to see the Toronto yoga community come together and the diversity in the community and the range of experience and the connection that people had to each other. And the respect, too. Yoga studios are commercial spaces and often studios are in competition with each other. So there can be tension and competition almost. But in that kind of environment all that is taken away. People are just there to practice and to be exposed to different ways of doing things. So I came back to Montreal and wondered what was happening here?

There are really great studios here.
Yeah, but I find myself only really knowing what’s going on within my community. I came back from Toronto wanting to see what was happening throughout Montreal. So I was talking to some friends and they were all interested in organizing something. The vision is just

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to have the community come together and bridge the divisions, like our language divide. And for me I have a personal interest in seeing what’s happening beyond a certain number of teachers that have a high profile.

So exposing the undercurrents of the yoga community here…
Yeah, we actually use that phrase on our website. It’s kind of an experiment. UPDATE: The festival was a big success! It was very well received and the next one is currently being planned for May 31, June 1&2 2013.

With all of the projects that you’re doing, how do you find the balance between work and your personal life?
Naps are good. I recommend naps.

I enjoy those as well.
Luckily I have a good supportive partner who is kind of removed from my projects. He’s not really involved in them. He’s really good at saying ‘let’s go for dinner’ or ‘lets watch a movie’ and stuff. So that’s part of my balancing routine. A lot of my projects I’m involved in are also with my friends, so there’s a lot of crossover there. Going to a meeting is like hanging out with your friends. So there’s blurred lines there. But when I need to block off time, I read, I go to yoga… it’s good to get away from the computer and disconnect for at least an hour. And I try to do things like cook and go for walks. I have to plan it.

So scheduling it into your day is important.
Yeah, I also have a tendency to dive through work and then 8 hours later I’m like, Oh my God!

For young women out there who might be interested in getting into writing and editing and publishing here in Canada, do you have any advice for them?
Yeah. Just do it! There’s a lot of paranoia and anxiety about the state of publishing right now, in terms of traditional jobs, and in publishing houses there’s not a lot of opportunities. But all you need to do is have an idea. All you need is an internet connection and you can start a blog, write there, have a practice and build a community and readership that way, rather than waiting for some editor to discover you and publish you in a magazine that may come out a year and a half after you wrote it. Maybe you’ll get paid $25 for it. I think it’s a really exciting time for anyone interested in writing because there’s so many tools that let you do it on your own. And through that you’ll make connections with people doing the same thing. You can follow Margaret Atwood on twitter and see what she’s doing in her daily life. There’s ways to connect with people that are different than taking university classes, getting a degree or getting a job at the newspaper. It’s all very different now.

So embracing the non-traditional route is probably going to become more traditional anyway.
It’s more empowering and it’s more dynamic and it’s more interesting, I think, than waiting. I spent my early 20s just waiting… Discover me!

Me Too.
Yeah, you don’t have to do that anymore. That’s why I think what you’re doing with this site is so great, you’re just doing it!

Well I think sometimes when the opportunity doesn’t come to you, you just have to create it. So thank you, I’m going to be taking your advice! And thanks for sharing with me today.
Thanks for asking me!

 

Roseanne’s Blog • http://www.itsallyogababy.com/