Accessible Yoga: Challenges and Lessons

Nathan is a graduate of our Yoga Teacher Training and has begun teaching all-abilities accessible yoga in the KW community. In this post Nathan shares some fantastic suggestions for teaching accessible classes, and acknowledges where the yoga world needs to change and grow in relation to folks with disabilities. If you appreciate this kind of perspective and want a deeper dive into these themes, check out Reforming Yoga Culture, where we are bringing together innovative teachers who are
transforming the yoga world from the inside out. Now, here’s Nathan!

Everyone deserves fair and equal access to yoga. I know that’s hardly a controversial statement, but in reality many people encounter barriers when trying to engage with a yoga practice. This can be especially true for individuals living with disability. Many of these barriers extend beyond the context of yoga and find their roots in larger systems of oppression and injustice. While on a more subtle level, without appropriate care and
reflection some of these same prejudice can find a presence in the very language and methods by which yoga is taught.

As a facilitator of accessible all-abilities yoga classes, I’ve learned that my
attentiveness, choice of language, and ability to hold space are just as important as poses and movements when it comes to making yoga truly accessible.

I discovered yoga during a time of personal need. In the spring of 2015, over a series of few days, my sight quickly faded until I could hardly see. After three days in the ER and a series of jabs and scans I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis — an auto immune disease that causes a breakdown in the central nervous system’s ability to
communicate with the rest of the body. At first, the effects are temporary but over time can lead to permanent disability.

Yoga became a lifeline for me in those early days. The moments of calm that emerged during and following my practice provided me with enough space to slowly begin to process and accept my new reality.

It’s this experience that ultimately inspired me to want to share this practice with others and pursue accessible-focused teaching.

Stepping into this role has been a journey marked by fundamental word-view-changing opportunities for learning. Here are a few discoveries that I hope other yoga teachers might find useful to incorporate into their teaching, especially when working with a
range of abilities.

1. Don’t push people to extend their capacity

After one of my first classes, I received feedback from a participant, about an experience of being pushed beyond their capacity in a previous class with a different instructor and how happy they were that I had led the practice in a way that allowed them to participate. It pains me to say that I have heard similar stories from many other
students.

There’s a common myth/belief within fitness culture that by pushing someone to extend their capacity you’re actually helping them to achieve their goals. While teaching in this way may in fact be motivating to a small number of students, it can also cause physical harm and create barriers to participation. I am not advocating that as teachers we should remove the opportunity to engage in challenging activity from our classes but rather a shift in attitude. A shift towards the idea that…

2. Everything is optional.

Permissive teaching explicitly outlines that everything presented is optional and creates a space where the student has the agency to engage with the practice on their own terms. In a practical sense this might look like presenting an exercise at a level of modest engagement, then inviting the option of further exploration into more challenging territory. As a rule, I always try to model the most inclusive option and only show something more strenuous if it would be truly beneficial. If I do, I’ll return to what
I first presented after a few moments. The goal here is to give every possible signal that pursuing more strenuous exercise is entirely optional and not an expectation. This empowers students to take a more central roll in their practice by deciding how they would like to engage (or not engage) with what you’ve presented.

3. Create a ‘container of safety’

A ‘container’ refers to a collection of practices and assurances that are designed to help individuals know they’re safe from harm. As a teacher, I take on the responsibility (and the privilege) of facilitating such a space. Before I share practical considerations for the creation of a container, I want to briefly make a case for why such a space is so
important.

Feeling safe is a privilege. The reality is that we currently do not live in a fair and equal society and some individuals face great adversity for simply being who they are. Some of this hardship is systemic and some is intentionally inflicted abuse. It’s a heavy consideration, but essential when working with a marginalized population. The intention of the container is to create a space that’s free of persecution and protected from the shortcomings and injustice so prevalent within our culture.

Creating a container goes beyond the physical space and begins with your marketing and communications. How you choose to name and describe your class, the people/groups you’re intending to reach, and who is present (or not present) in your photography are all important considerations.

A container has an inside and an outside. As such, you may choose to make your classes exclusively open to a certain group or population. The purpose of these boundaries it not so much the exclusion of others but rather to support the integrity of the group within. Strong and defined walls can help to create a space of safety and inclusion and perhaps even lay the ground work for community to emerge.

When beginning a class, I always introduce myself and define my role. As an able-bodied presenting instructor, I feel that it’s important to say a little about my experience with MS and how that lead me to want to share yoga with others. I offer ways to engage with the practice by inviting student to follow their intuition and move in ways that feel good to them. I balance this with a suggestion to avoid any movements that don’t feel good. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I talk about the way in which I hope student will relate to my instructions. As a facilitator, my role is to guide people to have their own experience and I want my offerings to be seen as optional
invitations for exploration.

4. Teach responsively (Have a back-up plan)

To help prepare for my first accessible class, I reached out to my mentor and YTT co-director Emma Dines to help navigating the unknowns of this new teaching venture. Of all her advice, what came to the forefront for me was her suggestion to teach responsively.

Emma used the example of a neck roll exercise. She suggested I start by leading a simplified neck movement. By closely observing my students’ response, I’d be able to have a good indication as to whether I should continue into the full neck roll movement or instead move onto something else.

Up until this point, I had planned all my classes in advance to quite a high level of detail before ever presenting them to students. Responsive teaching would mean to go off script and to adapt my classes based on my observation and intuition. To an experienced instructor, this is often second nature but as a beginner the prospect seemed rather intimidating.

To honour the reality of where I was at in my teaching journey, I decided that planning additional content for my classes would be the way to go. For my first hour-long class I planned twenty minutes of extra content. This way, if I noticed the movement I was offering wasn’t landing well with the group, I could move on to another exercise without fear of running through my whole sequence before the end of class.

Being able to teach responsively is a hugely resourceful tool for any instructor, but in my case practicing this way of teaching also highlighted the distance between my own lived experience and that of my students. So, as this post comes towards an end, I’d like to take a moment to briefly speak to the ethical consideration of leading accessible
classes as an able-bodied person.

When I began this journey, I had hoped that my experience with critical illness would serve as a bridge to understanding a reality much different than my own. In some way it has helped but I would limit this only to better informing my position as an ally. My heart tells me that someone with real lived experience should be leading these classes.

Unfortunately, the same barriers to entry that individual’s experiencing disability encounter when pursuing a yoga practice are further amplified when it comes to pursuing yoga teach training. There are few accessible training programs available and little representation of accessible-focused teachers in mainstream yoga culture.

I believe that accessible yoga is in a period of transition. A period where those of us with privileged positions have the responsibility to encourage, empower, and make space for those within the community to take their rightful place to teach from the lived experience of disability. I hope the day soon comes that I can step aside from my role as facilitator to make space for someone with lived experience. Until then, it’s an absolute privilege to be in this position.

A Peek into Sequencing

Leena here, Owner and Director of The Branches. I’m going to let you peek under the hood of my sequencing brain. If you’ve ever wondered how and why yoga teachers choose to sequence their classes in a certain way, this post will give you some ideas about how poses relate, and how they can build on one another, particularly towards a pinnacle or apex pose.

Let’s take the pose Utthita Hasta Padangustasana or Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. I’d like to introduce you to it’s whole family.

So many asanas have close ties to other poses and I like to think of each pose having a family tree of relations: some shapes clearly give birth to other, or share a lineage, one building upon the next. You could think of Warrior 2 and Triangle being a married couple, or cat and cow being siblings. Poses also have what I like to think of as “family dynamics”: common pitfalls and also patterns of engagement/preparations/activations that are helpful.

If Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose is the daughter, here’s a lineage:
1. THE GRANDMOTHER: Reclined Hand (or strap) to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangustasana)
2. THE CROCHETY AUNT: Triangle Table – with activations for hip, hamstring and groins (crochety – get it?)
3. THE FATHER + MOTHER: Warrior 2 and Triangle Hinges (Parsvottanasana and Trikonasana)
4. THE OLDER BROTHER: Tree (Vrksasana)
5. Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)

You can see videos of these poses in action here.

What’s my logic?
All of these poses share similar shape in the hips: external rotation and flexion.
#1, 3, 5 share very similar shapes in the hip and the whole top/front leg. #2 always gives her opinionated opinion and gets you ready for what’s to come. 4 and 5 are siblings because of being both standing balancing poses and tree naturally prepares you for the more challenging balance.

For our second shape, let’s do some genealogy for Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana or Bridge Pose.

Bridge is a pose that can be used in lots of sequences and for different purposes. It could be part of warm ups, show up in potpourri (a little bit of everything sequence), OR you can really break it down and build it up in a pinnacle sequence to deepen your understand and experience of the pose.

Let’s get into the weeds a bit… In bridge pose we have the following joint shapes:
– Spine is extended (back bend)
– Hips are extended (moving forward/up)
– Shoulders are extended (moving behind the body)
– Knees are flexed (bent to 90 degrees)

Here’s how the family tree I’ve chosen relates to and prepares you for bridge:
1. Locust and crocodile pulses: warm up the spinal, hip and shoulder extension
2. Kneeling Lean Backs: big time hip extension prep
3. Dancer Presses: warm up hamstrings, hip extension, shoulder extension and knee flexion
4. Forward folds with arms in strap: shoulder extension prep
5. Bridge Pose: ta-da!

See photos of these poses here!

In our upcoming Continuing Ed Module called *Sequencing with Purpose*, we’ll share a range of sequencing techniques from potpourri to therapeutic to pinnacle and beyond. You’ll get intimate with the family trees of poses, so really any pose could become a fascinating pinnacle pose to work with. We’ll also share invaluable tools for seamlessly integrating non-asana movements like mobility drills and strength training into your practices/classes.

Fun Facts about Sequencing with Purpose:
⭐15+ hours of content and learning!
⚡Sliding Scale Pricing
⭐All online, and recordings are yours to keep for a full year.
⭐For Yoga Teachers AND dedicated students!

Learn more about this offering here.

My Secret Revolutionary Agenda

Emma here, and I’m going to let you in on my secret revolutionary agenda for teaching yoga. My agenda is Body Positivity, with a side of creating a better world.

When I teach a yoga class, I’m teaching breath, poses and mindfulness. But underneath all of that, I am inviting presence, softness and forgiveness for all the ways that we have abandoned our bodies, and the bodies of others. I am creating space for people to come back to their bodies, rekindle connection, and emerge with a renewed relationship with their bodies. This is how I am quietly working to change the world. 

How we think and feel about our bodies is political and world-changing because it affects how we think about the bodies of others around us. It affects which other bodies we believe are deserving of care, attention, love or rest. It affects how we vote, what we buy, who we listen to, and how we bring up our children. Body Positivity as a practice can reshape how we see not only ourselves, but all the bodies around us. 

It’s about unwinding our attention from how we look to what we want – what kind of world we want to live in. If we’re not preoccupied with our weight or shape or height or skin, what would we spend our time building? Body Positivity is about remaking our world, remaking our definition of beauty and worth, remaking our lives to celebrate the beautiful differences that we have and are. 

Body Positivity was at its inception, a political stance. In the mainstream it has been whitewashed and watered-down to simplified slogans like “love the body you have”. Body Positivity was created by Fat, Black, queer women and femmes, and was intended as a political statement/practice for those whose bodies were the least accepted by the mainstream. Remembering this history, we can think of Body Positivity as a collective practice with a radical intention. Rather than mainly considering our perception of *our own* bodies, can we commit to accepting, loving or uplifting *all* bodies? Particularly those bodies that we might not see regularly represented in our world?

A Body Positive Yoga Practice does not need to include directives to LOVE YOUR BODY (has hearing that helped anyone actually love their body, ever?). Body Positivity is not about cheerleading or slogans. It is about presence and awareness, excavating old beliefs and cultivating new ones. 

I rarely say things like “Love your body” in my classes, because it isn’t that simple, and it isn’t the point. You don’t learn to love something by being told to do so. You learn to love something by getting to know them, and seeing their wondrous and curious quirks! You learn to love something with presence, attention and consistency. 

A few years ago my friend Simone shared a Body-Positive idea with me that I have never forgotten. It seemed like an idea to remake the world. It was revolutionary and ground-changing and incredibly simple. It was this: At the Jewish summer camp where Simone worked, they had one rule for the kids. NO BODY TALK. This meant that talking about other people’s bodies was off the table, including compliments (about clothes, jewelry, haircuts).  

I was flummoxed. 

“So the kids can’t even say they like another kid’s shirt?”

“No, because one kid getting attention for their shirt might make another kid self-conscious if they never get compliments on their clothes.”

I continued to prod.

“What about if you were wearing something really interesting, like a really unusual hat?”

“They can talk about that. They can ask questions. One thing we suggest is that they ask for the story of someone’s hat or shirt. That way it’s a bit more about curiosity than approval or status.”  

I loved this idea for so many reasons, one of which is that it de-centres what is at the surface and asks us to look deeper. It’s easy to talk about someone’s haircut, but how are they actually doing under there? Body Positivity is not about just saying nice things to yourself or others; it’s about really getting to know ourselves, learning the deeper stories and hearing the difficult truths. 

My deepest hope is that the practice of Body Positivity will help us recognize and celebrate the gorgeous differences in all bodies, and that out of that will grow the seeds for a better world. 

Many of these ideas were inspired by Sonya Renee Taylor’s work, and her amazing book “The Body is Not an Apology”. What I am calling Revolutionary Body Positivity, she calls Radical Self Love. I really, really recommend her book.

Want to reflect a bit more on these ideas? I made you a downloadable set of journaling prompts for you to cozy up to with your pen for some deeper thinking and feeling.

And, if you want to be part of an intentionally Body-Positive space, join our 30 Days of Body Positive Practice, starting Jan 2.

[Repost] Self-Care is not a Transaction

Jessica McQuistin is a Branches community member and one of our regular front desk work trades, and she is also an avid blogger. We loved her recent reflections on self-care and wanted to shout it from the rooftops by sharing it over here on our blog. Read more of Jessica’s posts about mindfulness, motherhood and sustainability on her blog.

Sometimes I need to remind myself that self-care is not a transaction. I am not a machine that produces a specific output based on a specific input. Or a car that consistently runs smoother after an oil change. Or a recipe turns out the same every time as long as you use the right ingredients. No…Being human is much more complex and unpredictable.

When I forget this, I say things to myself like,

  • You just took an hour for yourself. Why aren’t you feeling refreshed?
  • You yelled at the kids again. All that meditation is obviously not working!
  • You got a good sleep last night; so why are you so tired?
  • You’ve decided to do some baking. And you love baking. Why aren’t you enjoying yourself right now?
  • I took you out for lunch as a special treat. Why aren’t you happy and grateful? What a waste of money.

When I go down this path, I can easily conclude that self-care is not worth the time, energy, money, or effort so maybe I just shouldn’t bother. But I know this isn’t true. Yet, I often find myself expecting to be magically transformed into a calm, happy, generous, grateful, energetic being after spending any ounce of time on self-care.

I’d really like to change these expectations. As an exercise in self-compassion, I’m going to replace these statements with kinder, more empathetic responses.

Old StatementNew Statement
You just took an hour for yourself. Why aren’t you feeling refreshed?You just took an hour for yourself despite feeling some “mom guilt” and yet, you’re not feeling refreshed. That’s disappointing. Maybe you’re a little burnt out right now and an hour wasn’t quite long enough for you to feel better.
You yelled at the kids again. All that meditation is obviously not working!You’ve been trying not to yell at the kids lately, and you’ve been meditating as a way of becoming less reactive. (Way to go!) Yet, despite all these efforts, you lost it and yelled. Making mistakes and noticing them is part of changing any behaviour. Keep at it and remember that you’re human. Apologize for yelling and move on.
You got a good sleep last night; so why are you so tired?You prioritized getting a good sleep last night and that’s great! Unfortunately, you don’t feel as well-rested as you expected today. Maybe you need a few more good sleeps to catch up or maybe it’s just a low-energy day and that’s okay.
You’ve decided to do some baking. And you love baking. Why aren’t you enjoying yourself right now?You usually enjoy baking but your heart’s just not in it today. Maybe you don’t have the energy for it or maybe you’d rather be out of the house than in the kitchen. Oh well! Finish what you’ve started, then move on to something you feel like doing.
I took you out for lunch as a special treat. Why aren’t you happy and grateful? What a waste of money.Hmmm…Going out for lunch usually feels like a really special treat but today it didn’t boost your mood at all. It’s still okay that you went out for lunch though.

Noticing some themes, I’ve also come up with some general reminders about self-care that I’d like to keep in mind:

  • What works sometimes doesn’t work other times.
  • I don’t always know exactly what I need. It’s okay to try something even if it doesn’t have the result I was expecting. It’s still worth trying.
  • Sometimes I need to do a lot to feel good, other times I need very little. These fluctuations are normal for me.
  • I am worthy of self-care even when I don’t emerge “better” afterward.

What attitudes or beliefs do you carry around self-care? Are there any that you’d like to challenge? This week, I invite you to listen to how you talk to yourself about self-care and just notice what comes up.

Stop using body shame to sell Yoga


It’s a hustle to be a yoga teacher or studio, but using body shame to sell yoga is harmful on an individual and societal level.⁠

Slogans we’ve heard from yoga teachers like, “Sweat is just your fat crying,” send harmful messages about the worth of bodies, particularly fat bodies. It says that fat bodies, or fat itself, deserve to be punished – that to be fat is undesirable, and deserves no compassion.⁠


When we place bodies in a hierarchy of worth, we are ripping our world apart. When we say some bodies (thin ones) deserve attention and respect and other bodies (fat ones) do not, we are enacting the kind of worldview that leaves Black or Indigenous bodies dead at the hands of police.⁠

Is that too big of a jump? We don’t think so.⁠

How we think, feel and talk about bodies IS political and world-changing. It determines which bodies we believe deserve respect, and this can unravel into who deserves to live. It affects how we vote, what we buy, who we listen to, and how we bring up our children.⁠

Body Shame about size or weight is a slippery slope to all the other shames that come with it. Our world is full of shame, and it keeps us locked up, disconnected and miserable. It keeps us focused on it, which takes energy or bandwidth away from our capacity to notice and take action on the deep injustices in our world, or to find deeper meaning and beauty in that world.⁠

Yoga teachers and studios, find another angle. Find a way to uplift people, rather than pit them against each other, or themselves.⁠

Metamorphosis & Active Hope

Musings on climate chaos and caring action from Branches co-director Leena Miller Cressman.

This summer, as I take in the horrifying stories of fruit baking on trees in BC, and mass dying of wildlife along the west coast, fifteen monarch caterpillars have hatched in my care. It’s a tiny act of hope for a natural world in peril.

In the wild, only 10% of monarch caterpillars normally survive to reproduce, and those rates are decreasing due to pesticide use and climate change. Inside, all but one has survived so far. Once the butterflies emerge, I’ll release them to my garden.

In two weeks a caterpillar’s weight increases 2,700 times as they devour only milkweed leaves. Then they search for the perfect spot, and hang in a J shape, waiting, and over 6-12 hours they slowly change form under the surface. Then in a sudden final burst, (as seen in this 10 minute time lapse), they wriggle out of their caterpillar skin and become a chrysalis.

one of four monarch chrysalides in Leena’s dining room

Ecologist and Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy describes hope as a verb. It is something you do, actively, not something you have. In my little monarch sanctuary, I’m practicing these acts of hope for the world, and observing, with awe, the processes of nature. These processes are not linear – the reveal of a butterfly is just one step in the cycle. Equally significant are laying the eggs, days of devouring milkweed, waiting in a hanging J-shape, and the surrender into the chrysalis. 

The showy transformation of a butterfly hatching from the chrysalis is so often in photographs or videos, but this stage of metamorphosis – from caterpillar to pupa – is stunning in its own right. These creatures are so full of rich metaphors and timely teachings. 

Metamorphosis, for the caterpillar, requires a full stop and wait. It pauses, and it literally softens until it can easily wiggle out of its skin into a new form. Can you think of a time in your life when you felt or seemed stuck, but under the surface something new was emerging for you? 

As we remerge from our COVID cocoons, we might ask ourselves how we want to re-engage with the world. What hopes do we want to live into for our own wellbeing, and that of the planet? Do we really need to go back to so much jet setting? Could we continue to do more local travel and exploring? Will we keep up our new vegetable gardens or our breadmaking?

During the pandemic, we’ve seen governments and communities make monumental changes, fast. We’ve spent billions to help keep vulnerable businesses and workers afloat. We can no longer say that huge changes are impossible or just too hard. I’m living into hope for climate justice. 

To me this is about acting with care, but without attachment to the results. This is a key teaching in yogic philosophy and in the Bhagavad Gita. Will my small number of monarchs make a difference? Will the letter I send to my MP calling for action on climate change do anything? Who knows, but it’s still a good action. For more exploration on applying the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita to our climate emergency, you might check out these two posts by my friend and colleague Matthew Remski: one, two.

Let’s bolster and inspire each other with active hope – share in the comments what actions you’re taking.

Community Care Package for our Muslim and Indigenous Neighbours

The Branches would like to offer a care package of yoga resources to our neighbours who may be experiencing grief and pain connected to harms to their communities. After the ongoing discoveries of unmarked children’s graves at residential school sites across the country (215 in Kamloops, 751 in Saskatchewan and more being reported on every day) and the murder of the Afzaal family in London, we want to offer both solidarity and support to Muslim and Indigenous community members who are hurting.

At The Branches, we approach Yoga from the perspective that everyone is dealing with or healing from stresses and trauma of some kind. We believe that trauma can occur for individuals and communities even if the violence in question does not extend directly to them; the impact of hearing news stories can bring up all kinds of feelings and experiences, from numbness and shock, to fear, confusion, anxiety or guilt. All of our teachers instruct with a trauma-aware lens, acknowledging that everyone has unique experiences and different needs. In our practice videos you will be encouraged to choose what makes sense for your own physical and emotional needs as you move. 

Our Community Care Package includes 20 practice videos: our Yoga Foundations series for getting started with the practice of yoga postures, our Yoga for Stress Relief series, an introduction to Yoga for Trauma Recovery, and a variety of gentle self-care practice videos.

This offering is not linked to any promotions – your email will not be added to any of our newsletter lists, and you will not be marketed to in any way. Our aim is to practice Community Care by sharing our resources. However, we do want to extend the warm invitation that you are very welcome to join us at The Branches for yoga and community events if the way that we teach and hold space feels healing for you. We have sliding-scale priced daily live classes, both online and in-person. We would love to share community space with you. 

If you are a member of a Muslim or Indigenous community, click this link to get access to the Care Package. You will need the ability to stream videos to access this package, and you will have access to the videos forever (or as long as we’re around). 

Proprio-what? Exploring ProprioCEPTION

This blog post is written by Elizabeth McFaul, graduate of our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program. Elizabeth was a long-time work-trade at the studio, and she continues to be an avid knitter, farmer’s market-goer, and Yoga enthusiast. Our trainees write blog posts as a part of their homework, and Elizabeth chose to dive deep into the movement education thread of our training.


What is proprioception? 

Close your eyes and move one of your hands around in front of you. Touch your ear, then the top of your head. You are able to do this (hopefully accurately!) because of your proprioceptive system.

Proprioception is your body sense, or your kinaesthetic awareness. It is your brain’s ability to sense the relative positions and movements of your different body parts. Because of proprioception, you can sense your hand in space as you move it around, even though your eyes are closed. It’s sometimes referred to as our sixth sense or a sensory map.  

Why is it important?

Your proprioceptive system allows you to make coordinated movements. It provides for body awareness, coordination, and motor skills. If we had to look at our limbs with every task, we wouldn’t be very effective. Imagine looking down every time we take a step, or looking at our arms when dribbling a ball, petting a cat, or putting things away. When we close our eyes, we still sense our body’s place in the world, relative to other items and relative to itself. 

Proprioception is important for everyday tasks, but it’s essential for sports and other activities where movements involve several body parts acting in a connected and coordinated fashion. It would be impossible for a gymnast to land a backflip if they didn’t have an elite level of body sense, aware of the position of each of their limbs at all times. 

What happens when your proprioception gets compromised?

Since all coordinated movement depends on your proprioceptive system, when it is compromised, simple activities like walking or standing can become challenging. 

Your proprioception can be compromised by neurological disease, impairment, or pain. Pain reduces the brain’s ability to process proprioceptive information from the joint(s), because it is busy listening to pain signals instead, and the high-priority pain signals crowd out the other signals. Pain also tends to lessen movement in the injured joint, leading to less detail in the sensory map. Pain reduces movement, which reduces coordination, which can reduce movement further, and so forth. 

Sensing your own proprioception

You can tune into and refine your own sense of proprioception with exploratory movements that are new, interesting, and rich in sensory input. Intention also plays a critical role, as does repetition. This is often why physiotherapy focuses on deliberate, repeated movements to help your body recreate maps for the injured area. 

Here are five fun ways you can explore your sense of proprioception:

  1. Explore balance, especially on an uneven surface (like a foam block). Balancing on an uneven surface forces your body to make continual adjustments to stay balanced, offering a lot of sensory input in the knees and ankles. This can help your speed and efficiency in making micro adjustments to movements like changing direction, kicking, and stepping, which can prevent twisted knees or ankles in sports. The more uneven the surface, the more challenging this motion can be. 
  1. Build awareness in an eyes-closed Sun Salutation. Start by completing a few rounds of Sun Salutation A. Try to keep yourself at a consistent pace. Then close your eyes and repeat. Are there changes to how you feel the movement? Do you approach the movements differently? What else might you notice? Closing your eyes removes that sensory input, focusing your efforts on proprioception and other senses.  
  1. Play some Hopscotch! Grab a piece of chalk and create your hopscotch. You can play hopscotch the traditional way, or for an additional challenge, pause between each hop (around 20 seconds), balancing on one foot. Reaching for the rock changes your relationship to gravity and the dynamic movement of hopping from one foot to another challenges your proprioceptive system with things that are novel & new. 
  1. Test your control with a Crossover Walk or a Grapevine. Try this exercise slowly, concentrating on the movements and focusing your awareness on your knees. Start with your feet a bit more than shoulder width apart, bend your knees, then cross one leg over another, taking a large step to the side. Step out so that your feet are returned to their original position, and then repeat, sidestepping like this 5-10 times in both directions. If you’d like to try a different version of this, try the grapevine. Cross one leg over another in front, then for the next step, cross behind. 
  1. Reach and replace in Warrior 3 Block Play. Grab a block (or something similar in shape). Stand on one leg, take the block in one hand, and bend forward to place the block on the ground. Come back upright, then bend forward again, picking up the block with the opposite hand. Come back upright, and repeat. You can make this as challenging as you’d like by placing the block in different locations. Placing the block very far away, behind you, or very close to your standing leg all can add difficulty. You can see proprioception in action if you look away while you explore this exercise. Your body remains aware of the location of the block even as you aren’t looking.  

What other ways can you explore your body’s sixth sense?


Loving this content? To learn more about our 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program, click here.

Grumpy ’bout Gratitude

I used to despise the word gratitude.

So it’s funny that it has become one of my favourite words. After watching this TED Talk with Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast, I have converted to the practice of gratefulness, gratitude and thanksgiving.

_leena emma side angle smiling 2018

I used to feel like a grumpy Scrooge about the word gratitude, along with other yoga-y words like balance, love, bliss and peace. It’s easy for those words to become overused, and cliche. They also seem to come with a “should” attached to them. If I heard a yoga teacher talk about gratitude, it often felt like they were telling me that I “should” be grateful. 

I don’t want anyone coming to Queen Street Yoga to feel like there are any “shoulds” about Yoga. There are no “shoulds” about the physical practice, no “shoulds” about what to wear, how to be, what to believe. You are welcome to the practice exactly as you are. 

And that is what our 30 Days of Gratitude (Nov 1-30) is all about: coming to your mat or meditation cushion exactly as you are, and then noticing what is already there that you could feel grateful for. David Steindl-Rast admits, “Can we be grateful for everything in our lives? Of course not. But we can be grateful in any moment.” 

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This practice of noticing, of arriving into the moment pairs so well with yoga and meditation. In our movement and sitting practices we pay attention to the sensations of our breath and body and the fluctuation of our minds. When we start to pay attention, we realize how much is there. How much is there to notice, and how much of an opportunity for gratitude any given moment can be. We have the opportunity to fill ourselves up with gratitude, and that’s when the sense of thanksgiving comes in – when we are brimming over with the felt sense of feeling grateful, we can’t help but give thanks.

In another interview David Steindl-Rast talks about feeling joy and gratefulness even amidst grief or sadness, and defines joy as “the happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.” In our grief we can also hold great joy and celebration for the existence of the person or circumstance we are missing. 

Whatever this season is bringing you, whether it feels abundant or includes loss, we welcome you to try out a practice of gratitude – to slow down enough to notice what fullness you can feel and acknowledge in your life. 

In the month of November we’ll have a 30 Days of Gratitude board at the studio, and we’d love for you to share your thoughts of gratitude each time you come to class. We’ll have prizes for those who participate, and a take-home calendar for you to keep the gratitude practice when you’re not at the studio. 

We look forward to centring our practice on gratitude together as a community.

With care, Emma

WTF is TRE?

This post is by QSY lead teacher Leslie Stokman. 

Four years ago, I discovered something that has profoundly changed my life and my yoga practice. This is not an exaggeration. Since I’ve been practicing TRE, I have noticed a clear decrease in uncomfortable body tension, making my yoga practice a lot less of a struggle – I no longer feel like I’m fighting my body for range of motion. I’ve also seen an increase in psychological resilience, allowing for an easier time relating well to others personally and professionally. 

As a Certified TRE Provider, part of my mission is to spread TRE to anyone who could benefit from reducing the impact of stress in their lives. I’ll be offering it as a part of our Building Fires Retreat later this Fall. It is also my aim to educate people about what it is! There will be a little bit of theory in this blog post  about the nervous system, and it can get complex, but also fascinating. So if you’re curious about what’s made such a big difference in my body and life, read on. 

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TRE stands for Tension/Trauma Release Exercise and was developed by Dr. David Berceli. TRE is a body-based stress-reduction and healing practice, and more literally it’s a process for eliciting and regulating automatic, therapeutic tremors in your body. In short, you perform seven activating movements that gently fatigue or stress certain muscles including the psoas, then relax into a position where neurogenic tremors can arise. (They’re called neurogenic tremors to distinguish them from pathological (disease-related) tremors found in situations like Parkinson’s or epilepsy.)

The tremor mechanism is something completely natural to all mammals. You might have noticed your dog trembling after getting spooked or nervous. Maybe you’ve seen this video of a polar bear shaking himself back from being tranquilized. In a bomb-shelter with a community caught in a civil war, Dr. David Berceli noticed that children would shake once the danger has passed. Some adults also recall times when they themselves have felt like their body was shaking uncontrollably during or after a stressful, emotional or traumatic experience, or even just when feeling really excited or nervous.

What’s really going on when the body tremors like this? To understand TRE, we have to back up and explore the nervous system from the lens of the polyvagal theory a little bit. When faced with a real or perceived threat or danger, our nervous system picks a response: fight, flight, or freeze.* If our nervous system chooses the freeze response, or if our efforts to fight or flee are thwarted, either because of social norms (like, “Don’t punch your coworker,”) or physical restraint (like being trapped in a car with your seatbelt on while going through an accident), that means our bodies have marshalled a whole bunch of energy and neurotransmitters/hormones (including the ones that get a bad rep like cortisol), but didn’t get to do anything with them. 

Activation without action, or energizing without release, is where stress adds up and where symptoms of a traumatic reaction can originate. Our bodies just hold onto this pent-up energy, remnants of the stress response. The newest work from the field of traumatology and the relationship between emotion, stress and disease tends to produce book titles with this theme: The Body Keeps the Score, The Body Remembers, and When the Body Says No are a few examples. Imagining all the interpersonal conflicts, stressful days at work and life-changing losses we’ve endured, it can be a little alarming to think of what our bodies are holding onto. 

If you freeze, or are unable to fight or run away, the way to move through this pent-up stress is to tremor! This is a completely healthy and purposeful reaction: the shaking, vibration or tremoring completes the cycle of activation and allows your body and nervous system to return to, or get closer to its baseline. The only sad part is that most modern societies have either forgotten about it, or dismissed it as a sign of weakness. When you learn to engage with this process in a safe, controlled way, you can give your body and nervous system the gift of release and healing

Once I established a consistent practice and began to see the increase in my flexibility and emotional resilience, I decided to become a Certified TRE Provider. Through my training I learned that in other countries, TRE is recognized by the healthcare and insurance systems in the same way that massage therapy is here in Canada. In some places, TRE is practiced in classrooms, students and teachers alike! I believe TRE is on the same level as, and has the potential to become a practice as popular and useful as yoga and meditation. 

At this Autumn’s Building Fires Retreat, I’ll be offering TRE as one of several self-healing tools to ground and regulate our nervous systems. If you are curious to learn TRE sooner than the end of October, you can book a private session (just like booking a private yoga session) by emailing leslie@queenstreetyoga.com. There is great value in seeking guidance from a provider, and in practicing as a group. Please reach out to me if you’d like to connect about this powerful practice. 

Warmly,Leslie

*Note: sometimes people also include the fawn response, which can be considered a type of freeze response. There is also the “befriend” response, but for the purposes of understanding TRE, we’re working with times when befriending has failed or was not an option.

Links to keep learning: