Meet Peter Kusovac – Yoga Instructor

Peter Kusovac demonstrates a Marichyasana pose at Barrington Beach, Rhode Island. Hugely popular with local yoga disciples, Kusovac has been a mainstay on Wednesday evenings at the Old Town Hall since 2004.

Peter Kusovac demonstrates a Marichyasana pose at Barrington Beach, Rhode Island. Hugely popular with local yoga disciples, Kusovac has been a mainstay on Wednesday evenings at the Old Town Hall since 2004. Photo by Keitner Photo

By Theresa Wallace

It’s been going on for a long time. On Wednesdays after work, even on those cold, dark winter evenings when the urge to skip a workout can be strongest, people grab their mats, take in a yoga class, and leave with a feeling of well-being that for some lasts right into the next day.

“If you show up, you are ninety percent there, and the rest is doing whatever you can on that day at that particular time,” says Peter Kusovac, who started teaching two consecutive yoga classes on Wednesday evenings at the Old Town Hall (OTH) in January 2004.

Kusovac designs his 90-minute classes so anyone who wants to move on to a yoga studio has the background to do so. But for close to two decades, many Old Ottawa East residents have been registering year after year and inviting their adult children, friends and neighbours to join them. Margaret Moriarty is one of the originals. She says, “Peter is remarkably consistent with his teaching style while at the same time making each class unique.” Although the pandemic has interrupted inperson classes, the Burnham Road resident says the online yoga classes have worked well. “The most recent class I attended was one of those great ones that remind me why I keep doing yoga.”

Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. Part of the challenge of teaching community centre yoga is the wide variation in students’ experience and abilities. Usually about a dozen people attend each of Kusovac’s OTH classes. Some are in their 20s, others in their 70s. Some have done lots of yoga, others none. Kusovac says he always goes into the class with a plan but reads the room and adjusts. “Teaching involves a bit of improvisation. I present the basic pose, then say if you feel like you have the flexibility and strength in you today, you might want to try this, and I present a more challenging version of the pose. But I want to avoid the situation where people feel obliged to go beyond their limits.” One of Kusovac’s big goals is to build strength. “To hold a pose, to hold oneself up properly, there’s some physical strength involved. You have to build strength in order to let go and stretch properly.”

Carol Toone, executive director of the Community Activities Group (CAG) of Old Ottawa East, which runs the programs at the Old Town Hall, says the feedback she gets from participants is that, “Peter brings calmness and consistency to his classes and shares his expertise with inclusivity and humility. We’re lucky to have him.”

Contributing to this sense of consistency is Kusovac’s attendance record: he lives outside the neighbourhood but has missed only a handful of Wednesday evenings in all these years. Until the pandemic forced courses online, he commuted in snowstorms and construction disruptions during the afternoon rush from his full- time job as a director in the federal government. (He retired in December 2020.)

Some Wednesday evening yoga participants keep coming after they leave Old Ottawa East. For years after she moved to Vars, former CAG president Adelle Slegtenhorst drove in for the earlier class. Each session begins and ends with students lying on their backs on their mats, and the hard-working Slegtenhorst was well known for falling asleep during that final relaxation. (Slegtenhorst says, in her own defence, “It’s true I took a nap, but I wasn’t the only one.”)

Roxane Hunter lives in Orleans and is looking forward to the resumption of in- person classes. “I have missed Peter’s yoga class and the people of the lovely neighbourhood that for three years I called home.”

In pre-pandemic days, Kusovac’s practice took him on many adventures. He studied in India and the United States. He once taught an impromptu yoga class on a boat trip in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. While camping in Australia as part of a group tour, he and his partner Sylvie and the other campers set up their tents every evening. “Every morning when we took our tents down, there it was, a platform on which to do yoga, so at six in the morning we were all doing yoga in the Australian outback.”

“Almost anyone can do the physical practice of yoga, and it really brings people together.”

For information on the Wednesday evening yoga classes, please consult the CAG website at www.ottawaeastcag.org. Blocks and straps are supplied for yoga classes. Singing Pebble Books and
3 Trees on Main Street sell good-quality yoga equipment.

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