Working out for the better Ritual Island makes wellness and movement more accessible to Hamilton

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When Robin Lamarr was 19 years old, she purchased a 30-day pass to a Toronto yoga studio and instantly fell in love. She later became a certified yoga and Pilates instructor, delving deeper into the mindful movement practice and learning new ways to help others feel good in their bodies.

She became fascinated with integrating functional range conditioning, strength and mobilizing exercises, as well as dance, into the yoga atmosphere. Lamarr teaches movement in a way that allows attendees to tap into how they’re feeling in the moment, rather than focusing on what they look like.

Dr. Emily Bennett grew up appreciating movement and dance, but her heart was set on attending medical school. After a traumatic experience with an illness, she was introduced to a naturopath who helped her develop a better understanding of her body and the root causes of her illness.

Bennett found reassurance and comfort in the unique whole-system approach naturopathic medicine takes to address illness and wellness. The experience inspired her to change careers and pursue naturopathy.

Bennett wanted to take a more holistic, welcoming and community-based approach to make complementary medicine more accessible. She started her own private sliding scale practice where fees are adjusted based on the patient’s ability to pay.

Her private practice prospered and Bennett was able to open the Inland Island Community Wellness Centre on the corner of King Street West and Locke Street. Since 2015, Inland Island has been offering community acupuncture, naturopathic medicine, therapies and workshops all on a sliding scale.

After learning about Bennett’s commitment to decreasing financial and social barriers to wellness, Lamarr was inspired to approach her with an opportunity to collaborate. They connected and thrived off of one another’s energy.

“If you’ve ever gone to Inland Island, it’s so welcoming, it doesn’t matter what you look like, what age you are, how much money you have, you feel welcomed in her space. Those are the sorts of values that we want to put forth,” explained Lamarr.

Soon enough, the idea of a few workshops grew into the Ritual Island collective, where Bennett focused on delivering workshops and community programming relating to naturopathy and nutrition, while Lamarr focused on movement offerings.

“Wellness [practices] continue to be inaccessible to most people for a variety of reasons, not just financial. [Some people feel] like they’re not welcomed in these spaces or classes. Ritual Island is a collective that aims to explore barriers to access and it’s important to do this so everybody can benefit,” explained Bennett.

Bennett has been running a variety of workshops around the city, from smoothie making workshops that deploy properties from traditional Chinese medicine to eating right for the season and prenatal classes.

Lamarr started off teaching classes at Little Big Bowl, a downtown restaurant, once a week last summer. Even though she was new to Hamilton, the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. Attendance continued to grow at her workshops and other businesses started joining the movement.

“There were times when I didn’t know if what I was doing was good enough to warrant a following outside of a studio, but every time I host a class and people show up, it reaffirms that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing and that what I’m sharing does have value,” explained Lamarr.

Now Lamarr can be found teaching R&B Pilates at Sous Bas, core dynamics at De La Sol Yoga, pay-what-you-can Pilates at OM on Locke, and Ritual Flow at the Art Gallery of Hamilton on a weekly basis.

“Everyone deserves to feel amazing in their bodies. Our body is the only vessel in which we get to experience this life. We [should] all learn and get tools to feel amazing in our experience,” said Lamarr.

As the Ritual Island community continues to thrive, Bennett and Lamarr have big plans to evolve Inland Island, including Bennett’s private practice and the other practitioners at the Community Wellness Centre, under one roof with Ritual Island in the future.

“We are definitely working towards having a truly collaborative space where Emily and I can both [practice in]. … We are working towards having a space big enough to house the dreams and community that we’ve been building,” explained Lamarr.

While they are looking for a more permanent home for Ritual Island, Bennett and Lamarr hope to continue collaborating with business and host satellite popups around the city. The duo will continue to bring people together to work towards better access to wellness to the city of Hamilton.

C/O Anna Wiesen

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Author: Razan Samara

Arts and Culture Reporter Razan Samara is a second year Life Science student writer and community advocate. When she isn't taking a nap on a go bus, she spends her evenings watching crappy sci-fi series and mourning their subsequent cancelation.