Community steps up to aid beloved yoga teacher

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News that highly regarded yoga teacher Celeste Mallett-Jason has been diagnosed with cancer has been a shock to many on Salt Spring, with her guidance being an integral part of countless journeys of health and well-being. 

Her positive impact in the community is clearly reflected in the success of a GoFundMe campaign organized by Tara Hollingsworth and Julie MacKinnon, which reached its $50,000 target within just a few days of its launch on Jan. 30 and has now raised in excess of $65,000. The result has been a welcome surprise to the recipient.

“I’m blown away by it,” Mallett-Jason said. “I’m just blown away.”

Mallett-Jason’s sudden diagnosis in December has been hard to reconcile; a nagging shoulder pain she attributed to overdoing it in the studio or the garden turned out to be Stage-4 lung cancer that metastasized into her ribs.

Her unyielding compassion as a healer, instructor and friend has been felt by thousands who have taken her classes, while her iconic Ganges Yoga Studio has provided space for many other island teachers to share and evolve their practices. 

Difficult as it is for someone used to giving help to receive it, a combination of factors that includes a global pandemic means Mallett-Jason can really use a hand in the coming weeks and months. She is facing significant costs related to her treatment, with travel to the B.C. Cancer Clinic in Victoria, as well as other treatments on Salt Spring, additional medications, health supplements and adaptive therapies. A single dose of the anti-nausea pill she’s been prescribed costs $200 before pharmacy aid. 

“It is very helpful with this money that’s coming in. This situation has given me stress that’s so overwhelming, but it really will help,” Mallett-Jason said. “I don’t have places to draw on for that — I’ve always been happy to teach and work for it, so it feels strange not working for it.”

Islanders have been quick to respond to the news, including Hollingsworth and MacKinnon, two women who know Mallet-Jason well through her classes and upon whom she was inspired to call after seeing their faces in a meditation.

MacKinnon observed locals have stepped up their caring for others over the past year, generously backing campaigns for COVID relief, families impacted by tragic events and other efforts. It’s the kind of spirit that Mallet-Jason has always promoted by example.

“Celeste’s focus on wellness and kindness has reverberated, and that’s what’s happening in the community right now. People are hyper aware of where there’s need and making time to put into their community,” MacKinnon said. “If anyone falls off a bit, there are 10 people to pick them up.”

“We’re lucky on this island. We’re here 100 per cent for each other and we’ve got to keep practising that; it’s essential,” Mallett-Jason said. “We are holding each other and we’re giving each other this opportunity to walk this line again. We’ve pulled away from spirit, and COVID gives us the opportunity to come back.”

Hollingsworth said the news of Mallet-Jason’s diagnosis has also reverberated in other ways.

“People are phoning to share their stories about how cancer has touched them,” Hollingsworth said. “They phone and say ‘I want to thank you [for leading the fundraiser], and I’d like to send you something, and this is what’s happening in our family.’ So there are lots of people who are clearly wanting to talk and connect … it’s helping people open up a lot.” 

Ongoing concerns for Mallett-Jason as she undergoes treatment include the farm she runs with her husband, Salt Spring Seeds founder Dan Jason. The couple also recently learned they’ll need to replace the roof on their house. 

Mallett-Jason has her Ganges Yoga Studio business to worry about, as well. A beautiful new location on Lower Ganges Road was just coming together when pandemic restrictions were introduced last March. Low-impact classes have been permitted since rules were lifted in May, but the ban on anything termed a “gathering” has reduced the rental income that Mallett-Jason expected to help support the lease, along with her vision for a different type of space. Originally she wanted to include the arts community through exhibitions, pop-up markets, workshops and performances.

While Mallett-Jason has transformed a number of dodgy locations into serene oases of wellness as Ganges Yoga Studio sites through the years, that’s not because she has any sort of bank account to draw on. It’s all been done through a combination of love and the will to create sacred space in the community.

“It is a miracle that these have come together on such a low budget,” Mallett-Jason said. 

With the types of classes and participation levels curtailed by ongoing COVID regulations, support to keep Ganges Yoga Studio running will be important. Anyone who may have a suitable idea for space rental is invited to contact celeste@gangesyogastudio.com

Community members who wish to support Mallett-Jason as she continues the journey ahead will have several more opportunities in addition to donating. One way is to volunteer to help with gardening chores, meal prep and more in the period after she finishes her treatment. Anyone can subscribe to her Caring Bridge page to share their availability and to later be contacted with schedules and tasks. 

The page at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/caringforceleste2 also has links to the Caring for Celeste GoFundMe campaign. (Viewers should note a donation button on the Caring Bridge page supports that host organization, not Mallett-Jason’s campaign.) Donations can also be made to Island Savings account #2782 at the local branch.

The Caring Bridge site will furthermore be the place to find a 10-minute meditation that Petra Hasenfratz is creating for Mallett-Jason, which community members can practise every week at the same time to share powerful healing intentions.

Mallett-Jason will be providing updates when she can through Caring Bridge journal entries. Direct messages to her email are also welcome.

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