Dropping in on the Killick family, 45 minutes outside Edmonton, Alberta, feels like dropping into a Wes Anderson movie about Canadian rustics. Glenna and Tyler Killick and their four children — Von, 21; Gil, 17; Sami, 15; Tobi, 13 — live off a dirt road in a farmhouse they built themselves. A 1965 Ford Galaxie 500 sits out front, near the cow trough where they all bathed straight through Canadian winters, before they installed indoor plumbing in 2005. Out back are raspberry bushes that won’t fruit, chickens that run away and corn that’s starting to bolt. “We’re terrible farmers!” Glenna says.
For a while, the kids, who are home-schooled, got their exercise in the home-schoolers’ basketball league, but they didn’t like it much. As Sami, the lone girl, says, “Half the court are people scared of the ball, and the other half are kids whose dad plays with them three hours a day.” Then three years ago, Tyler, a plumber, threw out his back on a job, and his client gave him a 10-day pass to a Bikram yoga studio in West Edmonton. Tyler and Glenna practiced for a month and loved it. Then they took their kids. Attending four or five classes a week, the children learned quickly. Tobi was 9 at the time, too young for the 104-degree yoga room, so he sat in the lobby with his siblings while his parents took a class, then with his parents when his siblings took class. Eventually he joined in.
After about a year, a teacher invited the Killick children to train for a yoga competition in Alberta. Yogis have mixed feeling about the discipline being a competitive sport, and the Killicks rarely seek official validation. As Glenna puts it, “We are not institution-style people.” But they prepared, did well in Alberta and in June flew to Los Angeles for the International Yoga Asana Championship. Gil, Sami and Tobi placed in their divisions. (Only five boys and eight girls entered the competition.) Gil lost points when he fell out of Peacock Pose a second too soon. “It’s a very hero-to-zero scenario,” Tyler says.
One rainy day recently, the Killicks drove from the prairie to the studio. Inside, Sami, the family cook (the older boys are trained as plumbers), placed a tin filled with vegan pumpkin muffins in the kitchen to be shared after class. Then she stripped down to a sports bra and hot pants and joined her family in the furnacelike yoga room for the 90-minute class. Gil likes the strength poses; his siblings grouse, “He was born with a six-pack!” Sami, according to her brothers, is a “legalist”; she has to do every posture exactly right. When Sami did Half Moon Pose, pressing her hands together overhead and leaning to one side, the bottom of her rib cage touched the top of her pelvic bone.
Back at home, the kids fanned out in the living room and played music — Sami and Von on guitars, Gil on ukulele, Tobi on a Peruvian box drum. Like an updated Partridge Family, they sang delightful indie-rock covers of “Five Years Time,” by Noah and the Whale, and “Hey Ho,” by the Lumineers. Along with being good at singing and yoga, the Killicks are also excellent whistlers. Von, who last year declared he was moving out of the house but then decided to stay, explained, “We have a lot of time to practice in the winter.”
Shortly after the sun set, the Killicks went down to the basement and, on black interlocking mats near a wall of mirrors, worked more advanced yoga poses. Von pressed into a handstand and then folded his legs in lotus. Sami extended one foot behind her and up over her head, until her ankle rested under her chin. Tobi worked on Bowlegged Peacock, balancing his body in a horizontal plank atop his elbows with his knees bent all the way back. The siblings like the intimacy of family yoga. “The facade is gone,” Von says. “Everybody is stripped down to the basics. There’s no real hiding.”