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

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.

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!

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.