Yoga teacher chooses picturesque Pemberton for training

Among the students, a scholarship winner who plans to teach Squamish's homeless yoga

Pemberton's Kula Wellness Centre will soon become a temporary sanctuary for Julia McCabe’s Pemberton Yogic Studies, a 200-hour yoga teacher-training program.

McCabe, a renowned Whistler-based yoga teacher, has been teaching since 2003 and regularly holds teacher training around the world in places like Nicaragua, Spain and Bali. This spring, however, her chosen location is considerably closer to home.

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“Kula Wellness is gorgeous, quiet, in the middle of a wide, expansive property in Pemby valley,” said McCabe. “It’s a home studio with a big yard, garden, trees — it’s actually my dream home with Mount Currie brooding over us. And it’s highly auspicious territory to practice yoga in.” 

One of the participants joining her this year: Zachariah McHugh, 32, the winner of this spring’s Passion Project, a yoga teacher training scholarship program McCabe created. McHugh won a full scholarship to train with McCabe in Pemberton along with eight others, which involves 21 days of training resulting in the 200-hour certification.

To apply for the scholarship, applicants create a project that highlights what they are passionate about with a "pay it forward" effect. The subject matter can be anything ranging from environmental to artistic, business-oriented, community or yoga based.

 “As long as there’s fire behind it and it has an inspiring and pay-it-forward effect anyone can apply,” said McCabe.

One successful applicant wins a full scholarship with McCabe, but there are also $500 grants awarded to other worthy projects.

McHugh’s goal is to become a certified yoga teacher, which will enable him to add a full schedule of yoga classes to Squamish’s Helping Hands Homeless Shelter, where he has volunteered since December 2012.

 “I am so stoked to be working with Zach," said McCabe. “I barely know the guy and he feels like my brother. He stood out because he, for a lack of a better way of putting it, isn’t your quintessential yoga guy. He’s this kind of rough around the edges, head to toe in tattoos, doesn’t really even know that much about yoga, yet he’s such a yogi! What he’s already been doing within the community, his life story — he’s already risen from the ashes and proven himself to be such a beautiful gift to humanity. I think he’ll do wonders for our world.”

McHugh moved to Squamish from Huntington Beach, California around 18 months ago. As well as volunteering and, more recently, working at Squamish’s Helping Hands, he works as a strength and conditioning coach for Rebel Fitness, specializing in Olympic weightlifting. He also has a background in teaching cross-fit.

While waiting for his work permit, he started cooking dinners at Helping Hands, then went on to develop a fitness program there, using his skills and lifelong interest in fitness. He noticed that attendance went up noticeably when yoga was temporarily introduced, and knew he had to get certified.

 “This will create a fitness community where it is needed the most,” he said. “It’s about teaching people how to give themselves a little love. I spent time talking with the people at the shelter, building a rapport. I realized these people are beautiful people — very intelligent, very funny and very worthwhile.”

McHugh’s passion to help others stems from his own personal healing journey. “Through a lot of my life I was exposed to abuse and that caused me to go down paths where I was partying a lot — using drugs, using women and trying to find my fulfillment through cheap, unfulfilling means,” he said.

A back injury when he was younger led to an addiction to prescription drugs. He finally decided he had had enough and started to turn his life around by volunteering at his local homeless shelter in California.

 “I wasn’t happy with the person I’d become,” he said. “I was trying to live two lives; addicted to drugs, but in the daytime teaching fitness and how to be healthy. I decided to change my life and commit to putting some sort of sanity and success back into my life. Help other people and it will change your life too.”

McHugh will be staying in Mount Currie while he trains. He said he loves living in B.C. and has experienced the beauty of the Pemberton Valley before as a participant in last year’s Slow Food Cycle. His winning video details his project and explains where his inspiration came from: “Passion to me means that fire inside…that feeling inside yourself that you know what you’re doing is what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Spots are still available for the Pemberton training, which is split into three modules: April 9 to 15, May 8 to 14 and June 1 to 7 2014. The next overseas training will be held in Spain from June 15 to July 5. One full Passion Project scholarship is available. Go to for details on how to apply and to watch McHugh’s winning video.

“I’m so excited about the training,” said McHugh. This whole yoga community around here — the people are so incredible and you just feel grateful to be learning from them.

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