What I didn’t understand about pain

It’s Nicole writing today on the “other side” of a complex shoulder condition, which coincided with a perfect storm of involuntary change, including the recurrence of my autoimmune disease, the gateway into perimenopause, and a tumultuous personal time. It’s been tough!

That’s me on the far left in the photo below. Check out that shoulder action! If you look closely, you can see that my right shoulder doesn’t go as far into the overhead range as my left does – by no means is it “perfect”, but it’s so much better than it was. Progress!

In addition to physiotherapy and surgery, my shoulder recovery journey ended up including a 300-hour training program with Mindful Strength. Unrelated to my personal experiences, I wanted to learn more about pain and strength training as a teacher, so I enthusiastically signed up while unaware of how personally relevant these topics would become.

During the course, I learned that I was in fact dealing with a frozen shoulder and an anatomical joint impingement, both pretty painful experiences. This made the learning feel particularly timely and personally relevant. We examined the typical beliefs about pain that don’t actually stand up to scientific scrutiny, including these two potentially harmful ones:

  • Misconception No. 1: “Pain is well-correlated to tissue damage.” Contrary to this widespread belief, the science says that not only can you have tissue degeneration without any experience of pain (it’s actually very common, especially in active adults), but you can also have pain in the absence of injury or tissue degeneration.
  • Misconception No.2: “Any instance of pain has a single cause.” In fact, the science shows that pain is multifactorial — a fancy way of saying that it’s caused by a complex interplay of factors

The Bio-Psycho-Social Model

Central to my expanded understanding of persistent pain — defined as lasting for 6 months or longer — was the bio-psycho-social model. This framework situates pain in the context of one’s entire life, including factors both inside and outside your realm of control. Through this lens, pain has multiple influences beyond biology, with thoughts, behaviours, and social experiences holding equal weight.

It turns out that social connections and support (or lack thereof), along with your own beliefs about pain — and in addition to your biology — can directly impact your experience of it! 

Read that one more time to let that sink in!

This isn’t to say that pain is all in your head (it’s so real). Instead, when considering what influences our pain, we should also acknowledge our whole human experience and the rich stew of possible contributors.

From Frustration to Hope

As a yoga teacher, a participant in a 300-hour training, and a moderately active person, I was often gritting my teeth in frustration and discomfort. Outside of my professional identity, I was emotionally and physically drained by daily chores, errands, and activities — that were equal parts painful and fatiguing. I realized that I had to apply my expanded view of pain to my choices for treatment and recovery, including which activities to continue or restart. 

As I progressed through the formal diagnostics and treatment avenues, I identified an important truth that changed everything: strength training, done conscientiously, didn’t exacerbate my overall condition — in fact, I felt better mentally, physically, and emotionally following a workout, plus I got a sense of connection to my training group. Of course, my pain didn’t magically go away, but my perception of my capacity to cope with it shifted enormously, which led me to feel more hopeful.

Creating Confidence by Checking In

One of the most practical tools gained from my combined pain and strength training education is a collection of self-assessment techniques. When paired with the knowledge that pain acts as an alarm system, I’ve become empowered to assess my pain and rationally curb over-sensitized fear responses.

Checking in with myself during strength training and daily movements was sometimes as simple as noticing whether I was feeling capable, or whether doubt was creeping in. By self-monitoring, I regained confidence in my judgement, and in my ability to determine what activities were safe and beneficial.

Strength Is A Feeling – Beyond Lifting Dumbbells

The confidence I built through increased physical and emotional capacity spilled over into my interactions with healthcare providers. I trusted myself as my most-informed advocate, gathered multiple opinions, and I stayed committed despite inevitable wait-times and other systemic challenges.

If you can relate to the struggle of enduring persistent pain, know that you’re not alone! If you’re in this persistent pain boat or are simply interested in learning more from the standpoint of a movement teacher, check out an upcoming event this month from the primary trainer from my 300-hour course, Kathryn Bruni Young.

As a facilitator, Kathryn thinks deeply and then opens the floor for others to do the same. I really value her ability to clarify complexities, and her willingness to engage with differing perspectives within the learning environment.

Learn more about Kathryn’s upcoming session, Mindful Strength: Understanding Pain & Making Gains on Saturday, April 29th, 1:00-5:00pm.

Wishing you well on your pain and recovery journey,


Getting Stuck in Ethical Binds

When it comes to engaging respectfully with yoga – a practice that originates in a culture other than our own – it doesn’t take long to get coiled into an ethical conundrum.

Leslie & Leena, Branches Co-Directors

For example, a question we’re currently mulling over is about language. Perhaps it’s best to use Sanskrit terminology and chanting in class out of respect and reverence for the main original language used in codifying and passing on yogic philosophy and practice. But maybe we should actually set Sanskrit aside until we can get the pronunciation right. Or, thinking further, it might be best to abandon Sanskrit completely for its association with the history of caste-based oppression, where some caste-oppressed people were barred from hearing or speaking it (alongside other forms of oppression and continued discrimination).


You already know there isn’t going to be a correct answer here, and that approaches to the above question (and questions like it) will impact various individuals and groups in different ways, both positively and negatively. While we care deeply about our impact and reducing harm, short of closing up shop and never sharing yoga again, we’re aware that our actions will never be perfect and acceptable to all.

The temptation to give up

When faced with the reality that there is no right answer, it can be tempting to throw up your hands and say, “I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t, so I might as well just do what I want.” That mentality is an excuse, and we think it indicates a lack of mental and emotional stamina.

If you identify with that attitude and feel a little hurt by what we just said, we get it, because we’ve been there. Conversations around cultural appropriation can be overwhelming and tiring. We know that underneath defensiveness, there is difficulty in sitting with the fact that cultural appropriation is harmful, and there may also be shame or guilt for things you’ve done, or anxiety about what you might do or fail to do in the future. It is hard (though not as hard as having your culture looted). 

Working out our learning muscles

But (of course there’s a but!) like anything else that requires stamina, we can train to maintain our mental and emotional strength for the endless and endlessly complex learning process.

Over the last nine years, we’ve noticed a gradual improvement in how this conversation goes within our yoga teacher training. If this life-long learning process (undoing the harms of cultural appropriation and relearning respectful engagement with yoga) were a marathon, many of those in our first cohort needed to be cheered on to take even just a few jogging steps. Cultural appropriation was a brand new topic, and we didn’t get too much further than reading an article and having a discussion to debrief it.

In our most recent cohort, many participants had already begun to think about how cultural appropriation might be harmful. They had their metaphorical running shoes laced up, and some had even run a 5k or 10k race before. The learning our program offers has also deepened and broadened, incorporating Susanna Barkataki’s book Embrace Yoga’s Roots, and inviting four different guest faculty of diverse South Asian heritage to explore history, philosophy, Sanskrit, and more.

Respecting the process

We keep calling it a conversation – this is on purpose. You can’t just read an article about the Dos and Don’ts of cultural appropriation, and close that book forever. Real conversations, the type that go back and forth, never really end, and include multiple perspectives, allow for more nuance and complexity. A conversation isn’t a test or an exam – there is no final answer. In fact, it’s the not-knowing part that can feel the hardest and be most worthwhile. It’s vital to rest in your humility and really listen before jumping into action just to prove you know what to do so that you won’t offend anyone (which is impossible anyway).

This isn’t the first and won’t be the last time we talk with you about cultural appropriation. Here’s a letter from Emma we sent in August, 2022, as a recent example. We consider it part of our job to perpetually refuel, trade in our worn-out runners for new ones, and stay hydrated so that we can keep going. If and when overwhelm shows up, we take it as a cue to slow the pace down, walk for a bit, or take a water break before continuing.

We welcome your responses and thoughts on this topic as an ongoing venue for conversation.

Yours in life-long learning,

Leslie, Leena, and the whole TBY Team

Can Joy and Grief Co-exist?

A personal reflection from Branches Co-Director, Leena Miller-Cressman

It’s my most sincere hope that you can find our classes or events to be a soft place to land, whether it’s back in community or back in your body, and that you can re-realize the joy of practicing together.

Leena Miller-Cressman

You may have noticed that the studio has been busy this past month! We’ve added some classes, and the schedule is feeling more full after such lean times in the thick of the pandemic. Hooray!

None of this is to pretend that our healthcare system is okay or that COVID is gone, but we sure are glad that many people are feeling up for in-person classes. The contrast between this January and the one from 2022 has me feeling reflective…

The Marathon We Didn’t Know We Were Starting

Looking back, even though our classes weren’t busy, the pandemic was the busiest time of my life. For example, I started making sourdough bread years ago (before having kids) and I just made it again for the first time the other week. Unlike some folks who got into it during the pandemic, I had absolutely no time for a cozy and nourishing habit like baking my own bread. Like so many parents, I was juggling work and childcare while schools and daycares closed and opened, and closed again. And I was also hustling more than ever to keep the studio afloat through pivot after pivot.

Over this period, there wasn’t time to slow down, reflect, feel or to grieve what was happening. I just kept moving forward. These days I don’t think too hard about whether I would have gone ahead with everything had I known how long it would all take. But thanks to so much hard work from our whole dream-team, a deeply supportive community, and vital government small business supports, here we are – finally.

When Joy Shines A Light On Grief

The other weekend, a lovely group of 14 people gathered at the Branches for the first of two Deeply Chill Restorative Immersions. In the closing circle, a number of participants remarked on how healing it was for them to be in a group again. One participant shared afterwards, “My heart is overflowing from the wonderful group of humans who shared practice, space and stories. The way TBY co-creates community is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”

Hearing this, it’s impossible to put my gratitude into words – having folks come together in our new studio home ignites my sense of purpose. But the joy I felt from hosting a group of people moving and breathing together was also tinted with melancholy. It felt a little more complex because it was in such high contrast with what it was like during the times we were isolated from one another.

One year ago, we were grappling with a stark sense of emptiness (literal and figurative) during the shut-downs associated with the Omicron wave. Re-encountering vibrant togetherness one year later has revealed the hidden grief that I didn’t have time to process when I was too busy moving forward. It all became quite clear when this song popped up in a playlist and I started crying!

Anyone Else Still Feeling the Effects?

Realizing how much we missed something only after glimpsing it again is such a bittersweet gift. For me, finally giving those emotions some airtime is helping me let go of tension, land in my body more fully, and move forward in a more wholehearted way. Are any of you still working through the changes of these past few years?

It’s my most sincere hope that you can find our classes or events to be a soft place to land, whether it’s back in community or back in your body, and that you can re-realize the joy of practicing together.

Next week we’ll be sharing all the details of our annual Community Week, so stay tuned for info on how you can join in!

With care,

Noticing Our Confinement

A Story About Outdoor Cats & The Enneagram

This is a guest post by Tamara Shantz, Spiritual Director and Enneagram Teacher. Tamara’s work centres on “practicing incarnation,” with the Enneagram as a key piece of the puzzle.

Our cat Izzy is NOT an indoor cat. 

When we first took Izzy and her brother Alex in six years ago, they had been living as outdoor cats for at least a year. We hoped to transition them to being fully indoors, but after months of constant crying and complaining, we caved, and allowed Izzy and Alex to move freely between inside and outside.

Alex died really unexpectedly the other summer, and we were so devastated. As we grieved Alex, we were also trying to figure out what to do about Izzy. There was a possibility that Alex had died from exposure to rat poison, so until we got the results from an autopsy, we decided to keep Izzy inside. 

One day of her confinement, she spent about 8 hours loudly petitioning to be let outside. There was nothing pleasant about Izzy’s confinement for anyone in the household. Thankfully, in the end, rat poison was not the cause of Alex’s death and we decided to return to Izzy’s usual state of roaming freely between our indoor and outdoor spaces. 

Protection or Imprisonment?

This experience with Izzy got me thinking about the idea of protection. I’m sure any parents (of human or fur babies) can relate to the choice-making we do for the protection of our vulnerable charges, even when they conflict with the desires of the one we seek to protect.

I have no doubt that Izzy did not feel protected. She felt imprisoned. Like many protective acts or barriers in the world, it really depends on perspective.

What one person sees as an act of protection, for another, is an act of confinement.

We can find this dynamic within ourselves as well. 

The Wisdom of Enneagram

The Enneagram is a tool for self awareness that describes 9 basic personality structures. It sees your personality as a collection of coping strategies – defence mechanisms that develop in order to keep yourself safe. Especially when we are children, at our most vulnerable, we need to learn how to protect ourselves in the world. We begin to create a tough outer layer to defend the tender parts of our truest selves. 

And so Ones begin to perfect themselves, Twos start to shower others with care and kindness, Threes get busy, and so on. Each one of us believing that these strategies will keep us safe; will bring us love.

Nothing Is Inherently Wrong

What I have found to be so beautiful about working with the Enneagram is that this development process isn’t seen as something that has gone wrong, or that these protective layers are to be judged in any way. 

It has been incredibly liberating to be introduced to the Enneagram’s perspective on human development where there is nothing inherently wrong. The structures of our Enneagram type, the ways that we have tried to protect ourselves are necessary, natural, and good.

There is beauty, love, and power at work in the formation of our personalities.

From Protection to Protest

Just as our choice to confine Izzy was rooted in love, it was still confining!

Even as our personality formation is essential and marked by love, these same traits and structures that have protected us can also begin to chafe. They begin to feel confining. 

Like Izzy, I have found myself at the closed windows of my being, loudly protesting my confinement. 

This is where meaningful work with the Enneagram really begins. 

One of the purposes of learning about your Enneagram type is to begin to see these various coping strategies clearly, to notice when they become activated, and to develop the freedom to let these habitual patterns go. 

I find my home at point Nine on the Enneagram. One of my primary coping strategies has been to numb out, dissociating from physical sensation and retreat into my daydreams.

For many years this was a necessary habit to keep me safe. But as I moved into adulthood, I began to realize how this numbness also was its own prison, and work with this limitation. My confinement is much clearer and more temporary than it used to be.

Letting Ourselves Be Outdoor Cats

We were a bit anxious when we ended Izzy’s confinement, but we do have some tools we use to keep her (and the birds) safe: a bright, rainbow clown collar and bell, neighbours who keep an eye out for her, and an early ‘bedtime’. 

The Enneagram can provide these tools for each of our own processes by helping us to become acquainted with our unique confinement, and offering practices to help us feel supported as we risk venturing outside of our protective walls.

Curious? It won’t kill ya! Join us for a workshop to dive in: The Enneagram: Nine Journeys of the Soul on February 10 and 11. Registration here.

You can learn more about Tamara and her work on her website.

Fear and dumbbells at The Branches

Branches Co-directors Leslie and Leena break down why a strength training practice can be so complementary to yoga and share some options of how you might get started with us!

Eyes wide, an unsuspecting new student walks into a class at the Branches, and to their horror, sees a line up of dumbbells and kettlebells in the middle of the room.

‘I thought this was supposed to be a yoga class?’ they think, alarmed at the prospect of lifting something too heavy and hurting themselves, or of being in over their head at a class that’s too hard.

TL;DR: Start lifting weights. It’s good for you. We can help.

We know that a lot of people are drawn to try yoga because they heard it’s a good way to add a movement practice to their lives. Yoga encompasses a lot more than asana (the poses), but nonetheless, we appreciate that folks want to get moving in a way that feels approachable.

So why the weights?

If your primary interest in yoga is to improve the way your body works on the level of muscles and bones (flexibility, strength, mobility, balance, bone density) – adding a strength practice is going to benefit you big time.

The cells of your musculoskeletal system speak in the language of load. Those cells are just waiting to be given a challenge so that they can respond, and grow in their capacity to bear weight. This will make your body more robust. Everyone was born to be strong.

Don’t be scared. You’re already strong!

Some of the fear about weights is actually about familiarity. Think about the lifting you might already be doing in your life without realizing it: 

  • picking up kids, grandbabies, and pets
  • hauling groceries
  • pushing your couch to the side to vacuum
  • going up and down stairs
  • lowering your slow cooker down from the top shelf
  • hoisting a bag of flour up from the bottom one

Our daily lives are already full of managing load. It just doesn’t look like a kettlebell.

Actually, strength training serves asana.

In an active yoga practice, you do move your body around. In a lot of cases, your own body weight is something you are already or can easily become conditioned to manage. So if you’ve chosen yoga as your movement practice, we don’t want you to be surprised if your bones don’t end up all that dense from doing standing poses and going for walks. Adding strength training can fill the gap of providing your body with the input it needs for longevity, especially bone density.

In other instances, certain asana require a lot of strength to move your body weight around, meaning that you can barely do one repetition, which is not enough to actually get stronger (chatturanga is a common one – the lowering down from plank to the floor). Adding strength training with weights would actually be a wise regression, building towards more challenging asana with techniques that use less than your body weight.

Hard truth: you won’t get stronger doing what you can already do.

Even for folks who are purposely coming to class with weights, we often see them choosing the lightest weights possible. But if your chosen load weighs the same as your purse or laptop bag, you won’t be getting any stronger. It needs to feel challenging. If you can bang out 12 or 15 good reps, you’re maintaining your existing capacity, not expanding it.

Squatting with 5 or 10 lbs is easier than carrying your groceries up your front steps. The idea is to train heavier so that daily life feels light!

Why we personally love strength training – anecdotal benefits.

Many of us at the Branches maintain dedicated strength routines. We love practicing yoga, and we also want to have dense bones, strong bodies, and be able to help our friends move, pick up big kids, and maintain our independence well into our golden years. These things are not at odds. In fact, they complement each other.

Pairing strength and yoga has offered Leena greater resilience and comfort in response to chronic pain. She has noticed that when she is deconditioned (that is, when she’s not lifting), she is much more likely to struggle with pain. This makes restorative yoga and meditation much harder.

Leslie finds that her flexibility and enjoyment of basic poses increases with her strength. When she’s lifting regularly, her body is much more willing to give her a greater range of motion, which she can apply to yoga asana. Freed up in this way, she can pay attention to the subtler sensations of practice rather than struggling with the shapes.

Ready to pick up something heavy with us?

One important FYI is that some of our classes are not intended to only be yoga classes. We made our tagline “Yoga & Movement. Rooted in Community,” on purpose! If you want to explore, you might try the following classes that incorporate body weight strength, free weights, and resistance bands:

  • Strength Essentials on Mondays at 10:00am and Mondays at 5:45 pm – all about starting to build strength, focusing on the fundamentals, very friendly to beginners
  • Strength & Flow on Wednesdays at 5:30pm and Saturdays at 10:00am – a mixed experience of strength and asana, much more adventurous

Going beyond the musculoskeletal system.

If your reason for exploring yoga doesn’t include a huge focus on your body mechanics, rest assured we are committed to self-inquiry, presence, gentleness of the breath, generosity of the spirit, and classic yoga poses and transitions.

Who knows, maybe kettlebells can lead to spiritual growth. We invite you to come find out.

With enthusiasm and confidence that you can do it,
Leslie & Leena

Restorative practice for rebellious rest

A note from Leena, Co-Director and long-time teacher at The Branches

I believe that in these hectic times, resting is a counter-cultural, even rebellious, act.

Leena Miller-Cressman

Rest and leisure are inherent human needs for our sanity and spirit. Yet our fast-paced culture is always driving us to do more: be more productive, fit another activity into the schedule, answer one more email. This stresses our nervous systems and can erode our mental and physical health. Restorative Yoga is a form of resistance to the hustle. You can relearn the sacred art of rest and stillness.

Just like fields need to lay fallow to regenerate, or a compost pile needs time to turn to fertilizer, and animals hibernate in cold winter months, our bodies and minds also need time to pause and just be, rather than always doing more.

I learned the principles of restorative yoga (quiet, darkness, warmth, support, slowness, and stillness) from the work of Judith Hanson Lasater, and I incorporate them every time I practice and teach restorative yoga.

As part of our commitment to rebellious rest, we offer weekly restorative practice sessions on our drop-in schedule, as well as special candlelit workshops throughout the Winter season.

Whether we have the pleasure of guiding you through a restorative practice or not, I invite us all to do just a little less, and instead be a little more rebellious, and rest.

With care,

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:


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!

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,

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!