Sarah Garden took her first yoga class in 1990 alongside her mom, who had been doing yoga since the 1970s. “The class was a strict Iyengar class,” she shares, “and I got pushed into a spread-leg posture by the yoga teacher and tore an adductor muscle. Prior to the injury, I had my first experience of complete relaxation in that same class, and it was that relaxation and meditation I later craved and was the reason I decided to try yoga again. I continued practicing through the early nineties from a book but really got into yoga as a form of therapy in the late nineties to help me manage pain. I had been in three car accidents and had chronic neck and back pain as well as stage 4 endometriosis.”
Another influence in Sarah’s yoga journey was punk rock, which she explains got her interested in the transformational aspect of yoga. “People always think this is such a strange connection but to me it makes perfect sense,” she says. “Punk woke me up to social justice issues, sexism, racism, and intersectionality—it stoked a fire in me to make the world a better place to live for all people. Yoga then became the practice where I could make the world a better place. It’s an amazing tool to help people wake up in their bodies and the world, to make connections, to cultivate compassion, and to find ways to put that compassion into action.”
As director of Bodhi Tree Yoga Therapy and co-director of Bodhi Tree Yoga College in Regina, Saskatchewan, Sarah puts her compassion into action on a daily basis. She runs well-attended yoga therapy classes primarily aimed at people with back and neck pain. In her teacher trainings she emphasizes healing and re-integrating the body to produce healthier and happier yogis.
We interviewed Sarah, asking her the questions we ask all of our featured teachers, so that you can get to know her and learn more about what to expect from her classes on YI.
What style, tradition, and/or lineage are you a part of (if any)?
I don't have one particular style or lineage. Colin (my partner in life and yoga partner in crime) and I usually joke that we are yoga pirates. A couple of years ago I was grandparented into the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), so I guess that makes me a yoga therapy pirate too.
I have had the privilege of studying with some amazing teachers who were influenced by Iyengar Yoga and Sun Jeevan Yoga. I’ve also studied different movement practices and therapies apart from yoga.
As a result of being the only yoga therapist for hundreds of kilometers for 15 years, I’ve made ties with local physiotherapists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals who have also greatly influenced my perspective on teaching and working as a yoga therapist. I get to pirate the goods from what I’ve learned from these biomedical professionals, and I infuse that information with the gold from yoga traditions. I see it as a way to connect evidence-based healthcare with the awareness, empowerment, and agency that can come from the practice of yoga and yoga therapy.
What can I expect from your classes on YI?
My classes on YI are strongly influenced by evidenced-based practice. I keep my approach accessible, with a special focus on people who have pain or chronic health conditions. The classes are gentle and invitational, helping people to connect with their breath and body, reduce and eliminate pain, and regain agency over their health and well-being.
What’s on your mind these days yoga-wise?
I love that there is a broader movement to make yoga accessible to more people. I was so fortunate to have had teachers that individualized practices decades ago. It was what enabled me to be able to fall in love with yoga. As yoga reaches a larger audience, I see the capacity for it to create more connections for people and be a real force for change in the world. I see yoga acting more and more as a catalyst to wake people up in their own bodies and minds as well as driving social, political, and environmental change.
What do you like to do outside of yoga?
If I am being honest, the whole inside-or-outside-of-yoga thing is always hard for me to define. My movement, breathing, and thinking are all influenced by yoga so sometimes I get on my mat and sometimes I don't, but I feel like yoga is always inside me. In Saskatchewan, we have long, cold winters. We have snow late October to April, but being outside is still one of my favorite things. I am usually outside with Colin and our two teenagers, Eli and Loa. In the warmer weather, we stand-up paddleboard, longboard, bike, walk, and hike.
Who or what has been an ongoing source of inspiration for you?
My mom is an ongoing source of inspiration for me. She has been through so much in her life and always manages to show up for her family and her community. From an early age she taught my brother and me that all living things are connected to each other and to the earth.
She taught us that compassion, love, and empathy should always act as a compass for your choices and that if your heart isn't acting as your guide you are probably doing it wrong. In 2010, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 2016 with metastatic cancer. She shows up for her life every day with passion, purpose, and love.
Find out more about Sarah and try one of her therapeutic and tension-relieving classes on YI!
Photography: Andrea Killam