Last summer, while the rest of us were drinking beer and fleeing indoors to escape the forest fire smoke, Krystal Thompson was outside doing yoga, in a bikini, on a paddle-board. It was part of a month-long “bikini body project,” and the body positive yogi was down-dogging and sun-saluting her way through societal expectations.
“A bigger-size body doing yoga on a paddle board? That seems like only really thin people get to do that. It felt like I was pushing that boundary.”
Krystal is a yoga instructor and therapist who’s been in Yellowknife on and off since 2005. Along with teaching yoga in schools and doing one-on-one yoga therapy, she’s deeply involved in the online body positive movement, using Instagram’s #fuckyourbeautystandards #honoryourcurves to show that “yoga is for every body.”
“I saw how yoga helped me love and accept my body, and I wanted that to be how I helped people. Just putting my body out there online is already a thing. It feels amazing seeing people respond and be like ‘I’ve been wanting to start yoga but my body looks like yours. But now I think I can, because I see you.’”
Krystal first came to Yellowknife in March 2005 from Montreal to work as a permafrost researcher. She took a permanent job for the GNWT that September, but was back in Montreal a year later. The next few years saw an intermittent relationship with Yellowknife, working stints as a scientist for the GNWT or the Feds, and then taking off to study yoga or dance or write music in an island cabin off the West Coast.
In 2009 she decided to become a yoga teacher. Although she’d been doing it for over a decade, it was decision fraught with doubt.
“I thought ‘I can’t go and be a Yoga instructor till I lose like 100 pounds.’ But Jenn Skelton [my instructor in Yellowknife] pulls out this book with [famed yoga teacher] Geeta Iyengar on the cover; she’s amazing and she doesn’t look like someone on the cover of Yoga Journal, the thin, white, privileged version of yoga.”
Krystal took courses in yoga instruction and therapy, then set up a business in Yellowknife teaching yoga and using yoga techniques for things like helping singers with breathing or people with degenerative diseases maintain their mobility. These days, the majority of her work is in Yellowknife and Behchoko schools using yoga to help students concentrate and control their behavior.
“I have lovely testimonials from when I worked at St. Joe’s… Kids being like ‘I felt so angry with my brother I wanted to hit him, but instead I turned around and did yoga breathing. Yoga is stopping me from hurting people.”
Her biggest, and perhaps most surprising, success has been with teen boys, confirming her philosophy that yoga is for everyone. “Getting to push societal norms in terms of who gets to access to Yoga, that’s what I love the most.”
What are your earliest memories of Yellowknife?
I land, it’s March, it’s dark, it’s winter and cold, and we drive from the airport to a B&B on Latham Island. In that space of time, I’m already deciding I’m moving here from Montreal. The beautiful exposed rock and the coniferous trees, and it being so clean and pure with the snow and light of March. It looked like Canadian Shield landscape, and I think I was drawn to it because my family had a cabin in Northern Ontario and that was my favourite place growing up. Driving into town, where the airplane and Yellowknife sign is, already at that point, I was like ‘I’m moving here.’
What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?
The community. Feeling like there’s so many amazing communities here and feeling so supported. I love that the community does so many amazing things; watching people respond to a person whose house burnt down, or watching people respond to someone posting on Facebook about their dog going missing, or ‘Help, I need a wheelbarrow!’ Even to walk down the street and know people; you feel you’re loved and supported by a bigger community.
What’s your least favourite thing about Yellowknife?
I feel there’s nothing I would change if I could wave a magic wand, because the way it is here is what creates that sense of community. Except I still find the darkness very challenging. The darkness coupled with the cold. I go down in energy, and it’s been affecting me more and more every winter. But I have a mitigation strategy in mind: go to Bali for six weeks this winter, or Thailand, or somewhere where the sun is shining.
How do you spend your winters?
Winters tend to be pretty busy, lots of yoga and singing with the choir; in the past it was lots of of skiing and creative projects, just trying to keep busy. Lately that busyness has more been on the business side, having to do all the marketing, all business planning, coming up with new ideas.
How do you spend your summers?
I love being on the water and in the water as much as I possibly can. And BBQs and fires. This summer I really hope to be canoeing as much as possible and getting out on my paddle board. Last summer I did something called the Bikini Body Project. I was going to wear a bikini for a month wherever I was, indoors and outdoors, within appropriate bounds. I blogged about it. For the first post I’m in my bed in my bikini, the second one I’m sitting at the dinner table eating beets from the garden in my Bikini, and then I make it into the yard. I was going to save doing yoga in my bikini on my paddle board for the final day, but by day six I’m already on my paddle board in my bikini.
What kind of opportunities have you found in Yellowknife that you don’t think you’d find elsewhere?
The opportunity to go into schools and teach yoga is a bit easier up here, possibly because it’s easier for the community to know you so you don’t have to market yourself as much. I also think there’s a bit more leeway for schools to be creative with their budgets up here; I hear schools down south don’t have as much money. Another cool thing about Yellowknife is that people are really open-minded in terms of new therapeutic practices. When I was like ‘I’m a yoga therapist,’ I definitely had to do some education around that, but it wasn’t too long before people were like ‘Oh, that sounds neat.’ There are also amazing opportunities working for the government up here: you get greater responsibility and better experience than you would down south.
Are you a Yellowknife Lifer?
I think I am, I’ve already tried to leave twice and I came back. When you’re here you can get into the grass is greener concept, like ‘oh down south, there’s so much going on,’ especially as an artistic person. I want to go to shows, I want to go to art galleries, I want to have friends who are working on those things; but that is available here. And maybe the ability to connect with people, the ability to feel like you’re loved and supported by the community here is actually more important than seeing the sun in December. That said, the future might see me taking time away in the darkest times of the year. But I think my heart is here.