Learn more about SOYA! Take the quiz at the end of this blog and maybe win a prize!

 SOYA’s First Meetings 

It all began back in 1994, when a group of women gathered in Penticton to discuss forming a Yoga Association for the purpose of providing yoga education in traditional yoga through workshops and teacher training. Many people had asked us to train them to be certified yoga teachers, so we wanted to do this through all the proper channels. 

By November 1, 1995 the South Okanagan Yoga Association (SOYA) was a legally registered Non-Profit Society!  The society name was suggested by Dr Robert McIntosh, who was all for yoga in the community. 

From L to R: Blanche Livingston, Dariel Vogel, Meui Mckiblin, Mugs McConnell, Marsha Soldat, Michele Kulha, 1994

Yoga Teacher Trainings Began

SOYA’s two-year 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training curriculum was created by Mugs McConnell and Dariel Vogel, based on solid foundations from their classical trainings that met the standards of the International Yoga Teachers Association and the Yoga Association of Alberta. Dariel and Mugs had become certified to meet these standards in 1978, both from different pathways and with over 15 years of teaching experience. A huge influence in the trainings came from Dr. Hari Dickman, Mugs’ teacher from Latvia, whom she studied with in the 1970s, up until his death. Her book Letters from the Yoga Masters is rich with teachings that he shared with her. 

The SOYA training included (and still does) in-depth philosophical studies in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. From these texts comes deeper teachings in pranayama, chakras, koshas, meditation, mantra, karma and kriyas. Teaching skills and practice were essential in order to adapt the poses for any body, so everyone could participate. The key theme for SOYA is that yoga has many pathways and styles, and all are welcome. “The paths are many, the Truth is one.” Swami Sivananda.

The first SOYA Grad: Dorothy receives her certification, 1998.

The first graduates from SOYA were in 1998 – a class of three, including Rockne White, Dorothy Fizzell, and Meui Mckiblin. Training in large groups has never been the focus – we simply want to serve the  interest of sincere students who want to learn about yoga beyond just the practice of asanas. SOYA has had graduates from this training every year since, for 27 years!

SOYA offered more than just yoga teacher training. SOYA offered one yoga workshop a month in various topics including, mantra, pranayama, meditation, anatomy, and all kinds of asana practices. Guest teachers were brought in to share their wealth of knowledge. Space was rented from other non-profits, such as the Rotary and the Girls and Boys club. Eventually, as more SOYA students became teachers, they opened up yoga studios, so SOYA held the workshops and the Yoga Teacher Training programs in those yoga studios, paying rent to them to help support them. SOYA has never owned a building nor rented one full time, keeping the overhead low and paying rent to support others.

SOYA Offers Diverse Yoga Training Formats 

From the beginning, SOYA has trained interested students by Distance Learning as well as in person. Many wanted to train but didn’t have a training in their location, so we had students from Prince George, Vancouver, Fort McMurray, Calgary, and even Norway. As students graduated and became teachers, they wanted to train to lead the SOYA Yoga Teacher Training in their communities.

SOYA has run Satellite programs in Vancouver, Prince George, Creston, Calgary/Strathmore, Fort McMurray, Michigan, and Florida. Additionally, SOYA travels to train teachers in other communities such as Sorrento, Lethbridge, Wawa Ontario, Vegreville, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.  If we are needed, our teachers serve.

In 2004, SOYA became a Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance. SOYA teachers not only met the standards of the International Yoga Teachers Association, but also those of Yoga Alliance. The program adapted as required, and now the 500-hour training is broken into two trainings; a 200-hour Foundation Training and a 300-hour Advanced Upgrade. Together they equal the 500-hour training. Additionally, a Refresh and Reboot training is available for those who are already teachers but didn’t take a strong training, or haven’t taught in a while and what to get a new start. 

One great new change is that Yoga Alliance has allowed teacher trainings to be in a variety of formats due to COVID-19.  So, SOYA now leads trainings completely Online through ZOOM, in person, or in a Hybrid format which is a combination of both! This makes the training more manageable for time away from home and financially. 

In October 2008, SOYA changed from a non-profit society to an incorporation. Board members were ready to let go of the organization and to continue to serve students, Mugs and Bob took the society under their wings and SOYA’s name changed to South Okanagan Yoga Academy. SOYA never skipped a beat, and since 1995, SOYA Teacher Trainings have welcomed nearly 1,000 students into our small-group SOYA Teacher Trainings.  

In October 2008, SOYA changed from a non-profit society to an incorporation. Board members were ready to let go of the organization and to continue to serve students, Mugs and Bob took the society under their wings and SOYA’s name changed to South Okanagan Yoga Academy. SOYA never skipped a beat, and since 1995, SOYA Teacher Trainings have welcomed nearly 1,000 students into our small-group SOYA Teacher Trainings.   

Annual Yoga Retreat Showcases Yoga from Many Pathways

The first SOYA Retreat was held in 2004 in Naramata, BC. Over 100 people attended the first of many great gatherings of happy yoga practitioners!  When Naramata Centre closed SOYA shifted the annual retreat to Sorrento Centre in Sorrento, BC.  Over the years we have enjoyed renowned guest teachers including Friedel Khattab, Prue Kestner, Mary-Jo Fetterly, Erich Schiffmann (twice), Rod Stryker, Doug Keller, Ganga White and Tracey Rich, Dharma Mittra, Mark Stephens, Sarah and Ty Powers, Brenda Feuerstein, Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, and this year Nyaswami Gyandev McCord.  During our retreats we often had special guests leading extra sessions, like Bill Phillips, Christine Clancy, Bernie Clark, and various Kirtan groups. We have been blessed with the opportunity to share abundant teachings from many different pathways, for all of you to enjoy!

SOYA Remains Dedicated To Offering Authentic Yoga

SOYA is now celebrating its 27th year because all of you have valued these offerings and teachings. In the last five years, Elaine LaMarre has become the SOYA Office Manager, and Becky Stone the Communications and Training Manager, easing the workload of Mugs and Bob as they transition into retirement. The SOYA teachers are dedicated and committed to the highest of standards in classical teachings of yoga. We continue to be respected worldwide for upholding these standards. Om shanti, shanti, shanti. ~

Thank you for caring and supporting us on this journey, so we can continue to support you on yours.  Without you and our unfailing SOYA faculty, alumni and newly mentored trainers we could never be here today:  Lalita Natasha Scott, Shauna Sprules, Sudevi Rebecca Stone, Emma Faulkner, Denise Marshall, Terri McDermott, Chloé Haddad, Elaine LaMarre, Cindy Szekely, Court Mollins Bidlake, Patty Boucher, Dariel Vogel, Dorothy Fizzell, Gail Thompson, Mantrini Helen Mikuska, Carla Wainwright, Jeff Lutes, Kamala Kovacs, Jools Andrés, Heather Thomas, Katherine Labonte, and Kapila Chugh.

And now! Please take the quiz about the history of SOYA!  All quizzes with the correct answers will be put in a draw to win a prize for your superb knowledge!! Draw will be at the SOYA Retreat!

Marion Mugs McConnell is a co-founder and owner of SOYA and its yoga teacher training. She has been practicing yoga for 49 years and training teachers for 44. She is the author Letters from the Yoga Masters: Teachings Revealed through Correspondence from Paramhansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Sivananda, and Others. She has studied yoga extensively and is certified in various lineages including Sivananda, Gitananda, Mantra, and Freedom Yoga with Erich Schiffmann. 

Robert McConnell is a co-owner of SOYA and is certified in SOYA Yoga, Tantra Yoga with the Himalayan Institute, and Freedom Yoga with Erich Schiffmann. He has been practicing yoga for over 20 years and teaching for 13 years.

All photos are originals of SOYA.