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.


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.

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:

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,

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.

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.

An unlikely group of people

Leena here! As Yoga in the Park wraps up for the summer, I’m thinking back to what I love about this sweet outdoor class. My favourite thing is the weird mishmash of people who end up practicing together at this free event.

  • In the front you’ve got the retired folks who want to make sure they can hear my instructions.
  • Off to the side are the mom friends with toddlers who might need to bail for the playground halfway through.
  • In the middle are a few teenagers who just want to lay on their mats and work on their tans.
  • Somewhere near the back is a dude in jeans who was biking by and decided to join in spontaneously.

It is a merry, motley crowd, and to me it often feels like one of the most authentic expressions of Yoga. Despite who I see at Yoga in the Park, so many people still think yoga isn’t for them because online they just see images of acrobatics and tight pants. This couldn’t be further from the point of Yoga.

It’s been an uphill battle to counter the mainstream narratives of who belongs, but Yoga in the Park helps change the conversation. Yoga postures, or asanas, are just one small tributary in the ocean of Yoga. To me, the whole of yoga is about connection to all parts of ourselves and to something greater than ourselves. Yoga’s many paths offer us ways to integrate body, mind and spirit. And, most significantly in this world of increasing isolation, to connect more wholeheartedly into community with other humans and nature.

Our city parks are such refreshingly integrated spaces in our segmented society. I often spend the evening with my 3 kiddos at the playground in Victoria Park. I heardat least a dozen different languages, and my kids make fast friends with families of many different backgrounds.

Bringing Yoga into the park, and as a free event, expresses the true meaning of yoga as unity and invites more equity of access to yoga practice

The Branches has been honoured to partner with the City of Kitchener in this effort. After a two-year pause during the pandemic, we’re so grateful these classes came back this year, and we were thrilled to have expanded into two of our city parks this summer.

See you next summer for more outdoor, motley adventures!

With warmth and excitement,

Shutdown, breakdown or hoedown?

You know the type of life lesson you have to learn over and over again to really make it stick? Last summer, I (Leslie) think I might have learned one for good. I want to explain why the Branches shut down for two weeks at the start of August, but I’d like to tell you a story first.

In June 2021, I had what people used to call a nervous breakdown. Mysterious pain with no other symptoms had me sleepless and writhing on the floor for three days straight. Telehealth sent me to the ER, where lots of tests revealed nothing. But deep down, I knew what was going on.

Daily life had ground down into a reduction of work and basic physical maintenance. At the time, Ontario was still in a version of lockdown that disconnected me from my Yoga and climbing communities. It didn’t help that I was three of what would become ten weeks of having to live out of a suitcase in four different homes. On the surface I’d been keeping it together quite well, but my body had kept score of the stress.

It’s obvious now that I was lacking any joy or true rest. Those three solid days of suffering were a clear mandate to pause and find something to make me smile. I barely got myself to do that, starting with simple pleasures: fancy butter on fresh bread and a swim at the local pool. Help from friends boosted me up, and I came back to life by the end of summer, capped off with a dance party in a field.

The lesson? A human being cannot be sustained on an all hustle, no play diet.

Much difficulty can be endured with the right amount of joy or meaning to balance or enrich it. Epic feats of work can be achieved if there is ample rest to recharge.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Duh, Leslie,” then I sincerely congratulate you on your wisdom, or, urge you to recognize the privilege of never having burned out. If you’re thinking that this is a lesson you too may struggle to learn, let’s remind each other to keep fighting for rest and play, for ourselves, and for everyone.

So, to live a little bit of life for the sheer joy of it, The Branches was shut down for the first two weeks of August. It’s a bold move we’ve admired other small businesses making (Golden Hearth, we’re looking at you), and a small boundary meant to protect our spirits.

Many of us visited family out-of-province, spent more time with the kids, read books, took naps. Shutting down also gave us an opportunity to touch up the studio: we wrapped up a few indoor renovation projects, got the new front garden well established, and did some deep cleaning.

We wish you the rest and joy you need this summer, and now that we’re open again we’re excited to see you!

With warmth,

P.P.S. Taking a break is a privilege not everyone in our society can enjoy. If you’re able, please give generously to a community organization that supports housing and food as human rights so that all people may have a chance at dignity and wellbeing. Tiny Home TakeOut / A Better Tent City / 97 Victoria 

Acknowledging the Lineage of our Yoga Practice

Emma here. I recently wrote a lineage acknowledgement for The Branches, because there are many ways in which we have participated in the cultural appropriation and exploitation of Yoga. Much like a land acknowledgement, a lineage acknowledgement is a first step towards recognizing the harm done and committing to doing better.

Read that first sentence again. …there are many ways in which we, The Branches, have participated in the cultural appropriation and exploitation of Yoga.

If you’re getting defensive, for me or The Branches, or on your own behalf, I encourage you to pause, take a breath, and keep reading. I’m not saying we are bad and wrong for doing this. I’m saying that we have learned more and are now committed to doing better.

Goat yoga, for example. We did goat yoga a few years ago, and while it was cute to see some goats running around in a field, it also had the effect of trivializing the purpose of the practice. Goats are great, and we can go hang out with them if we want. But we don’t need to mash together goats and Yoga. Because Yoga is more than poses; it is a holistic Indigenous wisdom tradition, and it is our job to hold that with more integrity.

I invite you to read our Lineage Acknowledgement below to get a sense of context and history, and how we are now approaching Yoga.

We hope these efforts resonate with you and invite you more deeply into the practice of Yoga.

With care,

Lineage Acknowledgement for The Branches

Offering Historical Context

This lineage acknowledgement is one small step towards recognizing the impacts and working towards reparations for the harm caused to the people and wisdom traditions of India by the violent and exploitative means of colonization, capitalism and white supremacy. It is an attempt to provide some context for the yoga that we practice at The Branches, and the ways we are working to relearn and more deeply understand our relationship to yoga. Any attempts to summarize history will always leave out large swaths of context and information, so please read the following summary with an awareness of that. 

Yogic practices began to emerge on the subcontinent of India from 800 BCE – 200 CE, as part of a cultural shift towards an individual exploration of spirituality and fate. Texts from that time period include Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, which share different approaches to yoga practices and paths. These texts do not detail physical poses, but outline ethics, meditative or devotional practices. Some of the physical poses of yoga that we might see in contemporary yoga classes today began to emerge after 1100 CE, when systemization of a number of yogic practices (including fasting, cleansing, mudras, chanting, meditation on the subtle body, and physical poses) began to be recorded and codified. Many of these practices were actively suppressed during the violent and destructive British colonization of India, in an attempt to destroy Indigenous wisdom and culture. 

A number of yogic practices were revived by Indian Independence activists in the 1930s, who were hoping to reconnect Indians with their cultural heritage. The physical poses, often known as hatha yoga, began to be taught more widely across India and around the world, in some places fusing with other physical fitness trends. Hatha yoga (with a focus on asana, or physical postures) has since developed into a multi-billion dollar aspect of the fitness industry, however most of the industry is in large part extracted from its original cultural context(s) and wisdom traditions. 

The North American yoga industry primarily focuses on one aspect of yoga; asana; a Sanskrit word which can be translated as “seat”. Asanas were originally the seated poses for meditation, but later evolved to include more complex physical shapes. Asana is one of eight limbs of Yoga as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the other 7 limbs spanning ethics, breath practices, and deepening levels of concentration and meditative contemplation. It should be noted that there are many texts and traditions that outline other limbs or systems of yoga, but Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the most widely known text in North American contexts. 

What We Practice at The Branches

At The Branches our tagline is “Yoga & movement, rooted in community”. We included the word “movement” intentionally, as not all of the movement we teach is yoga asana. Some of it is strength or mobility training, some comes from other modalities like the Tensegrity Repair Series or the Axis Syllabus, and some of it is from the creative minds of our teachers. We include these other modalities as we find them helpful explorations alongside the practice of yoga asana. 

The yoga we focus on in our drop-in classes is yoga asana, the physical postures of yoga. We aim to empower people to feel stronger, more comfortable and more at ease in their bodies as a result of a yoga asana and movement practice. We know that asana is not the whole of yoga and we believe that it is a helpful practice for our disembodied culture to re-connect with the intricacies of the body, on the way to re-connecting with the intricacies of the mind and heart. 

We consider the other limbs of yoga to be beyond the scope of a 60-75 minute drop-in class, and believe that these other limbs require different learning containers; courses or workshops and longer term relationships with teachers or lineage holders. We explore the history, philosophy and other limbs of yoga in our 250-hour YTT, and encourage our graduates to pursue a lifelong relationship with the many forms of Yoga. 

Most of our teachers learned yoga from white, North American teachers. We are currently working on re-learning and re-understanding Yoga through the lens of decolonizing and reparations, and are working to include a wider range of voices and perspectives in our studio and YTT teaching staff. 

We believe that the process of yoga is lifelong, and its aim is to decrease or relieve suffering. To that end, we connect our practice of yoga with our larger values of social justice. We believe that this commitment to social justice is at the root of much of Yoga; Ishvara Pranidhana is one of the niyamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which can be understood as devotion to the ethical ideal of a person. We dedicate ourselves to ethical action for the greater good and hold this as a piece of our yoga practice. 

Connections & Continued Learning

We’d like to introduce you to some of the wonderful South Asian, Desi, and South Asian Diaspora teachers we have worked with in the past or are currently learning from. We invite you to learn from them too:

Jyoti Solanki-Davie is a Kitchener-local who is a Registered Massage Therapist, Yoga practitioner and author. She was a guest speaker in our 2019 and 2021 YTT programs. We are grateful to have learned a great deal through conversations with Jyoti. We have her to credit for inspiring us to create this page – thank you Jyoti for calling us in to better contextualize our relationship to the whole of yoga and share that on our website. Jyoti has an awesome Ayurveda and Yoga Colouring Workbook that can be found on her website here

Shwetha & Manu Subramanya are guest faculty in our 2019, 2021 and 2022 Yoga Teacher Trainings. Both of Shwetha and Manu were immersed into a culture of shlokas and mantras from their childhoods in India. They formally studied Sanskrit from high school. Their specific interest in Sanskrit are in subhashitas (proverbs), hymns and the ancient texts of science. In our YTT, they teach intro to Sanskrit together, and Shwetha teaches yoga philosophy and yoga asana. Shwetha has also taught a course for the general public through The Branches, sharing the Ashtangas of yoga, and we hope to have her teach more courses in the future. 

Tejal Patel (she/her/hers) is a first-generation Indian American yoga teacher, writer, podcaster, and community organizer. We first learned from Tejal in her Om & Namaste workshop and from her podcast, and we are thrilled that she is a new guest faculty in our 2022 YTT.  Tejal advocates for yoga through a social justice lens and educates and empowers individuals and groups around the world to do the same. You can learn more from Tejal at: 

Tejal Yoga where virtual yoga & meditation classes are led by South Asian teachers who honor and embody the authentic roots of yoga.  

Yoga is Dead where they bring critical conversations about race, power, privilege, body politics, harassment, fair pay, veganism, ahimsa, and gatekeeping to the forefront through our podcast and signature training on cultural appropriation: Act Against Appropropriation, and now through our e-book out now The Original Godmothers of Yoga. 

@abcdyogi, an inclusive community that facilitates healing and connection through storytelling, conversation, performance, art, song, dance, writing, and retreat led by South Asian community offered to a global audience.

Rabia Meghani is an Ayurvedic Practitioner, Yoga Therapist and Researcher. She is a new guest faculty in our 2022 YTT sharing ayurveda from a decolonizing lens. Rabia’s formal education is in public health and epidemiology. Merging her knowledge of disease and the ancient science of Yoga and Ayurveda, Rabia aims to modernize eastern healing teachings and make them accessible to the masses while honoring the roots of the science. Her passion lies in harmonizing western medicine with eastern healing methodologies.

Indu Vashist is a historian, yoga teacher and the executive director of the South Asian Visual Arts Centre in Toronto. Indu will be joining us as a guest faculty for our 2022 YTT program sharing about the history of yoga both on the Indian continent and as it has evolved in North America. We highly recommend this podcast with Indu on Mindful Strength. 

Susanna Barkataki’s work and activism uplifting yoga and social justice has deeply influenced our approach at The Branches. We read her book Embrace Yoga’s Roots in our book club and it is a key text in our YTT.

Why All Athletes Should Do TRE

This blog post is written by TBY co-director Leslie Stokman, who is a Certified TRE Provider (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises). She’s a big fan of rock climbing, even though it can be scary and stressful. In this post, she shares about her own journey with athleticism, climbing, and some amazing background info on TRE. (8 minute read)

A little ways into my regular TRE practice, I began noticing some positive changes in my climbing. I realized that TRE changed me for the better, and as a result, my sport performance and experiences with exercise improved. Now as a provider, I love sharing TRE with sporty folks as a strategy for increased vitality and mindful recovery.

TRE offers huge benefits to those who engage in any intense sports or style of exercise with elements of risk and stress. The therapeutic benefit of a TRE practice aids in recovering after a strong session, increasing flexibility, healing injuries, and staying or returning to calm after stressful moments. If your goal is to perform well and feel good in your body, TRE can help.

Softening Body Tension

If flexibility is limiting your performance, you’re not alone! Stretching, mobility work, and full-range strength training can definitely make a difference, but speaking from experience, sometimes you just hit a wall. For years, I felt like I was fighting my body to increase my range of motion. My hips and hamstrings wouldn’t give me any more reach; they felt locked up and unwilling to move in ways that would help me get the most out of my existing strength and climbing technique.

Because of postural habits (like sitting a lot or repetitive movements at work), or because of past injuries and experiences, there can be parts of our bodies that really feel and act stuck. Our nervous systems have made the decision that a given body part should not move a certain way or be that flexible. This is a protective strategy meant to keep us safe from injury, and for that we can be grateful. However, sometimes this attempt at protection is no longer necessary. TRE works in cooperation with our nervous systems to allow our bodies to release this excess tension. 

Rhythmic Repatterning

To nerd out for a moment, part of what goes on during TRE practice is communication between our brain stems and the rest of our bodies. At first, many people will experience tremoring localized to their legs, hips and pelvis (originating with the psoas muscle). With consistent long-term practice (and for some people, sooner), these tremors can travel to all body parts by way of self-contained neurological networks in the spinal cord called Central Pattern Generators. 

In addition to spreading tremors throughout the body, these CPGs create rhythmic or harmonized patterns of shaking along the spine and lines of myofascial tissue (muscles and fascia) described by Tom Myers’ Anatomy Trains model. This process can be independent of our cognition, and is an intrinsic way of reorganizing the body. The potential results of tremoring and connecting to these networks? Increased flexibility, mobility, circulation, pain reduction from injury, better communication between the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, and injury healing rates. It sometimes also just feels really good!

Soothing Psychological Stress

It’s also our nervous system that runs the show when it comes to staying or losing our cool in moments of high risk (for the climbers reading: sketchy top-outs, near-falls, or making a risky clip). Our nervous systems are very skilled at detecting danger or threat, and it turns out that clinging to a cliff face, hurtling downhill on a mountain bike or snowboard, or running a marathon are all perceived by your body as kind of dangerous, or at least pretty stressful. Some people are attracted to intense sports for the adrenaline rush it provides, but that rush is partly coming from your body doing everything it can to save your life!

In those moments of intensity (including stress and panic), each person is able to get through in a few different ways: you might meet the challenge and feel super accomplished, you might decide to back off and try again another day, or you might fail to meet the challenge. Some people have learned to keep cool with a top-down approach: they might use breathing techniques or rehearse positive self-talk. Others have learned to dissociate from their feelings of fear, and simply push through. Still others might express their overwhelm through tears, and there’s no shame in that. I’ve certainly been there!

Short & Long-Term Recovery

In every case, each time you climb hard (or whatever it is for you), your whole system is processing a pretty good deal of stress physically, but potentially also emotionally and neurologically. Every time you practice TRE, it helps your body to complete cycles of the stress-response activation. This can make it great to practice later in the day or directly after your activity. A long-term TRE practice also teaches your nervous system what it feels like to be calm, gives it more resilience, and builds your ability to bounce back from stress and return to homeostasis more dynamically. It is in that homeostatic state – our most relaxed and restful state – that our bodies actually heal and repair themselves.

When we tap into the tremor mechanism, we’re giving our bodies a chance to loosen up, rebalance tension, and heal. Alongside sleep, hydration and nutrition, I consider TRE to be the final key in my recovery. It’s been my mission to share the gifts of TRE with both my local yoga community, and my local climbing community. Next time we see each other around the gym or the studio, don’t hesitate to ask me about TRE.

Curious about how TRE might impact your body and mind? Leslie will be leading a 4-week course called TRE for Athletes on Mondays 5:30-7:00pm starting June 6.