Doing downward dogs and warrior poses in sweltering 38-degree heat might sound alarming – but alumna Debbie Zweep (BAdmin'94) wants to assure anyone who is curious not to worry. She is the co-owner of Modo Yoga Thunder Bay, located in Lakehead University’s C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.
“A lot of people tell me, ‘Oh, I don’t like heat,’ and I say, ‘Give it five classes, your body will feel amazing.’ The sweat releases emotional and physical tension, which enhances mental well-being and energy levels, it also improves sleep.”
Modo Yoga is a hot yoga practice designed to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Debbie’s son Myles Ball, who has a Master of Social Work from Lakehead, co-owns the business with her.
“We wanted to build a yoga studio that allowed the Thunder Bay community to find a place where they could be at peace,” Debbie explains. “Because of our history with Lakehead and the diversity of individuals we knew would walk in our doors, Lakehead was where we wanted to be.”
Debbie and Myles make a point of hiring Lakehead students as “energy exchangers” to clean the studio and work at reception 3-4 hours a week. In return, the students can do as much yoga as they like. “They’re really great ambassadors for Modo,” she says.
Opening a new enterprise is always a risky venture, but Debbie comes from a business background. She grew up loving math and problem solving and went on to earn a Bachelor of Administration with a focus on management from Lakehead. “All the exams I wrote were terrifying,” she recalls, “but they taught me to act under pressure.”
Pictured right: Debbie believes that the Modo Yoga sequence puts people on a healing path. “Students at our yoga studio and at the shelter often tell me how yoga has helped them in their mental wellness.”
After graduating in 1994, she worked in distance education. When her job ended in 1998, fate intervened to put her on an entirely different path.
“My husband and I went to the Scandinavian House for breakfast – as we did every Saturday – and a folded newspaper was left on the table. The only item visible on the page was a job ad for the executive director of the Faye Peterson Transition House.”
Faye Peterson is a shelter for women seeking refuge from abuse. Debbie applied immediately. “I’ve always been a feminist and I wanted to support and empower other women,” she says. “I also am a mother first and my love for children drew me to work with them, their mothers, and their fathers (through the Caring Dads program).”
A few years later, Debbie took her first Modo yoga class in Winnipeg. It was an experience that would help her deal with the often harrowing situations she faced on a daily basis at the shelter.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow this is really healing.’ Being with women and children suffering from trauma was creating vicarious trauma in both me and my staff.”
This spurred Debbie to introduce yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and expressive arts to Faye Peterson in the early 2000s for both the shelter’s women and her staff. Debbie later trained as a yoga teacher in 2005 so that she could help people in the wider community.
“I believe that the Modo sequence, done consistently, can reduce the affects of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. As human beings we all experience, at some time or another, adverse situations or conditions and yoga can offer support – not only to women, children, and men affected by violence – but everyone.”
If you would like try some online yoga, check out the free classes being offered by Modo Yoga Thunder Bay on Instagram Live.
Modo Yoga Thunder Bay owners Myles Ball (far left) and Debbie Zweep (third from left with her grandson) relax with the studio’s teachers.
The mother and son opened the studio five years ago in April 2015. Debbie had strong support from her family, especially her life partner, Jim Ball.