By Wayne MacPhail
At first yoga, social justice and connection with community doesn't make sense. Neither does a cafe where you can buy breakfast with five buttons. But Aviva Yoga and the 541 Cafe are making it work. The cafe and the studio used to be neighbours on Barton Street near Sherman Avenue North. That's a rough part of Hamilton, Ontario.
It was a place of foundries, new immigrants and hard labour. Now that intersection is a nexus for sex workers, drug addicts and folks to whom life has been uncharitable. That's not all that defines the neighbourhood, but it's enough that it needs help.
The 541 Cafe, a non-profit, found a novel way to do just that. Customers can donate buttons (a dollar each) so that folks that could use a solid meal can use the buttons to buy just that. It's a pay-it-forward system that seems to be balance out. "The buttons represent someone paying for someone else's meal," says Abby Barwick-Snell, who works in the cafe regularly.
A few months back Aviva Yoga moved from Barton Street to The Cotton Factory, a reclaimed and refreshed reminder of Hamilton's industrial past. The factory is now home to photo studios, ad agencies and Aviva Yoga. Kim Agostino, a co-owner of Aviva sees the factory as a way of connecting the past with the neighbourhood and with Hamilton's cultural community. "We belong here," she says, "we have a strong sense of community and social justice."
So, when Aviva Yoga moved from Barton Street it brought the 541 Cafe's button jar with them. Attendees can use the buttons to pay-forward a yoga class for someone who could use the calming, moving meditation to centre themselves and improve their mind and spirit. "Normally might not see social justice work in combination with yoga," says Kelly Hilton, another studio co-owner, "but as yogis it's part of the principle of yogic life, both on and off the mat, to do supportive work for the community."
So far its working, at the cafe and the studio. In both places buttons hold together the fabric of a neighbourhood, frayed at the edges but where historically the warp and weft of life was bound tightly together.