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.

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.


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