Vancouver is a city known for many things but affordability isn’t one of them. Self-care has also become something that is often associated with a price tag. As Liesl Groecker observes in their article The Commercial of Self-Care Has Left Us Needing More Self-Care:
“It’s become work. It’s become competitive. And it’s become expensive.”
In addition to being inaccessible to many, self-care can also be uncomfortable or challenging for a plethora of other reasons. Some of us may be so accustomed to focusing on other peoples’ needs and feelings that we aren’t sure where our needs end and other peoples’ needs begin. Self-care and evoke the often uncomfortable feelings of shame and guilt. For others, it can feel like self-care is a privilege that is out of reach due to lack of time, energy, or money.
All that’s to say I know this is a loaded topic. You might have been eye-rolling at the mere sight of the words “self-care,” and that’s understandable given what self-care has come to mean in our cultural lexicon.
If you are seeking some self-care that is affordable or free in Vancouver, I’ve got a list to get you started. One caveat, though, is that what is restorative and care-filled for one person might not be for another. For example, a crowded, public place is never going to be relaxing for me but for someone else, it might be ions more restful than staying home alone. You know you better than I know you, so take what works from the list and leave the rest!
If you find acupuncture beneficial or are interested in trying it out, Poke is a community acupuncture clinic that offers a sliding scale of $25–45 per treatment with an additional $10 admin fee for your first visit. You could also check out other community acupuncture clinics to see if there is one closer to you.
I’ve been to Poke and was surprised by just how relaxing the whole experience was. When the acupuncturist told me she was going to put needles in me and let me lay there for an hour, I panicked. An hour? Of doing absolutely nothing? Yeah…I was skeptical, too. Only… it ended up being like a mini retreat away from my phone and everything else happening in my life and I would definitely go back.
I’m not sure I have to introduce you to the world of free yoga that can be accessed via YouTube, but if you are looking for a recommendation I have loved the following channels: Yoga with Adriene, Yoga with Kassandra, and love the online community that is made up of BC-based teachers called Do Yoga With Me.
Although many yoga studios closed their doors during the pandemic, you can still often find karma classes being run at studios across the city. These classes will either be by donation or lower cost. For example, Modo Yoga East Vancouver has a $5 class they hold outside in Robson Park once a week when the weather is right.
I’m not going to tell you to go for a walk because that is obvious and I’m sure most of us have heard that we should “go for a stupid walk for our stupid mental health.” Riding a bike, though? There is something nice about going for a bike ride for the sake of going for a bike ride. As someone who has commuted via bike for years, I must say that I don’t often bike for the joy of riding a bike but when I do? It’s glorious!
Mobi Bikes has a community pass that gives riders access to one year of bike share for $20. Their Community Pass program first launched in 2018 to make bike share more accessible and affordable. Not everyone is qualified for the pass but if you check-out their website you can see if you might be.
I’m also not going to tell you to go to the gym because I don’t go to the gym so that would make me a hypocrite. If I were to go to a gym, though, I would hit up one of the City of Vancouver’s community centres. Not only do most of them have a traditional gym, there are also pools, saunas, steam rooms, community fitness classes, and much more!
You can check out the schedule online or swing by the community centre in your neighbourhood to take a look at the schedule in-person. There are options for drop-ins, as well, so that you don’t have to make a month-long commitment before you know whether or not this is something for you.
Go on an adventure
You will find Bloedel Conservatory at the city’s highest point in Queen Elizabeth Park. Stepping into the dome can feel like entering a paradise of exotic birds, plants, and flowers (that is, if you like birds, of course). They often have a scavenger hunt that can invite a bit of childlike wonder into your life and help to get your mind off whatever is waiting for you outside of the dome.
While many of the city’s sights and attractions can cost upwards of $20, you can visit Bloedel for $7.20 for adult admission. You are also in the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park if you fancy a stroll through their gorgeous garden before or after.
Vancouver Art Gallery (on a Tuesday)
For some, the Vancouver Art Gallery could make for an evening adventure. If you don’t like crowds and aren’t a fan of art? Probably not. Again, though, we are all different in how we reset and recharge.
Admission to the Vancouver Art Gallery can be a bit pricey, but on Tuesdays it is “by donation” night. The last time I visited there was a mandatory donation of $5 so please be aware of this and call in advance if the mandatory donation is an issue.
Vancouver Public Library
Again, this isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but the VPL’s central branch is an architectural wonder and has many little nooks and crannies to explore (including the beautiful roof top which you can hang out on). I used to hit up the VPL central branch after my therapy session each week to just take some time to decompress and ground. I would browse the fiction section and be able to leave with something (which can also just feel good in and of itself).
If you aren’t a reader, you can always check out the video games or DVDs (if you still have a DVD player). If you are ever overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, the librarians are always incredibly helpful. Seriously… I can’t believe it took me so long to start asking the librarians for help. Librarians FTW!
If you are interested in seeing a therapist but cost is a concern, there are a number of options for accessing free or low-cost counselling in Vancouver. We are just one of the options for accessing counselling for no-to-low cost and we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have.
Therapy might not be a bubble bath, but setting aside time to focus on mental health challenges or mental well-being once a week or a couple times a month can be an important kind of self-care. It might also be something that calls you to engage in self-care afterwards: a few deep breaths, an hour to yourself, or a walk (I know, I’m sorry, I said I wouldn’t tell you to go for a walk…) can be a nice way to ground after a therapy session.
There you have it! A list of just a few ways to explore Vancouver in a way that might feel nourishing for you. I always thought self-care consisted of things you did from the privacy of your own home—preferably, by candle light. I’ve since learned, though, that sometimes the best thing for me is to get my bum out of the house and engage with other people and my community. If you’re the same, perhaps this list will get you started!