MONTREAL — If you think achieving the yogi's perfect balance and inner peace is already hard enough hard, just try it with frozen toes.
But on Saturday morning, when people were more likely to be waking up over a leisurely cup of coffee, dozens of men and women were plunking yoga mats into the foot-deep snow of Montreal's Lafontaine park to do just that.
They were taking part in "snowga" — outdoor yoga classes that have been increasingly popping up at ski hills, parks and outdoor carnivals across the United States and Canada.
While Montreal's free weekly lessons have been going on for five years, demand has skyrocketed this winter, with classes regularly drawing in between 50 and 65 people, according to instructor Melissa Ciampanelli.
The 45-minute program, designed by Pop Spirit yoga, consists of a sampling of active poses designed to keep participants warm and give them a taste of what yoga is all about.
If yoga evokes a mental image of an Instagram-worthy pose performed by a woman in perfect spandex outfits, snowga is more likely to involve awkwardly toppling over in a bulky snowsuit, which Ciampanelli said is all part of the fun.
"You have to let your pride aside, because you're on unstable gound so you might be toppling over, maybe falling down, and that's OK," she said.
"We're all here in a spirit of non-competition, it's not a hot yoga class where there's mirrors everywhere and everyone's serious and striking a very straight pose."
Outdoor yoga does have its limits, she said, since flexibility is limited by cold and some moves can't be performed properly without an even surface.
"We have to laugh at ourselves here, it's very playful and that's what people love," she said.
But while the classes are more about fun than serious practice, she said the movements are strenuous enough that participants don't really get cold until the temperature dips to near -20 C, when classes are shortened to 30 minutes.
And although many Canadian cities have offered a one-off outdoor yoga session during an annual winter carnival or as a fundraiser, some ski hills are also embracing the practice.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, B.C., occasionally offers skiers and snowboarders the chance to step out of their bindings and perform a few sun salutations at the summit, led by snowboarder and yoga instructor Jessica Pyper.
In a phone interview, Pyper said she adapts her classes to the cold by focusing on standing poses and making sure her students don't force a stretch too quickly.
And while yoga helps to limber up and relax tight muscles, Pyper said it's the mental workout that provides the most benefit to active skiers and snowboarders.
She also runs a series of classes specifically for snowboarders — back in studio, this time — which includes 15 minutes of meditation that focuses on things like boosting confidence and letting go of fear, "which are so important to sport," she said.
But sometimes, she said, people just want to try something different, and take in some beautiful winter scenery while they're doing it.
"The view from the top is amazing," she said.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press