Yoga & White Supremacy; What I learned in my YTT

Sanam graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post as one assignment, reflecting on the aspects of our curriculum that discuss Anti-Oppression and Cultural Appropriation/Extraction. This is an aspect of our curriculum and our studio that we are always working to evolve. You can learn more about The Branches commitment to this on our Lineage Acknowledgement page.

Do you know what yoga is? where it comes from? Or are you just doing the movements and getting a workout?

“There have been some misunderstandings as to what yoga is in the West today. The problem with these misunderstandings is they dilute yogic teachings to the point where yoga is barely recognizable at all.” -From Embrace Yoga’s Roots by Susanna Barkataki, 2020, p. 30

Do you agree with the above statement?

Yoga is the the practical, structured, scientific framework and embodiment practice that helps with our social and personal life. It was practised to lessen human suffering and find liberation. It’s all about union within self – our whole body, mind, and heart in harmony with one another. However, in the West we mistake yoga for a workout routine and emphasize mostly on the asanas that we tend to miss the unity aspect of it. The most important part!! According to Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff professors from Michigan State University, yoga in the West is linked to white supremacy \and I have to agree with them.

Gandhi & Wolff argue that yoga can be traced back to South Asia, where colonization happened by the British and Portuguese. Yoga was used as a tool to prove and show the British that Indians “were not backwards or primitive, but that their religion was scientific, healthy, and rational.
They were coerced into, and unfortunately reified colonial forms of knowledge ” (Gandhi & Wolff, 2017). Yoga , like other colonized systems of practice and knowledge became popular in the West due to the larger system of cultural misappropriation.

Yoga became very popular in the West due to all the yoga studios, yoga pants, and other yoga swag. Yoga contributes to the economic system and ironically advertise mostly to white petite women. When did we go from unity to selecting who should practice yoga?

“Yoga has become a practice which allows western practitioners to experience the idea of another culture while focusing on the self” (Gandi & Wolff, 2017).

Many yoga teachers tend to focus on the physical aspects of yoga , the posturers and asanas but never learn about the cultural
history. Gandhi states when “Western” yoga teachers train other practitioners to relate to yoga only on a physical level, without exploring the history, roots, complexity, and philosophy, they are perpetuating the re-colonization of it by diluting its true depth and meaning. This modern day
trend of cultural appropriation of yoga is a continuation of white supremacy and colonialism,maintaining the pattern of white people consuming the stuff of culture that is convenient and
portable, while ignoring the well-being and liberation of Indian people”.

I feel fortunate that I am able to practice and learn from a community and yoga studio that emphasizes so much on the history, roots, and philosophy of yoga. Before I was part of The Branches community, I just saw yoga as a physical asana and a workout and trying to learn “the hard poses”. However, during my YTT my eyes opened to my misconception of yoga and the lack of knowledge about it’s true meaning.

I guess I’ve never really paid attention or noticed the white supremacy associated with my practices. I have noticed that there are 1 or 2 or sometimes zero people of colour practicing in the studios I practiced in the past but never understood why. Everything makes sense to me now as I
am able to understand the history and roots of yoga.

I aspire to be the yoga teacher that breaks the cycle of white supremacy and teach from education, inclusiveness, and roots – just like The Branches.

Numb butt in meditation?

Hi Branches friends, Leslie here.

A major part of my meditation journey has included sitting for two 10-day silent meditation courses. Over the ten days, participants meditate roughly 100 hours, making it a powerfully challenging experience. I’m bringing it up because if you are a meditator, too, or want to start meditating, I have some advice to share that helped me persist wisely during the courses, and can help you too! Here it is:

How you sit for meditation doesn’t matter.

On one hand, no matter how you sit, if you’re at it for any length of time, your butt or your leg is going to fall asleep. You’re inevitably going to encounter back pain. And your neck and shoulder sensations will have you internally questioning if you need to get into physiotherapy ASAP. Speaking as someone who fussed around a lot with a mountain of cushions over my 100 hours, it’s gonna be at least a little uncomfortable no matter how perfect your seat. 

And at the same time, how you sit for meditation does matter.

Because on the other hand, to even give yourself half a chance at meditating for a while, you need your mind and body to be as both alert and as relaxed as they can be. And the way you sit has a key impact on your alertness and ease.

So even though discomfort is probably inevitable, sitting with care and attention to detail will support your practice. I compiled my best ideas into this 12-minute video to share guiding principles and concrete suggestions for sitting. Check it out here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YjliK9cVZ3Q

I hope this helps you to find the sweet spot between perfecting your position and building equanimity towards any remaining discomfort.

If you’re looking to get some live guidance, we have two courses coming up this Fall. I’ll link them below.

Happy meditating!
Leslie

Want to Start Meditating?

Perfect for brand-new beginners, this course will teach classic seated meditation along with some additional tools for presnece.

It’s also great for folks who have some experience, but want to brush up on the basics and practice regularly with the support of a teacher and a community.

Click here for details and registration.
Rather Move than Sit?

Perfect for folks whose approach to mindfulness needs less stillness and more ways to make it work for fidgety bodies and restless minds.

Each session will include gently active yoga poses and conclude with fully passive restorative yoga to offer your body more opportunity for tension to dissolve.

Click here to learn more.

“We’re obsessed” overheard at The Branches

Leslie here with a little story for you.

This summer we shuffled up the drop-in schedule to accommodate the demands of one of our teacher’s day jobs. For me this meant passing my Thursday 6:00pm Slow Flow to another teacher. I know what you’re thinking – how could I give up the sweetest class on the schedule?

It actually turns out that my feelings are not the most important part of this story! The much more awesome result of the switch-up has been that the teacher who took over is having a shining moment. And I’m making it official: the Branches studentship has given an enthusiastic HECK YES to Carol’s teaching. And very recently I overheard something to support my claim.

You know how at the end of class, teachers invite their students to check in, ask questions, or offer feedback? Well, the other week I was sneaking through the crowd of students as they left Carol’s Thursday Slow Flow, and I overheard a longtime student, who approached Carol, and then firmly and with a straight face said:

“We are obsessed with you. Obsessed.”

And it’s for good reason – but you don’t have to take our word for it.

You can try a free 20-minute practice with Carol here. It’s called The Belly of A Warrior, and it’s especially relevant for folks in bigger bodies. It’s also just a solid practice for anyone looking to move with care, strength, and a light heart.

Carol actually joined our teaching staff in the Fall of 2020 after graduating from our teacher training earlier that Spring. She got her start with Yoga for Round Bodies courses, has been more of a presence on our drop-in schedule lately, and will soon head up our October Series, Bellies, Boobs & Butts inside Branches On Demand.

Get a taste for Carol’s attitude about it all in this blog post from a couple of years back. She’s the no bullsh*t type, and we couldn’t love that about her more. You might say we’re obsessed!

With warmth,
Leslie

P.S. Click here to learn more about our Bellies, Boobs & Butts series in B.O.D.!

Play is not just for kids anymore!

Lindsay Krahn graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post as one assignment. Lindsay’s yoga practice was re-inspired by the inclusion of play in her explorations.

Believe it or not, yoga doesn’t have to be all perfect postures where you have to go through pose by pose, all in a very serious silence. Yoga can also be a tool for connection with yourself, others, and a source of fun!

Sometimes contrary to finding a perfectly-aligned Warrior 2, play happens when you explore, imagine, or find enjoyment from an activity without any need for an objective or outcome.

Play is important for kids and adults alike. It can help calm our nervous systems, make us feel happy, creative, and curious, and get us into a ‘flow’ state where we feel focused and engaged. When bringing play to the mat, it invites curiosity of ourselves, our experiences, and the world around us.

Choosing an exploration of a pose gives us the opportunity to tune-in with ourselves, to connect to who we are and what we need. And when making play a regular practice, these benefits may spill over beyond the practice itself.

If you’d like to experiment with the practice of play into your yoga practice, here are some ideas to get you started:

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  • Use your imagination! Try ‘embodying’ a pose (Imagine what a tree would be like while in tree pose. See if you can feel a sense of ‘fire’ while holding a plank. Imagine that your legs are glued to the ground in cobra.)
  • SMILE while you’re practicing
  • Explore new or different postures than you’re used to, or try coming into or out of postures in a way you haven’t before. Notice how it feels in your body
  • Use a ball to juggle, kick along your mat, or balance with your hands
  • Try using props (or non-yoga props!) in an unconventional way – see if you can come up with a use for them!
  • Consider adding non-asana movements to your practice, whether it be dance while you’re centering yourself, an exercise, or something else entirely
  • Give yourself the freedom to choose. In your personal practice (and even in a studio), you don’thave to stick to what’s being offered. Welcome movement and curiosity, even when it doesn’t look like what the instructor is teaching (or what you think you should be doing)

In my personal practice, opening myself up to play on the mat has helped me create a practice that is fun, constantly evolving, and keeps me coming back. I find imagery a particularly useful tool to connect to my practice and quickly get me out of over-thinking, and into my body.

If you don’t have an at-home yoga practice (or even if you do!) I’d encourage you to set a timer for a couple minutes just to be on your mat. See what comes to you – what do you naturally want to explore? Movement or stillness? A particular movement or shape? What comes to mind for you? It might not be anything, or this might feel challenging, and you can take note of that too. Different play strategies might feel good for some and not for others, and that is perfectly okay. The nice thing about play is that it can be completely customized to different people and their experience of play. Spend some time exploring what brings YOU into a playful, curious state and then bring that into your yoga practice. Next time you roll out your mat, give yourself permission to invite play to the mat. You might surprise yourself! 



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Believe it or not, yoga doesn’t have to be all perfect postures where you have to go through pose by pose, all in a very serious silence. Yoga can also be a tool for connection with yourself, others, and a source of fun!

Sometimes contrary to finding a perfectly-aligned Warrior 2, play happens when you explore, imagine, or find enjoyment from an activity without any need for an objective or outcome.

Play is important for kids and adults alike. It can help calm our nervous systems, make us feel happy, creative, and curious, and get us into a ‘flow’ state where we feel focused and engaged. When bringing play to the mat, it invites curiosity of ourselves, our experiences, and the world around us.

Choosing an exploration of a pose gives us the opportunity to tune-in with ourselves, to connect to who we are and what we need. And when making play a regular practice, these benefits may spill over beyond the practice itself.

If you’d like to experiment with the practice of play into your yoga practice, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Use your imagination! Try ‘embodying’ a pose (Imagine what a tree would be like while in tree pose. See if you can feel a sense of ‘fire’ while holding a plank. Imagine that your legs are glued to the ground in cobra.)
  • SMILE while you’re practicing
  • Explore new or different postures than you’re used to, or try coming into or out of postures in a way you haven’t before. Notice how it feels in your body
  • Use a ball to juggle, kick along your mat, or balance with your hands
  • Try using props (or non-yoga props!) in an unconventional way – see if you can come up with a use for them!
  • Consider adding non-asana movements to your practice, whether it be dance while you’re centering yourself, an exercise, or something else entirely
  • Give yourself the freedom to choose. In your personal practice (and even in a studio), you don’thave to stick to what’s being offered. Welcome movement and curiosity, even when it doesn’t look like what the instructor is teaching (or what you think you should be doing)

In my personal practice, opening myself up to play on the mat has helped me create a practice that is fun, constantly evolving, and keeps me coming back. I find imagery a particularly useful tool to connect to my practice and quickly get me out of over-thinking, and into my body.

If you don’t have an at-home yoga practice (or even if you do!) I’d encourage you to set a timer for a couple minutes just to be on your mat. See what comes to you – what do you naturally want to explore? Movement or stillness? A particular movement or shape? What comes to mind for you? It might not be anything, or this might feel challenging, and you can take note of that too. Different play strategies might feel good for some and not for others, and that is perfectly okay. The nice thing about play is that it can be completely customized to different people and their experience of play. Spend some time exploring what brings YOU into a playful, curious state and then bring that into your yoga practice. Next time you roll out your mat, give yourself permission to invite play to the mat. You might surprise yourself! 

Yoga Props are your Very Best Friends

Kim Zeitler graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post as one assignment. Kim loves preaching the word of yoga props near and far. Hear hear!

Google “Yoga”.  You will see (mostly slender) bodies in beautiful poses – all unassisted by means of any aid, just the power and alignment required of the pose.  This may be an actual representation of these people, and many other seasoned yogis and “advanced” students.  The quotations around “advanced” is intentional, because very often the props used in yoga may have little to do with skill or ability level.  But, let me backtrack because sometimes, they do.

When level of experience matters

Teaching a yoga class to beginners should always include the use of props.  It is unrealistic for a someone new to yoga try and follow their seasoned instructor without the use of props in a multitude of poses.  Any pose where balance is at play, or arms come towards the floor when feet are the foundation, props will be a necessary extension of a given limb to provide the length needed to get in the right alignment.  If you are in a low lunge position, and you are having trouble engaging your core, keeping your balance and reaching the floor without a hunchback – you may need some props.  Check your ego at the door because, if you’re in that yoga-hunchback pose – you’re not getting anything good out of it and in fact, you may be aggravating other parts that are compensating for the missing support.  

If you’ve ever been to a yoga class where there are not a lot of props out and about, it can feel defeating to need a prop, again, as if there were some award for being prop-less.  Do yourself a favor and maybe even inspire or lead others to join suit by grabbing yourself a block, a strap, a blanket, or maybe a bolster.  

I read this cool post by a therapist (Brittney Cobb) about there being no awards for handling things alone, having the least needs, working yourself to death and other such learnt but nevertheless continually self inflicted behaviours.  It was a very honest and clear reminder about overdoing it and trying to be a hero.  I would say similarly in yoga, there are no awards for overloading your joints, distressing your body tissues, tensing up to keep balance or compromising the integrity of your tissues to contort yourself into a position.  

Here’s how props can be your very best friends – and can really help you get the most out of every yoga practice and help you lengthen, strengthen and feel supported:

As an extension of yourself

Use a prop, such as 

  • a block as an extension of your arms to the floor in forward fold
  • a bolster under your belly to help open chest and arms in bow pose
  • use a chair and two blocks to help with arm balances like crow 
  • a nice block under your sacrum (low back) to support you in bridge
  • a chair or two blocks behind you in camel pose.
  • a chair can help you in any balance pose.  A little effort wobbling is sometimes great, but other times when you are working on a certain aspect and balance is throwing you off, it can be a great help
  • use a strap to increase flexibilty in a hamstring stretch, stabilize joints
  • Blocks on either side of your knees in reclined butterfly can lessen pull on the joints.  

Body size, proportions, ability

Everybody has a different body.  Sometimes props are needed to wedge into the space between your hip and the floor in pigeon pose, where a gap can leave you gripping in the unsupported hip.   Or the ways in which you have used (or not used) your body in life have left you with limited range, mobility or capacity for load.  Blocks can help you with spinal rotations in standing postures, straps can help increase your flexibility and range, and blocks, chair and walls can get you started safely up in headstand!  

Comfort and lift

In yoga, people are on their knees an awful lot at times.  Blankets are our best friends, for under knees in table pose, under our bum in pigeon and easy pose, under our bum or ankles in child’s pose.  Put your heels on a blanket to get a better feeling malasana on.  Sitting in easy pose is often never easy in fact, and a blanket (or bolster) under your bum can create enough lift to take the tension and struggle out of the equation, so you can just be in that position.

  When relaxing and resetting in savasana, the weight and softness of a blanket can really help get your nervous system into a calm state.

Activations

Use a block between your legs in chair pose – see what you notice!  The muscular energy needed to keep that block there fires up those muscles in a way that engages the legs from feet entirely to hip.  This applies to many poses where legs are hip distance apart – tadasana, bridge, boat pose, legs up, cat/cow, side plank and more.

Use a strap to engage all the muscles in your arms when raising them in either flexion or extension.  

Use blocks in prone position (face down) to raise straight arms up and over to work on your shoulder stability.  Use blocks in a straight wide legged sitting position by lifting your legs over one block at a time and work on your hip joints.

This is not an exhaustive or complete list – in fact – restorative yoga is a prop-centered practice, and the variations of (many) props used for each pose are nearly unlimited!

In fact, the ease using props will bring to your practice (unless you resist it for years only to cringe at your younger stubborn struggling self when you finally do cave) and others who follow  in suit may actually win you more tangible benefits than may have ever imagined possible. 

Make your ritual, keep your routine

It’s official – winds are blowing, nights are cool, leaves of older trees are turning colour, and the kids are back to school. Fall is here with all of its transitions, which means it’s the perfect time to get your routines into shape.

Tonight, Emma is hosting a mini workshop called Routine Reset. The purpose is to reflect on what you need to make a daily yoga practice both a possibility and a priority, one component being a simple ritual to cue you into the mindset for practice.

Then, for each of the following ten days, we’re releasing a 15-minute practice video featuring variations on Sun Salutations to kickstart your daily routine. The idea is to keep it simple, and get into a groove that slowly builds momentum without being overwhelming.

https://thebranchesyoga.namastream.com/bundle/35782/product/51373/lessons

Try it free for the first week. Then you can choose whether to stick around for the rest of the series, and even try some of the other practice videos in the B.O.D. We have a feeling the daily practice will do your body and mind some good!

To give you a taste of what it will be like, you can try Day 2 with Leslie right now:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-jUtYcNxa4

When you join, you’ll immediately get access to our bonus video, Intro to Sun Salutations, which is great for beginners to get oriented. Starting today, the new videos will start rolling out.

Use this link to join Emma at 7:30pm on Thursday, September 15.

Yours in commitment to sustainable practice,
The Branches team

Re-setting my Practice with the Yamas & Niyamas

Vicky graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post as one assignment. Vicky was inspired by learning about the yamas and niyamas, two of the eight limbs that come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

For many years, even pre-covid, I have been feeling like the world needs a reset.  While I am not a cynic, we seem to be living in a selfish, over-indulgent, ignorant, unhappy world.  I am not lumping EVERYONE into this mix but unfortunately, the few cloud it for the many.  And I am guilty of participating in a few of these on an occasion or two.  While discouraging, I am very much an optimist which is why I think there is hope.  I have always been drawn to the concept of a ‘moral code’ to live by.  I no longer practice religion but I still remember church and Sunday School and learning about the 10 commandments.  While most of those commandments should be common sense, it was always good to have them there as a reminder, a reinforcement, for reference.  Now that going to church, being religious and practicing religion is starting to wane, I feel like we could all use a new compass to guide us in living a well-rounded life that serves ourselves and others.  

In comes the 8 limbs of yoga, specifically the first and second limbs, the yamas and niyamas.  I was so intrigued by the 8 limbs of yoga when I heard about them and even more so when I learned about the additional 10 elements of the yamas and niyamas.  I like that there are 2 sides – the yama’s are 5 activities to restrain from – non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess and non-possessiveness – and the niyama’s are 5 activities to participate in – purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender.  As you read the words, they seem very simple and straight-forward, almost black and white.  But when I dove deeper, reading ‘The Yamas & Niyamas – Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice’ book and taking a 6-week course with Shwetha Subramanya at The Branches, there is much more to each that can be applied to our day-to-day lives.  What I am taking away from each are as follows:

Ahimsa – Non-violence: when life is out of balance, it can trigger speaking unkind words or violent outbursts towards others

Satya – Truthfulness: being comfortable with who we truly are allows us to be real/authentic with ourselves and others

Asteya – Non-stealing: all the demands and expectations we place on ourselves robs us of experiences that bring joy and balance to our lives

Brahmacharya – Non-excess: understanding the concept of ‘enough’

Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness: having and enjoying things but not becoming attached, such that are open to all that life has to offer

Saucha – Purity: taking care of ourselves – mind, body and spirit

Santosha – Contentment: being grateful for what we have vs always looking for the next ‘high’

Tapas – Self-discipline: ‘our determined effort’ to evolve into a better version of ourselves

Svadhyaya – Self-study: previous conditioning determines how I perceive the world and our response is based on whether we love, dislike, can’t see or can’t yet accept of ourselves

Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender: recognize that there is a higher power at work in our lives and open our hearts and minds, surrendering to the mystery of that power.

In the hustle of daily life and with the last 2+ year of covid, I think we have simply forgotten how to live a well-rounded life that serves ourselves and others.  There are so many people that could benefit from a refresher, just like I did.  Obviously I and the yamas/niyamas are not going to change the world, but my hope is that by applying these learnings on a daily basis, to myself and my interactions with others, it will start a small movement where others will consider how ‘well-rounded’ their life really is and start exploring the possibilities of what it could look like.

How ritual helped me survive COVID with a toddler

Emma here. I have two little rituals that got me through the last (very chaotic) eight months. Since Christmas, either my toddler or I have had a cough, cold or fever, and with numerous sleepless nights and visits to the ER, any sense of routine or regularity has gone out the window.

Not having a routine is really unsettling for me. So my solution has been to have two tiny rituals that I can squeeze in on the days when I have a little more breathing room. Even if the rest of my day is off-kilter due to all the unpredictable factors of life with a small child (and a pregnant body that keeps throwing me curveballs) these rituals give me a sense of momentary grounding that I aim to carry throughout my day.

The first ritual is a poem in the morning. When I can, I get up 10 minutes earlier than my toddler, sit at my desk where I keep some special stones and photos, and light a candle. I open a book of poetry and read just one poem. I try to savour it, let the image or meaning sink in for a minute. It can be hard not to rush through it, but on days that start like this (rather than me blankly scrolling social media with my brain half off) I feel more connected to myself and (sometimes) to the wider world and a feeling of Source or Spirit.

The second ritual is a face massage at night. Instead of doing chores or watching screens right up until the last possible moment before bed, I take five minutes to rub some argan or herbal oil into my face and massage my forehead, jaw, cheekbones, temples and ears. I end with a little hand massage and then lie down to sleep. I usually fall asleep faster, and feel more settled and ready for dreamland.

I don’t do these rituals every day, but I find it amazing how calming and grounding they are, even if I only get to them once or twice a week. The power of ritual is that it gathers potency over time – even if it’s not daily, every time I come back to it, I’m building on the times that came before, and it sinks me faster into the place of peacefulness I’m hoping for.

Our upcoming on-demand series focuses on the value of Ritual & Routine – doing one small thing every day to connect to yourself and your body. Leena, Leslie and I have chosen the short but undeniably powerful Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) as the touchstone practice for our September series.

Surya Namaskar developed from the South Indian practice of ritual prostration; laying oneself face down on the ground as an act of reverence or devotion to a sacred deity or sacred place in nature. Surya Namaskar is an invigorating yet concise sequence that will move, strengthen and stretch your whole body. September can be an overwhelming month full of transitions, but this series of videos was created to tap you into a sense of groundedness and regularity – gathering potency and power each time you revisit the sequence.

Just like my short personal rituals, our Ritual & Routine practice videos (ten in total) were created with brevity in mind; each video is 15 minutes and presents a variation on the classic Surya Namaskar sequence. The practices are short enough to squeeze into your day, but long enough that your body and mind will notice a difference. And even if you don’t get to it every day, revisiting this ritual over time will also have an impact – gathering momentum for your connection to your body and self. As the days grow shorter this fall, we hope this ritual of saluting the sun will draw down some of the sun’s gifts of warmth and nourishment and prepare you for the cooler days ahead. With the practice of Surya Namaskar in your self care toolkit, we hope that this ritual will keep nurturing you throughout the deep fall and perhaps even into the early days of winter.

You can take part in Ritual & Routine through Branches On Demand.

Ritual & Routine will kick off with a mini-workshop on September 15 at 7:30pm with yours truly, giving you some time to reflect on ways to make this ritual your own, and how to sustainably fit it into your life.

Yours in the dance of chaos and calm,
Emma 

P.S. My current favourite books of poetry are Embers by Richard Wagamese, A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver and To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donahue.

Arm Balances to Build Wrist Strength?

Dan Currie graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post about wrist strengthening as part of the program. Check out his suggestions for building stronger wrists (and perhaps decreasing computer-related wrist pain) below! You can catch Dan teaching Sunrise Flow on Thursday mornings until the end of September.

When I started to learn how to do arm balances like crow pose, I had an unexpected benefit. I  noticed I wasn’t feeling the same wrist pain after using the computer that I had been  experiencing for years. The time spent doing different wrist activations and being in poses that  loaded my wrists had built their strength and increased their capacity to support me.  

Wrist pain isn’t always due to wrists not being strong, so learning arm balances or strengthening prep work for them might not reduce the pain you may experience in your wrist.  If you do have wrist pain, you may want to consider seeking advice from your doctor or physio  therapist before trying the wrist activations and poses that follow.

Exercise #1: Palm push-ups

Come to a table pose, but move your hands closer to your knees.  Keeping your shoulders over your wrists, lift your thumbs, press into your fingertips and  knuckles and peel the palm of your hand off the floor. If you can easily do more than 8-12 repetitions, place your hands a bit further away from your knees. Do 3 sets of 8-12 palm pushups a 2-3 times a week, to build the strength and capacity of your wrist. You’ll notice that as  the weeks go by, you’ll have to place your hands further and further from your knees to stay in  the 8-12 rep range. I’ve seen one person do palm push-ups from a toe plank. That takes a lot  of strength and time to progress too. I can’t do that yet, but I hope to one day 🙂 

Exercise # 2: Walk your hands on their different surfaces

Like the palm push-ups, start in table with hands placed close to your knees. Then, starting palm down rotate your hands so they point to the sides or towards your knees. Place the pinky edge of your hands on the floor and  move your hands to point in different directions. Do the same thing on the thumb/index finger  side of your hand and the back of your hand. Always start with your hands placed close to your knees, until you feel comfortable and strong to move them further away, because the further  your hands are from your knees, the greater the load is on your hands. 

Exercise #3: Plank Pose

My last recommendation to get you started building wrist strength is plank pose. Holding a  plank (with knees up or down) for a minute will help get your hands/wrists used to supporting your weight for that  period of time. You can progress this by holding the plank for longer periods of time (maybe  increasing by 15-30 seconds every week) or by elevating your feet on a block or chair or using a  wall to increase the load supported by your hands. 

Once you build the strength of your wrist, holding all of those fun arm balancing will start to  become easier and hopefully, like me, your wrists won’t hurt after using a computer all day! 

Addressing the youth mental health crisis

Leena here, checking in about something important to me.

If the Branches could solve the youth mental health crisis – a crisis that the pandemic has only deepened – we would. We can’t, but we are changing our programming to try to make a difference.

In recent months, I’ve had countless conversations with friends who work in health care or counselling about how deeply kids, and especially teens, are struggling with anxiety, isolation, and disconnection right now. One pediatrician friend shared in desperation how staggering the volume of mental health related admissions is right now in his hospital. I’m not talking about a little bit of anxiety – I’m referring to situations like 9 year olds being admitted for suicidal ideation. It’s heartbreaking.

When I was struggling with anxiety, depression and chronic health issues toward the end of high school and in university, yoga practice was a lifeline.

My journey with yoga began at age 13 when I saw a poster at the local YWCA. With only a vague idea of what yoga was, I had a feeling it might offer me some kind of help and healing that I couldn’t find elsewhere. I was the only person under 40 in the class, but I immediately felt at home: I loved the non-competitive vibe, the attention to breathing, the rhythmic movements, and learning to relax at the end of class.

As I continued to explore the practice throughout my teens – taking classes off and on at the Y, and fumbling along at home to Rodney Yee tapes and library books – my yoga asana practice became a foundational support to my mental and physical wellbeing and my body image.

Now in my 30s, with my own young kids, the decades I’ve practiced are integrated into my being in ways that I could have never imagined when I was 13. I credit my practice to helping me experience deep presence during the births of my 3 kids, and helping me pause for a slow breath when my 3-year-old twins are tantruming. My practice is still a huge support for my mental health, more than ever in these tumultuous times.

Unlike when I was 13, now there are the added challenges of social media and the aftermath of years of isolation weighing on our youth. Collectively, we need to do more to ensure that our kids have tools and resources to thrive in this challenging world. The Branches hopes to play a part. This fall we’re launching a whole range of programming that shares embodiment, mindfulness, connection and fun with younger people, and supports families.

My most sincere hope is for yoga to be a lifeline to some 13-year-old out there like it was for me. Can you do me a favour and share about these programs to your friends, co-workers, and families? Send along this blog post and spread the word that all our programming has sliding-scale pricing. Details are all below.

Warmly,
Leena
 
Course links for more info and registration:

Mind-Body Yoga for Teens starts September 16

Yoga & Mindfulness for Kids 6+ starts September 17

Both courses will:be taught by Branches instructor Lisa Beraldo, a graduate of our YTT with a degree in Child & Youth Counselling, a minor in Family Studies, and experience working with families in schools, private centres and homes. Your kid or teen will be in amazing hands. These courses run at the same time as drop-in programming for adults, so parents can carve out time to practice for yourself as well.