The geodesic yoga dome nestled in the island rainforest has become an iconic Bowen Instagram image.
But where its owner, Nectar Yoga has grown in online and off-island prominence over the past seven years, the yoga retreat has flown under the radar locally.
When owners Andrea Clark and Satjeet Pandher moved to Bowen, there were already a few yoga studios on Bowen. So, they left the community side of yoga to the studios and carved their own niche for Nectar Yoga, mostly catering to off-island guests (though there are islanders who come for a “staycation.”)
But, that’s starting to change.
When one of the island’s most prominent yoga studios, the Well, closed at the beginning of this year and with the pandemic still raging, Clark and Pandher saw a need for community yoga space.
“Doing online yoga is wonderful and it’s great that that is an option, but at the end of the day, yoga is really intended as an energetic exchange between teachers, student and a collective,” explained Clark.
So, Nectar Yoga started hosting some community classes in their geodesic dome with small numbers and lots of space.
They also took on The Well’s ever popular Yoga on the Pier program. This summer, Nectar Yoga brought pop-up classes to the public pier with the help of Well teacher transplant Sarah Kraatz. Clark and Kraatz alternated teaching over the summer.
“Yes, there are elements like the ferry coming in and people walking around…that’s also part of the attraction of it – you’re in this energy of summer.”
“It’s been really lovely to see not only the Bowen Island community coming back and practising together, but also people from off-island.
“Most people haven’t been able to practice in a studio for a long time.”
Yoga on the pier is ongoing in October.
When Clark started practising yoga, many years ago, she came to know a yoga teacher who had studied with Indian yoga guru Swami Vishnudevananda – known particularly for popularizing yoga in the West. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Vishnudevananda founded ashrams in Quebec and it was at one of these places of spiritual hermitage that Clark’s teacher to be met the famous guru. “They lived in tents or very simple structures without a lot of heat – it sounded very austere,” said Clark. Her hippie teacher started living there and practising yoga with Vishnudevananda.
Decades later, Clark started practising with the teacher and he encouraged her to pursue teacher training and go to India. “I did it for my own personal self-knowing and exploration,” said Clark.
Then, when she and Pandher met, they were both working corporate jobs and decided to take a year’s leave to travel. They did Karma Yoga (selfless service) in India for a month and found the experience so meaningful, they used it as a model for their own endeavour. “For thousands of years in India, people have gone to ashrams and studied with a teacher, and lived in community and given back to community.
“This is something we need in the West.”
When the couple came back to B.C., Clark didn’t return to the corporate world, instead taught yoga in Vancouver, and the couple started looking for a property for their vision.
After a few misadventures, they found a place on Bowen seven years ago. “It was an experiment,” said Clark. She and Pandher knew that they wanted to live out of the city, closer to nature and build something conscious in their lives.
On Miller Road, the couple opened a little bed and breakfast and a little yoga dome. “We didn’t really focus on retreats or anything at that time, because we had a small space,” said Clark. “[But] it was the initial little spark of the vision.”
The first three months here, Nectar Yoga was all booked up with Clark’s students from the city – she’d told them about this new project she wasn’t sure was going to work and asked for feedback on the experience. “Then, through word of mouth, and through many of our wonderful guests staying with us and lovingly writing articles about us and different things, we got a lot of media coverage, all through the generosity of others.” (Nectar Yoga has been featured on many a travel blog, not to mention Canadian Press, Narcity, 604 Now, the Daily Hive and other outlets.)
Finding the retreat
Five years later, the couple came to a crossroads – they had to decide to stay small at their Miller Road property or go bigger, much bigger.
In 2019, the couple purchased a 20-acre property just off of Meadowbrook Corner on Grafton Road. The driveway winds in towards Mount Gardner, but instead of climbing upward, dips into a valley – “It’s like a womb, like a bowl. And you’re held here,” described Clark. “It feels very remote and secluded and lush.
That’s the space that we wanted, especially for people who live in high rises downtown,” she said. “They don’t have the direct access to nature.”
Clark and Pandher designed the retreat centre buildings, drawing inspiration from the West Coast modern design movement. “We wanted a space that was really thoughtfully designed and modern and I love architecture and design.”
There are the Scandanavian-inspired deluxe cottages, sleeping one to two guests; the one-person A-frames; the forest cottage; and the Onyx Lodge hub. The black-clad buildings were pre-fabricated on the mainland – to reduce waste – and the couple salvaged and repurposed what they could from the old buildings on the property. There is, of course, also the yoga dome.
“You wake up, you open the door, and you’re in the forest,” said Clark. “So that creates the perfect tone for the experience that we are providing.
“Our mission here is to seed consciousness.
“We need lots of places like this around the world that people can come to, and just get more in touch with their creative side, because we’re all creative beings,” said Clark. “When people come here, there’s a little bit of rigidity to how they speak and their actions and then slowly that melts away.
“Then it’s like, ‘Okay, I see you. You see me. We see each other.’”
Building a legacy
But just as everything was getting lined up for the new retreat centre, the pandemic hit. “It’s like a little joke from the universe,” said Clark. “Finally, you can do all the things that you thought you wanted to do. But you actually can’t.”
When Clark and Pandher opened the space, the goal was to host yoga retreats – curated experiences over four or six nights with yoga and other community-type activities. Obviously, this wasn’t a pandemic-friendly plan.
The couple is young and doesn’t have a big outside funder, like some retreat centres, but they’re building this as a legacy project, said Clark. “That’s what sustained us through it,” she said. The two spent a lot of time connecting to the land over the pandemic months, giving themselves and the buildings time to settle.
Did they ever reconsider this huge endeavour over the long months of COVID-19? Yes. The pandemic hit tourism, yoga, food and public-facing organizations – and Nectar Yoga has aspects of all of those. “At the end of the day, we just keep coming back to our vision, and it’s one of people.
“We can’t change the nature of what we’re doing but we did find other ways.”
Nectar Yoga, like many folks, have offered many online classes – the majority of them pay-what-you-can. “Then as soon as we were able to reopen, it was like this huge wave of positivity. All of our guests have been lovely this summer.”
Nectar Yoga is offering two-night curated experiences with morning meditations, yoga classes, and plant-based breakfasts (but they don’t serve lunch and dinner so as to encourage guests to visit restaurants.)
The retreat centre is open all year round, so guests visit Bowen’s tourism-driven shops, even outside of peak tourist season, said Clark. “Our guests are eating out and our guests are shopping and our guests are still frequenting these places,” she continued. “We need businesses like this, that bring around visitors, because it helps everybody.
“We’re a tourism-based economy locally, here on Bowen.”