Calgary Hot Yoga studio owner comes to terms with identity through yoga

When you first meet Craig Esau you can’t help but smile. With his constant wit, lighthearted laugh and genuine nature it’s hard to imagine Esau ever struggling. The newly married 35-year-old became the owner of Calgary Hot Yoga three-and-a-half years ago. He is also a teacher at the studio and loves coming into work everyday. But it hasn’t always been an easy journey for Esau who has had to persevere through many of life’s ups and downs.

Esau grew up in Linden, a small rural town an hour northeast of Calgary. The town features rolling hills and farms that seem to stretch out in every direction. Esau’s family owned a chicken farm, which he says taught him the value of working hard.

His family was also active in the Mennonite Brethren Church where Esau remembers singing hymns and worshipping in a conservative environment.

“My dad kind of helped with bringing the church out of the olden days and making the church more modern. The church was my life growing up,” Esau said.

The church would be Esau’s life throughout high school and afterwards as he made the decision to attend bible school in Europe for a year. Through this period, Esau was coming to terms with being gay — a struggle that was always in the forefront of his mind.

“I was trying to find my way and I thought that maybe it would make me straight. I thought that if I really loved Jesus then that would fix me but it didn’t work,” Esau said.

When Esau came back to Calgary he realized that it was time to accept that he was gay and start to move on in his life. This included the process of coming out to his friends and family.

“The coming out process was a difficult transition and dealing with family,” Esau said. “I was never really rejected by them but I got a lot of ‘We love you but we can’t condone your lifestyle.’”

During this journey of self-acceptance Esau graduated from SAIT’s electrical engineering technologist program. He says he found a great deal of financial success, but his heart just wasn’t in it.

“I didn’t really love it, the money was good and there were aspects of it that I did like but I wasn’t meant to sit behind a desk I discovered,” he said.

During an economic downturn Esau, then 27, left his high-paying job to fall back on a former job at a call centre. He says it was in yoga that he started to feel like he had found his place.

Esau’s sister had been practicing at a different non-hot studio and he had tried that style but it hadn’t quite stuck. When he tried hot yoga, something clicked.

“My boyfriend at the time was practicing hot yoga so we went to our first class together and I just fell in love with it right away,” Esau remembered.

Esau corrects a studio member’s form during a class. He believes in pushing your body to its limits in order to gain strength and flexibility.

Photo By Kate HolowatyEsau became more involved with Calgary Hot Yoga, volunteering, managing and eventually teaching, which wasn’t easy at first.

“I think growing up I was always the wallflower. I was on the side because I struggled with who I was and I didn’t want any attention so I would try to keep to the sidelines,” he recalls. “When I started allowing myself to teach it was definitely hard at first to essentially boss people around but now I really like it and I don’t feel like I’m bossing them around but motivating them to do something really good for themselves,” Esau said.

Esau found acceptance and a place to belong within the community that is yoga, something that he used to get with church.

“When I first started teaching I was actually teaching Sunday mornings at 10 o’clock, so typical church time,” Esau recalls. “So when my family would ask me if I was ever going to come back to church I would just say that this is my church now. This is where I’m with like-minded people doing something really good for their souls not just physically, it’s a spiritual practice so I feel like I get the same thing from church when I’m in there,” he said.

Clint Ball is a homecare nurse who has been friends with Esau for over a decade and has seen him grow and develop into the person he is today.

“When he first came out he was a really sweet guy and wore his heart on his sleeve and I’ve just watched him mature and grow more comfortable with himself and I really admire that,” Ball said.

Ball also admires Esau’s ability to follow his heart.

“I admire that he followed his passion and his dream with yoga,” Ball said. “He had a really great paying job but he was true to himself and knew that this wasn’t him this wasn’t what he wanted to do and now he’s really happy and you can just tell that he is genuinely happy with his life.”

Another of Esau’s friends is Chantel Besse, a dog walker and yoga teacher at the studio says her friendship with Esau has had a huge impact on her life.

“Sometimes I don’t know if I could continue on without my friendship with Craig and having the connection with him and the studio,” Besse said. “Sometimes he really picks me up and gets my feet back on the ground so I give him a lot of credit for being an amazing friend and an amazing boss and an amazing leader to the community that we’re building,” she said.

Produced by: Kate Holowaty and Jamie McNamara

Esau is hoping to expand his studio, not only in size but also in a variety of practice options.

“Yoga is a forest not just a single tree,” said Esau whose philosophy is to always try to continue evolving and pushing himself and others outside of their comfort zones.

“When I see people that know more or emulate aspects of living that I would like, that really inspires me to be a better person because there’s so much that I never want to stop learning,” Esau said. “Just don’t be scared, life is so amazing when you let yourself just be open to whatever may come.”

kholowaty@cjournal.ca

jmcnamara@cjournal.ca

To contact the editor responsible for this story; Melanie Walsh at mwalsh@cjourna.ca